Learning About The Kampung Spirit Through Food Distribution

When I first started active cooked food distribution during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic on 7 April 2020 in Marine Terrace, I did not realise that it will just continue to grow and grow. This has been thanks to all the enthusiastic local volunteers who have sustained the operations.

From one location, it grew to two, with the second at the rental flats of Eunos Crescent. At our peak, over 400 packets of cooked food were distributed daily. Initially, a small group of us not living in the area went daily to see to the collection of food delivered by food charity Willing Hearts, and to give to residents who would queue up to take these from around 7am in the morning. Soon, we found residents there willing to take over these tasks. The operations became much easier to sustain with local volunteers but it does need these committed residents to get up early and organise the giving. These volunteers took turn to cover one another. There has been not a single day of break since 7 April 2020 till today, through all weekends, all public holidays and even when Covid-19 was at its peak and several of our volunteers were themselves ill. The volunteers just covered one another to keep it going.

Distributing cooked food and other items at Eunos Crescent

Then in late 2021, I was introduced to donated and rescued vegetables. This involves collecting from various sources that have secured donated and rescued food and we were to give to communities where there might be greater need for these. Having already a steady based of food recipients and a good team of volunteers on the ground, we gave it a try, initially using my MPV car or other borrowed vehicles to transport once a week on Saturday afternoons from the distribution point to Eunos Crescent.

Then, we were alerted to a daily source of donated rescued vegetables and if we wanted to be one of the recipients for once a weekday night. So we increased our distribution in Eunos to two times a week. Again, the volunteers were enthusiastic and the operations went about without fuss, benefitting some 60-80 families for each distribution.

I was pulled into a bigger network of community volunteers. A small group of likeminded active community volunteers decided to pull money together to buy a 15-foot container truck to support the operations of the now daily collection of donated and rescued vegetables. This resulted in the formation of The Red Collection (see: https://give.asia/campaign/donated-and-rescued-food-for-singapore#/ – do give and support to this cause to keep it going). Our project morphed into being part of The Red Collective’s combined efforts and I became a founding member of this new group.

Delivering in the 15-foot containter truck

Given my deemed ‘success’ at mobilising grassroots to volunteer to distribute and organise the giving, I was enlisted to help set up a new distribution point at Blk 534, Bedok North St 3 (Kaki Bukit), an area which I did not quite know the residents. Nevertheless, with some introduction of local leaders, we quickly established a network of volunteers and recipients.

My name is Ayushi. I am taking O levels this year.

For a while now, I’ve been volunteering, which I always craved to do. I believe that volunteering helped me use my skills to uplift the lifes of people/society who need a little help.

Now “Rescue Vegetable” is a mission for me. It made my personality and attitude better and now I can face everyday problems with more optimism and different approaches. To top it all off, the feeling of accomplishment I get really motivates me to continue doing this. Through this, I’ve learnt to change lives, mine and others.

Ayushi, one of the helpers at Kaki Bukit

To-date, I have helped to start another two more distribution points since March 2022 – at Bedok South and a couple of weeks later at Bedok North, using the same model of understanding the local residents, identifying the leaders and equipping them to organise the community while we ensure that volunteer drivers will collect and deliver vegetables, fruits and other items to them consistently at around the same time each week.

The Red Collective is supporting many other groups. Collectively, it now benefits some 16,000 people each week in over 20 distribution points across Singapore each week.

What I have learnt is that in each of these communities, there are residents willing to give of their time to support their community and it is important to identify, empower and support them. The Kampung Spirit is still alive in Singapore!


Will the Teacher be Replace by the Robot?

I took part in a web talk show organised by NUS School of Computing on 21 May 2021. The following were 4 questions posted to me earlier by the moderator of the talk show, Prof Terence Sim.

  • Education Technologies have rapidly improved in recent years. Examples include: online courses and virtual reality skills training. What do you think future Ed-Tech will look like?

EdTech had indeed gone quite far since the pioneer days on the late 1990s and 2000s when I was involved in first providing computer-based education for children, then as GM for the Kinderworld group of companies and then as founder of ASKnLearn (now Wizlearn). I have pioneer in the early days of floppy disk and CD-ROM to the first-generation Learning Management System (LMS).

Today, internet is pervasive and low cost, accessible on mobile devices anyway. It is available to many people at affordable cost. We have giant unicorn EdTech companies in China and India even ahead of those in the western world. EdTech is driven very much by the companies that can successfully raise fund and eventually have a viable business model, of course supported with ongoing R&D and open-source from academic and research institutions as well. There are always cool technologies being created but how Ed-Tech may be driven in future also depends on the viability of the research.

Technologies that have driven recent Ed-Tech include AI that analyses students learning for personalised learning, Bots to answer questions, immersive and augmented reality, Internet of Things and so on. In the end, how fast something can move and sustain depends on how commercialisable they can be. I was involved in the early days of augmented reality with schools and automated marking of essays. They were too costly then fifteen years ago. Content creation and training of the automated marking system were too expensive and long. Those companies that invested in these then could not survive ccommercially.

I see short and mid-term successful EdTech to involve:

  1. Easily accessible via mobile learning, byte-sized, just-in-time learning. Also learning that can deliver results in exams, whether for students or for adult learning tied to certifications.
  2. Content may be king, but if content can be easily created by users, then content owners may not always be king. Sharing platforms with mass user base that can deliver byte-sized learning content in intelligent way customised to learners’ preferences, even just for fun learning will do better than traditional content owners charging subscription.
  3. Linked with devices through IoT, now better supported with 5G
  4. Data-driven insights for personalised learning
  5. Automated tools to support learning institutions (i.e smarter LMSes) and classroom interactions.

