Affluent Singapore Feels Pinch Of Inflation At 26-year Highs Sunday, Apr 27 2008 

by Martin Abbugao, AFP, 27 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – From taking fewer taxi rides to eating out less and shortening shower time, residents of affluent Singapore are trying to cope with inflation, which has soared to 26-year highs.

Rising costs of housing, food, and transport have eaten into family budgets of Singaporeans as well as the large number of expatriates working in the city-state, consumers and analysts said.

Except for the ultra-rich, the impact of the sharp price increases has cut across social classes in one of Asia’s wealthiest nations, they said.

Government figures show Singapore’s annual inflation was at 6.7 percent in March, the highest since 1982, boosted by higher costs of food, transport, communications and housing.

The figure is more than double the inflation rate in Malaysia and higher than that of the Philippines, Hong Kong and Australia. Unlike bigger countries in the region, Singapore imports most of its needs.

“When the inflation rate is high, it affects everybody,” said Serena, a businesswoman who lives near the prime Orchard Road shopping and would only give her first name.

Serena said even affluent families like hers have had to adjust to the rising costs by eyeing grocery prices more closely, using the car less and eating in fancy restaurants only on special occasions.

“You have to differentiate between needs and wants, what is necessary and what is not necessary. If you can get something cheaper, you don’t have to go for branded (luxury) items,” she told AFP.

While soaring inflation in developing countries, amid a global food crisis, has left many struggling to feed their families, Singaporeans are dealing with the impact of price hikes in their own ways.

For Janice Tan, 35, who works at a travel agency, the soaring prices have forced members of her family to shower only once a day to cut their water bill. Water used to rinse vegetables is recycled to flush the toilet.

To reduce the electric bill, Tan said she told her maid to iron only office clothes — and just the parts that are visible.

“It’s a big deal for Singapore in that we have never had inflation higher than three percent,” said Euston Quah, head of the economics division at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“It hits the poor badly because the poor spend maybe 40, 50 percent of their income on food,” he said.

Quah sees inflation eventually easing to around 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year, while the government has forecast 2008 economic growth forecast of 4.0 to 6.0 percent.

Amin Sorr, 65, who works with a shipping firm, said life has become harder, especially for those earning less.

With a monthly salary of 3,000 Singapore dollars (2,200 US), Sorr said he can cope, but friends pulling in 2,000 dollars or less are struggling.

“I know a lot of friends who have problems with their water bills… and even personal credit lines.”

Local charities say rising food prices are also driving more Singaporeans, especially poor senior citizens, to join queues for free meals.

Salamah Salim, 40, who runs a food stall on the fringes of the business district, said: “Our expenses on food and rice have more than doubled over the past year. Rice and oil have risen tremendously.”

Even expatriate professionals, particularly those with less generous housing allowances and other benefits, have been hit.

As apartment rents surged, some moved their families from condominiums that come with swimming pools, gyms and barbecue pits to cheaper government-built flats without such resort-style amenities.

“They raised our rent by 150 percent after our contract expired late last year,” said a Filipino computer engineer, who transferred from a gated condominium to a government-built high-rise in the suburbs.

“I know several friends who have also made similar moves or are planning to move out once their leases expire,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Dee Pritchard, who works at the Australian International School, said that except for being more careful with the grocery shopping and giving the children fewer treats, nothing much has changed in her lifestyle.

“I’m lucky I’m not in the lower income (group) which would be suffering a lot more than I do really. But at the end of the week, the cash is less. There is less savings.”

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For Singapore To Maintain Mas Selamat Is Still In The Country Only Adds To The Embarrassment: Terrorism Expert Wednesday, Apr 23 2008 

Singapore’s most-wanted still at large two months after escape, AFP, 23 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Two months after an alleged Islamic militant leader escaped from custody, Singapore is the object of ridicule and admits the country’s reputation has been damaged by its failure to capture him.

Despite a massive manhunt, Southeast Asia’s most technologically advanced nation has been unable to track down Mas Selamat bin Kastari since he escaped by climbing out of a toilet window on February 27.

Observers say the incident has embarrassed the country that prides itself on rigorous anti-terrorist measures. Coordinating minister for national security S. Jayakumar has called the escape “a dent in Singapore’s reputation.”

The government accuses Kastari of plotting to hijack a plane in order to crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2001. He was never charged, but was being held under a law that allows for detention without trial.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told parliament on Monday that security agencies believe Kastari is still in Singapore, the smallest country in Southeast Asia with a population of 4.6 million.

But terrorism expert Clive Williams thinks otherwise, suspecting Kastari is somewhere in the vast archipelago of Indonesia, whose nearest islands are clearly visible from Singapore.

Williams, from the Australian Defence Force Academy, said that for Singapore to maintain Kastari is still in the country only adds to the embarrassment.

“It’s been a long time now and I would think that they would’ve searched every place that he’d likely be in Singapore,” Williams told AFP.

“It’s not a good reflection on the internal security system, is it?”

He called for an independent review of Singapore’s entire terrorism-related security structure.

The government has drafted in counter-terrorism units, the military and paramilitary Nepalese Gurkhas to search for Singapore’s most wanted man, whose face stares out from wanted posters on public buses, the walls of buildings, petrol stations and the subway system.

“Here we are seeking one man everywhere, and we can’t still find him,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, of the new opposition Reform Party, said with a smile.

Internet commentators responded with mocking humour to a government statement this week that the alleged Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader fled through an unsecured toilet window as guards stood outside the door.

