Friday, December 31, 2004

Fear of being wrong 

As part of its coverage on the Indian Ocean tsunami, The Straits Times referred to a report from the Financial Times on the reaction of Thailand’s meteorological department to the impending disaster:

Thai weather officials under attack for lack of warning
Thailand was on Wednesday grasping the magnitude of the tsunami disaster amid criticism that meteorological officials had been too hesitant to warn of the risks of a sea surge in case they were wrong.

Thailand's meteorological department knew by 8.10am (local time) on Sunday about an hour before the first waves hit that a powerful earthquake had struck near Sumatra, and they discussed the possibility that the quake could cause large sea disturbances. The department had already distributed information pamphlets several years ago explaining the risks of tsunamis around southern Thai beach resorts.

But without definitive proof of an imminent tsunami, the meteorological department dared not issue a national warning lest it be accused of spreading panic and hurting the tourism industry if the disturbances did not materialise...
Sins of omission can often be as serious as sins of commission. Unfortunately, whenever we harp on people’s mistakes, we may be unwittingly encouraging a fear of committing mistakes and fostering a culture of timidity. Harm done is usually more obvious than benefits missed.

Sadly, not in this case.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Sudden policy changes 

Yet another Singaporean complains about sudden policy changes made by the government. This time, it is over the new rules involving the cash downpayment for the purchase of HDB resale flats.

The reader sent a letter to The Straits Times saying:

I notice this has been the trend recently — trying to guide how people spend by changing monetary policies. Worse, most of these new policies are to make up for deficiencies in planning, such as allowing too many private condominiums to be built and so creating an oversupply. Such a reactive mode does not help in any way and is detrimental to thousands of Singaporeans financially.
When a government policy proves to be wrong, it is understandable that it should change its policy. But not all changes to policy stem from mistakes. Sometimes, circumstances change; policies then need to be changed along with them. In fact, many policies are actually crafted with subsequent periodic adjustments in mind.

Unfortunately, change is painful for many people. Unfortunately, also, it cannot be avoided. The question is only who gets hurt by change, and who gets the blame for it.

Which leads to a suggestion by the aforementioned reader to let supply and demand “resolve small deviations naturally”. I am sympathetic to this suggestion because I am biased towards free markets myself.

But I doubt this provides a satisfactory solution. Markets, especially asset markets like housing, are naturally prone to bubbles and crashes. People who suggest a totally free, unregulated market appear to have forgotten the panics, crashes and economic misery that prevailed in the past before modern regulatory regimes were put in place. In those days — as in the immediate aftermath of the Enron and WorldCom scandals — governments were criticised for lack of regulation.

This, of course, is not to suggest that things have become perfect with the advent of financial regulation. Only that a reversion to the past, laissez-faire regime may not be the solution either.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami — Part 2 

The death toll just keeps going up. It’s now over 68,000. Hopefully, it’s near an end, but I somehow doubt it. One official warned that the final death toll could surpass 100,000!

Not surprisingly, a number of bloggers have been posting on the tsunami over the past few days, some providing links to aid organisations. Just following the links and comments from this blog, you get Girl in Bionic Suit, reflexive disorder and mr brown. Blogger itself hosts a blog — The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami — that is dedicated to providing news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Realities about living and working in Singapore 

Several letters in The Straits Times today illustrate some of the harsher realities about living and working in Singapore.

Two readers wrote about the inability of mature workers to get scholarships or places in courses in health care. Both remarked that priority is given to fresh “O” and “A” level holders.

This priority reflects the idea that education is an investment, and one that pays the best return when invested in the young. Whether this is true, I am not so certain, since many people actually don’t practise what they learn in school, or practise it only for a short while anyway. As one of the readers point out: “[F]resh school-leavers after their O and A levels...might not know what they want or like.”

Unfortunately, age discrimination is alive and well in Singapore.

Another reader, in responding to another reader, writes that in Singapore, high property prices are the norm, with no exceptions. He compares this with Australia, where similarly-expensive places like Sydney are exceptions, not the norm.