Declarations: I have some vested interests in three EdTechs

  1. KooBits – Leader in Singapore Pri math content and moving now into Science as well. Huge bank of content and animated clips, gamify platform, some AI to provide customised learning content based on how students answer questions.
  2. Miao Academy – Has a Miao Messenger Academic Bot that helps students with Math query including theories and definitions, and homework, and a Miao Math App that uses photo snapped by users to search for similar questions with solutions and learning points for any Math homework problem.
  3. Explico.sg – Online diagnostic assessment for upp pri and lower sec, byte-sized modular learning based on weaknesses / what users want to learn. Trying to redefine the tuition market but providing learning for those concepts that students really need and at their convenient time remotely.

In the longer term, we could see on a comercialisable way:

  1. Robots (I will talk more later. Right now too expensive and not smart enough)
  2. Immersive learning. Right now, tools to support are expensive, not readily available and still costly to create content. But moving towards being ubiquitous now with mobile devices able to support immersive learning and content creation cost dropping.
  3. Integrated learning with real devices (think driving lessons. Can a smart car train a learner? Real feedback from operating the device)
  4. Autograding of essays and speech.

Will an AI Robot be able to replace the human teacher? What part of pedagogy can or cannot be replaced? More importantly, what should not be replaced?

My son, who just finished first year in a local university, first reaction to this question was, of course can. He already relies on online videos to learn what he cannot understand from school and there’s plenty of such free content.

That’s a simplistic answer. He’s in varsity and they are expected to be able to learn independently, whether the teacher teaches well or not.

What is the AI Robot? If we look at it strictly as a humanoid, then we are quite far from it doing anything intelligent and to be affordable enough to be common. Just google search for robots in classroom and you will find examples in Finland, India, China, etc. I bought Zenbo from Taiwan when I went there in Dec 2018, before Covid. I brought two back. I saw it being programmed by students and lecturers in the early childhood department of the National Pingtung University of Science & Technology and being used in kindergartens. Simple coding using Scratch-like interface – drag and drop. Zenbo cost just over S$1,000 so I bought to just try. Good for arousing interest in children and having fun but far from replacing the teacher. Too much coding to do. There’s simple voice interaction with Hey Zenbo, Hey Siri and Hey Google but you cannot do a meaningful conversation with it.

There are different aspects in the classroom, also depending on age:

  1. Teaching – This part, the robot still can be pre-coded or deliver standardized content. Mainly to deliver content but once you get to Q & A or observing learning, the AI still some way to go. I suppose one day it can be intelligent enough to even help facilitate project discussion in a controlled context. Right now, not good enough.
  2. Care – For younger students, you need to have discipline and care in the classroom. Robots are not flexible nor smart enough. The best robots now to do home care and house chores are still quite basic, and very expensive. It will be a long time before it can be useful for looking after children in the classroom. (P2 Kid cried when Zenbo went into class!)
  3. Counselling – That’s even worse. Robots will find it hard to be an inspirational and motivating role model for students, or to provide counselling when students have problems. I have a daughter in social work. I have seen the difficult classrooms as well. There’s value is a caring and motivating teacher.

  • Which age group will benefit most from adopting Ed-Tech: children, tertiary students, working adults, elderly? And which will benefit the least?

Ed-Tech is for all ages, but how we deploy will differ. I will look at question from two points – (1) Benefit as in how to learn better (2) Benefit as in how to make it even commercially viable in each market segment.

The tertiary and working adults, they are more independent in the way they learn – they will learn if they want to so we can skip investing on the frills – just deliver the content needed for their course requirement. For younger children, you will need some interactivity and fun to keep them on the system or with the robot.  Interactivity and gamification cost money. You can help them learn better by using AI to zoom in on their needs using big data.

For commercial viability, companies still need to see how they can amass the competitive advantage at the most cost-effective way. Some will try to own content and earn by subscription; some will try to have massive no. of users and user generated content and earn by money from sponsors.

Each market will be viable for Ed-Tech. With Covid and more learning from home or anyway, there are new opportunities. The easiest to adopt will actually be for learners who need to get some professional certification. They will pay for the learning and assessment cos they need it for work or in Singapore case, get paid by Skills Future or WSQ money. For the global market, the massively online portals are definitely viable, once you get a critical mass. Some will pay for the certification.

For K12 space, it is hard to target the mainstream schools due to MOE policies. Everyone will want to try to disrupt the tuition market but it is not so easy. Content also differ across countries so if one is good with Singapore schools, it is not automatically scalable overseas.

  • Do you think there should be policies in place to guide, even regulate, Ed-Tech? What policies are needed? Should these be made by MOE, or be left to individual schools?

From the perspective of a commercial player in this field, the less regulation and control, the better. For the B2C space, there’s also no need to regulate. It is up to the market. Of course, there might be parents worry about screen time but I am not sure if regulation is a good thing to use for controlling this.

Where MOE is concerned, they are the market maker. I was involved from the first ICT Masterplan in the late 1990s. There was mass buying of CD-ROMs and computers with mostly HQ controlled budget – every school get standardised software and systems. MOE tried their own LMS in the early 2000s but it was quickly killed by the dotcom revolution because the platforms that came out were far better in technology and better used by the schools than the School DMR by MOE. So they killed the project in 2002. Then we were hit by SARS and most schools could not do e-learning. Then MOE released money to the schools to decide on the e-learning platforms they wish to adopt from the industry. The industry flourished and there were learning tools customised for schools as companies fight for market share. The problem was that some companies closed and caused problems for schools and MOE found it hard to control. Then they killed the market with SLS, which is own and managed by MOE. Now the local EdTechs are not interested in the local school market and innovations have switched to B2C.

Whether it is good or not is subjective. There will be fewer innovations for the schools cos it is much harder to move ideas when it is top down.

Policies can dictate EdTech from the way it influences the market through the government budget especially for schools and for adult learning market using skills future and WSQ. I don’t see any value though in using policy to influence the B2C market or to direct innovation. It is best left to the market.

