What Really Caused the Riot?

Well, much of what could have been said about this issue has already been said, given that my opportunity to write about this affair comes only now, a good 4 days after the Little India riot. So this post won’t touch on the actions of what happened that day, rather I shall suggest a cause of why the riot may have happened instead.

Firstly, it is heartening to note that many Singaporeans are refraining from racist comments, and have rather correctly identified that it is a small minority of our foreign workers in Singapore who rioted, and that they do notrepresent the majority, nor does the incident indicate the start an impending revolt by these blue collar workers from afar. The government knows this, most Singaporeans know this, and you and I know this.

But in our haste to assert that this is simply an “isolated” incident, a word thrown about countless times by our political leaders, the blame for the riot seems to have fallen mainly on the rioters’ supposed high levels of intoxication. There is no doubt they were intoxicated, but is that the only answer? Could alcohol alone have provoked such violent behaviour and actions? It seems highly unlikely. It seems far more likely that the alcohol merely served to fuel the kindlings of anger and dissatisfaction held by these foreign workers, a mixture that the tragic death of Sakthivel Kumaravelu sparked off on Sunday, causing the riot.

 

It is no secret that foreign workers in our country are badly mistreated. For all our recognition of their invaluable contribution to building up the infrastructure in our nation, we are deliberately looking past the horrendous conditions they work and live in.

Work

It was reported in the Straits Times that for 6 days of work, 10-12 hours of back-breaking work,rain or shine, a day, the average construction worker is paid $700 a month. Divide it accordingly and you get a pay rate of about $2.5/hour. This sum is so pathetically small I do not even think a comparison table is needed. And even despite them only earning this measly sum, workers have known to have not been paid by their employers. Workers who get injured in the course of their work, due to negligence by their employers, are quickly repatriated with nary a sum of compensation. Imagine you are a worker witnessing and suffering all these, would it not add to a sense of discrimination and anger?

Living

Their living conditions too are far from satisfactory. In response to the general population’s disapproval of foreign workers being housed near to them, the government has conveniently housed many of them in the far-flung corner of Lim Chu Kang, where they currently reside with our resting ancestors. Certainly, you wouldn’t call a house which opens out to a sea of tombstones “pleasantly locataed”. This is not to mention their cramped conditions and poorly mantained amenities, many of which have been chronicled in the past, and yet, conveniently left there as well.

Play

Foreign workers are not robots, so it is a given that they too need an avenue to rest and relax after a hard week’s work. And yet, where in Singapore do we provide activities or even just spaces for them to do so? I previously interned at Punggol East Constituency, where at a Grassroots meeting with local leaders, it was brought up that a ‘problem’ was witnessed where foreign workers were “sitting in the void decks and relaxing during lunch hours.” The solution came up that the police should moniter the situation, and ban these workers from doing so. From the fact that our leaders are intentionally driving them out of supposed public areas, with them doing nothing but taking a lunch break and a nap, I feel it reflects a xenophobic attitude held by the administration, one that they desperately try to hide. These workers were not committing crimes, and if you do not let them rest in public spaces, where are they supposed to go? Do their dormitories provide any form of entertainment? Judging from their pay scales, I highly doubt these same companies would bother paying extra for entertainment outlets. Such limitation of entertainment options is bound to cause dissatisfaction. Hell, it’s like not letting me bookout week after week, and if I do, only allowing me to go a small corner in the entire Singapore for that precious few hours.

 

These situations are neither reported nor discussed in the magnitude it should be. These are, after all workers in our country being deliberately underpaid and mistreated, with limited avenues to seek restitution. Does the fact that they are not locals make it forgivable? It is highly likely that such unfair and discriminatory living conditions has caused a simmering of anger amongst their population. I mean, it’s not like they don’t know what’s happening to them.

 

And those who say this is merely a one-off, may I remind you of the bus strike by Chinese foreign workers just a few months back? I look at these events as symptoms of a rising dissatisfaction amongst these workers about their living and work conditions. Without proper avenues to voice out, and taking into account that they are probably not well-versed in the “Singaporean way”, wouldn’t they take to extreme measures like striking or rioting? And what the hell is the ‘Singaporean way’ anyway? Complaining incessantly but still allowing the government to do whatever they want?