Property prices in Singapore have, in the past, been boosted by the government’s pro-property policies. The government has recognised that this is not sustainable, as Singaporeans lack cash assets for their old age. Since the mid-1990s, measures have been put in place to discourage excessive investment in properties. Partly because of this, property prices have been on a downtrend in Singapore. I doubt that that is making many Singaporeans happy, though.

Having said that, obviously, it should also be said that one should not compare apples with oranges. Singapore is a city, and property prices in cities tend to be more expensive than rural areas, especially when the city itself lacks a natural hinterland. Johor may seem like a hinterland to Singapore, but don’t forget that there is a national border in between, and a border is more than just a line on a map.

The reality is that Singapore is not Australia, and can never be. One has to accept that low property prices, as seen in large countries, are simply not realistic in Singapore.

Incidentally, this particular reader also wrote that, contrary to what the previous reader had written, anti-discrimination laws can be effective, pointing out that organisations in Australia “take their anti-discrimination laws and policies seriously”.

Anti-discrimination laws would probably help mature workers get jobs. However, the problem with anti-discrimination and affirmative-action laws, apart from compliance and enforcement, is the cost of implementing them.

There is the obvious cost of administration. But there is also the cost of having to employ workers just to meet quotas that were set without sufficient regard to the specific needs of an industry or company, and thus the opportunity cost of not employing someone who more closely fits the job requirement.

Having said that, with an ageing population and an economy that no longer promotes life-long employment, the Singapore government may soon have to consider whether the benefits of affirmative action to boost mature worker employment outweigh the costs. Otherwise, the reality of living and working in Singapore may become exceedingly harsh for these people.

Monday, December 27, 2004


The scale of the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean region is simply horrific.

Death toll from Asian quake, tsunami passes 16,000
The death toll from an earthquake off Indonesia and tsunami that it unleashed reached 16,147 Monday as officials reported deaths in eight countries in southern and southeastern Asia. At least 5,880 people, including 70 foreigners, were killed and many more were reported missing in Sri Lanka... At least 5,279 people were killed in southern India... In Indonesia, at least 4,448 people were killed as the country took the full force of the huge earthquake and tsunami that swallowed entire coastal villages...
Plus many more made homeless and left vulnerable to disease.

So much for beachfront property.

Singaporeans can be thankful that Singapore’s geographical position has spared it from this sort of disasters so far.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A new magazine for the elite 

According to The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings is planning to launch a new snob magazine.

Publisher SPH Magazines has plans to launch a new title dedicated to the luxe life. Icon Singapore, billed as the first Chinese luxury magazine, will make its debut in March, targeting “the bilingual, elite class who appreciate the good life”.

Ms Elsie Yah, its chief editor, said: “Based on interviews with retail managers of luxury brands, we found out that more than half of their customers are Mandarin-speaking, so we know there’s a market for these people.”

Her confidence is buoyed by reactions to a prototype which was distributed to a 2,000-strong test audience two weeks ago. “When we told them we were thinking of selling the magazine for $6, they told us it was too low and that we should charge $8 for it,” she said...
That’s right. Keep out the cheapos.

But somebody should tell them that if they raise the price, they may be subverting government policy (see previous post).

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Government bodies cut costs for private sector 

Cost-cutting seems to be the theme recently in the government. This time, the government is cutting costs for the private sector.

On Tuesday, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) announced that it is revising down its port fees from 1 January next year to make Singapore’s port more competitive. Yesterday, JTC Corporation and the Housing and Development Board announced that they will cut industrial land rents from January next year.

Most governments cut prices when the economy is weak. While the Singapore economy appears to be in a soft patch, full-year growth is still expected to exceed 8 percent this year.

So the latest cuts are obviously meant to address structural issues rather than cyclical ones.

The government has shown itself to be unwilling to cheapen the Singapore dollar to boost the economy’s competitiveness. I can understand this view. Many other countries — especially in Asia — have been trying to keep their currencies weak for precisely this reason. But cheapening the currency also tends to result in low interest rates — which in turn causes over-indebtedness — as well as the over-accumulation of overvalued US dollars in the foreign exchange reserves. Trying to outdo these countries in cheapening the local currency is ultimately self-defeating.

