Friday, December 13, 2013

Government should walk the talk

Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,”

Rather than discouraging young people to pursue a meaningless degree, the Government can take proactive steps as follows:

a) Change the practice in the civil service of limiting the career prospects of non-graduates who have good experience and competency in their field of work

b) Provide opportunities for non-graduates to pursue a long term career in the public service by offering them apprenticeship to develop the skills for their field of work and giving them the assurance of a career with good salary and prospects.

If attractive alternatives to a university degree are made available to those who are not academically inclined, we will not see the wastage of resources.

Study options for a polytechnic graduate

About the writer: The writer is a final year undergraduate at a top university. He has many non academically inclined friends who put themselves in a meaningless ‘paper chase’. He believes that his friends would be better off acquiring real-world work experience in an industry which suits their talents.

Ben (not his real name) is a 19 year old Singaporean youth. He is an average polytechnic graduate with mediocre results – neither exceptional nor lousy. He is unable to gain admission into the NUS, NTU or SMU. Unfortunately, he does not come from a wealthy family to pursue an overseas degree. Recently, he came to me to seek advice for his next step in life. Here are his options:
Option 1 - Enrol into a Distance Learning (DL) Degree in UniSIM / other education providers
Option 2 - Find a job in his industry and get working experience
Ben tells me he is not alone. Many of his friends in polytechnic are in the same boat. He also tells me that many of his friends chose option 1 and encouraged him to choose option 1 as well.
I disagreed. I told him that he should not be blindly chasing after a ‘paper’ but be looking for an option that would benefit him most in the long run.

Practical Work Experience in Ben’s industry will benefit him more than a University Degree
Ben is not the type who learns best in an academic environment. He prefers a more hands-on learning approach which he obtained in his polytechnic years. Work experience will give him the “On The Job” training that will benefit him more in his career progression.
For example, Ben would be better off being a technician in the oil & gas industry and build up extensive knowledge in that area than study some abstract theories in chemical /mechanical engineering which is irrelevant.
Work experience will put Ben ahead of his peers
By the time his peers graduate from University, Ben would have accumulated 4 years of work experience and extensive knowledge of his industry. This puts him ahead of his graduate peers in 4 years time.

A degree will not guarantee a good job for Ben and is likely to be totally irrelevant

A degree does not and never will guarantee a good job. The only guarantee is lots of hard work for a not academically inclined Ben.
This degree does not come free; it costs a lot of money. Ben is likely to find his degree completely irrelevant and useless in his future career.

Job market for Fresh Graduates is highly competitive & Ben will be at the wrong end of the pecking order
Let’s get real. Would employers prefer to hire a NUS/NTU/SMU graduate or a chapalang university graduate? NUS/NTU/SMU takes in the brightest in each cohort while anyone who pays tuition fees can enrol into a DL degree. Remember the Garbage In, Garbage Out theory. Employers are no idiots.
There are many anecdotes of DL graduates who struggle to nail down their first-choice jobs online. Many arguably fail to even get their 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice and have to settle for a job that do not require a degree. Just Google search it.
I asked Ben, “Do you want to waste your parents’ hard earned money and 3 years of your time on a useless piece of paper?”
Khaw Boon Wan sums it up perfectly when he said “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,”

I wish Ben all the best for his future endeavours and hope that he will not be trapped in the paper chase that will do him absolutely no good.

Adopt the right approach towards learning

I have an attitude towards education which is quite different from most other people. 

When I learn a subject, I want to understand it, and to know how it can be used in real life. 

Whether I pass or not is less important. It is more important to understand the subject. It happens that when I understand the basic principles of the subject, passing was quite easy. 

I go for a pass and did not bother to get a good grade. 

For most people, passing the subject and getting a good grade is more important, regardless of whether they understand the subject or not. Some of them get a good grade without understanding the subject well, and they quickly forget the principles. The Chinese has a saying, "return the books back to the teacher".

I like to see more people adopt the correct approach towards education, i.e. to understand the principles and be less focus on getting the grades.

My experience in self learning

I left school and started work after secondary 4. But I continued to learn by reading useful books.

I remembered three paperback books that I read soon after leaving school, and the understanding of the subjects was useful to me for a lifetime. I choose these books because the subjects would be important for the working world.

The books are on the following:
- principles of civil and criminal law
- practical statistics
- accountancy

As these are books written for the lay people, it was quite easy to understand the principles and was quite light to read. I learned these subjects well, and did not require the help of a teacher or to attend a formal course in the university.

My method of self learning was more useful that students who have to struggle with these subjects in the university, and who never really grasped the principles.

