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.”

Toa Payoh tak boleh tahan lah!! Friday, Apr 25 2008 

Sign the Tak Boleh Tahan! petition on May Day in WKS’s constituency, Singapore Democrats, 24 Apr 2008

map-tbt at toa payoh

As announced, the SDP will be in Toa Payoh to commemorate International Workers’ Day on 1 May 08. The May Day event is part of the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign against rising costs in Singapore.

We will be asking residents of Toa Payoh to sign a petition calling on the Government to do something about the unbearable cost of living and to stop the exploitation of Singaporean workers.

Singapore Democrats and friends will be at Toa Payoh Central (next to the Toa Payoh Community Library) from 11 am to 6 pm next Thursday.

We will encourage Singaporeans to support the campaign by signing the petition (see below). The SDP will also visit the kopitiams and talk with residents about their difficulties in coping with the horrendous increase in prices.

We will also be distributing flyers showing how the ministers, all multi-millionaires, continue to make use of cheap foreign labour to suppress the wages of locals so that they can squeeze yet greater profit and revenue to feed their opulent lifestyles.

We will also be selling Tak Boleh Tahan! t-shirts and buttons. The aim is to turn the campaign into a national effort to stop the PAP from continuing its rapacious policies. Dr Chee Soon Juan’s books will also be on sale.

All in all, the occasion will be a meaningful one where we hope to raise the voice of Singaporeans so that the PAP will sit up and listen.

There is also the added factor that Toa Payoh is the constituency of Mr Wong Kan Seng. It is opportune to let the Government know that the Home Affairs Minister must be held accountable for his failures.

Whatever your reason, come down to Toa Payoh Central on 1 May to support the campaign and tell the Government: “Tak boleh tahan!”

The Tak Boleh Tahan! Petition

To: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

We, the undersigned, call on the Government to help the ordinary citizen cope with the crushing cost of living which is making life unbearable. The slew of price hikes over the past several months and the increase of the GST has caused inflation to sore to record levels.

Coupled with decreasing wages, many of our workers can’t even afford three square meals a day. Some can’t afford to pay for water and electricity. Many are homeless.

Given the dire circumstances, we call on you to:

1. Show that you understand our plight by not increasing your salary to such an exorbitant amount of $3.8 million a year. This works out to be more than $10,000 a day! Many of us will take a year just to make what you earn in a single day. Such an attitude is making the rich like you richer and the poor like us poorer.

2. Be more judicious in allowing foreign workers into Singapore. Our society and economy cannot sustain the indiscriminate influx of the so-called foreign talent. We cannot live on the kind of wages that foreigners can because, unlike them, we have to raise our families here.

3. Remember that many of our male Singaporeans have to serve National Service and thereafter return for reservist training for many years. Yet the foreign nationals, who do not have to make such sacrifices are getting all the jobs.

4. Release our hard-earned CPF savings. We are the biggest savers in the world and yet, we have the lowest retirement incomes compared to other countries. This is because you keep the HDB prices unaccountably high and then use all sorts of schemes to retain the little that is left in our savings. Compulsory annuity plan is the latest scheme.

5. Make public the information of the billions of our dollars that you conduct your businesses with through the GIC and Temasek. While you invest for the “long-term” many of us cannot afford to live decent lives and afford the soaring healthcare costs.

In veiw of these, we urge you to govern democratically and return to us our economic and political rights. Your policies are not benefiting us, the people. We say to you: “Tak boleh tahan!” and call on you to make things right.

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

Should Singaporean Youths be Allowed to Vote at 18?, Workers’ Party Youth Wing, 21 Apr 2008

The Workers’ Party Youth Wing is pleased to invite you to participate in the first of our YouthQuake Forums and partake in a discussion on how youths in Singapore can be encouraged to adopt and carry forward a refreshing new agenda on voting age.

This forum session seeks to educate, empower, and unite young people to bring youth-centric issues into the forefront of public discourse. It aims to provide an opportunity for youths to share their insights and opinions on promoting a vote @ 18 agenda in Singapore.

In order to assist us in the organisation of this forum, kindly confirm your attendance by emailing the Workers’ Party Youth Wing @ youthwing@wp.sg by 1st May 2008 (Thursday).