And yet, Singapore needs to keep itself competitive. Targeted price cuts like those by the MPA and JTC look like the answer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Suppressed freedom 

Following a speech to the Foreign Correspondents' Association yesterday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was asked about the international press freedom survey which ranked Singapore together with the likes of North Korea and Iraq. His response:

We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests and what we have is working. The media here does not produce just a string of praise for the government. It has to retain credibility and to do so, there must be hard facts.
This question, of course, has been asked to a few other leaders as well, with similar responses.

Sometimes, I think that journalists like to play games with politicians. Some of them must be hoping to hear an answer like: "Yes folks, here in Singapore, we suppress the press. We need a docile press to sell our policies. And by the way, you get six years for asking that question."

Well, maybe not the last part.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Star Cruises takes to the skies 

Everybody seems to want to get in on the budget-carrier bandwagon.

Star Cruises, Valuair announce pact
Star Cruises is taking a more than 20 percent stake in Valuair, making it largest shareholder of the low-cost carrier. The deal is part of a second round of fund-raising by Valuair which is currently also in advanced talks with two other potential investors...

Valuair and Star Cruises say they will coordinate operations and jointly market fly-cruise packages from Singapore. Mr Chong said: “They need passengers also to fill their seats. So our cruise passengers, the in-bound passengers will need to fly into Singapore because as we grow we can no longer depend on domestic passengers to fill our big ships. So it works well for both parties.”
I can see the benefits of cooperation between an airline and a cruise ship operator, but an equity stake normally suggests some sort of integration of operations as well. Otherwise, the funds might be better deployed elsewhere.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Planning for retirement 

The Straits Times has a special report on retirement planning today. The report highlights the growing trend of Singaporeans working past the official retirement age of 62.

Excerpt from the report:

The bottomline message...to Singaporeans is stark: Save more, spend less or retire poor. But besides starting to save earlier, financial planners say that Singaporeans desperately need to know how to invest their money... Most have no clue... Indeed, a survey of 1,000 Singaporeans who earn more than $2,000 a month done five years ago by the NUS and commissioned by Citibank found that most Singaporeans do not plan for their future simply because they don’t know how...

[M]ost Singaporeans badly need to revise their typically unreal expectations of retirement living. Ms Anne Tay, vice-president of wealth management at OCBC Bank, notes that most professional “refuse to believe” they will need at least $1 million to keep up their current life-styles... But the sobering reality is that $1 million in the bank only works out to $4,000 a month, or $2,000 each if shared by a couple, over 20 years of retirement, without even factoring in inflation. That is by no means extravagant, especially with rising medical costs today.
But is it really not extravagant? And why assume 20 years of retirement? The problem with retirement planning is that you have to deal with many uncertainties.

The first uncertainty is how long you will have to save for. With a life expectancy of about 80 years, the average Singaporean will live about 20 years after retirement at 62. But most people will not live to the life expectancy. Many die before 62. Many live to their 90s. The margin of error alone exceeds 20 years. In the face of such uncertainty, people need to plan for the near-worst case. That means planning to live another 30 years or so after retirement. That makes the task of accumulating adequate savings about 50 percent more daunting.

The second uncertainty is the cost of living in old age. Probably the single biggest uncertainty here is medical cost. How healthy will you be in old age? Most age-related diseases cannot be cured; they need to be treated. In other words, they impose a financial burden on the aged for the rest of their lives. How sick you are in old age can make a tremendous difference in the amount of money you will need. Can you predict how sick you will be? And what about inflation? If you can’t predict these, again you may need to plan for the near-worst case, which means another huge addition to your savings need.

If you plan to save and invest to meet the financial needs of your retirement, you face the third uncertainty: How well will you investments perform? Financial planners generally assume that stocks provide the best returns. However, stocks are very risky. There is a high chance that they may fall in value at the very moment the retiree needs the money from them. The least risky are savings deposits, which return next to nothing after inflation, which essentially means that you are actually relying on savings and not investment.

What do all these lead up to? It is that relying on savings alone is difficult in practice for many people. The uncertainty involved means that each individual who does his own retirement planning will have to plan for the near-worst case, which adds to the burden of saving.