I wish to encourage young people to have the right approach towards learning - to learn for the sake of understanding, and not just to get a good grade.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A different path for career development

I started work at 18 as a clerk in an insurance company. My schoolmates went to A level and university and started work 6 years later. By that time, I had 6 years of working experience and was 70% qualified as an actuary.

I did not need a university degree. I know how an insurance company operates inside out, and was able to pass the actuarial professional examination easily, with the practical insights.

When I decided to leave school after secondary 4 to support my parents, the principal was surprised. I was among the top 5 students in Singapore in the School Certificate Examination (which was later changed to the GCE O Level).

It is possible to pursue a non-degree path. It worked well for me. It would be a better choice for other people who are not academically inclined.

But I am aware about the lack of career path for non-graduates in the paper oriented environment in Singapore. This is a mistake and is bad for our future.

Two different ways of developing people for their working careers

Let me post the options of a university degree as follows:

a) Mr. X struggles for 4 years in university and manages to scrap through with a degree that is hardly recognized. He is recruited into the police force.

b) Mr. Y, with the same academic standard as Mr. X decides to join the police force 4 years earlier as a non-graduate and goes through an apprentice course as a police for 4 years, spending half the time on actual police work and the other half of the time attending the police academy.

Who is likely to be a better policeman, Mr. X or Mr. Y? Who should draw a higher salary? Is it better for more people, who are not academically inclined, to take the route of Mr. Y, instead of Mr. X? Will it produce a more competent work force?

Public sector can take the lead to develop a more balanced approach in people development

Dear Mr. Tan,
I agree with what you said about university degree, and how it may be a waste of time, if the graduate does not apply what he learn in the job.
But, you must agree with me that without a degree, the progress may be hampered, especially in the government service. A non-graduate is automatically barred from promotion.
What say you?

I agree that the most damage is done by the government. By giving the signal that a degree is a MUST, they have led to many people pursuing the paper qualification, at the expense of real skills on the jobs.
For example, if there is a riot, we want the regular policeman to know what to do, and not to act blur, waiting from instructions. What is the point of having policemen with a degree, if they are not able to carry out real police work and control rioters and arrest criminals?

To solve our problem of recruiting people who can make a career in the police force, the government should be ready to recruit non-graduates and put them under a special training program to be a competent policeman.

At the end of 4 years of actual police work, accompanied by training in the police academy, and provided that the policeman learn the skill and competency, he should earn a pay that is similar to a graduate at that time.

We have to make it worth while for young people to choose a career in their specialized occupation and pay them as well as those with a paper degree, provided they do their jobs well.
The same approach can be applied to the work of a teacher, nurse, administration officer and other jobs.
If the government sets an example of training people for the job, the private sector can be encouraged to follow. It can be the apprenticeship system used in Germany.

This approach will allow us to build real competencies for the various jobs in the economy.
It is rather sad to see so many people getting, for example an engineering degree, and end up selling property and financial products - and worse, sell them wrongly, causing damage to the wealth of the customers.
It is time for us to review our strategy in the development of our human resource and have a more balanced approach, involving wider options than a university degree.

An alternative to a university education

Many American parents face this dilemma. Do I spend $200,000 to send my son or daughter to college (i.e. university) or should I keep it for my own retirement?

The problem is - after spending the money, the graduate may not be able to find a suitable job that can earn enough to pay back the money invested by their parents.

The student can take a loan from the government, but also has to pay back the loan with interest.

The high cost of university education will be a drain on the finances of many families, and may be a bad investment.

This problem is now being faced by many parents in Singapore.

There should be a way for people to find a good paying job, without incurring this high cost.

The German system of apprenticeship should be implemented in Singapore. It allows young people to opt for a career that suits their interest and ability, and to acquire the skills in the workplace under an apprenticeship system. On completing the apprenticeship, they are assured of a job from the mentoring employer.

This method will produce people with the technical skills that are needed in the workplace. Apart from manufacturing jobs, they are suitable for accounting, administrative, customer service and other office based jobs.

I hope that our leaders aer aware of this problem and are open minded to look for a possible solution.

Difficult to find a job without working experience

Students spend 3 or 4 years full time to get a university degree. On graduation, they expect to get a graduate's pay which is likely to be 50% higher than a non-graduate. But, they do not have any working experience and employers are not willing to incur the high cost for an inexperienced person.

The graduates are not willing to take a lower pay, as they have spent much money and time (or their parent's money) to get the degree. As a results, many graduates find it difficult to get a job.

This problem is faced not only in Singapore, but in many countries around the world. It is the phenomena of the unemployed graduates.

Those who are academically stronger and did better in their exams are able to get a job.

The unemployment rate is higher among the weaker graduates. These students should have taken a different route, e.g. to acquire experience in the workplace through apprenticeship, rather than spend the time in the university.