Will the new PSLE scoring change anything?

So, a new period has begun. Entry to secondary schools will not be by T-Score but by Achievement Levels (AL) and the sum of ALs over the 4 subjects the students will have to take.

Many people have written to explain the system. You can find one here from ST. MOE provided the list of indicative cut-off points for secondary schools by AL. There are enough experts analysing the system and how best to achieve the desired scores to go to the ‘best’ schools. The system looks confusing now, because it is new and people do not quite understand the implications of how it will actually affect entry into schools which will be based on actual demand for and supply of places.

Will it change the anxiety over this deemed high-stake examinations? My short answer is, NO.

No; as long as parents still believe that there are some schools more desirable than others, that there are some academic streams better for their children, there will be anxiety. Some will have good reasons to believe so and many will still go by what we instinctively think as humans – the harder to get in, the better it must be. With limited places in the desired schools, there will still be the pressure at PLSE, at the tender age of 12. For now, the new system will actually add more anxiety until people figure out what it will actually take to get to what schools. There will be no change in anxiety level unless there is a mindset change of parents, and other accompanying policy changes to other aspects of our schools and even in society.

When I was in school, we did not quite care which schools we went to. My parents, both Chinese teachers, sent my brothers and me to St. Stephen’s School, a mission school near our home because it would provide the English speaking environment we would not get at home. The late Mr Lee KY had already made it clear that English will be the main medium for business, so my parents figured that for us to succeed in Singapore, we have to be good with our English. When it came to secondary school, almost the entire cohort chose the affiliated St. Patrick;s School nearby. We just wanted to be with friends and we wanted to be in a school near our homes. Hardly anyone looked at branding of schools nor how others perceive the schools. We turned out well. The top student in the entire east of Singapore for my O level year came from St. Patrick’s. Many went on to become lawyers, doctors, dentists, successful businessmen and some went quite high in the government service. Many went on to receive scholarships for their university studies.

The most significant change ever made to our education system since independence were the reforms sparked by the Goh report in the late 1970s. Dr Goh Keng Swee, the fixer for ministries with problems, was sent to rectify the problem of low education levels and high drop-out rates. As a trained engineer and with limited resources of the country, he figured the best solution was to stream students to what suits them best so that we could produce workers for the MNCs and whatever was necessary for our economy. Harsh as the system was, it produced results. Drop out rates fell drastically. Those deemed less academic could take up the more hands-on courses. Continued reforms after that tinkered with the formula.

We started to have more experimentation – Special Assistance Plan schools specialising in the Chinese language (which of course attracted almost entirely Chinese students), gifted steam (initially at both primary and secondary levels, and later with the proliferation of independent secondary schools with their own programmes to stretch high ability students, the gifted programme was dropped for secondary schools), autonomous schools, through-train secondary to JC, and so on. Schools were resourced differently to fit their cohorts. Some schools became very well resourced, both from state funding and from a strong alumni. The contrast between the haves and have-nots became quite stark.

I thought the worst thing that happened was when we started to rank and brand schools. It was first started in 1992, published by our national newspaper Straits Times. The exercise went on for two decades, with tinkering of the criteria along the way, but nevertheless, schools were publicly honoured and of course, those left out of the published rankings were deemed not-so-good, to put it mildly in the perception of the public. There were other ways MOE started to measure schools such as PRISM (“Performance Indicators for School Management”), banding of schools instead of by absolute score (as schools started fighting hard for the extra score to the decimal points to be up the ranking). Whatever the tinkering, the layman would just rely on the list and start to push their children to be in top ranked schools, as high up the ranking as they could. Even though the listing has been stopped (thankfully), the damage of such a prolong exercise has been done. Others continue to publish their unofficial ranking of schools in the absence of that by MOE, using various criteria of their own. The most simplistic is to look at the cut-off points for admission of schools at secondary 1 and JC 1, which to me does not say very much actually. I find it quite sad that people do not look at what schools that take in lower scoring students had been able to transform or value-add to students. A JC that takes in 5-6 pointers students will obviously have to ensure that vast majority, if not all will make it to ‘good’ universities. The JCs that take in average scoring O levels students but enabling many of them to do well for university admissions should be lauded more.

A ridiculous exercise my own children had to go through in secondary 1 many years ago was that they were given a slip by MOE stating their PSLE score and their expected score for O levels. My children did not have sterling PLSE scores. They went to neighbour schools. We told our children to chuck that paper away and not to let other people limit them by what the computer system would predict their future scores to be. All three of them turned out much better at O levels than the predictions. I still do not quite understand why MOE thought the exercise was necessary. It was perhaps that entrenched mindset that students are like factory products – after sorting out at PSLE, that would be where they were expected to be at the end of the current factory line before moving on to the next factory.

Singapore has taken the Goh’s report sorting exercise too far. Some steps had been taken in more recent years to undo the unhealthy competition and what I had termed in parliament in my maiden speech (Oct 2011) as ‘hyper-meritocracy’ (Heng Swee Kiat later used another term ‘extreme meritocracy’ but had the same meaning). Education is a lot more than just what the student achieve in academic results and what schools they attend. My wife and I had no issues with our children going to neighbour primary and secondary schools. We opted them out of the gifted education test. As concerned parents like many others, we do try to help with whatever they feel they need help in, but otherwise we let them have their own space to grow. We are thankful that they turned out well. One went through the polytechnic route while the other two went through neighbourhood JCs. All ended up eventually in our local autonomous universities and have found what they want to do in life, a very important thing to us as parents.