 

The answer, I believe, is not a blanket ban on alcohol in Little India, neither is it striking it off as another ‘isolated incident’ and assuring ourselves that it wouldn’t happen again. The answer is that we stop being passive about their mistreatment, and actually call on the government to improve their conditions, or stop hiring them altogether.

The riot, for all its havok, has created a ripe opportunity to raise these issues, and can provide the government a catalyst to start actively investing in SMEs to bring in high-tech, high-productivity working methods and tools that reduce dependency on these foreign workers. It is our addiction to the lowest denominator that has brought in this flood of foreign workers which the population neither wants, nor the government is able to treat properly. Let them go home, I say, and bring in the technology-driven productivity befitting of a first-world nation like us.

For starters, the government can stop awarding contracts based purely on cost, and take into account whether a firm is innovating and using productive methods to do the job. This can incentivise local firms to innovate and increase productivity. They can also reduce the amount of work permits given, and instead increase the number of years these workers are allowed to work locally, thus making more sense for firms to invest in training these workers since they wouldn’t just run off with the knowledge given.

There are many things we and the government can do, allowing us as one Singapore to rise from the ashes of the riot to bring about better conditions and better working methods locally. Blaming alcohol is not one of them.

The Strange Animal of Public Transport in Singapore

As a side-note to my previous post, I will give a really brief summary of public transport issues in Singapore. Public transport systems in Singapore are run by 2 private-owned companies: SBS and SMRT, with the Government as a kind of concerned mother behind them trying to make sure they fix their toys and don’t rip-off their customers. Now, a public system run by private companies seem to be a contradiction, since public interests and private interests simply do not gel, but the Government is one confident mother, and as she puts it:

As commercial enterprises, the public transport operators (PTOs) are incentivised to operate as efficiently as possible and increase productivity to keep their costs low, and these productivity savings are shared with commuters. This is done by controlling public transport fares through a price cap formula.

The formula requires the PTOs to share productivity savings with commuters, and hence results in lower fare increases. The system safeguards the interests of commuters and ensures that fares are kept affordable. In fact, public transport fares have only increased marginally in the past years. As a share of household spending, the average household has been spending significantly less on public transport fares – 3.6% in 2011, compared to 5.0% in 2005, indicating that our public transport fares continue to remain very affordable for the general public (click here).

Some have argued that nationalising our public transport system will translate to lower public transport fares. In terms of public transport affordability, Singapore’s fares are actually more affordable than fares in other cities like London, New York and Tokyo, which have nationalised parts of their public transport systems.

Source here

In short, Mother believes that instead of doing it herself, if she pays SBS and SMRT well to manage the public transport systems, they will do it better since they are motivated to make profits. This spells good news for Mother, SBS and SMRT. But it’s the average Singaporean consumer who gets screwed.

As private companies, SBS and SMRT are profit-maximising firms, and they do a good job of it, with them being even more profitable than the celebrated Singapore Airlines (SIA), as analysed here. Profits are essentially Total Revenue – Total Cost, so SBS and SMRT have essentially been doing a good job of raising revenue through fare hikes (consumers get screwed) and cutting costs through skiving on maintenance, sources here and here, causing the train disruptions affecting hundreds of thousands, some during rush hour (consumers get screwed as well).

Of course, SBS and SMRT raise revenues through adverts and caught off-guard at the poor maintenance of the aging transport system that it trusted SBS and SMRT to carry out pertinently, and in an astonishing move defying logic, offered $1.1billion to them to improve their services, instead of asking them to use their exorbitant profits to do it themselves, as all private companies should. This issue is covered extensively by Alex Au here and here. Meanwhile quite amusingly, Young PAP published this on their website:

Mr Tharman addressed the concerns over the Government’s S$1.1b investment on buses, saying it is a subsidy for public transport commuters, not operators.

The money is meant to step up bus service levels beyond what is currently required of transport operators. Without the Government stepping in, raising service levels would only have been achievable if fares are raised significantly, said Mr Tharman.