Date: 3 May 2008 (Sat)

Time: 1400 hrs – 1600 hrs. Please be seated by 1345 hrs

Venue: 216-G Syed Alwi Road #02-03

WP HQ{216-G Syed Alwi Road is near Farrer Park MRT (NE8). At the MRT station go to Exit G, walk 550 metres along Kitchener Road (turn right) and walk another 100 metres along Townshend Road. It is also relatively nearer to Lavender MRT (EW11). From the MRT station, exit opposite SIR building. Walk 450 metres diagonally across towards Jellicoe Road, French Road, King George Ave, Maude Road, Townshend Road. For those who drive, carpark lots are plentiful which consist of URA lots and a nearby HDB multi storey carpark. – I copied these directions from the old WP website: Pseudo}

The speakers for this event are:

1. Choo Zheng Xi: Zheng Xi will be speaking on the pros and cons of a vote @ 18 agenda.

2. Bernadette Tan: “A vote @18 agenda is more than a political issue. It’s a core social issue.”

3. Khairulanwar Zaini: Khairulanwar will be touching on the double standards adopted in Singapore of doing national service @ 18 while voting @ 21.

Speaker profiles:

Choo Zheng Xi is a second year student at the NUS Law Faculty. He was the youngest speaker to make his case at the Speaker’s Corner, taking to the soapbox in 2000 at the age of 14. His activism has since refined but he is no less passionate about youth involvement in the public sphere. Zheng Xi organized Myanmar Peace Awareness Day on all local campuses on August 2007. This involved public forums, red ribbon and armband distribution, and public petition signing. He is also the owner and Editor of TOC, a local online news and social commentary website with an established readership. He is currently involved in a blogger’s project to craft a position paper on deregulation to be submitted to the government. He looks forward to a day when youth involvement in public discourse will be the norm rather than the exception.

Bernadette Tan is 17 this year. Formerly from Methodist Girls’ School (MGS), she is currently in her first year at Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC). In MGS she represented the school in a variety of debating competitions. Now in ACJC she has continued her career as an orator, having already represented the school in the National Forensics League, an American oratory competition. She is the eldest daughter of Eric Tan, the WP East Coast candidate in the 2006 General Elections.

Khairulanwar Zaini is willingly defending the nation although he would be glad to be deprived of the honour for the next remaining ten months. He remains a silent sideline observer of the socio-political landscape in Singapore, sporadically becoming outraged at certain political developments and even more sporadically writes about opposition development at http://burningrepublicstate.wordpress.com. A liberal at heart, he awaits the day a Singaporean politician will campaign on themes of hope and love.

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

Singapore Is Materially Rich, Spiritually Poor Saturday, Apr 19 2008 

by Luqman Suratman, AFP, 18 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore is materially rich but spiritually poor – and the government is partly to blame, one of the city-state’s most prominent authors says.

Catherine Lim, also a political commentator, is one of a very few to publicly criticise the government in Southeast Asia’s most economically advanced society.

Lim said that while Singapore is consistently ranked high in various surveys on material measures, such as business friendliness and economic achievement, the standings are reversed when other factors are considered.

“Press freedom, happiness and even love life and romance and so on, Singapore is ranked very low,” Lim said in an interview with AFP.

“Maybe it leads to some questions. Are we achieving all this material prosperity at the cost of something? Soul, spirit, heart, senses, whatever you want to call it?”

She said the government’s tight political control is partly to blame for a lack of happiness among the city-state’s 4.6 million people.

“If there were less of a climate of fear… we would be a happier society,” she said.

Singapore is one of the most politically stable countries in the region and has become the base for thousands of foreign firms.

The country’s leaders say its tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure such stability which has helped it achieve economic success.

It is illegal, for example, to hold a public gathering of five or more people in Singapore without a permit, meaning demonstrations seldom occur.

Singapore’s leaders maintain that Western-style liberal democracy is not suitable for the tiny, multi-racial nation which has been ruled by the People’s Action Party since 1959.

Lim said the government is doing much better than others in helping to deal with “material issues”, including rising global food prices.

“This is a very pro-active government… a very pragmatic, problem-solving leadership,” the Malaysian-born Lim, 66, said.

“The problem is in the other areas, political and social liberties that we don’t hear much of here in Singapore.”