I had pushed many times in parliament (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012) and in the WP 2015 manifesto for through-train primary to secondary pilot schools. I would have gladly sent my children to such schools even if there was no option for them to enter a top secondary schools through this path. 10 years would be a good time for the school to development the students holistically till they were of the age to better know what would work for them. Our society has come a long way since the Goh’s report of 1978 that necessitated mass sorting out of students. We need to constantly focus on the core purpose of education – to develop each child to bring out the best in them. I end this blog with one of my favourite quote on education, for which I had also written a blog post several years ago – What should be the focus of our education?

The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate “apparently ordinary” people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. ~K. Patricia Cross, Education Scholar

Parents – anxious as we are about how to deal with the new PSLE scoring and what schools / academic streams we want our children to be in, do remember to invest time into their development, and to encourage them even if they do not end up where you hope for them to be in. Parents hold their children’s hands for a while, and hopefully their hearts forever.

Whither Opposition Politics in Singapore

Webinar held on 18 March 2021 (4pm Singapore time)

It was my privilege to be speaker in the talk organised by The Sydney Southeast Asian Centre, Malaysia and Singapore Association of Singapore and the publisher of my book Journey in Blue, World Scientific Singapore. The talk was hosted by my friend, Loke Hoe Yeong who is a political analyst based out of London. Hoe Yeong is familiar with Singapore politics and has written books and articles on the topic, and was kind enough to write a generous endorsement of my book which you can find inside the book itself.

Here’s a summary of what was in the 1-hour video (not verbertim, just the gist I documented as I re-watched the recording):

Q1 – My experience in GE2011 when I lost by just over 300 votes as a rookie politician

Didn’t know what to expect. Confidence grew as campaign went on. The ground sentiments were good and even the press took notice that the campaign went from a non-contest to a hot one and gave Joo Chiat some spotlight. As newcomer with relatively low profile in a GE with hot seats in Aljunied and elsewhere, I had to find my way to navigate the lack of public profile with persistent day and night daily house visits and to rely on word of mouth. Quietly confident at counting night. See-saw emotions throughout – seemed to be leading. But one polling district was bad and pulled down the votes.

Biggest upset that night was loss of Aljunied GRC, first time ever the PAP lost a GRC.

Q2. WP MPs having to work hard. What were my / our experiences like?

3 areas for MP to be responsible for: Town Council (only for elected MPs), Parliament, grassroots at party level,

NCMPs get 15% of an MP’s allowance and have no official constituency duties. We still have our day jobs. Budget time challenging – 2 weeks continuous sittings, from 11am to 7-8 pm. Elected MPs more busy – TC most challenging due to difficult and sudden transfer – AIM (with one-month termination rights to use of information system), change of managing agent, new MPs need time to be familiar with town council work. Changeover in a hostile manner and quite a bit of controversy from the handover.

Q3. Your book presents many valuable insights, and is like a manual on the workings of the Singapore opposition, where none have previously existed. Clearly, the WP has institutionalised and built up the opposition like none others before. How did you take on the government in Parliament, given their “army of bureaucrats” behind them and the data they have?

We don’t see them as opponents to be taken down. I was focused on the issues and wanted to find a way to dig for data and surface the matter for more discussions. A few ways to get data – Questions in parliament (PQs), asking people familiar e.g. former civil servants familiar with policy making, people in industry, doing my own research. Learnt to sharpened my PQs to prevent generic and not useful answers coming back. Need to also first do my own ground work to understand the issues and get own data first before filing PQs. Cited an example on my research in the full enrolment in student care in schools by personally calling many such centres myself and finding that many could not even put students on waitlist.

Q4. My highlights in parliaments?

Parliament is a good place to spotlight issues. Cited example in preschool and student care, foreign scholarships, etc. As opposition, we can ask uncomfortable questions. Nothing super memorable but gratifyingly when changes did happen as we pushed them, though the policy makers could also have wanted to do changes along those lines as well.

Q5. The outcomes of votes in Parliament are foregone conclusions – the PAP has more than 2/3 supermajority. What do you think WP/the opposition can do in this landscape?

Even though opposition does not have 1/3 seats, parliament is like a modern day gladiator arena. The PAP is conscious of how they appear to people, always looking at the next GE and the one after that. Government is about maintaining trust and confidence of people. They are afraid of losing more seats and for their vote share to go down too much. Even if we do not have 1/3 but we hit hard at issues and PAP knows it will affect their standing with the people, they will respond. Maybe they may not directly acknowledge the opposition when they change but if they feel they need to change like they did after GE2011, they will. Parliament is a platform to spotlight issues. In 2011, only 6 seats out of 87 seats were lost but it was a big deal to the PAP and they have to be mindful how to win back the trust and votes.

Q6. David vs Goliath battle in parliament. Opposition is constantly providing challenge to PAP. If PAP is not responsive, they will lose more seats in future. Your opinion?

Elections is not just the few weeks of campaigning. A lot of things happened between GEs. In 2011, PAP lost 1 GRC, lost the Hougang by-election in 2012 and Punggol East in 2013. PAP took 2015 to stem the tide with death of LKY and SG50. The ruling party is always mindful what happens in next GE.

Q7, The LKY repent comment in 2011 to voters in Aljunied GRC. Did that flip the election or other things were happening in the background?

I was not actively watching Aljunied GRC. I was engrossed in my own campaign in Joo Chiat in 2011. Swing voters / middle ground tend to be turned off when they perceive ruling party to be arrogant or not responsive. Not sure if that alone turned the results. In 2011, there was a fear of total opposition wipe out with LTK and CST stepping out of their SMCs. LTK took a good team with him into Aljunied GRC, which is an important factor.

Q8. My choice to enter in 2011 – did the increase in NCMP positions from 3 to 9 influence my decision to enter politics.