Authorities blame JI for a string of regional attacks including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali which killed 202 people.

Wong described Kastari as “a key figure in the terrorist network” and warned that if he could link up with other JI leaders they could plan an attack on the city-state.

Singaporeans do not seem so worried, but say his escape has shaken their faith in the country’s security system.

Tan Soo Eng, 32, a research associate, said the security lapse “shows that we are not really as safe as we think we are.”

Tan Hui Ching, an account executive, thinks Kastari has fled Singapore but adds: “Maybe Singapore is not that safe after all.”

The Straits Times reported that opposition member of parliament Low Thia Khiang asked Wong about “speculation that Mas Selamat died” inside the Whitley Road Detention Centre where he was held.

Wong replied that he saw no point in giving credence to such speculation, the newspaper said.

A committee of inquiry found that Kastari, who walks with a limp, escaped through the window of a bathroom where he was taken before a regular visit by his family.

Surveillance cameras that were not working, and a slow reaction from guards, contributed to Kastari’s flight, Wong said.

The report prompted much derision on the Internet, where popular Singapore blogger Mr. Brown posted pictures of toilets perched on a tricycle and motorised carts, saying he had thought Kastari might have escaped on something similar.

“But I was wrong. It was nothing THAT sophisticated,” he wrote.

The home affairs ministry has said Kastari fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against JI. He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 before being handed back to Singapore.

“Just as we found him the last time… so we will eventually again track him down, arrest him and detain him,” Wong vowed.

SDP Calls For Wong Kan Seng’s Resignation Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

Media Release: Mr Wong Kan Seng, resign, Singapore Democrats, 22 Apr 2008

The SDP has hitherto refrained from calling for Mr Wong Kan Seng’s resignation in the wake of the Mas Selamat fiasco even though a strong case could be made for it. We were waiting to see if Mr Wong showed any contrition for the debacle.

But the Minister has ducked, parried and done everything except assume responsibility for what happened. With the release of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) report and his utterances in Parliament, calling for Mr Wong’s resignation is now imperative.

We present the SDP’s case against the Minister and his top officers:

With the partial revelation of the security arrangements at the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC), it is clear that there was systemic failure within the operational structure of the facility. It was not just missteps on the part of lower-ranking police officers but rather wholesale negligence at the most senior levels.

If the COI report is to be believed, the junior officers should not be the only ones to bear responsibility of Mr Mas Selamat’s alleged escape.

For example, security fixtures such as the installation of window grilles is the responsibility of administrative planners, not Gurhka officers or Special Duty Operatives.

Likewise, the effective and fail-safe operation of the CCTV system is beyond the control of officers charged with the day-to-day guarding of the detainees.

Similarly, the guards cannot be responsible for the “cement ledge” that enabled Mr Selamat to climb out of the toilet or for the positioning of the so-called “weak perimeter fence.”

Such physical structures can only be put in place by planners and administrators of the Centre. Who in the Singapore Police Force is responsible for the installation, design or construction of the WRDC’s features?

The Director of the Internal Security Department and his superior the Commissioner of Police, of course. They, and not just those handling Mr Selamat, must be held accountable. There is no wriggle room here: Commissioner Koh Boon Hui and his ISD chief are culpable of the security meltdown. Their resignation is a must.

What about their political boss, Minister Wong Kan Seng? It may be argued that Mr Wong cannot be in charge of the minutiae of the running of the WRDC. It must be pointed out, however, that the “security lapses”, to use Mr Wong’s words, were not fleeting moments of distraction. The structural weaknesses within the ISD Centre were yawning holes waiting to be exploited.

For instance, how can the Minister-in-charge of prison security not tell his subordinates what must be the ABCs of prison security: Secure all windows and doors so that prisoners cannot run, walk, or crawl out through them to escape.

And didn’t he give a directive that surveillance cameras had to be working 24/7? He wouldn’t allow the CCTV cameras outside his own residence to be left unmonitored or the security personnel not guarding his home for any period of time, would he?

But this is not the end of Mr Wong’s culpability. His personal handling of the saga right from the get-go had incompetence written all over.

It took 49 seconds for Mr Selamat to escape, 11 minutes for the prison staff to realise this, but a whole four hours for Mr Wong to sound the alert to the public.

It took another week before his Ministry told people what the escapee was wearing. Then Mr Selamat was walking with a “distinct limp”, then that the limp was obvious only when he ran. Again this came only days after the escape during which time the prisoner could have already made his way to the North Pole.

One would have thought that within minutes after he was alerted of the escape, Mr Wong would have gathered his top security officials, collate data of the situation giving priority to the description of Mr Selamat and his possible whereabouts, and disseminate them to the public. This could all have been done within the first hour of the breakout.

But instead of acknowledging his own misjudgments and making a genuine effort to get to the bottom of the mess, the Minister cocks a snook at the public by appointing, or at least agreeing to the appointment of, his subordinate Deputy Secretary Dr Choong May Ling and former subordinate and police commissioner Mr Tee Tua Bah to sit on the three-member COI.

Has the Minister no self-respect to at least insist that the COI be not only independent of his influence but also seen to be so?

As a result the COI report, or the little that has been revealed, has been lampooned and ripped to shreds for its contradictory, incomplete and poorly explained findings. It raises more questions than answers.

The last straw for the Singapore Democrats is Mr Wong casting blame on the junior officers while not-so-subtlely exonerating himself. Mr Wong announced that junior officers “all the way up” to the supervisory and management levels of the WRDC will be disciplined and penalised.