Lim, who has lived in the city-state since 1967, spoke to AFP on the sidelines of a conference on The New Science of Happiness and Well-being, where she was invited to speak, and which ended Thursday.

Paris based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked the city-state at 146 out of 168 nations, lower than Zimbabwe at 140, on a global index of press freedom released last year.

Singapore has also placed at the lower end in global surveys of sex frequency and satisfaction.

A recent poll by advertising firm Grey Group found that nine in 10 people living in Singapore said they were stressed.

Singaporeans are not “unhappy in the real sense of the word as in poverty-stricken countries”, Lim said, but they seem to feel something is missing to complete their happiness.

“We need more time to relax. Singaporeans are always talking about pressure. We make money, but hey, we don’t have the leisure to spend our money.”

Lim has written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a book on poems. Her works have been published internationally.

Last year she also turned to the Internet, after the pro-government Straits Times refused to publish one of her commentaries, her website says.

The newspaper had, for 13 years, published her commentaries even though they were critical of the government, she wrote on the website.

But in September it rejected one on “the need for a political opening up”, the website says. The Today daily also refused to publish it, forcing her to go online, she says on the website.

Direct criticism of the government is rare in Singapore’s mainstream media, forcing dissatisfied Singaporeans to resort to the web to express their views.

VIDEOS: Reform Party Saturday, Apr 19 2008 

Ng Teck Siong, Chairman of the new Reform Party, introducing the party at a press conference on Friday, 18 Apr 2008, at the Quality Hotel at Balestier Road

JBJ talks on Reform Party’s action plan and constitution

Q & A – Part 1

Q & A – Part 2

Cartoon from my sketchbook

by my sketchbook

New party vows to fight Singapore ‘enslavement’, AFP, 19 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – – A tough-talking new political party vowed on Friday to fight what it called the “enslavement” of Singapore after nearly half-a-century of rule by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

“Our people have been enslaved all this while,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, 82, interim secretary general of the Reform Party, told a news conference.

He said Singaporean society has been “castrated” and its people left powerless by an executive that holds “absolute power.”

For Jeyaretnam, a rare voice criticising the PAP over the past decades, the party’s formation marks his full return to politics after emerging from bankruptcy and being reinstated as a lawyer.

“We now in the Reform Party are not going to play pussy-foot with the PAP,” he told reporters at the close of a lengthy address which outlined what he sees as the country’s social, political and economic problems.

“I think it’s time now to ask questions and hold the PAP to account,” he said.

Party officials said they held the news conference a day after filing documents to register their party.

The opposition plays only a marginal role in Singapore but Jeyaretnam made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament. He was then secretary general of the Workers’ Party.

The lawyer was disbarred when he was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages to members of the PAP, including former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

During his bankruptcy, he was reduced to hawking his self-penned books outside city subway stations.

Last year Jeyaretnam paid 233,255 Singapore dollars (now 172,578 US) to clear his bankruptcy, which had prevented him from running for political office, after help from friends and his prominent lawyer son.

He was also reinstated to the bar and has resumed legal practice.

On Friday, Jeyaretnam said he did not care whether Singapore’s “obedient press” reported his comments — which continued for 80 minutes.

“Some things have to be said,” he stated as he began the speech.

He said Singapore, which prides itself on having ‘First World’ status, faces a widening gulf between rich and poor.

Government leaders earn millions but many families survive on one or two thousand dollars a month (605-1,1210 US), yet nobody speaks up, he said.

“There is, I don’t have to tell you, a fear culture in Singapore,” Jeyaretnam said. “It’s a total enslavement of the people.”

He said the party’s registration documents contained the names of only 10 people — and even attracting that many was not easy.

“People are still afraid,” he said.

Asked whether his news conference in a hotel meeting room was being monitored by police, he replied: “I’m sure that it is.”

Jeyaretnam said he hopes not only to reform the structure of the Singapore system but also people’s way of thinking, to rouse them from a PAP-induced “slumber.”

Jeyaretnam said that, if he is physically able, he will stand as a candidate in the next general election due by 2011.

He called for a complete overhaul of the electoral system, which he said places opposition parties at a disadvantage. The PAP won all but two seats in last year’s polls for the 84-member parliament.

The country’s leaders say its tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped it achieve economic success. Thousands of foreign firms are based in Singapore, one of the most politically stable countries in the region.

