Monthly Archives: April 2010

UK General Election Debate Round 3

This is the last round of the election debate in UK. The voters will have time to think and will cast their votes on 6th May 2010. This debate focuses on the economy.

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Come on, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, what’s the real story?

“If you were a poor person, anywhere on this planet, Singapore is the one place where you will have a roof over your head, where you will have food on the table. Even if you can’t afford it, we will have meals delivered to you. You will get healthcare.”

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan

Sounds very appealing and believable? It was. Till news channel Al Jazeera reported on the homelessness situation in Singapore, highlighted by The Online Citizen (TOC).

Subsequently, after this video was aired, Al Jazeera was dropped from Singtel mio TV, which gave all kind of reasons for it’s decision.

This lead many people to suspect that Al Jazeera was dropped because it showed the ugly side of Singapore, which the PAP believes shouldn’t exist in this supposedly ‘world-class’ city and strives hard to conceal all kinds of problems, from homelessness to prostitution from the world.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, in Parliament on Tuesday shot himself in the foot when suggesting why Al Jazeera was dropped. He slammed both Al Jazeera and TOC, without even mentioning the latter:

‘This is a clear example where a foreign media has failed to ascertain the facts. Some irresponsible websites have also caused these falsehoods to circulate widely on the internet. Now that the facts are out, let us see whether those who have been propagating these falsehoods have the courage and the honesty to set the record straight.’

What he failed to mention was, Al Jazeera had invited him to respond to the claims made in the report – twice. And on both occasions, Dr Balakrishnan rejected them.

TOC, on its part, has also responded to Dr Balakrishnan’s accusations. You can read their reply here.

I puzzled with Dr Balakrishnan flip-flop comments. On one hand, he claims the Government is more than willing to help anyone in need, but on the other hand, he refuses to find out why a couple, who can afford a flat, choose to live out on the streets.

I urge you, Dr Balakrishnan, to tell the public the truth and the real story. Before you lose whatever credibility you have left.

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Tyrannical government at it’s best

Parliament on Monday passed laws ensuring at least 18 people not from the ruling party will enter Parliament after the next election. The House voted 74 to one in favour of the amendments to the Constitution that would increase the maximum number of Non-Constituency MPs from six to nine and entrench the Nominated MP system.
The three-hour-long debate included a prolonged exchange between Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, who presented the Bill, and the two Workers’ Party parliamentarians Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim.
For the uninitiated, in Singapore, we have a system in Parliament called Nominated MPs, whereby those who are nominated are given a chance to speak but are not allowed to make decisions.
I fail to see how increasing the number of NMPs will help to improve the political system. Worker’s Party’s chairman Sylvia Lim, who is also an NMP,  highlighted the many limitations of NMPs:
Sir, in addition, there are serious limitations to NCMP seats and it is important to highlight to Singaporeans these limitations.
Besides not being able to vote on critical matters, we are considered as lacking in official capacity to represent the people. This was brought home in 1997 when Mr JB Jeyaretnam, who was then NCMP, filed a Parliamentary question asking whether any directive had been given to government departments not to reply to letters sent by him as NCMP. In the exchange which followed, the Home Affairs minister reiterated the fact that NCMPs do not represent any particular constituency and therefore the government departments would only respond to letters by elected MPs or grassroots advisers on behalf of residents in those areas.
I have my own experiences of this reality.
I have been doing house visits in Aljunied GRC for several years. The residents have raised certain concerns to me which I have highlighted in Parliament as issues, where appropriate. However, I have no official capacity to write letters on their behalf regarding their specific cases though I very much want to.
In addition, an NCMP has no physical base. Under the Town Councils Act, the incumbent MP will be in charge of the town council which controls the use of common space. As for the community clubs, these are in the hands of the People’s Association.
It is next to impossible for an opposing candidate to be allowed to use a space to organize activities or dialogues.
We have applied for permission to use spaces in PAP wards and received expected rejections.
On the other hand, ruling party hopefuls in opposition wards are appointed advisers to grassroots organizations, thereby apparently  having status to liaise with HDB and other government departments on behalf of residents.
Sir, it may well be that the PAP wants complete dominance with non-PAP voices provided through the NMP and NCMP schemes.
But what would happen if the PAP starts to falter or be corrupt? A good political system is one which can provide sustainable checks on the ruling party through the people having real bargaining power through the presence of elected opposition members.
This will serve as a strong incentive for the ruling party to perform and pay heed to the people’s desires.
Elected opposition members are a manifestation of a challenge to the ruling party not just in Parliament but on the ground.
It is not in the national interest to promote a system where the survival of the country become so intertwined with the fate of one political party that the people are left hostage.
Instead of worrying about the MPs’ debating skills, the Prime Minister should worry more about whether each of his MPs has the support of the people which an SMC system will automatically cure.

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Japan’s dark secret

The Cove is a 2009 American documentary film that describes the annual killing of dolphins in a National Park at Taiji, Wakayama, in Japan from an anti–dolphin-hunting campaigner’s point of view.

The film highlights that the number of dolphins killed in the Taiji dolphin hunting drive is several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic, and reports that 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year in the country’s whaling industry.