We have to address the wastage of resources and seek a better solution.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A more balanced approach towards developing our people

There are several ways to train people to have the knowledge and skill for the workforce. The university is one option. There are other suitable options, such as apprenticeship and on-the-job training. 

Certain people are suitable for academic and research work. The university is a good place for them. 

Other people are suitable for technical, marketing or service work. They need to develop skills in the workplace. These skills cannot be learned in the university.

We need to reduce the wage difference between the various types of jobs, to encourage people to pursue the careers that are more suitable for them, and not to pursue a degree that are not useful to them.

The gap between the income of graduates and non-graduates is too wide in Singapore. It encouraged more people to pursue a degree, even when it does not suit them. This is wasteful.

The time spent pursuing a degree is at the expense of developing the skills and experience that are more relevant to their careers.

We need to achieve a better balance in Singapore, so that our human resources are developed more effectively to produce the competencies that are needed in the economy.

We need more technicians rather than degree holders

We need to respect technicians for their knowledge in their technical field and recognize that they may be more useful than degree holders who does not have the same technical knowledge.

Here is the definition of a technician from Wikipedia.

A technician is a worker in a field of technology who is proficient in the relevant skills and techniques, with a relatively practical understanding of the theoretical principles.

Experienced technicians in a specific tool domain typically have intermediate understanding of theory and expert proficiency in technique. As such, technicians are generally better versed in technique compared to average laymen and even general professionals in that field of technology.

For example, although audio technicians are not as learned in acoustics as acoustical engineers, they are more proficient in operating sound equipment, and they will likely know more about acoustics than other studio staff such as performers.

Technicians may be classified as either highly skilled workers or at times semi-skilled workers, and may be part of a larger (production) process.

They may be found working in a variety of fields, and they usually have a job title with the designation 'technician' following the particular category of work.

Thus a 'stage technician' is a worker who provides technical support for putting on a play, while a 'medical technician' is an employee who provides technical support in the medical industry or to the medical profession.

An engineering technician in the UK is a highly skilled, highly educated occupation requiring 5-8 years post high school training in a formal apprenticeship and college of further education.

Apprenticeship scheme

Germany has a successful apprenticeship system that builds up the skill of their workforce. 

Here is a description from Wikipedia:
Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a structured competency a basic set of skills. Apprentices are set a strict training program so they can gain a set of skills to prepare themselves for their desired trade or certain career in which they wish to pursue. License to practice in a regulated profession. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade or profession, in exchange for their continuing labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competencies. For more advanced apprenticeships, theoretical education was also involved, with jobs and farming over a period of 4–6 years.
To be successful, the individual must have perseverance, ambition, and initiative. Like a college education, the successful completion of an apprenticeship term does not come easily, but is the result of hard work on the part of the apprentice. In practically every skilled occupation, more than fundamental knowledge of arithmetic is essential. The ability to read, write and speak well is beneficial in any walk of life, but in some apprenticeship occupations it is more important than in others.

A new way to train young people for the jobs of the future

We need a better way to plan the education and training of your young people. We have to train them for the skills and knowledge that they need for the suitable jobs, and assure them that they will be able to find a job, after getting trained. They should also have an idea of the expected income, which should be adequate to make a living. 

We need people to do the various types of jobs in our society, including the manual and service workers. If these jobs pay adequately and fairly, they will attract people who are suitable for these jobs. These people do not need to pursue a piece of paper, call a degree, which is costly and are not useful for many types of jobs.

How can this goal be achieved? How can we project the demand for various types of jobs, and ensure that the wages for these jobs are fair and adequate?

This requires an innovative way of planning, which is market based, fair and transparent. It is now possible with the Internet.

It involves a system of licensing for all types of jobs. The number of licenses to be issued to the job holders will be monitored based on market demand. Only those with licences will be allowed to perform the job.

Employers should indicate their demand in advance and will be given the priority to get the employees with the licence.

The number of licenses to be issued can be controlled based on the market demand, and also to ensure that the human resources are optimally used. The system can be managed transparently.

An example of the licencing system is that used for taxi drivers. The same concept can be extended to other jobs.

I hope that this concept can be developed further to ensure that our human resources and training are put to optimal use and that people are assured of jobs that they planned ahead for.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Action needed on suspected abuse in recruitment of foreign workers

I do not condone rioting and violence, and agree that they have to be dealt with, according to the law.

But, our government should also take time to reflect on this incident, and also the previous strike by the PRC bus drivers. We have to understand their grievances - and see if there has been abuse and exploitation by the recruitment agencies.

We have to find a way to deal with the abuses. I suggest that all foreign workers should be interviewed by an NGO worker, and their statement should be taken down, in case there is any complaint about being misled on the salary and working conditions.