He unabashedly avoids mentioning his own role in the episode. This is the hallmark of a man without honour and pride in his work and his responsibilities. When things go wrong leaders – true leaders – step up and take responsibility.

They don’t make fall guys of their subordinates to save their own skins.

In truth Mr Wong’s reputation is in tatters. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that he is unfit to continue with his job.

Mr Wong Kan Seng, the SDP calls on you to stop passing the blame. Enough is enough. It is not the officers, it is not the window, it is not the toilet. It is you. Now do the right and decent thing: Resign.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

COI Report Raises More Questions Than It Gives Answers Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

A Tour de Farce, Singapore Democrats, 21 Apr 2008

First, the Government appoints former civil servants and even a subordinate of Mr Wong Kan Seng to conduct an inquiry into the escape of suspected terrorist Mr Mas Selamat.

The Committee of Inquiry, or COI, then takes more than a month to conduct its work in secrecy.

It then writes a report that Mr Wong, who is responsible for Mr Mas Selamt’s escape in the first place, “agrees with and accepts.”

The farce continues…

The COI finds that the limping detainee is able to climb through a toilet window in a maximum security facility, climb down a water pipe, run 20 metres, scale another building and jump over a perimeter fence – all in 49 seconds.

For good measure, it just so happens that no one was monitoring the – not one but two – surveillance cameras during the time of the escape.

In addition, no one was watching the detainee change out of his prison garb into his own clothes. In a regular prison, prisoners are made to change under the watchful eyes of the guards. In addition, every time a prisoner leaves the cell for yard, he needs to strip bare for inspection. Yet, all this was not done at the ISD Centre.

That’s not all. A packet of seven toilet rolls were found. (Why would Mr Mas Selamat or his fellow JI detainees, being Malay Muslims, need toilet paper?)

Also, a close examination of the Straits Times photograph shows two urinals with no space for a latrine. Why would there be toilet paper in a cubicle without a latrine? And if there are only urinals, why would Mr Mas Selamat have to remove his trousers instead of just pulling it down like all males do when they urinate?

There doesn’t even seem that there is a tap in the cubicle. How did the detainee turn on a non-existent tap and leave it running?

The toilet paper, the COI tells us, could have been used by the prisoner to break his fall as he jumped out of the window. The SDP is surprised that the COI didn’t also report finding a ladder in the cubicle.

Let’s put things together:

1. The guard neglects to watch the prisoner as he changes out of his prison clothes.

2. Toilet rolls were left in the toilet which has no latrine and the prisoners don’t use them.

3. The guard sees the detainee “flipping” his trousers over the top of the door and doesn’t find it strange, and hears tap water running when there doesn’t seem to be a tap in the cubicle.

4. The prisoner knows exactly where to run to, scale a fence, climb a walkway and jump to freedom in less than one minute when he doesn’t have a clue as to the surroundings.

5. Two cameras are either not working or no one paid any attention to them during the escape.

What are the odds of the above all coming together at the same imperfect moment to facilitate Mr Mas Selamat’s escape? This Government must think that Singaporeans all just graduated from nursery school.

Let’s get real. Even if it is to be believed that two of the surveillance cameras were not being monitored, surely there must have been the tapes. What did they show? Did the COI not look at these?

Even if these two cameras were not monitored, or working, at the time of escape, there are other cameras within the detention centre which will capture the movement of the security officers immediately after the alert went out. What did these show?

Did the COI question doctors and medical professionals who attended to Mr Mas Selamat? If no, why not? If yes, what were their reports of the prisoner just prior to his escape? When did they last observe the detainee? What was his physical condition then? Can the COI confirm that reports show that Mr Selamat was still alive on or before 27 Feb 08?

It is even more bizarre that through all this, there is not any press report about what the detainee’s family think and feel. One would imagine that Mr Selamat’s parents, siblings or spouse who have something to say especially now that he has disappeared under the most mysterious of circumstances. And yet, there is only silence. What about the foreign press? Have they been prevented to interview the family?

This COI report raises more questions than it gives answers. There is just so much farce that people can take. Now tell us the truth.

Militant Escaped Without Trousers, Remains In Singapore Monday, Apr 21 2008 

By Melanie Lee and Daryl Loo, Reuters, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A suspected Islamic militant fled without his trousers from an unlocked toilet window at a Singapore detention centre, but is thought to be still in the city-state two months after his escape, the government said on Monday.

The infamous toilet

Urinal cubicle with ventilation window opened: Photos for Ministerial Statement from MHA. Click here for executive summary section of COI report. Click here for comments by Director of CID.

Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Wong Kan Seng, told parliament Mas Selamat bin Kastari could strike the city-state if he managed to hook up with the Jemaah Islamiah network, blamed for the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people.

Kastari, the suspected leader of the Singapore cell of al Qaeda-linked JI, flipped his trousers above the toilet cubicle door before escaping through a window, Wong said in a briefing to parliament on the investigation into the escape.

The infamous toilet window

“The guard had assumed that the urinal cubicle was a secure facility and that Mas Selamat could not escape from it. This assumption was wrong,” he said.

He said the two guards who escorted Kastari to the toilet had “failed in their duties” and the officers responsible would be “replaced”. The government has apologised for the security lapse but has not announced the dismissal of any senior officials.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” said Wong, who was grilled for more than two hours by parliamentarians.

Wong said Kastari had planned his escape “over time”.

Kastari had changed into a yellow baju kurung, or tunic-like Malay traditional dress, and trousers for a meeting with his family at the detention centre, but could have taken his detention clothes with him during the escape, Wong said.