He said: “If operators were to achieve service level improvements on their own, fares would have to go up 12 to 13 per cent.”

He added that the Government would be monitoring operators’ losses on new buses, and funding will be reduced accordingly if losses are lower than expected.

Source here

Apparently the $1.1 billion handout is for us commuters because SBS and SMRT cannot do it alone. This raises the question of why they are even allowed to be privately-run if they cannot manage themselves. If SBS and SMRT come running back to Mother every time they need help, do they deserve to open their own businesses? Furthermore, $1.1 billion is an enormous sum of money that seems overly generous for simply “raising service levels”, an extremely vague wording that could simply mean buying better quality light bulbs, or using branded floor cleaners on buses. It simply screams unaccountability for the taxpayers that Mother is using their funds to subsidize private firms for.

Surely the logical thing would be for Mother to simply acquire the 2 errant companies and use the profits to subsidize fares for the commuters, raising public welfare and actually making public transport more attractive, taking the stress off our crowded roads. But Mother has this argument to offer:

Some have argued that nationalising our public transport system will translate to lower public transport fares. In terms of public transport affordability, Singapore’s fares are actually more affordable than fares in other cities like London, New York and Tokyo, which have nationalised parts of their public transport systems.

Source: Same as above

Which is not an argument at all, but a mere distraction. The fact that London, New York and Tokyo have more expensive fares cannot be put down to them being nationalised. They are huge global cities with a burgeoning population, with networks that are far more comprehensive than Singapore’s measly 4 lines. This raises costs far beyond that which SBS and SMRT have to contend with, even if SBS and SMRT were actually spending the proper amount of money on maintenance and not cutting corners.

So what we have here is Mother trying to side-step the issue of the benefits of nationalising SBS and SMRT, and simply offer a lame-duck distraction. As the uncle at the AngMoKio kopitiam who ate a piece of spoiled duck said: “Ptui! Disgusting.”

Oh well, that’s Singapore’s public transport system for you.

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Getting From Here to There: Transport in Singapore

So, I was greeted this morning with MP Lui Tuck Yew asserting that vehicle population growth will be “halved” to 0.5% from next month, despite COE premiums rising to a new high of $92,100 for small cars on Wednesday. And that’s just for the COE. What a great start to my day.

Certainly, from up high in his pedestal looking down on the roads of Singapore, the given solution is an easy and simple one to make – We don’t have space for roads, so we have to cut the number of cars. And the way to do that is to lower the quota allowed. The resulting price hike is inevitable and desired: More people will be priced out of the market for private-owned cars and vehicle population will be curbed. Problem solved, Mr Lui will pat himself on the back and perhaps treat himself to a new car because, well, why not? It’s not like it’s affordable to the lowly peasants anymore.

Increasingly, cars are becoming the preserve of the rich, simply because they are the ones able to outbid everyone else for a COE. PAP would say that this is simple economics and we can’t help it. Suck it up and take the MRT. But maybe, Mr Lui should seriously take into account what he simply termed as “desires and aspirations to own a car” that he claims to understand, and actually know that it is an aggravating feeling as a young Singaporean to watch my aspiration for my own car before I start my family get further and further away from me. And surely, I’m not the only one who desires the autonomy of owning his/her own vehicle.

I say aggravating because it is difficult to watch the rich in Singapore wantonly purchase cars, bid up the COEs, and simply leave them at home because they have too many, while at the same time middle-class families are increasingly forced to give up owning their own vehicles because the cost of renewing their COEs is too exorbitant. I know of a friend from a well-to-do family who just received for his 18th birthday a BMW X3. I also know of another 19 year old friend who drives his dad’s Mercedes around because he has 3 other cars and leaving them around without driving them spoils the engine. Meanwhile, another friend of mine recently has his whole family taking public transport because they had to give up their family car.