One solution, which is the underlying theme of The Straits Times report, is to continue to work after 62. However, this option leads to a fourth uncertainty: What are the kinds of jobs that will be available for those above 62? The labour market report put out by the Manpower Ministry recently is not optimistic about job prospects for those above 40, much less those above 62.

Which means that individuals will still have to do some sort of planning to accumulate assets for their retirement. However, assets don’t need to be in the form of cash holdings. In fact, a way of handling situations of uncertainty is already available: insurance.

No, I’m not an insurance agent. I’m not recommending that everyone rush out and buy insurance. In fact, I think that many people are actually over-insured, or they may be insured for the wrong things. If you already have enough cash savings or investments to meet your needs, insurance is unnecessary; they actually involve costs and may lower the overall value of your portfolio — insurance companies cream off part of the investment returns. If you want to increase your returns but don’t want to take on too much risk, simply invest a small portion of your funds in riskier assets like stocks or unit trusts.

However, if you are still in the process of building up your savings through your income flow, insurance is a good way of protecting that flow by fixing a minimum future value or income stream. The cost of insurance can then be treated as the cost of buying peace of mind.

Therein lies the shortcoming of relying on the current Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme for the retirement funding of Singaporeans. The CPF largely relies on members to save for their retirement. Of course, some of it can be used to buy insurance at the member’s discretion. However, the amount involved is usually small. The main mechanism for building up your retirement funds through the CPF is essentially savings, and as the foregoing discussion and the article in The Straits Times show, this is actually rather difficult in practice. Mandate too much in each individual’s CPF account and you essentially deprive members of their hard-earned money and the economy of disposable wealth. Mandate too little and members may not have enough for their retirement.

So Singaporeans will have to do their own financial planning to ensure a comfortable retirement.

And I agree with a comment in the article in The Straits Times: Children are not your ATMs.

Those counting on their offspring to maintain them financially in their retirement are headed for disappointment. Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations in Asia. Increased life expectancy is expected to impose undue financial strain on even the most filial and capable of children.
Unfortunately for many Singaporeans, especially the middle-aged and above, this realisation may have come too late for them. Traditionally, people have relied on their children to provide for them in their old age. So they saved less than they should have. The change in economics and demographics is likely to hit many of these people hard.

Change, like retirement itself, is often painful to the unprepared.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Singapore’s birth rate headed lower, unemployment rate headed higher 

Channel NewsAsia reports that Singapore’s birth rate is headed for a new record low. According to the report, there were only 30,581 babies born in the first ten months of this year, 590 fewer than the 31,171 in the same period last year. It also cites the latest World Fact Book in saying that Singapore’s total fertility rate could drop from last year’s 1.25 to only 1.04.

The Singapore government’s pro-family schemes may help arrest the trend, but the employment outlook may prove to be an impediment.

According to another Channel NewsAsia report, in the third quarter of this year, the Singapore economy created more than 14,000 jobs, but the 2005 outlook is not as rosy. While the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.4 percent in September — the lowest in three years — the Manpower Ministry expects the jobless rate to climb to 4 percent by year-end as Singapore’s economic growth moderates.

A likely consequence of a weaker economy and higher unemployment is that employers may place pro-family policies lower down their priorities while employees themselves, facing a more uncertain job situation, may put off having babies.

Or maybe some of those who are unemployed but not financially stretched may simply take the time off to raise babies, thus boosting the birth rate instead. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Arnold Schwarzenegger and the art of selling 

The Straits Times reports today that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, is planning to visit Asia, including Singapore, early next year. The trip is apparently to obtain more investment from Asia.

As part of the report, The Straits Times published the following quote from Schwarzenegger:

I have always believed that no matter what you do, you have to be able to sell it. You can have the best product in the world, but if the people don’t know about it, no sales. California produces incredible products and it is a beautiful state. The key is to make people aware of it.
The first sentence reflects Schwarzenegger well. Schwarzenegger, like most good political leaders, is a salesman. He uses his charm to sell ideas and policies. And his charisma is widely acknowledged.

As The Straits Times notes: “His appearance at the Republican Party National Convention in New York in September, when he backed the candidacy of President George W. Bush, was regarded by many as the highlight of that event.” I have no arguments there (see my post on his speech then).