We should follow up with the recruiting agent in Singapore, who should be responsible for what is being said by the recruiting agent in the other side.

There is the possibility that the foreign worker may not tell the truth, but if several workers make the same statement, then there must be some truth to it.

It is wrong for our "authority" to close two eyes and two years and let the abuse continue for a long time. We must be proactive, and must use practical sense to deal with the problem.

It is time for our "authority" to wake up and do their duty.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Help small businesses to promote to the neighborhood

Many small businesses have to send flyers to the neighborhood. It is an economical way to promote their business.
However, the flyer is a nuisance. It is also largely wasted and environmentally unfriendly.
An alternative is for households to register in a website and for the businesses to send the flyers to them in soft copy by email.
If you support this Green Drive, you can register here,
If there are many people who registered in this manner, there is no need for snall businesses to send flyers to their neighborhood.

Getting people employed

Many countries have a problem of finding enough jobs for their people. In countries where jobs for existing workers is protected, there is high unemployment among the youth. 
In countries where there is weak protection of workers, such as in Singapore, there is high unemployment among the older workers. We now see this phenomena among the PMETs. 
Countries with high rate of tax, such as in Scandinavia, is able to handle this problem better. the high tax rate allows them to pay unemployment benefit.
It is a mechanism that those who are employed should contribute towards the welfare of those who are unemployed. If the wages are below subsistence level, it is better to draw unemployment benefit. Somehow, it ensures that the wages are kept at an "adequate level".
There is the risk that unemployment benefit can be abused by those who are lazy. But, some countries are able to manage the abuse quite well, while others failed in this task. It depends on the culture of the people and the Government.
We cannot rule out that unemployment benefit is bad and that the system in Singapore is good. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses.
I do not like the Singapore system, as it is not properly managed. Too much is left unmanaged. This is why the cost of living is too high, relative to wages.
I like to see a change in government, so that the social problems faced in our society, which has been neglected for two decades, can be properly addressed, and a new perspective can be considered.

PAP sets new direction

I am encouraged by the new goal that has been adopted by the PAP, especially the part about build a "fair and just society" .... provided they really understand what they are talking about. 


The People's Action Party (PAP) on Sunday resolved to uphold an open and compassionate meritocracy, and build a fair and just society in Singapore, as it adopted a significant resolution that will define its cause in a new phase of Singapore's development.

Explaining the reason for this move, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP's secretary-general, said that while the fundamental goals of the PAP remain the same, and have been set out in its constitution and pledge, it is time to interpret and update them for a new generation.

These goals are to build a multi-racial, fair and just society with opportunities for all.

"I think we can all agree these are the right things to do... But what do these ideals mean tangibly, concretely, in this day and age? We must interpret these goals in a new phase and with a new generation," he said at the party's convention at Kallang Theatre.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Medishield Life will face big challenges

 expect that Medishield Life will encounter some of the following problems:

1. It aims to cover everyone for a lifetime, and to include pre-existing illnesses. Judging from the experience of Medicare in America, it could become very costly. 

2. The key challenge is to manage the expectation of health care for the aged - a challenge that America, with their decades of experience, was not able to solve. Singapore will face the same challenges.

3. Asking everyone to pay for the cost of Medishield Life through insurance premiums will not be easy. The cost will be unaffordable.

4. Making it compulsory to solve Medishield Life will not work. Many people will not heave the money to pay the premium. Those who have, will complain about the cost.

5. We need an "out of the box" solution to manage the expectation of health care for the elderly - especially when the cost is paid by insurance, or by the government (like in America). I am not aware of any successful system to manage it well. But, it can be found, by an innovative approach.

Are you able to think "out of the box" ?

Are you prepared to try something idfferent, and to take risk? Do you look heyond the obvious answer? Try this quiz. 

Theer is no "right" or "wrong" answer to these questions. I have selected what I think are the answers that are innovative and out of the box. Check your score on this scale. And you will see an explanation.

Get a project leader to implement change

William Lim said:
People are unwilling to make changes, including myself. But some policies are outdated and need modification, the leaders who need to endorse the changes for the better of Singaporean. How can this mindset to be changed? Changing of Government is no use, the question is how to change their mindset?

They are scared of failure. They are scared that failure meant loss of job.
We need a system to allow them to try and learn. But, even if you tell them, they will not take the risk, because their mindset is - I don't trust what you say.
So, they will NEVER CHANGE.
The only way is to appoint another person to manage a specific change project. Put this person in charge. Let the person handle the project. If the project fails, the person will disappear from the scene. Anyway, this person was not part of the organization in the first place.
This is the only way to make change.

Students want better grade

Most graduates want to get top grades, so they stand a better chance to be employed by the banks and large companies. 