Zero effect. I was not interested in NCMP post. No one will be interested to contest to be an NCMP. I just wanted to be there to give a good contest to the PAP. My main motivation was about the future of Singapore – LKY was aging and health was declining. What if the PAP is not able to run the country in future. Who can take over? Gave a business analogy of needing strong competition to companies with monopolistic powers to force them to change. Did not think the NCMP positions are there to change anything in politics in Singapore. Can do away with the position but let’s also review the GRC system – do away with it or make them real small and have fewer GRCs.

Q9. What I thought of the NCMP position which was created by the PAP to allow opposition yet cater to the people’s desire to want a PAP government.

Always PAP’s way to tell Singaporeans that only they have the A team, that only they know how to run the place else people will repent. Glad that people in Aljunied, Hougang, Potong Pasir in the past and now Sengkang did not buy the story. Need strong candidates in the opposition though. I joined in 2011 because I thought the WP had people with decent credentials in 2006. People want to join when they find likeminded people they can work and identify with in the team. When opposition has stronger candidates, when people are confident their constituency can be well run, they will be willing to vote the opposition and NCMP positions may no longer be needed as there will be more than 12 eventually.

Q10. Are people watching opposition performance. Why does PAP have such a strong hold on parliament since 1959? People lack confidence in opposition and only giving incremental support?

People have become risk averse. Opposition job is to show they can be respectable, responsible and rational. Elected opposition MPs know they have the burden as people are watching. PAP is a seasoned fighting machine. They will find a way to fight back after the loss in 2020, as they did in the past. Those going into opposition and elected have the responsibility to do a good job because progress of opposition depends on what they do. No one wants to be one-term opposition MP though PAP will fight back strongly. PAP will always try to paint that only they can make policies. I do not agree. Policymaking is not something unique to PAP.

Q11. In 2015, Joo Chiat SMC disappeared from electoral map. What happened?

Ask the EBRC (Electoral Boundary Review Committee) which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office. EBRC report is so thin and short on justifications. Hardly anything had changed in the demographics of Joo Chiat to justify a change in electoral boundaries. And boundary changes are always announced not long before a GE is called. In 2015, announced in late July and GE was early Sep. I had 6 weeks to form team and campaign. Stated in book how I ended up with Marine Parade and how the team formation was made.

Q12. Researchers on Singapore’s opposition parties have talked about the key conundrum they face: if they are too radical, the vast majority of voters are turned away; if they are too moderate, the PAP’s technocratic superiority in policymaking etc will easily beat them. WP has been dubbed/criticised a ‘PAP-lite’ party, both by the PAP and some of the other opposition.. Do you think that is a fair comment?

WP did not start out to be a PAP-lite. A party’s policies and broad directions are shaped by the key leaders and these in turn attract like-minded members. When LTK took over as Sec-Gen, he had his moderate stance and started shaping the party along that direction. In other countries, e.g. UK and Australia, how radically different are those parties that can form the government? Every party will shift along the way. Even the PAP shifted to the left, especially after GE2011, shall I say to be more WP-lite?

I think too much is made of PAP’s technocratic superiority in policymaking. I don’t find that necessarily true from my experience. When we take an issue to lock them on, it is from the point of whether it is good for Singapore.

We take a stand based on what we believe in and if people vote us in, then that’s good because we are doing things that they support.

(Hoe Yeong went on to share about the opposition labour party in UK where he is in. Party is debating internally whether to moderate back to centre because they were deemed to be too far left and had lost the highest number of seats in over 70 years)

Q13. What goals for opposition. Form government in say 3 elections?

I do not speak for WP and definitely not for opposition. Examined the 2 breakthroughs. In 2011, Aljunied GRC breakthrough came with LTK coming out, teaming with Sylvia Lim and a very good team to make the breakthrough. In 2020, WP’s Sengkang GRC team did not have any experienced elected MPs. Young and new candidates taking down 3 political office bearers. Shows that it is possible even with new candidates. Of course, a lot depends on various other conditions and a strong party branding.

Having said that, a lot depends on the PAP, especially on how it handles the 4G transition, and in future the 5G, and whether the PAP can deliver on their promises. Trust is the most important currency in politics. If people lose confidence in the PAP, Singapore at least now has credible people in the opposition side, from across different parties to step up.

Cited example in business. For new nimble new companies to make breakthrough, usually will be when there are sudden opportunities such as policy or technology changes disrupting the landscape. Incumbent needs to be alert and able to adapt and new parties need to capture the opportunities.

Q14 My ‘gentlemanly’ assessment of the PAP 4G.

Anyone taking on responsibility to run the country will try as they know best. Also depends on how Singaporeans perceive them to be able to do so. World is rapidly changing. Old solutions may not work. We have become risk averse and relying on tested solutions which may no longer work. Not training our people to be more resilient and more risk taking (sorry, I mispoke in the interview as risk averse). I am not in the best position to judge the 4G, but would have like to see them being more daring and going beyond text-book answers.

Q15. Would opposition make bigger progress if election is all SMCs.

In past, GRC was configured as fortress to keep opposition away with few SMCs for opposition to try for. The fortress will have 1 to 2 ministers to anchor. In 2011 when the first fortress fell, it fell to seasoned opposition politicians. But in 2020 when the second fortress fell, it was to relatively new and young politicians. West Coast, East Coast came close to losing. Some SMCs did well, such as Bukit Panjang, Bukit Batok and Dr Ang (Marymount SMC). Over time, opposition as a whole has assembled strong slate of candidates and doomsday scenario that the PAP had painted did not happen – rubbish piled up three-storey high, value of property dropping. Aljunied GRC residents did not repent in 5 years, not in 10 years and next round will be 15.

Will be quite interesting if it was all seats were SMCs. There will be good individuals chipping away at SMCs and making small gains. Hard to say if these individual losses would be equal to 1 or 2 more GRCs being lost. Point is that gap between the candidates from leading opposition parties and the PAP has been closing up over the years and people are having more confidence now in the opposition.

Q16. GRC system being created for minority inclusion in parliament.