In the Singapore context, as the country moves towards a more inclusive policy-making process, expect the government to increasingly choose leaders who make good salesmen rather than good technocrats. It needs to do so to placate increasingly demanding Singaporeans.

Singaporeans will then have to think about what it means to have salesmen as their leaders. And if they can’t figure it out for themselves, they can always ask the Americans.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Religion in public debate 

In an article in The Straits Times today titled “Hearing out religion in public debate”, law professor Thio Li-ann writes:

What is the legitimate role of religion in public policy debate? The issue was highlighted recently during the presidential election in the United States, where the success of President George W. Bush’s “moral values” campaign was aided by the evangelical Christian vote.

There are two warring camps. On one side are radical secularists or “exclusionists”, who insist that religion has no place in public life and should be excluded from public debate. On the other side are “inclusionists”, who insist on free and open democratic debate, and welcome both religious and secular arguments in this.
This is a fine example of how to bias an argument in favour of your own view. Notice how the writer represents the secularists as “radical” and “exclusionists”, while representing the religious side as “inclusionists” who “welcome” free and open debate. This caricature of the two sides set the tone for the rest of the article.

Which is a pity because the apparent dichotomy in the secular view and the religious view has great relevance in the Singapore context. Taking either one or the other path in a national debate presents problems.

The problem with a purely secular basis for debate is that in reality, religion is important to many people. Telling such people to refrain from asserting views that are based on their religion is to deny them the right to shape society according to their deepest convictions.

However, relying on religion is also fraught with problems. What distinguishes religious morality from secular morality — yes, despite what is implied in Thio’s article, secularism does not preclude morality considerations — is the belief by the former of divine being or beings who determine moral standards. This means that when the moral standards of one religion are in direct conflict with the standards of another religion, it becomes extremely difficult to find a compromise.

Another article in The Straits Times today by Malaysia correspondent Leslie Lau provides additional perspective on the problem. In his article, Lau states that in Malaysia, the strong religious influence presents the Malaysian government with a serious problem:

Most of these [Muslim] voices are not stridently fundamentalist. Religion just plays a big part in their lives... But the preoccupation with matters of canon underscores the problem facing the government: How to balance the interests of Muslims and non-Muslims, and between conservatives and liberals within the Islamic community... And while not anti-Christian, Christian symbols can provoke a negative reaction.
Which is ironic considering that Islam and Christianity share the same roots. But it underlines the problem: Strong religious beliefs can lead to antipathy towards rival religious views. A point to consider for all multi-religious societies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Facts against casino 

The campaign to stop a casino from being set up in Singapore seems to be gaining momentum. Now there is a website — www.facts.com.sg — for people to petition against it.

Excerpt from its blurb:

We are ordinary Singaporean families. We want to raise our families without the temptations and threats presented by a casino operation. When the fundamental values of growing a family is affected by economic expediency, we as a society, must have the maturity and the courage to say "NO".
So now we know that mature people actually oppose having the casino.

It must be getting harder for the government to ignore the sentiment against the casino.

See also the Today report “Families join casino debate — online”.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Perspective, please 

Mc Dermott joins in the Singapore baby debate by speaking up for the overworked Singaporean.

‘Too tired for sex’
Surely all business corporations large and small should be ‘forced’ by law to ensure the future population of Singapore. Fewer working hours, longer maternity leave and paternity leave. Paid overtime to ensure that more people can afford to have a child would be a good start.... A correlation between long hours and lack of sex drive doesn’t take a genius to see.

However the following [Sunday Times] article begins, in the title, to draw this correlation then promptly drops it in favour of arguing that it is the career goals and social status aspirations of individuals that result in poor sex drives and poor birth rate... The poor birth rate is correlated with un-caring business practices, not the ‘greedy Singaporean individual or couple’ that the article from the Sunday Times argues...
But Mc Dermott might have been a bit too harsh on The Sunday Times. In the original article in The Sunday Times, the newspaper actually concluded by citing the views of a sociologist:

But as sociologist Paulin Straughan noted, this comes from the Government’s constant exhortations on the need to strive for excellence and plan for the future. It’s the little things that matter, she said. For instance, the recent change in the academic calendar at five polytechnics has scuttled traditional holiday plans for many families... “There is now a lot of hype about family time, and yet one little change like this has made it impossible for many families to spend time together,” she said. “Contemporary parents, unlike previous generations who view children as an economic net, get no tangible rewards. Let’s not make it even more difficult for them.”
Aside from that, I agree with Mc Dermott: There is more that employers — and possibly the government — can do. In fact, this is a theme which I had explored before, most recently in “What working women want”.