But, only 10% will be able to get top grades. Those who failed to get the top grades pressure the professor or the school to give them a better grade. They even accuse the professor of being unfair in the grading. 

This attitude is harmful. There can only be 10% who can get top grades, and the professor is trying his or her best to be as fair as possible to all students. 

What is the solution?

Insurance company repudiate liability

Under an agreement among the insurance companies, the insurer can repudiate liability under a motor insurance policy if its policyholder does not report an accident. This allows the insurer to avoid paying the third party claim, even though its insured vehicle cause the accident, and require the third party to take a legal case against the driver, which is time consuming, costly and risky. The third party had no choice but to claim against its own policy and risk losing the no claim bonus. This is not satisfactory.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A ransom price on top of market rentals

Some people argue that it is best to leave matters to the free market. This is the PAP approach that has been prevailing for the past 30 years, ever since LHL was active in the Government.
While the free market has its merits, it also has it serious flaws. It does not recognize the rights of the tenant. On renewal, the landlord can impose a ransom on the renewal terms. The tenant had already invested in the renovation of the shop or stall and had spent time to build a business. The tenant had to pay a price that is higher than the true market.
Sometimes, another tenant may offer a higher rental rate, with the purpose of "killing off a competitor".
This situation leads to rental being higher than the true market, and over time, leads to escalation. When a tenant moves to a new location, there is additional cost in rebuilding the business. This is what I called "wastefulness".
Wastefulness has been a part of the Singapore system for several decades. It has lead to high cost of doing business and high cost of living. We are now no longer competitive globally.
We are misled by the statistics of multinational companies setting up operation in Singapore. In many cases, there are given tax incentive, land at special rates and government grants. These are not publicized. They show good figures, but hide the fact that our costs have gone out of hand.
If we do not recognize the real problems in Singapore, and continue to delude ourselves, things will continue to get worse.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Will we face the same problems as the Obamacare Exchange?

The insurance exchange that was launched on 1 October under the Affordable Care Act in America encountered technical problems and was not able to cope with the heavy traffic of 8 million visitors. The cost of the system ballooned three times from $100 to $300 million in US dollars.

While the problem seemed to be quite irrelevant to us, we should not be complacent. We will be introducing two similar initiatives in Singapore over the next 12 months.

We will have to register large number of applicants under the proposed Medishield Life scheme and also provide a website for employers to post their job vacancies before they are allowed to apply for a work pass for foreigners.

These registrations are likely to face issues similar to those that bogged down the insurance exchange in America. 

We also have to be careful about adopting the same approach, i.e. relying on vendors and consultants who face a conflict of interest and are likely to recommend costly solutions that have a tendency to overrun in budget.

Let us be aware now of the issues and not repeat the problems that are now experienced in America. 

Delay in implementing national IT projects

here were much publicity a few years ago about the OneInbox project and the National Authentication Framework.

OneInbox was intended to allow the public to receive their mails from all government agencies at a common inbox, instead of logging in to separate websites to retrieve the replies from these agencies.

The National Authentication Framework was intended to allow each person to hold a single token which can be used as an additional verification of the person for  financial and other sensitive transaction.

I am quite tired of logging in to the websites of separate government agencies to retrieve my mails and being asked to change my passwords frequently and to create strong passwords which differ from one website to another.

I also do not like the bulky security tokens that are being issued separately by different banks and securities firms.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Pay a fee to the financial adviser

The information given in the EIP website are FREE for members of the website. 
If you still need advice on any of the product or alternative products, contact a financial adviser and pay a modest consulting fee. It is worth spending this money. The adviser can guide you on what is a better choice and can save you tens of thousand dollars. Pay them a fee, as they have to make a living. Otherwise, they will spend their time to sell you products that can earn them a few thousand dollars, at your expense. Do you want that to happen?

Naming of roads

In the old days, we have a simpler way to name our roads, e.g. in Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh. The major roads are called Avenue or Lorong and the smaller roads are called Street. They are numbered.

Later, for Sengkang and Punggol, somebody decided to give different names to the roads. This naming structure is confusing to people who visit the estate from outside. I suspect that the residents will also find it confusing.

To make matters worse, the roads are described as avenue, road, street, lane, way without regard to size. Usually, one expects the roads to be name according to size - starting from avenue, road, street, lane.

For example, Sin Ming Lane is of the same size as Sin Ming Avenue. This is only possible using Singapore logic!

I don't know why some smart fellow was allowed to change the naming structure to be so confusing, and why they were allowed to do so.

My grand children love the Magic Box

Whenever my grand daughters visit me, the first thing they ask is to look into the Magic Box. It will stay in their childhood memory. What is the Magic Box? Every parent or grandparent should have one.