Pointed out (as Hoe Yeong also did), that the first elected opposition MP post independence was minority. Also Michael Palmer in a single seat in 2011, Murali Pillai in Bukit Batok won against Chinese candidates. Also Aljunied GRC has three minorities (Faisal, Leon and Pritam) when it only needed one. The race issue of protecting minority representation has been overplayed by the PAP, including in presidential election.

I have no issue with doing away with GRC – the PAP has. If we really need some minority representation, keep GRCs really small say to 3 persons and have fewer GRCs (Qualified that these are my personal opinions).

Q17, Party identity – Is WP shaping its identity beyond being ‘NOT PAP’? Party support – seems to be from certain social economic status. Also how to get votes from various communities such as Malays and new citizens?

Party identity – All opposition parties have to take on the PAP so they must first be NOT PAP. LTK started building the branding of rational, responsible and respectable. Whoever wants to be successful as opposition and even later when given the chance to form the government, must have these ingredients and to also have Singapore as the focus of our attention in our policy making – how to benefit Singapore. Still being continued under current leadership.

Party support – I have not studied any detailed data. From my experience, support is well round. For example, WP won Aljunied GRC with around 60% support in 2020. It is a very diverse background – rich and middle class private areas in Serangoon and Paya Lebar and the rental and smaller flat areas. Support was good throughout. My own experience in Joo Chiat SMC in 2011 with some 98% in private property. Not true that the private house owners will not support as they might be afraid the value of their property will drop. Also cited GE2020 when we have so many volunteers, people from all walks of life – from businessmen to young lawyers, doctors, professionals and from blue collar workers, helping in a pandemic GE. People are more accepting of opposition. I believe it is the beginning of the mainstreaming of opposition.

Journey in Blue is available in all major bookstores and autographed copies from shopee.com/faithyee.

Journey in Blue – A Peek into the Workers’ Party of Singapore

I started writing to document my 10-year journey with the Workers’ Party of Singapore about a month after GE2020 when a publisher accepted my outline and two draft chapters. Then I wrote furiously for three weeks and further went through another three months of many edits with the publisher, fact checking with many whom I wrote about and quoted in the book, as well as speaking with former political desk journalists, political analysts and even vocal critiques of the WP to see what else I should cover in the book.

Am thankful for many endorsements from Party leaders, from former PAP MPs, former NMPs, political analysts and friends, as well as the warm reception to the book since it hit the bookstores just around Christmas of 2020, making to the Straits Times Top 10 Bestsellers list several times. I was also interviewed and reported by The Straits Times, Today Online, Zaobao, Mothership.sg and The Online Citizen. I was also involved in several webinars, live sessions and forums such as by World Scientific, Mothership.sg, Teh Tarik with Walid, Future of Singapore roundtable and more. I am putting the links to various coverage and the events here for search convenience.

1. Preview put by World Scientific:

Autograpbed version of Journey in Blue is available on shopee.com/faithyee

2. Some publicity / press coverage:
a. straits times: Ex-NCMP’s new book reveals details on WP’s inner workings

b. Netizens tease Yee Jenn Jong: How did you get Tharman to become a “man in blue”?

c. Mothership interview: In 2011, Workers’ Party’s Yee Jenn Jong defied his parents & wife to enter opposition politics. Now, he’s stepping aside.

d. Today Online News: WP’s Yee Jenn Jong hopes new book will spark more political discussion in Singapore

e. Instagram Live interview by Professor Walid; Walid J. Abdullah on Instagram: “WP’s Yee Jenn Jong discusses his book,

f. Extract of book on the leadership challenge in WP in 2016: The lead up to Low Thia Khiang stepping down as WP’s Sec-Gen, as told by party insider Yee Jenn Jong

g. Roundtable talk by Yee JJ, Remy Choo and Kirsten Han: Mothership Presents: Open Secrets

h. Video interview with Mothership: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=410166756770501

i.  Webinar by World Scientific: Beyond Party Politics: Beyond Party Politics: The Private and People Sectors in the 2020s
Beyond Party Politics: The Private and People Sectors in the 2020s

j. The Online Citizen: Yee Jenn Jong’s book of his ten year political career in Workers’ Party is a must read for aspiring politicians in the alternative camp – The Online Citizen Asia

k. My self-made Youtube video introducing Journey in Blue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyad86dLgEA

l. Roundtable at Future of Singapore with Professor Tay Kheng Soon, Professor Kevin Tan, Yeoh Lam Keong, Murali Pillai, Franccis Yuen and Paul Tambyah.

m. Lianhe Zaobao

I have met many people to present the book to or to sign on the book they had purchased. Am putting the photos from these here too for convenience (apologies if I missed out on some as my photos are documented here from many sources).

The daily giving continues

Yesterday marked the completion of 5 months of our daily food distribution which began on 7 April 2020, the first day of the Covid-19 Circuit Breaker.

Yesterday was also special, because we had a young helper, Ethan Tan. I had met his dad and mum, Alan and Sharon who are the third generation operators of a Nonya food group. It began as a push cart stall and then as a hawker stall in the Tiong Bahru market. The stall is still running in the market, but the third generation owners have also expanded the concept into a chain of HarriAnn Nonya food cafes in busy workplaces downtown.

Getting the Nonya cakes from the central kitchen early in the morning

From a casual conversation with Alan and Sharon two weeks ago, we moved into getting their delicious kuehs to the recipients at Eunos Crescent. Ethan, just 11, wanted to help in community projects, so he joined along, waking up just after 6am to go with dad and mum to the central kitchen to bring the kuehs over.

Serving the cooked food with Nonya kuehs
The Tan family who sponsored the kuehs and our regular helpers at Eunos Crescent

When most of the distribution were done, Helen the lead volunteer, took us to see the community garden that she and another helper have cultivated. Sadly, the bananas and papayas were constantly plucked by others, despite a warning sign not to pluck and with CCTV monitoring. Even the banana leaves have been cut by unknown people.

