Friday, March 07, 2014

Cost of educating a student

The government spent $11.6 billion on education in 2013 for about 500,000 students. The cost per student is $23,000. This is a large sum of money. 
My friend told me that the fee charged by the Indian International School is $1,000 a month. It seemed that we are spending more per student than the international school, which is operating on a private, commercial basis.

Securing a lease in a soft market

The tenant in my town house told me two months ago that he had to terminate the lease early as he was being relocated. I had to find a new tenant in a difficult market. Many apartments are now vacant. 

Fortunately, I had a good real estate agent. He advertised the vacancy actively and managed to secure a tenant against strong competition from other agents marketing similar vacant units in the same estate. He had to spend several hours to convince the new tenant

The new tenant will take the lease immediately on expiry. However, I had to accept a reduced rental due to the soft market. But the rental is in line with a recently transacted lease.

If you need a good real estate agent, send email to

We should spend our education budget more prudently

Singapore is spending $11 billion a year on education. It is the second highest item, after defense spending of $12 billion. 

While education is important, it does not mean that we should over-spend on this item. We should ask if the money spent is producing the right type of people who are needed for the economy.

A significant portion of the budget is wasted on producing the wrong type of people. For example, we train engineering graduates who went into the finance industry. We should be more prudent and careful in our spending. 

There are other areas of need in our society, such as jobs, health care, security. 

We need a more balanced approach. I find our finance minister to be not managing the budget well.

Manual workers should be better paid

The garbage truck passed my house. It was manned by foreign workers.

I wonder - if the wages for garbage collectors is $2,000 a month plus CPF, there could be some Singaporeans who are willing to take up this job.

And it does not mean that the consumers have to pay more for garbage collection. Already, consumers are paying a lot to the town council and to the government. The higher wages could mean that the surplus of the town council and the government is slightly reduced, and it does not mean higher cost for consumers.

If locals are willing to take up this types of manual work for higher wages, there will be more employment opportunities, especially for those who are not well educated. We need some of these types of people in our society. Many of our forefathers who came from China or India had to do manual work.

If our manual workers are well paid, they will be able to raise a family and be able to consume, leading to a more robust domestic economy.

We need to change our prejudice against certain kinds of jobs, and have a more balanced economy.

Tan Kin Lian

Different school environment

A Singapore citizen was able to send his children to an international school, after getting permission from the ministry.

He visited his children in the school and found the children very lively, playing like children during recess time. It was like the environment when he was in school 40 years ago.

His children grew up to be confident and able to communicate well. The school did not have too much materials to study. The teachers were able to really spend time to teach the children. His children did not need private tuition.

He noticed that his children develop better in the international school, compared to the the local schools, where they went to earlier.

He said that the school environment make a lot of difference in the development of the children. The Singapore system of education produced people who are very good at following instructions but do not have the confidence to think and act on their own.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Be adaptable and able to deal with uncertainty

A Singaporean manager, who has worked in a multinational environment for more than ten years, and have met expatriate managers from many countries, told me that the many of the expatriates hold this impression of Singaporean managers:

- work hard and can work very well, if given clear instructions
- not able to deal with uncertainty
- not able to adapt to the environment in other countries
- not articulate

There are exceptions, but this seemed to be the general impression of most Singaporean managers.

He observed that this is due to the education system in Singapore. He sent his children to an international school in Singapore, after getting permission from the Minister for Education, and was able to see the difference in the teaching methods of the international and the local schools.

Most expensive city in the world

Singapore is now rated to be the most expensive city in the world to live in.

This reflects on the poor performance of the finance minister and the prime minister.They have done a bad job in managing the economy.

Productivity remain low

Han Fook Kwong, ST editor,k did not share the optimism of the finance minister in fixing the challenges of the economy. Productivity continue to decline as more money is being spent on trying to improve productivity. 

I have been critical of the waste and the lost opportunity. There are many things that can be fixed at low cost, but they are unattended. The money spent on the Wage Credit Scheme and the Productivity and Innovation Credit is largely wasted.

Business simulation game

You can develop the skill of running a business by playing this Business Simulation Game. 
Several games are available each day, for you to practice at 2 pm, 3 pm, 8 pm and 9 pm. You can read the User Guide shown in the home page to play the game or login as a Guest and see the game being played.

You are required to decide on the premium rate to charge for four insurance products and the commission rate to pay for the business. If you wish to increase your business, you should lower the premium or increase the commission, but you also have to make sure that the premium is sufficient to cover the claims, expenses and commission and leave you a profit margin.

Practice often, and develop the skill of pricing and marketing.

Learn to deal with uncertainty

Singaporeans like to have clear instructions, so they can follow them to the letter. 
This type of thinking is not suitable for positions of leadership and innovation. These positions require people who are able to deal with uncertainty and incomplete information, and to use their initiative to find the solution.
Singaporeans also need to be comfortable about solving a problem in stages. Do what they know first, even if it is incomplete. The rest can come later. 
We need to change our education system so that our young are comfortable about the new approach dealing with uncertainty and incomplete solutions.

Manual jobs are also useful

I went to a petrol station to pump petrol into my car. There were a few attendants, mostly elderly, who helped motorist in this task.

There was a time in the past, when the government encouraged self service. This was a bad idea.