Meet the People session

Desumondo Deseumondeu asked:
Mr Tan,
Some thing happen to me quite recently and i just wanted to share my views.

I approached 3 different PAP MPs during their Meet The People sessions on different days regarding the same matter and asked exactly the same question.
However NONE of them actually got back to me with an answer, and worse yet send me a letter which is not the answer but a totally different opinion which does not in anyway relate to the question i asked them !!

When the govt are not able to help us citizens, what other channels are we able to turn to for assistance and squeeze an answer out of them ??

The MPs are also in a jam. They receive all kinds of people and problems in their Meet the People session. There is also difficulty in communicating with some residents - due to language or lack of education. (I am not referring to you).

It is quite easy for them to get mixed up, or to get confused over the issue.

If you have a problem, it will be helpful if you can write it down clearly (or get some help to write it down). It will be easier for your MP to understand the issue and to help find an answer (if at all possible).

Be fair to the MPs. Do not approach three of them over the same issue.

Frankly, I think the "Meet the People" session is out-of-date, but the PAP dare not abandon it.

A more open and transparent approach

Dear Mr. Tan,
You said that our government leaders are arrogant and don't want to listen to the views of concerned citizens. I find your views to make a lot of sense, but they seem to be ignoring them. So, I agree that they are not only arrogant but out of touch with what is happening on the ground. 

I believe that it is not difficult to be a leader. There are many wise people around, and if the leader is willing to listen to them, they should be able to come out with better policies.

My point is, if there is a change of government in 2016, Singaporeans do not need to be worried. If another party comes into power, and the leaders know that they are not the elites, they will be able to listen to more wise people and get better policies. Singapore will be governed better.

Do you agree?

Generally, I agree that the government can come out with better policies if they are more willing to listen to people who have wider and more diverse experience and knowledge.

But, we still need leaders to make the final judgment - and that is not easy. If the leaders are incapable, they may make a bad judgment (even after getting the inputs of the advisers). And different advisers may have different opinion.

But, I must say that the current system - where decisions are made from the ivory tower, is probably among the worst. There is now suspicion that these decisions are made to benefit certain quarters, which makes things more difficult.

It is better to have a more open and transparent way to make important policy decisions affecting the people at large. .

My attitude towards government policies

Someone observed that I don't like the policies of the Government. It is true that I don't like many of the social and economic polices, especially those that lead to high income gap, high cost of housing, high cost of living, wastefulness and unfairness. 

But, I know that the Government leaders are doing their best to solve these issues. I do not like their approach, which is not addressing the roots of the problems, but it is a matter of opinion. They think that their policies are right, and they are ultimately responsible for the outcome.

By adopting their aloof approach, they are cutting themselves from alternative views of concerned citizens - many of whom have practical experiences. I hope that they will be truly willing to listen to alternative approaches, rather than continue their "arrogant" attitude.

Unfair treatment of Singaporeans

Mr. Tan,
I was at a gala dinner last night where the guest of honor was a minister. At my table were a few foreigners. One of them, who has lived a few years in Singapore said, "Singapore is a wonderful place. Most of the locals don't understand why." He said it in a mocking way. What does he mean?

I suspect that he must be very rich and probably make most of his income overseas. When he live in Singapore, he does not have to pay any tax on his overseas income. They also save on the big income tax that they have to pay in their home country. That is why Singapore is a wonderful place for people like him.

The locals earn their salaries in Singapore and have to pay tax and the high cost of living. The males even have to serve National Service and reservist training at regular intervals.

It is quite unfair for the Singapore government to give so favorable living conditions to rich foreigners and do not require them to pay any tax on their income.

It is quite bad for him to mock the locals who are already suffering under an unfair system .This will lead to unrest one day.

Friday, November 01, 2013

How to eradicate poverty in Singapore

Singapore is an affluent country. Based on GDP per capita, she is one of the richest countries in the world.

Hence logically, one would expect all her citizens to live comfortably, well above the poverty line (wherever that might be since it has never been officially defined). Yet ironically, there is a small group of Singaporeans who are living in “poverty”. With the country’s vast wealth, both in terms of revenue and savings, it should not be a financial issue to bring this group out of poverty. Further, the government has implemented the “minimum sum” and “CPF Life” schemes which are designed to ensure her citizens would have sufficient savings to spend on necessities during retirement. So it is not as though the government is not aware of the amount required for sustainable living at the minimum level for life. So, if it is not a financial problem to bring people out of poverty, then what could be the problem?