We all know about the more-than-dismal Gini co-efficient in Singapore, with the rich earning a whole lot more than the poor. This is best seen in vehicle ownership in Singapore, and sadly, Mr Lui is apparently only able to stoke this inequality, all the while proclaiming he “understands” the plight of middle-to-lower-class Singaporean families. So here are some ideas, dear Mr Lui, and perhaps it’s time for the Government to think out-of-the-box rather than employ regressive economic policies.

1. Limit the number of cars a household can own to 2.

Seriously, unless you have 10 children, which is highly unlikely in infertile Singapore, you wouldn’t need so many cars. This would really help limit the disparity between the rich and poor in Singapore and allow more households to own vehicles. But as Mr Lui puts it “The Government currently has no plans to review the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system for vehicles”, so apparently they don’t see anything wrong with squeezing ordinary Singaporeans out of owning cars. So unless such an idea gets more support or refinement, it’s highly doubtful that our firmly-in-the-box Government brains will even consider this idea.

2. Resolve all public transport issues and future-proof it

It is highly ironic that Mr Lui raised public transport as a viable alternative to private car ownership the same day that the North-East line broke down for 6.5 hours and affected 53,000 commuters, with 3 other breakdowns since March 2012, while the Circle Line has also suffered from breakdowns. This comes on the back of Mr Lui also mentioning a possible fare hike in the future because there is a need “to improve service levels for commuters while keeping operations commercially viable” (despite record profits of over $200 million for both SBS and SMRT every year). So what we have in an unreliable and increasingly expensive public transport system, and if you couple it with this:

crowded mrt 2009-003

Squeeze squeeze squeeze

There is no way public transport even comes close to being a close substitute for private vehicle ownership. So if you want to reduce demand for cars and COEs using public transport as an alternative, Mr Lui, please improve it and future-proof it for any further disruptions.

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Pointing Fingers (Part 1)

One does not go through life devoid of blame. We are often called upon to take the fall of a sub-par project, failures or unwelcome news, and that’s not bad altogether. The ability  to take the blame for failure develops one’s sense of responsibility and accountability, both qualities desirable in an ideal member of society. After all, one who has blame sliding off his shoulders at every turn, only for his compatriots beside him to bathe in its pungent smell, can hardly be counted for reliability.

But then of course, who likes to bathe himself in the repugnant smell of blame? Which is hence why we point fingers at others. And it is this blame game that has been playing out in different spheres in Singapore that has me writing this article.

This is the first issue that I will write about, with the issue of “xenophobia” (I actually disagree with the term) and sports to come.

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In reply to what is probably the dumbest argument I’ve seen yet (excluding YouTube comments)

I’m usually not one to insult people over their opinions, seeing as I’m all for free speech and people voicing their thoughts. But sometimes you just come across something that is so ridiculous you forget about respecting others’ opinions and start writing an article to insult it. And in the process you also write an extremely long title for your article because you have no idea how to shorten a sentence while still fitting “dumbest argument” and “reply” in it.
 

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Medals for Money: When we won 2 medals

The recent London Olympics is only the third Olympics I actually remember. I remember following Li Jiawei’s progress in 2004 as she lost out on a medal, much to my sadness. I remember the record-breaking fest in both the pool and on the track as Phelps and Bolt dominated each respectively. And this Olympics,  I remember it too for a few reasons.

This was the first Olympics that actually inspired me, and made me want to try for the Olympics myself. I know it sounds stupid since I’m already 18 and everyone else has a huge head start blah blah, but still, I remain inspired. And that’s fully due to one Helen Glover who, in a nutshell, trained for only 4 years in an entirely new sport and now sports an Olympic Gold Medal.

 

She’s holding something Singapore spent millions to try and buy.

I mean, sure Bolt and Phelps did their thing (again), Pistorius made history for the disabled, the Men’s team archery final was unbelievably dramatic and so on, but this just beats them all in my opinion. But after all the marveling, I got to thinking, how likely would this be in Singapore? And why do I not even give a shit that Singapore came back with 2 medals this Olympics?

So, I will also remember this Olympics for another reason: When we won 2 medals, it was then that I realised that Singapore’s sporting policy has failed miserably.