Incidentally, the tendency to blame the individual isn’t restricted to this situation. An example which I had brought up previously: When a recruitment firm found that employees did not communicate sufficiently with their employers before quitting, the firm simply blamed the employees (see “Singapore workers quick to quit over glass ceilings”).

Similarly, the chronically unemployed used to be blamed for having unrealistically high expectations. Little attention was given to individual circumstances. However, in the face of persistently high unemployment in Singapore, this habit is gradually diminishing as people — most notably the Singapore government — have been forced to acknowledge the important roles of employer attitude and the structure of the economy.

At the end of the day, the underlying syndrome in all these cases is the failure to take the perspective of the individual — and to extend it generally, the failure to take the perspective of other parties. With many of society’s problems so complex and multi-faceted, decision makers who are responsible for coming up with solutions to such problems must look at them from a wide variety of perspectives.

And that includes reading more blogs like this one and Singabloodypore.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Getting the right leadership culture 

A panel looking at the direction of Singapore’s scientific research effort has recommended more freedom for researchers.

To lure best research talent, offer R&D freedom
WHILE Singapore aspires to attract the best research talent here, it needs to go beyond luring them with money. It needs also to promise investigators the freedom to determine their own research agendas. This is a key step in developing a world-class research culture in Singapore, according to an international panel commissioned last year by the Ministry of Education to look into this need...
For a country that is famed for a top-down approach, the idea of giving researchers the freedom to set their own research agenda would be novel indeed. But as in most situations where the people being led are knowledge workers who are experts in their own fields, this idea is crucial for success. I think whether the idea can actually be implemented depends on who is put in charge of it (see “Managing research at A*STAR”).

Incidentally, Koh Buck Song, leadership expert at The Straits Times, wrote an article today in the newspaper titled “Having a feel for leadership”. In the article, he wrote about the importance of empathy in leadership. Drawing partly on the theory expounded in the book Leadership And Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, he suggests that empathy is crucial to effective leadership.

Would empathy be the solution for managing researchers? I think it would help. In fact, when you are dealing with a bunch of brainy and egotistical researchers, it may be especially important. However, I don’t think it would be enough.

A leader who is directly overseeing a group of researchers — or any group of knowledge workers for that matter — should also have a relatively low need for control. In the real world, many leaders actually have a strong desire for control. In fact, the very idea of leadership in the minds of most people implies control. Many organisations are actually set up to promote people with strong control abilities into positions of leadership.

Unfortunately, when a leader with a strong need for control directs an expert in the latter’s work, a clash of opinions — and often of egos as well — is likely to result. Such an environment does not necessarily preclude good research. However, I think it is more conducive to good blogs (by mr brown’s criteria) than good research.

Singapore is a society that has been trying to promote creativity, diversity and entrepreneurship. It has an economy that is trying to increase its value-add, which in turn implies a greater level of specialisation and knowledge work. Such a society and economy needs a leadership culture that is just right for them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Singapore Idol 

Practically everyone in Singapore now knows that Taufik Batisah won the Singapore Idol contest last Wednesday. Today, The Straits Times carried more stories about the contest.

1.1 million votes were cast during the finals. Of these votes, Taufik got 62 percent. The other finalist, Sylvester Sim, got only 38 percent. But apart from the runner-up prize, there is another consolation for Sim: he gets to perform at Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai’s concert this Saturday.

The Straits Times also reported today that over the show’s 15-episode run, it generated calls and SMS worth $1.5 million. As the newspaper puts it: “That’s phenomenal because even brand-name charity shows on TV routinely put celebrities through risky stunts to impress home viewers, and keep donation phone lines ringing... All the Idol finalists, who started out as 11 unknowns, had to do was sing.”