The back of the infamous toilet

Rear of family visitation block

He said he was not sure how Kastari, who has a limp, managed to get over the double perimeter fence at the centre, but said he could have “exploited a weakness” in the fencing.

the fence

Increased Risk

Kastari was being held for allegedly plotting to crash a plane into Singapore’s airport, but had not been tried. Wong said he was still in Singapore and could attack the country.

“Throughout the search in the last seven weeks there were some findings or information that led to our security agencies believing that he is in Singapore,” Wong said.

Some experts have said that Kastari could try to return to Indonesia. If that happens, Wong said Singapore could face an increased risk of an attack.

“If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his JI friends, they could well launch some plans to attack Singapore.”

Kastari’s escape sparked a massive manhunt on the tiny city-state that saw Nepali Gurkhas combing forests and a global security alert from Interpol.

Wong said that the investigation into Kastari’s escape concluded that he received no help from the centre’s guards or staff and was not assisted by someone from the outside.

The escape was seen by some experts as highly embarrassing for Singapore, which prides itself on tight security. Wong said the authorities were considering building a new detention centre inside a prison.

Singapore, a strong U.S. ally and a major base for Western businesses, sees itself as a prime target in the region after it said it foiled JI plots in 2001 to attack its airport and other sites, including the U.S. embassy and the American Club.

*************

Singapore details terror suspect escape, Gillian Wong, AP, 21 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AP) — An unsecured bathroom window and complacent guards allowed a top terror suspect to flee a high-security prison in February, Singapore’s deputy prime minister said Monday.

In announcing the results of a probe into the embarrassing escape, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said Mas Selamat Kastari, who allegedly once plotted to hijack an airplane and crash it into the city-state’s international airport, had planned his Feb. 27 escape over time.

Speaking in Parliament, Wong said Mas Selamat climbed out of a ventilation window of a toilet cubicle before a scheduled weekly visit with his family. The window did not have a grill on it, Wong said.

“In my view, the security weakness of this window is the single most crucial factor which enabled Mas Selamat to escape,” Wong said.

Wong said there was no video recording of the escape since closed-circuit television coverage of the area was being upgraded to add motion detectors.

The escape triggered a monthlong nationwide manhunt in which police, special operations officers, elite Gurkha guards and soldiers combed the island nation’s forests. Border security was tightened.

Wong said the probe found no evidence suggesting that it was an inside job, but said the guards should have kept Mas Selamat in sight by preventing him from closing the cubicle door.

“Complacency, for whatever reason … had crept into the operating culture” at the detention center, Wong said.

Wong said the officers responsible for Mas Selamat’s escape would be disciplined, penalized and replaced.

Security breaches are rare in tightly controlled Singapore, an island nation of 4.5 million people that is a 45-minute boat ride from Indonesia where Mas Selamat is alleged to have links with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, blamed for a series of attacks that have killed more than 250 people since 2002.

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Wong said authorities believed Mas Selamat had not managed to flee the country, and that there is a risk the fugitive would launch a retaliative attack on the city-state.

“We consider him to be a key trigger in the terrorist network,” he said. “If he could leave Singapore and connect back with his (Jemaah Islamiyah) friends, they could well launch a revenge attack.”

Mas Selamat is said to be the former commander of the local arm of the Jemaah Islamiyah.

No LIVE Broadcast By CNA Of COI’s Findings On Mas Selamat’s Escape Monday, Apr 21 2008 

Parliament will be sitting in less then half an hour according to the Order Paper.

The highlight of today’s Parliament sitting are the ministerial statements: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, on the Committee of Inquiry (COI) Findings on Mas Selamat Kastari’s Escape AND Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Government Responsibility.

Channel News Asia (CNA), Singapore’s local pro-govt broadcaster, isn’t airing a LIVE broadcast of these two important statements in Parliament. Budget statements are broadcast LIVE every year. Even the statement on the controversial casino issue was broadcast LIVE.

Television reaches out, instantly, to many people. Therein lies the reason. Being Singaporeans, most of us know how CNA kisses-up to the PAP govt in its many reports. So its hardly surprising that CNA isn’t airing it LIVE so as not to embarrass our “great leaders” who can do no wrong. Our pro-govt local media is well-known in bending over backwards in order not to portray our “great leaders” in a negative light.

findings by mas selamat

Cartoon from my sketchbook

We deserve better but unfortunately we’re pretty much stuck with propagandists masquerading as journalists.

An update: Click here to read the Executive Summary. Its 6 pages and in PDF. Click here to read DPM Wong Kan Seng’s statement. Its 21 pages and in PDF.

Longer Queues For Free Food In Wealthy Singapore Tuesday, Apr 15 2008 

AFP, 14 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Rising food prices are driving more people in Singapore, the wealthiest economy in Southeast Asia, to join the queue for free meals, charities said Monday.

Thirty percent more people are turning up daily to fill their stomachs at the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, which serves free vegetarian meals, the temple’s president Lee Bock Guan said.

During weekends the figures are even higher, when about 5,000 people arrive for the free food compared to 3,000 three months ago, he told AFP.

“Food prices have gone up and for them, their wages have not gone up as much,” he said, adding the needy are coming from all walks of life.

“Their income is not enough to cope with the higher food prices.”

Lee said donations from some of the temple’s wealthiest members are still strong, allowing it to handle the rising demand.

The Care Corner Seniors Activity Centre, which serves free breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, said inflation has led 10 percent more elderly citizens to turn up for meals, compared with two months ago.