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Meritocracy Has Failed in our Education System

Meritocracy is the core principal guiding Singapore’s education system. From Primary school, students are banded in their early years according to learning ability, with the good and slower separated into different classes to cater to their various learning styles and speeds. The system makes perfect sense theoretically: You reap what you sow. If one puts in the effort and time into studies, you will get the good grades you need to advance. However, this system allows too many to fall through the cracks, cracks which appear due to the blunt tool of examinations used to measure this ‘merit’. Singapore’s use of a one-size-fits-all policy has unfortunately created a society of inequality and has, more than anything, failed our students almost completely.
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Why I Post

Firstly, sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been absorbed in Skyrim. But then again, I only have 2 followers on the blog so I didn’t really hurt anybody. Hohoho. Anyway, to the post.

In the last week or so, I’ve had my other half, my other half’s dad, and my own dad telling me it’s not really advisable to talk and post about sensitive topics online, and that I may not fully understand the consequences of posting such stuff on the Internet. My dad cited the dangers of me being misquoted, having what I say taken out of context, being sued for what I talk about amongst others. Take Alex Au ( of Yawning Bread) for example.

So I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit the past week, mostly asking myself a question posed by my other half: “Why do you post?” And so this post is really just about my thought processes as I considered the question this past week. And when I say thought processes, I mean the following is an actual conversation I had with myself inside my head.

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One reason why I dislike PAP

Everyone dislikes something for some reason, and contrary to popular belief in Singapore, people do dislike PAP for legitimate reasons as well, other than wanting “more opposition voices” alone, although that’s important too. This is actually part of a series, because each point I dislike about the PAP is equivalent to a post. So… Here’s number one. Feel free to disagree and let me know in the comments!

The PAP thinks it’s the Government.

If your first response to this statement is “It’s not meh?” it’s okay, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the way PAP acts.

PAP is a political party. It occupies a disgusting majority of the seats in parliament so much so that it practically rules Singapore since any opposition to policies are insignificant, but it’s still just a political party. The government of Singapore has Member of Parliaments from different political parties, and is known under a different name called The Singapore Government. But this distinction has become almost insignificant with the way PAP conducts itself.

PAP justifies the dangling of the upgrading carrot (cliché!) and denying opposition constituencies use of public facilities by the rhetoric “Of course it’s like that. They are opponents. Why should PAP help them? It’s a competition.”

Now these are not unfamiliar words you have seen in the papers. Personally, I have volunteered at Punggol East Constituency, meeting Michael Palmer(Speaker of Parliament) and his staff,  and have actually had this line said to me by one of his most senior staff (nice man actually). So, PAP really does believe this is fair. And that’s not all. This statement actually has common people agreeing that this is fair.

“I don’t see anything wrong with that”

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CHC: When Church Becomes Religion

This post seeks to examine why CHC followers are so incomprehensibly stubborn in their steadfast believe in Kong Hee and gang.

Ever since the breaking of the news of the CHC scandal, there have been blows from both sides, namely the derisive attitude held by non-CHCs, and the stoic belief in Kong Hee and friends by CHC members. The difference between both is that one is understandable, and the other is not.

The derisive attitude is easy to understand. “Wah steal money still get standing ovation. The US should have given standing ovation to Bernard Madoff as well”  as a quote sums most of it up actually. But the main point of these statements are a expression of disbelief. Disbelief that followers can still defend the Crossover project, their charismatic founder, his Geisha wife and the other complicit board members in spite of the evidence against them. The fact that the investigation was held over 2 years prior to his arrest speaks volumes about the amount of evidence garnered, and its thus understandable how people can’t comprehend (and therefore choose to make contemptuous comments towards) CHC members. Please note I said ‘understandable’, not ‘appropriate’ or ‘right’. That judgement of right or wrong is a personal one that I won’t make for you. In any case, look here for a summary of what exactly Kong Hee’s being arrested for.

But who, other than CHC members, can understand the CHC members steadfast refusal to look at logic and reason? The evidence is all there. Why are CHC members hunkering down, expressing strong love for the church, and donating more than ever instead of deserting it, or demanding a refund? This post explores that. Continue reading

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