Which perhaps suggests that the risks that celebrities take in charity shows may be unnecessary and that the hours spent practising the stunts may be a waste of time. Both the fields of economics and management say that doing what you do best is likely to prove the most rewarding.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has apparently endorsed Taufik’s win. During the People’s Action Party 50th anniversary rally on Sunday, he told the audience that “in the end, the right man won” the Singapore Idol contest.

Maybe the PAP should recruit Taufik to entice more young people to join the party.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Jetstar Asia prepares to take off 

The skies are getting crowded. But it’s also getting cheaper. New budget carrier Jetstar Asia prepares to take off.

Jetstar Asia starts flights with launch of Hong Kong route next week
Jetstar Asia will take to the skies for the first time when it flies to Hong Kong one week from now at a promotional fare of 48 Singapore dollars (29 US) for a one-way ticket, the Singapore-based budget carrier said. On December 16, the Qantas-backed carrier will launch its Taipei route at a promotional fare of 88 dollars for a one-way trip and services to the Thai resort of Pattaya will begin four days later with a special fare of 28 dollars one-way, it said. Chief operating officer Con Korfiatis said the airline will announce details of four other routes -- Shanghai, Jakarta, Surabaya and Manila -- at a later date...
And just in time for the holiday season.

Friday, December 03, 2004

MM Lee on casino 

Channel NewsAsia picks up Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s comments on the setting-up of a casino in Singapore. Excerpt:

Having a casino is something the new leaders will have to decide: MM Lee
It was a policy he was once dead set against. But with a globalised world, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew feels the decision on having a casino is something for the new generation of leaders to look at. He made this point on Thursday in a wide-ranging question-and-answer session at the CEO Dialogue in Bangkok...

Mr Lee said he was once dead set against it. “In the 1970s, Stanley Ho of Hong Kong said, ‘Have a casino.’ He had a casino in Macau. So I said, ‘No, over my dead body!’” But the world has changed. Increasingly, people can easily fly to gambling centres just a few hour’s flight away.

Mr Lee said: “I believe the Chinese are congenital gamblers...it is a game of chance. If you believe putting in an extra dollar or even a million can garner you a windfall, I say god bless.”
Channel NewsAsia omitted a few more lines from MM Lee that was picked up by The Straits Times.

Why do you believe that you go in with a hundred dollars and you will come out with a thousand dollars? That’s a mug’s game. But there are lots of mugs in this world. But I hope Singaporeans are not mugs.
How true. The odds are against the individual gambler.

Incidentally, in the arena of business start-ups and entrepreneurship, the odds of survival are also stacked against the entrepreneur. That does not stop the government from promoting entrepreneurship.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

More budget cuts 

The government intends to cut its budget further. Excerpt from a report in The Straits Times today.

Govt deepens budget cuts: it’s now 3%
The Government will be tightening its belt further in the next financial year (FY), trimming permanently the budgets of all but one of its ministries by 3 per cent, instead of the 2 per cent originally announced... These cuts will take the Government closer towards its aim to balance the Budget by FY 2005.

The deeper cut was outlined in a 31-page report released yesterday by Parliament’s Estimates Committee...

The panel’s observations include one on the Government’s target of reducing headcount by 3 per cent each year for the next three years. While it supported the move, the panel noted that the Government would not be in the red for the next two years, and urged MOF to not retrench unnecessarily and to exercise flexibility, so as not to adversely affect its services to the public.

The panel also made the point that with the public expecting more from the Government, and given that medical costs and funds for workers’ training will increase with an ageing population, the authorities should ensure the sustainability of such programmes and that funds are available for them...
I thought the panel’s observation on the reduction of headcount was especially noteworthy. Considering that the government itself has expressed concern about the unemployment situation, and that the deficits were incurred largely to alleviate the effects of the economic downturn of the past few years, it would be ironic if the government itself aggravates the unemployment situation (see also previous post).

Also, to put things in perspective, the Singapore government’s budget deficit is small, and very conservatively-defined at that. The government does not need to be in any hurry to reverse the deficit. Singapore is not the United States.