The Papaya tree which has been losing its fruits to unknown people despite the warning sign

Over the past 5 months of food distribution, we had our daily packs of rice or noodles from a social service organisation. Occasionally like yesterday, we had sponsors for other items – eggs, dry rations, rice, biscuits, soap, detergent, bread, cereals, 3-in-1 beverages, tau huay (soya bean curd) and now kuehs.

It is great to see the active involvement of local residents and kind sponsors who have made the food distribution sustainable, despite many challenges we have faced and are continuing to face. Most of the helpers for this daily charity programme are themselves residents in the rental flats but willing to lend their time and energy to do daily charity. Glad to see young ones like Ethan starting out early in life to be involved. Let us not get weary from doing good.

Jurwa2 – Keeping our beaches clean

This morning, a group of enthusiastic young adults and several of us, the young-at-heart were at the East Coast beach. I had gotten to know them from GE2020 when several of them volunteered to help in our campaign.

Most of them are still university undergraduate or had worked for just a few years. Some had volunteered before in beach cleaning activities with other groups in the past. They decided to execute their East Coast cleanup plan today. They invited me along.

All ready to go – Gloved up and a pair of tongs for each.
#MakeYourTongsCount. Full-time cleaner Mr Han is behind me.
Tools for the clean up

We spent about 1.5 hours cleaning the part closest to car park D1. I met a group wearing various NUS T-shirts moving eastwards from McDonalds. They were armed with tongs, bags and plastic pails too. I found out that they come regularly to the beach for clean up too, as most of them live nearby. One of them turned out to be the son of my classmate from primary and secondary school!

I also chatted with Mr Han. He is a full-time cleaner for the beach. His day starts off at 5 am when he will be picked up from his dormitory and dropped off at the beach. He gets to end work around 5 pm each day, a rather long workday. He said that he gets just one rest day a month. He is tasked to cover ‘7 stones’. These are the stone breakwaters. His area for cleaning spans the beachfront of 7 breakwaters, a fairly long distance.

Mr Han has been in Singapore since 2004, first as a construction worker. He switched to the cleaning job only a year ago. He is undecided if he will continue to work in Singapore when his contract ends. He feels that the salary in his hometown of Jiangsu, a fast prospering part of China, is now not that far off from what he gets to take home from his work in Singapore. 16 years is a long time to be working away from home.

Another group from NUS were there too, starting from the McDonald side and moving eastwards. Chatted with them. Turned out that one of them is the son of my Primary and Secondary classmate!
Some of the stuff from my bag -bottles, cigarette boxes, cups, toys, wrappers and foam boxes broken into small pieces by the elements
The pile collected by the professional cleaners!
Found during clean-up!

I titled this post as Jurwa2. Jurwa is the Bhutanese word for Change.

I first blogged about Jurwa in 2013 when I was in Bhutan for a total period of over 7 weeks spread over 5 months. I was the lead consultant to the Ministry of Education of Bhutan in their ICT Masterplan project.

There, on one of the Sundays, I met a group of young people who did a clean up of the streets in the capital city, Thimphu. In the afternoon, there was another group of mostly professionals and business owners who had formed the Jurwa club. They were also doing clean-up in the area around the clock tower square in the heart of Thimphu. I made friends with this group as well. In fact, I am still in contact with one of them.

The Bhutanese were also frustrated that their once-clean streets and rivers had become littered with rubbish. Care for the environment has been something ingrained in their Gross National Happiness teachings, something all Bhutanese learn since school. Yet, the streets were littered. Part of the problem was that Bhutan was opening up and many foreigners had come in. The habits of the foreigners started to influence the behaviours of the locals as well. These groups wanted change, and decided that change should come from doing something themselves. So, they did these regular clean-ups.

In Singapore too, we had our “Keep Singapore Clean”, “Use Your Hands”, and other campaigns decades ago. In my original Jurwa blog, I shared this story of how when I was in junior college, our class had a night hike across Pulau Ubin island and camped at a remote part of the island. The next morning, we packed up to go. Some of us left their rubbish in plastic bags in the deserted beach. A classmate picked up the bags and carried these with him. The nearest dustbin must be at least 5 km away, back through the plantations we had trekked through. This classmate reminded us that we should handle our waste properly. So everyone picked up every bit of rubbish that we had created on the beach and carried them till we came to the first dustbin miles away.

There were plenty of dustbins in the East Coast beach. Yet, today we filled several trash bags with rubbish, most picked from within 50 metres of a nearby dustbin.

I spoke with the young people in my team. They agree that we should be the change to influence people around us. It may be challenging because our society is open. We have some 40% of our population who are non-native born. One of those in this morning’s team had recently returned from a 6-month NUS overseas program in Stockholm, Sweden. She said she picked up being environmentally conscious from the Swedes. We spoke about how the Japanese and Taiwanese dispose their rubbish well despite not having many bins in public areas.

I still remember the camping story after so many decades. One member of our team took his rubbish and those of the others. Everyone then quietly cleaned up the remote beach. Our actions may be small but we can choose to change and inspire others to change. We need Jurwa too – for a better world, and a cleaner Singapore.

Stablisers for Singapore

This article “GE2020 showed Singapore at ‘inflexion point’: Goh Chok Tong” is behind a Straits Times paywall, so I will just share my thoughts on this one segment of ESM Goh’s interview.

ESM cited some ‘stabilisers’ for Singapore – namely GRC and town council system. He said that these were ‘not aimed primarily at disadvantaging the opposition but to prevent disruptions to services.’

Getting opposition to run town council is fine with me. It is a way for them to show that they can run a town. It also allows elected MPs access to residents over their municipal needs. GRC was first created to ensure minority representation. Then GRCs got bigger and bigger and the justification was that you need economy of scale for town council management.

