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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

PHOTOS: More Of Tak Boleh Tahan! Sunday, Mar 16 2008 

Here are more photos of the events that transpired on 15 Mar 2008. Read the Singapore Democrats’ response to the statement by the police.

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The protesters arriving at Parliament House while the media take pictures

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Gathering in front of Parliament House

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Arranging the grocery items which symbolise the rash of price increases and the rising cost of living which Singaporeans have had to put up with.

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Addressing the media. The second photo shows the cameraman from the local pro-government news media, Channel News Asia (CNA). Frankly, I don’t know why they bother to record what’s happening because they will either show a few seconds of what went on along with a bias report OR nothing at all.

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Family, friends and supporters standing under the shade near the group.

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These four photos show plainclothes policemen video recording. The first and second photos are quite obvious. In the third, the two chaps on the right are policemen. And in the fourth, its the two guys away from the crowd.

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Gathered together for a group photo.

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Yap Kheng Ho aka Uncle Yap, in a blue cap and red T-shirt, a supporter of the SDP, video recording while the plainclothes policemen video record him and the rest of the group.

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Protest placards arrive. And there’s CNA again as you can see in the fourth photo. Sheesh.

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Police officers approach the group and tell them to disperse saying that its illegal. While CASE gets away with it. Sheesh…and double sheesh!

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The protesters listen to the police officers but continue to peacefully walk followed by the media, family, friends, supporters, etc, etc.

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They are again told to stop and disperse.

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Protesters crossing the road.

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They are stopped again by the police in front of Funan shopping mall. The two guys on the extreme right are from CNA (yep them again!) and the two next to them are the police.

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These 8 photos show the police surrounding the peaceful protesters before making the arrests (and that’s putting it mildly!).

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Dragged away into waiting police vans.

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People outside Funan watching. The chap carrying the placards away is a policeman.

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Forcefully removed and dragged away into police vans with the eyes of the people and the media on them.

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