Ideology. In Singapore, welfarism is seen as a “dirty” word. Instead of encouraging the rich to help the poor, she encourages everyone to make their own living. This ideology is fine when everyone is able and there are sufficient jobs. But when some are less able and the job market is challenging, it can lead to a state of “us and them” and "everyone for himself (or herself)". With such an ideology, Singapore indeed has one of largest income gap in the world. In the present economic structure, the rich also tend to get richer while the poor get poorer. So, is there an ideology that is more friendly to the poor so that they can live a dignified life?
We are all one.  The power of this ideology leads us to feel for others - "we are not separate" and “your pain is my pain”.  To implement this ideology in the practical world, we may have an inverse relationship between the salary of senior political and administrative leaders and the number of people living in poverty. With such an arrangement, it is then to the interest of the leaders to ensure that poverty is erased. Yes, with the “right”  ideology and practical approach, poverty can literally disappear from the islands of Singapore overnight!

Dr. Tommy Wong
Author of book series "Wisdom on How to Live Life"

The book series can be ordered here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Negative impact of National Service on our male citizens

For 25 years, I have held the view that National Service has a heavy burden on the future of your young men. More people are now sharing the same view. Read this article and the comments:

Excessive concern about privacy and security

Our banks and security firms adopts a ridiculous approach towards internet security. I suspect that the measures are directed by MAS.

I applied to receive e-statements of contract notes. They are sent to me with password protection. I do not know the password that were used. I could not open the statements for many months.

This morning, I went to SGX website, login to my CDP account, and searched all over the place to set my own password. I could not find it.

Maybe, the passwords are set by my securities firm. Anyway, it is confusing and troublesome. I never asked for this security. I do not consider it as important anyway.

The statements are received by e-mail, which require me to access with a password anyway.

I also have trouble with the quarterly change of passwords that is mandated in my login trading account, and the funny combinations of password.

I hope that MAS will stop directing the banks and security firms to implement impractical security arrangements. If they have to, they should adopt sensible (and not ridiculous) arrangements.

Evaluation of Insurance Products

I have created this website to evaluate the life insurance products that are marketed in Singapore. 
I will be putting up the benefit illustration for these products and give my evaluation of the product.
They will be rated as "Recommended", "Neutral" or "Avoid".

I will be building up the products over the next few weeks. 

If you have a specific product, you can search for it under the "Latest" tag (which also serves as a Search tag).
If you wish to find a better way to invest your savings, you can contact one of the financial advisers listed in the website. Be ready to pay a modest consulting fee, so that they can make a living by advising you on the most suitable products.

The website is called "Evaluation of Insurance Products" and can be accessed at

Wasteful practice in renewal tenancy of stalls in food court

Six months ago, the operator of the food court in Midview City told me that he is not continuing the lease, as the rental is going up by a large percentage. A few of the stalls could not survive and had moved out.
I just learned that the successful stalls are also moving out this week. They were uncertain about the terms of the renewal of their stalls and had signed up at other places to continue their business.

The management office had decided to operate the food court directly (most probably because they could not get another operator) and had offered to renew the tenancy for the existing stalls at the last minute (but they had already signed up elsewhere).

It is very wasteful for the existing stalls (which were doing well here) to move out and set up business elsewhere, and for the management office to look for new stalls to come in.
This is a consequence of the practice that is quite common in Singapore, where there is uncertainty of tenure and the prospect that rentals will continue to be pushed up, beyond an affordable limit. And in the process, there is so much wastage.

Singapore has many wasteful practices!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reduce the competition in schools

Hong Kong implemented reforms to its education system 10 years ago - less examinations, wider choice of subjects, more creativity. The competition and stress levels remained high.

The reason? They still focus on grades to win entry to university places that cater for 18% of each cohort.  Parents continue to give private tuition to their children to score marks in the new examination format.

I have pointed out consistently in the past - if you do not address the root of the problem, you will continue to suffer the same problems.

If you continue to pay graduates much higher than non-graduates, you will encourage students and parents to compete for the rewards.

My solution is to reduce the salary gap between graduates and on-graduates. We have to pay adequate wages to manual and service workers, so that it is worth and dignified for people to work in these occupations.

This requires a minimum wage for each occupation. It can be market based, but should be adequate for the worker to raise a family.

The current system exploits workers who are weak or not well educated. If we remove the exploitation, the market can work better. If the wages are adequate for manual and service jobs, there is no need to rely on foreign workers. Locals will be happy to take up these jobs.

We have created a problem for ourselves by refusing to recognize the realities, and by relying on market forces (which could be exploitation).

Study trip to review the European model of conscription

Joseph Kheng-Liang Tan asked:
Do you think the trip to study European conscription models is just a 'wayang' or will they actually adopt some best practices?

I was not aware previously about this trip to study the European conscription model.

It is certainly an encouraging development. It means that the Government has finalized recognized the need to review our approach towards compulsory National Service. They also probably recognized the serious damage that NS has caused to the country - which is a topic that I had raised for the past 25 years.