Some of them have started to take more food at lunch and bring the extra home for their dinner, said a centre worker who declined to be named.

The Young Women’s Christian Association, which cooks meals and delivers them to the needy, said it is operating at peak capacity serving 200 people each day – despite a drop in rice donations.

“One of the possible reasons could be the increasing price of rice,” programme executive Han Shin Hui said, adding donations of other food items such as biscuits have increased.

She said the organisation has had to use its own funds to cover the drop in rice donations.

Singapore is an island state that imports virtually all its food needs.

Consumer price index inflation reached 6.6 percent in January-February, up from 0.8 percent in the first half of last year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said last week.

MAS announced it had tightened monetary policy in a bid to address the price rises.

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The different faces of Singapore, Seah Chiang Nee, Insight Down South, theStar, 12 Apr 2008

The top 10% of the population are the rich, who live in wealthy districts, while the bottom 20% are the languishers who have difficulty coping with a high cost structured life. The third is the large middle class.

A SINGAPOREAN couple walked into a Lamborghini showroom and bought two units – his and hers – for US$650,000 (RM2.04mil) each.

“It’s amazing; young kids coming in and spending S$2mil (RM4.7mil),” the manager told a journalist. “I don’t think they were even 30 years old.”

Last year, 29 of these crème de la crème models were sold countrywide, beating Ferrari (26 cars).

In 2007 a total of 320 luxury cars including Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lotus, Aston Martin and Maserati, were sold to Singapore’s new rich.

As the nouveau riche basks in their newfound glory, more Singaporeans from the poorer quarters are approaching the government for food aid.

A growing number of homeless can be seen sleeping in void decks of buildings and, pressed by high living costs, more elderly citizens are working as toilet cleaners or collecting used cans for recycling.

Singapore remains largely a middle class society. The high number of shopping plazas attests to it. But the group may be decreasing as a result of globalisation and runaway prices.

The city-state of 4.7 million people has two – perhaps three – faces. On the top 10% are the rich, who live in wealthy districts, own yachts and blow S$10,000 (RM23,209) on a single meal.

At the bottom 20% of the population are the languishers who have difficulties coping with a high cost structured life in an international city. The third is the large middle class.

Take the case of Carol John, 27. She doesn’t own a bed, sleeps every night on thin mattresses with her three children. Hers is a one-bedroom flat that reeks of urine smell from the common corridor outside.

“I can’t save anything, it’s so difficult for me,” John, who is unemployed, told a reporter. She relies on her husband’s S$600 (RM1,392) monthly salary and S$100 (RM232) government handout.

She is luckier than others who are homeless – elderly and even entire families – who sleep at void decks or the beach and bathe at public restrooms.

In perspective, Singapore is the second richest country in Asia next to Japan, with a per capita GDP of US$48,900 (RM154,141).

Homeless cases are few, nowhere comparable in number to Osaka’s army of vagabonds or New York’s ‘bag ladies’.

In fact, nine out of 10 poor people in Singapore have their own home, and usually a phone and a refrigerator.

But in the local context, it is a potential minefield of unrest. The proportion of Singaporeans earning less than S$1,000 (RM2,320) a month rose to 18% last year, from 16% in 2002, according to central bank data.

The bad part is that life is often worse for the unemployed – compared to other countries – because Singapore has no safety net and no rural hinterland to cushion their suffering.

Unlike in Malaysia or Thailand, a jobless person who cannot cope with the global market has no countryside to retreat to so that he can live off the land.

The problem will get worse. In other words, the rich will get richer and the poor, poorer with the middle class remaining more or less stagnant.

The state’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has worsened from 42.5 in 1998 to 47.2 in 2006, which makes it in league with the Philippines (46.1) and Guatemala (48.3), and worse than China (44.7) according to the World Bank.

Other wealthy Asian nations such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan have more European-style Ginis of 24.9, 31.6 and 32.6 respectively.

This is one of the worst failures of the modern People’s Action Party, despite its ‘democratic socialism’ principles.

It was with these that its first generation leaders were able to turn a poor squalid society into a middle class success story.

Economists attribute the major blame to globalisation, which benefits the skilled citizens and the rich but makes it hard for the unskilled, the aged and the sick.

Even the highly educated are not spared.

The use of new instruments like company restructuring, relocation or out-sourcing of workers – unheard of before – is widening the gap and creating more income inequality.

For example, while the proportion of lower income rises, those who earn S$8,000 (RM18,570) or more increased from 4.7% to 6%.

This rising inequality could eventually undermine the bedrock of society – the broad middle class.

Some economists say that the feared erosion of Japan’s middle class, first enunciated by Japanese strategist Kenichi Ohmae, may already be happening here.

His country was emerging into a “M-shape” class distribution, in which a very few middle class people may climb up the ladder into the upper class, while the others gradually sank to the lower classes.

These people suffered a deterioration in living standard, faced the threat of unemployment, or their average salary was dropping, he said.

Gradually, they can only live a way the lower classes live: e.g. take buses instead of driving their own car, cut their budget for meals instead of dining at better restaurants, spend less in consumer goods.

And, Kenichi said, all this might take place while the economy enjoyed remarkable growth and overall wages rose.

However, the wealth increase may concentrate in the pockets of the very few rich people in the society.

The masses cannot benefit from the growth, and their living standard goes into decline.

The Singapore government, which relies on the middle class vote to remain in power, has vowed to make economic gap-levelling its top priority – for survival, even if nothing else.