Most motorists are not familiar with operating the controls in the pumps. The attendants are there every day, and know what to do. It makes life better for the motorists.

It also creates useful jobs for our elderly, and keeps them fit and healthy.

We should get away from the mindset of eliminating all jobs. We need to create useful jobs for the people. It can be manual work and they have to be treated with respect, and paid decent wages.

We should reduce the people involved in unproductive work, and put them to useful work in serving people, and making life better for others.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Bad design for Wage Credit Scheme

Last year's budget has a Wage Credit Scheme where the G subsidizes 40% of the wage increase for workers. Many small enterprises cannot qualify for this subsidy, as they do not fit the criteria set in the budget. 

This year, the G is continuing this scheme. I suspect that it is the larger companies that are benefiting from the scheme, and not the small companies. 

I find it so wasteful to spend so much tax payer's money to benefit the wrong type of businesses.

It would have been better if the G had subsidized all of the employer's CPF contribution up to a certain limit per company. This is simpler, and the money is going to the right places.

I find our finance minster to be ineffective, and he is wasting so much tax payer's money without achieving the goal of improving productivity and making small business sustainable.

Take a look at the number of small companies reporting losses in each year .... 100,000 of them. This is a bad situation for Singapore.

Why do Singaporeans park the car in reverse?

My Swedish friend visited Singapore and I took him out for lunch. He observed that most people in Singapore parked their cars by reversing into the parking lot. In Sweden, nearly all drivers park by driving forward. He wondered why.
I asked if the parking space is bigger in Sweden, which make it easy for forward parking. He said that they are about the same. 
I said that it by parking backwards, it is easier to drive out, but he was not convinced. 
I also observed from the movies that American drivers also park their cars by driving forward.
What is the reason for our practice in Singapore?

Productivity remains at low level

Han Fook Kwong, ST editor,k did not share the optimism of the finance minister in fixing the challenges of the economy. Productivity continue to decline as more money is being spent on trying to improve productivity. 

I have been critical of the waste and the lost opportunity. There are many things that can be fixed at low cost, but they are unattended. The money spent on the Wage Credit Scheme and the Productivity and Innovation Credit is largely wasted.

Need to make it easy to make payments

Each month, I have to make a few payments using electronic banking by DBS Bank and their platform for business banking is terrible. It is extremely complicated to use and the website keeps giving all kinds of unexpected trouble. 

Often, I wanted to give up and pay by cheque, but it is equally painful. 

This difficulty of making payments must be felt by most companies. They now have to resort to visiting customers to collect cheques or using courier to deliver cheques. It is adding to the cost of doing business.

Although the finance minister said that it is important to improve productivity, his ministry is not addressing the root of the problem. They are in their ivory tower, and do not understand the practical issues.

I read what the UK is trying to do, and even the statement by their chancellor, "The Government to improve banking service for consumers and businesses". I find this statement to be most meaningful, after suffering the painful way of doing business in Singapore.

I have written to the newspapers, to the finance minister himself for two years, and nothing is happening. So much inefficiency and wastefulness in Singapore.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Challenges facing Singapore

Dear Mr. Tan Kin Lian
Our MEWR Minister was quoted recently as saying even though there is a drought in spore we do not need to worry about water shortage. He then went on to say it was the farsightedness of spore govt investing in Newater and desalination that we do not have to worry about water shortage.

We all know droughts lead to water shortage. But many of us also should know that droughts may also lead to bush fire and other hazards. Punggol and Jurong east already got hit by bush fires now. Look around spore and you will find grass turning brown and leaves on trees turning yellow. Bush fires are a real and present danger.

Last year when PSI hit record high in spore it was due to fire in Indonesia. What is the danger of wide spread bush fires hitting spore if the current drought is prolonged? We may be prepared for the haze but are we prepared for bush fires?

When spore is flooded or water ponded, it was due to heavy rain. When bush fire strikes it is due to prolonged drought. All acts of god. But Machiavalli already told us long ago that when act of god strikes there was nothing much man could do. However there was nothing to stop man from taking preventive steps before these acts of god strike so as to mitigate the damages and destruction when they happen e.g. widen canals, clear choked drains. . . etc before the heavy rain falls to mitigate the ill effects of heavy flooding.

The COI on the little India riot showed us clearly our govt is no longer as good as they used to be. And what is most dangerous is not so much their weakness now which can be improved but a lack of awareness of their inadequacy which if ignored further, more once in 50 years incidents are going to hit spore. We have so far seen flooding, strike by bus drivers, riot.

Rest assured more once in 50 years incidents will take place unless there is a genuine effort to acknowledge there is a problem. It will not be a question of ifs but what and when. Honestly without the humidity to acknowledge a problem, there can be no real solution. Home Affairs Minister quoted to be disappointed. Saying some lapses by his ministry unacceptable. Transport Minister quoted to be concerned over SMRT's regular breakdown. If Ministers are concerned and disappointed,  what about citizens? Should we not be even more disappointed and concerned?

What are you views Mr Tan? Are you disappointed and concerned as well?

Singapore has many serious problems accumulated over the years. The ministers are trying their best to cope, but their non-transparent approaches  do not produce good results. We need a more open society and broad-based approach, which is the approach adopted by most other countries.  

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