The compulsory NS had placed our males at a serious disadvantage and delay their entry into the workforce for 3 years. It delayed their marriage and is a major cause of the big drop in our birth rate (apart from other factors, like the modern city lifestyle).

In recent years, the problem has been magnified by the entry of foreigners into the workforce, competing with our locals.

I expect, after the trip, that the Government will recognize the need to reduce the NS burden on our males. But, knowing the Government, they will probably implement the change over 3 to 5 years, instead of immediate implementation, and they will find some "less than honest" way of presenting the message.

If they present the message in an honest way and admit their past mistakes, it would be to their big credit, and they can start to rebuild the trust of the people.

Let us wish for the best.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Internal control on purchases


Forum Page
Straits Times

I was surprised to read that a senior government official had been charged for submitting false claims for purchase of gifts to be given to foreign dignitaries over several years. 

I do not wish to comment on this specific case, as it is being handled in the court. However, I like to ask about the internal control system that is used in government agencies.

The basic principle of internal control is that each transaction should involve at least two people, to act as a check against abuse. The purchase has to be initiated by one staff and approved by the supervisor. It is possible for these two people to collude, but the risk is minimized.

I have dealt with government agencies over the years, and they are very meticulous about following SOP, even to the extent of giving some hassle to suppliers.

It is therefore very surprising that a basic principle of internal control is being overlooked to such an extent. I look forward to a reply from the Auditor General's Office.

Do we have adequate resources for investigative work?


12 October 2013

Forum Page
Straits Times

I wish to thank Superintendent Ho Yenn Dar of the Singapore Police Force for giving me a reply and assurance that the Police will commence investigation when there is evidence that a criminal offence has been committed.

I like to ask if the Police has sufficient investigators to handle the alleged criminal cases that were lodged and if these investigators had the skill, experience and inclination to carry out investigative work?

In November 2011, I was involved in filing a complaint with another person on an alleged cheating case involving a company that provided forex training courses at a high fee. The complaint was accompanied by several hundred pages of documents of alleged deception of the trainees over a period of several years. 

After a delay of a few months, the investigator replied that they did not find any evidence merit investigation. During this period, both of the complainants were not invited to meet the investigator to clarify the evidence that were presented. We had contacted the investigator a few times, and were told that the requested meeting was not required.

I am now helping a group of complainants on another case. The complainants alleged that they had been cheated in an investment scam and had filed a complaint with the Commercial Affairs Department. The filed complaints from ten people contained several instances of alleged cheating as described in section 415 of the Penal Code of Singapore.

I have asked the investigator to interview the complainants and also offered my assistance in reviewing the evidence, as I am familiar with this matter. I await to see the action that will be taken by the investigator and look forward to a more positive and inclusive outcome to this complaint.

Unsatisfactory compensation from Sing Tel


15 October 2013

Editor, Forum Page
Straits Times

I find the compensation offered by Sing Tel to its customers affected by the disruption of service caused by the fire at its Bukit Panjang exchange facility to be deplorable.

At the minimum, the affected customers should be given a proportionate refund of the fee for the period that the service has been disrupted or for the contract period to be extended by the same period.

It could be argued that the compensation should be augmented, as the disruption to business or the daily living routine should also be considered. 

It is likely that many customers will not be adequately compensated by the increase in surfing speed or more local calls which they may not need. 

The regulatory authority is supposed to regulate the service providers to make sure that they meet the service standards. I ask the authority to step in and ensure that the customers are compensate adequately and fairly.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Be careful about low cash values

A bank marketed a life insurance policy where the consumer has to pay $10,000 annual premium for 5 years, making a total payment of $50,000.
At the end of 10 years, the policy pays between $55,000 to $61,000 (not guaranteed) giving a yield of about 2% p.a.
The surrender value before maturity is less than $35,000 (as against $50,000 in premium paid) and this is not highlighted to the unwary consumer - although it is shown in the benefit illustration.
A consumer said that the product was sold to her as a saving plan, and she was not told that this is a life insurance policy. There is suspected mis-selling.

When I showed this policy to an independent financial adviser, his comments are:
1. This is a rip off product
2. How can MAS allow the insurer to sell such a product? How does it pass the compliance test of being fair to consumers?

Talk on Puzzles

This is a 90 min workshop. Mr. Tan Kin Lian will explain the use of the following mementos:

a) Shape Quiz
b) Tangram Quiz
c) Amazing Numbers

The fee for the talk is $10 but each participant will get 10 sets of the mememto worth $20. They can buy additional paks at $1 each (usual price is $2). This special price is available only on the day of the talk.

Teachers can use these puzzles to teach creating thinking and problem solving to their pupils.

Register here:

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