The leaders dismiss criticisms from human rights groups who have said the government uses libel laws to silence critics, saying they have to protect their reputations.

Jeyaratnam spoke at a table with two other party officials beside him. To their left stood a white board which carried only two words in blue ink: “Reform Party.”

Singapore Opposition Veteran Says His New Political Party Will Fight To Empower The People Friday, Apr 18 2008 

By Gillian Wong, Associated Press Writer, 18 Apr 2008

J B JeyaretnamSINGAPORE – A veteran Singapore opposition figure said Friday his new political party will press for more help to the city-state’s poor and strive to empower citizens by raising awareness of their rights.

Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, who turned 82 in January, also said that he will contest the next parliamentary election, due by 2011, if his health permits.

“If I’m still here, if I’m still fit – of course,” he said when asked if he planned to run in an election. “I thank God that I’m still able. I don’t suffer from any major illnesses, diabetes, or asthma, or anything.”

In 1981, Jeyaretnam became the first opposition politician elected to Parliament since Singapore’s independence from Malaysia in 1965.

He was declared bankrupt in 2001 when he failed to pay more than S$600,000 (US$367,000; euro308,500) in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee’s predecessors Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and others.

Jeyaretnam emerged from bankruptcy last year after paying off damages from defamation lawsuits filed by the country’s leaders. Being solvent again makes him eligible to run in elections.

He told reporters he submitted an application Thursday to register the Reform Party as a political party and that it would take up to two months to be approved.

The new party would first reach out to Singaporeans to remind them of their political rights, of which Jeyaretnam said they have been deprived by the ruling People’s Action Party, or PAP, in the tightly controlled city-state.

“The battle plan is to try and energize our people, to rouse them from this slumber into which the PAP has led them,” Jeyaretnam said, while pledging to press the ruling party on a number of issues affecting the poor.

The PAP, which came to power in 1959, holds 82 out of 84 elected seats in Parliament.

He said the party will ask the government to remove a sales tax for basic necessities, including some foods, medicine and schoolbooks; improve the public health care system; and question the million-dollar salaries of Cabinet ministers, among other issues.

“I think it’s time for us to ask the questions and hold the PAP to account,” he said.

The party currently comprises ten members, the minimum required to register a political party, but would recruit more after it is registered, Jeyaretnam said.

He acknowledged that finding the first ten members just to register the party had been a challenge, which he attributed to a fear of joining the opposition.

“It’s not been easy, let me tell you, because simply that people are still afraid,” he said. “You can’t scoff at this idea of fear in Singapore. It’s very real, I know it.”

Singapore says its political system has democratic features, including elections, but that it does not seek a freewheeling, Western-style democracy that could foment tension and even chaos. Authorities tightly restrict speech and assembly, saying such controls provide the stability that has helped turn Singapore into a global economic powerhouse.

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.

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

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.

SDP Website Wins Hitwise Public Popularity Award For Politics Friday, Apr 4 2008 

Click here to see the Hitwise media release (PDF) on the 2007 winners. SDP’s website won the award for “Politics” under “Lifestyle”. Here’s what SDP had to say…….

SDP website wins public popularity award, Singapore Democrats, 4 Apr 2008

The Singapore Democrats were awarded the Hitwise Singapore Online Performance Award for 2007 for our website.

Hitwise, an Australian-based company, informed the SDP of the results in March this year. The organisation announced that the award was a recognition of No. 1 websites across a variety of industries in Singapore.

It said: “This unique awards program recognises excellence in online performance through public popularity.”

The award was given based on internet usage of approximately 1.5 million Singapore Internet users visiting over 9,300 local websites during 2007.

Hitwise added that it measured “the largest number of websites and local Internet users of its kind throughout the course of the year.” Its methodology is audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The award ceremony was held yesterday.

The SDP thanks all of you for your support. We hope you will continue to do this by helping us publicise this website with your family and friends.

You can start by clicking on the “email” icon on the top right corner and sending this message to as many of your relatives, colleagues and friends as possible.

Help us spread the word of democracy and awaken the people of Singapore. This award means nothing to us if we cannot further our cause of speaking up for our fellow citizens.