First-Hand Account Of Tight Security At Whitley Road Detention Centre Tuesday, Apr 1 2008 

Singapore’s great escape by Jufrie Mahmood, Singapore Democrats, 27 Mar 2008

It is exactly one month today since Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Internal Security Department (ISD) Whitley Road Detention Centre. While we await the findings of the Government appointed “independent” Committee of Inquiry.

I have not stopped wondering how the escape could have taken place. It is next to impossible for any detainee at the centre to escape. And I am saying this from personal experience.

I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) sometime in 1979 for an offence I did not commit. I was then a translator attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Prior to my transfer to the CID I was serving in the same post in the ISD. I was unceremoniously transferred to the CID after being accused of having pro-opposition sentiments.

I had privately voiced out my disagreement towards certain government policies which I felt was discriminatory and against the spirit of multi-racialism. I was only being honest about my disgust for such policies. I was, of course, found not suitable for the ISD and thus transferred to the CID.

Not long after working in the CID, I was arrested and detained without trial. The authorities said that they had “found” some anti-government petition circulated to many organizations. The petition, I was told, was some sort of protest against the detention of a group of university students and had contained information about the ISD.

The Government’s immediate response was to arrest me. They thought I was responsible for drafting and circulating the petition. Actually the petition was drafted and circulated by a colleague, a fellow translator in the CID, who got so worked up over the detention of some of his friends, many of whom were university undergraduates.

Among those rounded up was Mr. Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex PAP MP who stepped down during the last GE. The ISD found out after I was already detained that the author of the petition was indeed my colleague, now deceased, and that I was not aware of its existence because it was drafted and circulated while I was on leave and absent from the office.

Nevertheless, I was charged under the Official Secrets Act for revealing ISD operational methods to the my colleague and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. After some two months in Whitley Road Detention Centre I was moved to Queenstown Remand Prison. I was released after six months for good conduct.

So as I had said, I am giving a first-hand account about the tight security at the detention centre. All movements in the centre are closely monitored. When a detainee needs to move from one station to another within the compound for further interrogation or for other purposes, he is physically escorted. The gurkha guards will hold the detainee’s hands tightly while moving from one station to another. When he goes for a toilet break the guards would stand guard outside the toilet entrance. And since toilets are not situated near or abutting the perimeter wall/fencing, escape is practically impossible.

That being the case I can think of three possible reasons that could have led to the escape – that is, assuming the escape really took place:

1. Some party or parties were in cahoots with, and assisted, Mas Selamat in staging his escape. If this is the case there seems to be a breakdown in the system of screening security personnel. This is indeed a very serious development.

2. For reasons only known to the powers that be Mas Selamat was deliberately let loose.

3. Mas Selamat has magical powers which he may have acquired through long hours of meditation during his solitary confinement.

In the meantime the Minister-in-Charge Mr Wong Kan Seng should take full responsibility for this embarrassing episode. I do not detect any signs of regret in his demeanour when making public statements concerning the case. He appears to be as cocky as ever.

Ministers who are quick to claim credit for Singapore’s achievements must also be as quick in taking the blame for any shortcoming. The economic costs resulting from the delays and traffic jams at the causeway will easily run into tens of millions of dollars.

Thus far the response by our security officials have been less than assuring and lacks professionalism. If the government is to be believed, Mas Selamat is a very dangerous individual. He is not a petty thief. But the immediate response to his escape smacks of a tidak apa (the devil may care) attitude.

If I remember correctly it took the authorities four hours before they decided to inform and engage the public, one whole week before telling the public what clothes Mas Selamat was wearing and another few days to release information that his limp would only be obvious when he runs.

I wonder at what point of time was the Home Affairs Minister informed of the “escape”, and having been informed, what his first reaction was and what directions he gave to his officers. This is very important because Singaporeans need to know the true quality of their leaders which is only evident in times of crises. After all, we citizens have been forced to accept the argument that our ministers are world class and should be paid handsomely.

I would like to suggest that the Minister for Home Affairs volunteers to have his pay cut by $1,000 for every day that Mas Selamat is not caught. And since the cabinet claims to take collective responsibility, other cabinet ministers can join him and have their pay cut as well.

The longer Mas Selamat remains free, the more money will be accumulated which can then be used to help the poor. This can also serve to mitigate PAP policies where the Poor Also Pay. Yes that has always been the PAP philosophy – the Poor Also Pay.

Coming back to Mas Selamat, if he is rearrested the Government should put him on trial. Let the world hear his side of the story. Let him defend himself in court. If after due process of law the evidence shows that indeed he is guilty, then let the law take its course.

In my opinion it is not that simple to seize a plane, pilot it over a distance and crash it into a building. According to information supplied by the authorities Mas Selamat is only a trained mechanic. Since when can a mechanic, acting alone, pilot a plane without first undergoing any formal or informal training. If the authorities have information on Mas Selamat’s flight training lessons, they have not told the public. We only keep hearing the mantra that “Mas Selamat tried to crash a plane into Changi Airport”. The people who crashed the planes into the world trade centre on 9/11 underwent months of training to learn to fly the planes.

Let Singaporeans hear the truth – on how he managed to do the impossible of escaping from the Whitley Detention Centre, the whole truth – including how he was going to fly a plane to crash into Changi Airport, and nothing but the truth – from the man himself and not some Committee of Inquiry.

Mr Jufrie was an opposition candidate in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 general elections.