The migrating dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives over the side of small fishing boats.

I was horrified and angry with Japan after watching the movie. The country I once thought was amazing. This is probably one of the the darkest side of Japan, after World War Two.

The whole reason why they started killing dolphins was because they were banned from commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986.

You may be wondering why the IWC  isn’t stopping Japan from killing the dolphins. That is because, they can’t.

Here’s why. Japan, who is a member of the IWC, claims every year in the annual IWC meeting that they are killing dolphins because dolphins are ‘destroying’ their marine life.

And their ridiculous theory is supported by several countries. All of whom are third world countries and depend on, who else, Japan for aid.

The problem with Japan, is that the whaling industry is supported by the government and opposition parties. The government even goes to the extent of covering up the whole dolphin-killing stories, so that people as far as Tokyo, don’t even know about it.

The government has also introduced dolphin and whale meat to the compulsory lunches of school going children. But failing to mention that those meat contains mercury.

But it is wonderful to note that the documentary won the U.S. Audience Award at the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival in January 2009 and on March 7, 2010 The Cove won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Film at the 82nd Academy Awards.
Upon the film winning the Oscar, the town mayor of Taiji and the chief of Taiji Fishery Union said “The hunt is performed legally and properly with the permission of Wakayama Prefecture. It is regrettable that the film won the Oscar as it describes some scientifically ungrounded issues as if they were facts. The dietary culture varies and it is important to respect each other with the understanding of the tradition and situations of each local community.”
If Japan wants to live in denial, we can’t do anything. But please watch the film, and if after watching, you are as horrified as I was, and you want to make an effort in helping to raise awareness, go to this website.
If dogs are Man’s best friend, then the intelligent dolphins are our confidants.

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UK General Election Debate Round 2

I’m unable to find the full videos at the moment, so the videos below are broken up into a few parts. Alternatively, you can go to Sky News website to watch the full video.

Gordon Brown vs David Cameron vs Nick Clegg Round 2

As the leaders had a go at each other again, I felt Nick Clegg was calmed and relaxed and answered the questions directly, unlike the other two who forgot that this debate includes the Liberal Democrats and not just Labour and Tories.

Both Brown and Cameron tried to play the “look at those two” card that Clegg carried off so well the previous week, but when they did it it looked like a tactic that each had suddenly remembered to deploy.

Gordon Brown looked like a total idiot on TV. He was draggy and over-technical, and his attempts at humour sounded desperate.

Looking forward to the last debate next week.

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UK General Election Debate Round 1

Ok. I know I’m a week late in posting this, but better late than never.

A little background information of this debate:

The debates run without a break for 90 minutes and are broadcast weekly by ITV, BSkyB and the BBC over three successive Thursday evenings starting on 15 April.

Each debate, through the questions selected, is to focus on a set theme for the first half of the debate: domestic, international and economic affairs, before moving on to general issues.

During each debate the leaders will be asked questions not known to them in advance, but selected beforehand by the broadcasters, and asked either by the audience, or via email.

Key figures of the debates are, the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, the Leader of the Opposition and Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third largest political party in the UK.

After watching this debate, which was Britain’s first attempt of live debates, I was struck by how actively Nick Clegg and David Cameron are involved in the country’s affairs.

Which led me to wonder why we don’t see this happening in Singapore. It would be a breakthrough if Singapore does a similar debate. But honestly speaking, with the state of the opposition here, it would be a live massacre by the ruling party.

Perhaps Singapore’s opposition parties can pick up a thing or two from Nick Clegg and David Cameron when watching the debates.

Stay tuned to this blog for round two and three.

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Just another civil servant after all.

PN Balji wrote an article in TODAY on the exit of the former Attorney-General, Walter Woon. Professor Woon had stepped down from the AG position after serving a two year term.

Former AG, Walter Woon

It was no secret that in his two year term as AG, the outspoken man had stepped on many toes because he did things differently, unlike run-of-the-mill civil servants.

He wasn’t afraid to step into the limelight, something the legal fraternity rarely does.

But in doing so, he had, in his own words ‘already overstayed his welcome’. Of the many civil servants he got in to a tangle with, the most notable was Dr Lee Wei Ling, daughter of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

You would have expected a man like this to go out with all guns blazing. But sadly this wasn’t the case. As PN Balji aptly puts it:

In Singapore, any exit interview is a slippery business. Leave the scene with guns blazing, like former President Ong Teng Cheong did, and be prepared for a rapid-fire response.

Do it with lips half-sealed, like most Singaporeans do, and expect the rumour mill to go into high gear.

Former Attorney-General Walter Woon chose a middle path: Reveal quite a bit but leave a lot to the reader’s imagination.

As the ever consummate lawyer that he is, he described his term of office as ‘the longest period of my life’. When asked if he had offended anyone, all he said was ‘not unlikely’

In a country where civil servants are imposed with an invisible gag-order, it would have been refreshing if Professor Woon had articulate his points in public instead of dropping codes and leading the public around a bush.

Clearly, Professor Woon had set out to be a different civil servant.

But after two years of trying to be different and not getting the results that he had hoped for, he is going out on a whim and looking like just another civil servant.

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