NUS Student Magazine Censors Interview With Chee Soon Juan Friday, Apr 4 2008 

Singapore Democrats, 3 April 2008

National University of Singapore (NUS) The Ridge magazine, a student union journal, has declined to publish an interview one of its writers did with Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Mr Kelvin Lim, a student reporter for The Ridge, wrote to Dr Chee in January this year for an interview for the magazine when the Singapore Democrats held its public forum on election reform.

We reproduce the unpublished interview below:

The Ridge: Are you satisfied with the turnout of the forum?

Dr Chee: Yes, I am. But organising a forum is the easiest thing to do in this process because it’s not the number who turn up at a forum that is going to reform our election system. It’s really those who dedicate themselves to the work in the months and years ahead that are ultimately going to mean whether we have free and fair elections or whether we continue to live in a one-party state.

The Ridge: Do you think this forum has achieved the original intention of “kick-start a national effort to address and rectify an election system”?

Dr Chee: Whether the reform effort is ultimately successful or not depends on whether Singaporeans are willing to come forward and serve the cause. My role is to persuade and encourage Singaporeans, especially youths such as yourselves, to take up the challenge and push for change. The fastest way for anything to fail is for people to wait for other people to do the work.

We need leaders – real leaders, not those who call on others to make all the sacrifices and then demand that they be paid millions in salaries. We need Singaporeans who not only have the vision and foresight, but also those who have the guts to come out and fight for what they believe in.

For every 100 historians, researchers, analysts, and commentators, there is one activist out there with sweat on his brow, pushing the boundaries and working for change. It would be nice if the numbers were reversed.

The Ridge: What are the immediate future plans after this forum?

Dr Chee: We have called for a meeting where we will make plans to form a committee, identify the tasks ahead, and assign work. If you or anyone of your readers are interested, please contact us at speakup@yoursdp.org. Remember, it’s our future and our nation that we are talking about. If we Singaporeans don’t care, no one else will.

The Ridge: By and large, the Singapore Democratic Party has not been very popular among Singaporeans. Being at the forefront of this movement, would you view this as an impediment?

Dr Chee: I remember talking with Kim Dae-jung in the 1990s when he had still not yet become the president of South Korea. Kim was imprisoned for six years for his role in fighting for democracy in Korea and had survived a couple of assassination attempts. He had lost several elections and at one point was very unpopular among his fellow citizens, especially those from other provinces. This was because the military government relentlessly painted him as one who was soft on the communists in North Korea. You needed a strong military government, albeit a dictatorial one, to stand up to the communist North, the generals said. A democracy would weaken South Korea and invite the North to invade. Kim said that it hurt him deeply when his fellow citizens criticized him but he believed in what he was doing and would not stop working for a democratic South Korea. He persevered and won his people over.

Similarly, democracy activists in Taiwan were unpopular during the martial law years. In Indonesia the opposition could muster no more than a quarter of the votes during the Suharto years. Yet when democratic change came, when free and fair elections were held, the tables turned.

When there is not a free media and when we don’t have a free and fair election system, let us not just do what is popular. Instead, let us have the honesty and courage to do what is right. Popularity in an undemocratic system is like the wicked queen and her mirror on the wall. It is based on deception and vanity. This is what the situation with the PAP is. The opposition must not fall into the same trap. In truth it is not the lack of popularity that is an impediment to the reform of elections in Singapore, rather the craving of it.

The Ridge: In the face of an apparent polarization of political views among opposition parties, do you think it is possible for reconciliation or compromise to a common ground?

Dr Chee: If you are referring to ideology or platform, it is perfectly all right for political parties, even those in the opposition camp, to differ. Problems of society (and their solutions) are too complex for things to be neatly compartmentalized into just two views: government or opposition.

But if you are talking about democratic change and reform of an unfair and unfree elections system, I don’t understand why opposition parties cannot band together. Look at PAS and the DAP in Malaysia. They have very disparate ideologies and appeal to very different segments of the electorate. And yet when it came to the recent protest for free and fair elections, they were arm-in-arm.

It is to this end that the SDP will continue to reason with and persuade all opposition parties to see that in this one issue of electoral reform, we need to put aside our own interests and work together for the good of Singaporeans. Pride and prejudice will destroy not just our parties, but also Singapore.

The Ridge: In your speech, you suggested raising awareness among university students, NGOs, academics as one of the concrete action towards election reform. However, would ordinary Singaporeans such as heart-landers be engaged in this process?