Quick To Kiss China’s A**! Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

The Singapore government has been quick to support China on its handling of the recent unrests in Tibet. I’m not surprised coz its pretty much the same here even when the protests are peaceful. The most recent example of course is the tak boleh tahan protests.

As for the unrests in Tibet, the Singapore government’s rush to support China without actually knowing what happened, especially what triggered the recent events, is quite pathetic, to put it mildly. Even then, blindly supporting China’s handling of the unrests, and Tibet in general, without acknowledging the underlying causes and roots of Tibetans’ anger, makes the Singapore government look like one of China’s biggest ass-kissers!

We do know what the Tibetans are generally frustrated, upset and pissed-off about as these series of videos show……

20 Mar 2008

5 Aug 2007

13 Mar 2008

15 Mar 2008

16 Mar 2008

17 Mar 2008

Treated Like Common Criminals For Peacefully Exercising Their Constitutional Rights Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Below are passages I have selected from a 2005 book by Kevin Y.L. Tan (one of Singapore’s leading public law scholars and legal historians) titled An Introduction to Singapore’s Constitution. Its a bit of background about the Constitution and especially for this post about the Tak Boleh Tahan protest last Saturday with regards to Freedom of Assembly.

“Although many people have heard the words ‘constitution’, ‘constitutional’ and ‘constitutionalism’, few know what they mean….Today, we use it to refer to the most important and basic rules concerning a country’s government and legal structure. It is the supreme law of the land and is superior to all other laws. Put another way, the Constitution is the Mother of All Laws since it is the basic legal foundation of any society.”

“Peoples all over the world have struggled to place government on a more democratic footing and to hold them accountable for their actions. That is why we have constitutions.”

“In the modern state, government is large and the state possesses vast powers of coercion. As individuals, we worry that the state may become so overwhelming and powerful that we end up living under tyranny. We worry that those who govern us will succumb to Lord Acton’s axiom ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. This is why we draft constitutions to break up and divide these powers between different branches of government and subject them all to the law.”

“Ideally, a constitution must organize, separate and control the arbitrary exercise of power. Given the political realities of a single-party dominant system of government in Singapore, the limiting powers of the Constitution are weak indeed. Other than the sovereignty provisions under Part III and the elected president provisions – which require a two-thirds majority in a national referendum – everything and anything in the constitution is amendable by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This special majority has been easily obtained since 1968 when the PAP secured an almost hegemonic grip on power….This allows the ruling party to change the Constitution almost at will and the ease with which the amendments are constantly made erodes its sanctity as the supreme law and its legitimacy as the nation’s legal beacon of light….if Singaporeans are looking to their Constitution to help control and limit government, they will come away disappointed for they will discover that control on government is not achieved through the haloed words of a sanctified and revered national document or the activist intervention of the courts.”

“Article 14(1)(b) guarantees that all citizens ‘have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms’. This is subject to Article 14(2)(b) which allows Parliament to restrict the right in the interest of the security of the country or public order….Restrictive legislation exists in the form of: the Penal Code (unlawful assembly); the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (empowering the Minister to make rules regulating public meetings and processions in public places); the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (regulating the licensing for public entertainment including lectures, talks, addresses, debates and discussions in a public place); the Societies Act ( which renders a meeting of an unlawful society an offence) and the Public Order (Preservation) Act and the Preservation of Peace Act (which gives the authorities power to disperse assemblies in gazetted areas in the interest of public order).”

Here are accounts, from participants of the protest, of what happened when they were brought to the Police Cantonment Complex……

Part 3 of Confessions of a Protester World Consumer Rights Day, Chia Ti Lik, SGpolitics.net, 17 Mar 2008

The earlier process of surrendering personal items into a transparent bag took some time.

There was also some delay due to Siok Chin and Dr. Chee’s firm exchanges with the police.

At one stage, there was also so much tension that they placed 3 guards within the lock up cell with us.

Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann was uncomfortable about us grouping in a circle to talk. He entered the lock up and insisted on standing amongst us when Dr. Chee refused his suggestion to sit down on the bench.

All that took up some time such that by the time we were settled down people were then taking turns to go to the toilet. Accompanied of course.

I also went to the toilet under guard. I had to pass through a total of 4 or so gates. Each one was locked. I was accompanied all the time by a police officer.

The toilet bowl squarely faced the door. If the policeman stood at the door, there was no way I could get out of his sight. I approached the cubicles only to find that they were bathing cubicles. I did not see any urinals. There was only one cistern and flush and one washbasin. These were in a single straight line from the door. There were no windows. No side doors. No trapdoors. Nothing.

The Policeman remained there. I passed my urine under police guard. After that i was led back to the cell. This was repeated with each and everyone of us under guard.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Part 4 of Confessions of a Protester World Consumer Rights Day, Chia Ti Lik, SGpolitics.net, 17 Mar 2008

“I am exercising my constitutional rights.”

“I am responsible for my own actions.”

“I myself will answer for what I did.”

It came statement taking. I was amongst the first to be called. I was led to another room where I would sit down facing an officer in front of a PC.

The Officer taking my statement was polite. He revealed that he would be asking me a number of questions. He told me that I could decline to answer them.

I must say frankly that I co-operated with the police. I answered the questions the best that I could. However, any questions that turned towards pinning blame on other persons, I declined to answer.

Each time I was faced with a difficult question, I repeated my position to the Police officer. I am exercising my constitutional rights. I will take responsibility for my own actions.

There were of course attempts by the officer to allude persuasion and instigation by persons within the SDP persuading people to take part in the protest.

Honestly since I was there to support a valid course. I answered that I was there on my own accord. I will answer for my actions.

The Officer then asked why i was there. I told him that I was there to protest against price hikes. I was there to speak on behalf of Singaporeans.

I was asked whether I went to the protest because of SDP’s encouragement and instigation. I told them that i went on my own accord.

I was asked how I came to know about the protest. I named the Sammyboy forums. [Samsters can feel really proud this time!]

I was asked if I knew of SDP’s website, of course I did but I realised that I did not really know SDP’s website very well. Seriously, I did not have time to surf around. Therefore even sammyboy forum’s access was done through saved links and not by way of typing the address.

I was asked who I went there with. How I got there. All these I declined to answer.

After signing my statement, the officer questioned me on my personal belongings. He then told me that he would have to confiscate my phone and my camera. I told him of private photos in my camera which I would have to delete, of course in his presence and that I would only surrender them if I was allowed to delete them.The officer claimed that the IO would decide whether it could be done. We waited some time after he contacted the IO.

The answer was no.

I explained the need to have certain private matters kept confidential. I asked again the relevance of private matters for the offences being investigated.

The answer again was no.

I told the officer that I was resisting and picked up my bag of belongings and tucked them under my arm. I stood up and made my way to the door. The officer ordered me to sit down. He told me that this was a lock up and asked me where did I intended to go? I thought of Kastari. But I was missing a limp.

I then decided to reason it out with the senior officer when he came. A total of 4 officers came to my room. Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann and the officer taking my statement gave me their gentleman’s word that my personal data would not be messed around with. After I extracted the promise and assurance from both of them, I surrendered my Tak Boleh Tahan shirt, my phone and my camera. I was then given a yellow T-shirt in exchange with compliments from the Singapore Police Force.

I was then led to a smaller lock up. There I found Ghandi and Dr. Chee. Soon thereafter the rest followed.

I thought I was tough but I soon found out that though 4 officers were needed for me to surrender my stuff, 5 were needed to forcibly pry John’s Tak Boleh Tahan shirt off.

When we were in the smaller cell. We heard Siok Chin’s raised voice arguing with the police.

To be continued in part 5

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Police behaviour away from public eye, Singapore Democrats, 17 Mar 2008

Far from the good guys that they try to portray of themselves, police behaviour on 15 Mar 08 was despicable.

For one they treated Mr John Tan, SDP’s assistant secretary-general, without regard for his safety. As Mr Tan had difficulty getting into the police vehicle several officers, thinking that they were away from the public eye, dragged him in a very rough manner (see video).

Inside the police van, despite being told that Mr Tan was suffering from a frozen shoulder, they forced his hands behind his back to handcuff him. Mr Tan turned pale with pain.

In the meantime, one of the protesters kept shouting that Mr Tan was diabetic and asked the officers to take it easy.

When he arrived at the station, Mr Tan was obviously in need of medical assistance.

The officer who arrested Ms Chee Siok Chin got ahold of her finger and bent it. Ms Chee cried out “You’re breaking my finger! You’re breaking my finger!” which was recorded on video.

Another protester was treated in a similarly shameful manner. Mr Seelan Palay fell over as he was led to the police vehicle. The officers proceeded to drag him by the arms into the van, causing him to hit his head against the steps of the van.

Mr Chong Kai Xiong, another one of the protesters who was arrested, had three of his left fingers sprained when an officer grabbed and twisted them during the arrest.

At the police station, the police demanded that the protesters remove their “Tak Bolen Tahan” T-shirts and hand them over for investigation.

In the first place, did the police not have enough video footage and photographs showing the protesters wearing their T-shirts?

Secondly, could they not have taken photographs of those arrested while they were in custody? Why the insistence that the shirts be seized?

Mr John Tan asked to call lawyer Mr M Ravi for legal advice first to see if the police had the right to seize the T-shirts.

The Investigating Officer refused and called in four of his colleagues, who proceeded to pin Mr Tan against the wall and literally ripped the shirt off. As a result, Mr Tan sustained scratches to his arm.

The police also demanded that the protesters hand over their cellphones. When Mr Chia Ti Lik initially refused, four officers were called in.

But there was one officer who stood out in his utter lack of respect for the uniform he wore. Station Inspector Tan Kok Ann, a stout man with a crew cut, was flippant as he was dishonest.

When the protesters were standing around and talking with each other in the holding celling, SI Tan insisted that everyone had to be seated. Dr Chee Soon Juan asked that the officer leave the cell as they were in the midst of a private conversation.

But SI Tan refused and stood right in front of the group.

Later in the evening, the Station Inspector came in and told the group that everyone was free to leave after bail was posted. All except Ms Chee Siok Chin whom he said was being held back for further investigation.

Upon hearing this, the group decided not to post bail in order to remain in the police station with Ms Chee. They asked to see her as she was kept separate from the men.

Officer Tan Kok Ann turned down the request as, according to him, those arrested could not communicate with each other. This was obviously a fabrication as all the male protesters were kept in the same room and were freely talking among themselves.

In addition, when Ms Chee was arrested in September last year over the Burmese issue and was taken to the Tanglin Police Division, she was allowed to communicate with Mr John Tan, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, and Dr Chee who were also arrested.

However, after hearing that the rest would not post bail if they did not get to see Ms Chee first, Officer Tan quickly returned and told the group that everyone, including Ms Chee, would be released together.

As if pleased with himself for his great performance that day, SI Tan Kok Ann did a little jig in front of those in the holding cell. Yes, in full uniform.

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