Dr Chee: Yes. How? Through university students, NGOs and academics. As I mentioned, Singaporeans need to stop waiting for others to make the change. The SDP can’t do it alone. The committee that is going to be formed can’t do it alone. What we need to do, and will do, is to get more Singaporeans to actively participate in the process. The operative word here is “actively.”

If the people we meet say “Yes, I know its important that we reform our election system” and yet choose to do nothing while waiting for the next person to do the work, then we will be talking about change for a very long time. We need to reach out to the heartlanders, there is no doubt about that. But when I say “we” I don’t just mean the SDP. Get on board and let’s get busy.

The Ridge: An incessant preoccupation with the financial pursuits has left most Singaporeans politically disengaged. How would you seek to convince the politically apathetic to be more interested or involved?

Dr Chee: By reaching out to those who are not. Change always comes from the minority – the thinking and engaged minority. It always has and always will. When we show leadership and courage, others will follow. I remember what Shih Ming-teh, a Taiwanese dissident jailed for 25 years who is now an influential political figure in Taiwan, once said:

“In every era, there are always those who will struggle for freedom. These people play a difficult role, their paths are paved with pain and loneliness. These freedom fighters plod along a narrow path. But in the end, those who follow will widen the path into a broad avenue.”

Don’t worry about the politically apathetic. Don’t look at them and say if they’re not interested, why should I do anything. Instead, take that first step even when others are either too afraid or seemingly apathetic. It’s called leadership. You’ll be surprised how many minds you will change from your act of courage and leadership.

The Ridge: Finally, as a parting note, what do have to say to NUS students?

Dr Chee: My colleagues and I will be coming down to your campus as well as the campuses of the other universities. I hope to be able to talk to you about the reform effort and discuss with you about setting up a student campaign for electoral reform. Better yet, it would be good if one of your unions or clubs could organise a forum for us to discuss this. In the meantime, visit our website www.yoursdp.org to keep abreast of political matters in Singapore.

Singapore Democrats’ New Look Wednesday, Apr 2 2008 

Its not an April Fools Day joke. 😉

Welcome!, Singapore Democrats, I April 2008

…to our new home. You can even smell the fresh paint, can’t you?

We’re really pleased and excited to present to you our new website. As you can see, we’ve enhanced existing features and introduced new ones to make your visits here just that little bit more worthwhile.

Our top priority of bringing you important political news and analyses remains. The enhanced aesthetics is icing on the cake or, in more homely terms, the chai por on the chwee kueh. Equally important is that the website remains easy to navigate. All in, we hope you like it.

As with all good hosts, allow us give you a quick tour around the place. Our top menu carries the regular features of the party, our manifesto, archived material, etc.

Please note that on the left, you can access the page for financial contributions. For a party to grow we need funds. We need to keep our operations going and the only way that we can do this is if our supporters chip in. Please give generously. We thank those of you who have given in the past but the truth is that we need more finances just to cover our basic operations.

We’d also like to bring your attention to a new feature called Perspectives. This segment contains the more serious discussion pieces in our Vantage and Special Features sections as well as light-hearted snippets in Political Hors D’oeuvre. We’ve also added Feature Blogs where we will highlight well-argued essays from our talented blogging community.

We’ve also got a new Gallery section to house our photographs and videos that are multiplying by the week.

For those who are nostalgic, our Classics I and II will take you back to the older versions of the website. There’s much archived material there for those of you doing research.

For our younger readers, we encourage you to visit our Young Democrat page. In there you will find the YD’s Facebook. Come on in and be a friend.

Several of you have asked that we provide a News Feed service where you can be updated on SDP’s news and events. So here it is (bottom of the left column).

And if you wish to email a post to a colleague or friend, print it, or save a PDF format just click on one of the icons on the top right corner. And what about leaving a comment at the end of each post? Mi casa su casa. (Pseudo: That’s spanish for “my house is your house”)

Enough already! We’ll leave you in peace to explore the website.

Just one last word: Our new address is www.yoursdp.org. Please bookmark this and tell as many people as you can about us. This website is our only line of communication with Singaporeans (unless Dr Tony Tan has a change of heart). Our new email address is speakup@yoursdp.org. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it although the old one still works.

Thanks for your support all these years. We press on. Again, welcome.

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