Gerrymendering aside, some scale is good. Anyway the GRC system has come back to haunt the PAP. Once the opposition has anchored themselves in the GRC, it too can leave behind anchor members and renew with fresh blood at each GE. Then it becomes harder for the PAP to win it back. GRCs are no longer fortresses for the PAP when the opposition slate is stronger.

What upset me the most in my time in parliament was to find the AIM deal. The key engine to running a town council, the management information system, was transferred to a PAP company just before GE2011. I was not involved in the AHPETC as I was an NCMP. It affected my comrades but not me from an operational point. However, as a trained and previously practicing IT professional, you know how important an IT system is to any large operations.

Yesterday, I had tea with someone who is a trained accountant and now holds a very senior position in an international firm advising on merger and acquisition deals. We happened to speak on the AIM arrangement. He said that in M&A, this is called a poison pill. The exiting shareholders cannot plant time bombs or put land mines for the new shareholders. In M&A, they look out for such poison pills. Exiting stakeholders cannot have the right to press any button to trigger destruction in their old organisation! Whether the old stakeholders did push the button or not is irrelevant. They should never have the right to the button.

If we want to truly have stabilisers for Singapore, then any handover must be totally responsible. Any way, AIM is behind us now. The AHTC has developed their own system.

I did not begin my adult life as an alternative party supporter. I voted for the PAP in my first GE. Several things done by the PAP that I felt were not right moved me gradually away from them. The tipping point was upgrading for votes. That was using the people’s money to hold them hostage. Philosophically, I could not accept any party that practices unfairness to this level.

Singapore belongs to Singaporeans, not to any one political party, no matter what they had achieved in the past. The decision as to who Singaporeans want is based on their choice at the ballot box. We need a stable Singapore. Thankfully, things have changed gradually and I hope that they will continue to change, for the better of Singapore.

Note: This is re-shared from my original Facebook post.

A Pitch For Minimum Wage

There is suddenly a lot of interest on Minimum Wages, thanks to a Facebook post by Jamus and many criticizing him on this.

In case you have missed, I am re-sharing a speech I made during GE2020 devoted to Minimum Wage and Fighting Poverty. The Workers’ Party makes no apologies for making our case for Minimum Wage, something that has been in our manifestos over multiple GEs already (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y49Vv7uZZ8).

Minimum Wage is Budget neutral, i.e. it will not impact government spending unless the government chooses to subsidise increase in costs or wages.Minimum Wage is also discussed in A levels economics. I had a tea session with a JC Econs teacher today. Econs was my favourite subject at JC but too bad I did not continue at the varsity level. It is under the topic of Microeconomics under government interventions to markets. In a market driven model, wages will be set according to demand for and supply of labour. Theoretically, when the Minimum Wage is set at a higher price than where demand intersects with supply, then it will lead to a drop in quantity demanded and hence there will be some loss of jobs. How much the drop will be will depend on the elasticity of the demand curve. In practice, in many countries where Minimum Wages have been established, there has not been significant job losses. It may lead to an increase in cost of services. In a recent survey, 8 out of 10 Singaporeans expressed a willingness to pay more for essential services. Ironically, almost all of the 100,000 or so whose salaries fall below our recommended $1,300 take-home Minimum Wage are essential service providers. The government is also not alien to the concept of Minimum Wage, except that they practice it for selected industries only via the Progressive Wage Model. That has also led to some increases in cost for certain services, for which Singaporeans had been prepared to pay for. It might take a very long time for the government to move PWM to all sectors, so having a Minimum Wage is a good signal that we wish to leave no workers behind.If we call ourselves a First World country, we must be more equitable in the way we treat lower wage workers. Singapore’s share of GDP for wages is very low compared to other developed countries.

During the TV debate, Jamus had unapologetically made our case to want to push for a higher share of GDP for workers, in line with that of developed countries. If Singaporeans complain that Jamus has misled that we did not say that Minimum Wage may lead to higher cost, I can guarantee that when our GST is raised to 9% (and it certainly will be raised because the PAP had already promised so if it gets the mandate), the costs of everything will immediately rise. The impact will be far greater than Minimum Wage. Singaporeans are prepared for 9% GST but not an increase in wages for the lowest 100,000 of income earners in Singapore?

Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here for easier future referencing.

Do Opposition Candidates Appear Once Every 5 Years?

I was told that our opponent said that we appear only once every 5 years and that they have covered the ground well in their term.

I am sure they have to cover their ground. The voters elected them to be their representatives, for which they get the monthly MP allowance on top of their full-time pay if they are holding other jobs, which nearly all PAP MPs were. I am not so sure though, why some need to run from house to house during GE if they have covered the ground so well.

My response:

1. From what I know of the WP MPs, they are full-time or virtually full-time MPs. The reality is that to run an opposition ward with its town council duties, it does require full-time attention. How many in the PAP’s Marine Parade team or other teams have been full-time MPs?

And yes, WP MPs do cover their grounds very well. All WP MPs work hard on the ground. I am 100% sure if elected for Marine Parade, my team members and I will dedicate ourselves more than 100% in our roles for town council management, community projects and parliament work.

2. When I was in parliament 2011-2015, the records will show that I was one of the most active, if not the most. I do not bother to count, but a major local newspaper did report the speaking tally.

After 2015, I continue to write on policies and contribute to my WP parliamentarians. WP MPs have to work harder. Some PAP backbenchers have zero or just 1-2 speeches in an entire 4-5 year term. Go check it out and see for yourself.

3. Some losing PAP candidates in past elections disappear after the GE. Some reappear elsewhere in easier wards on the coat-tail of ministers. Not all. Some stay on as Grassroots Advisors (GRAs), and they will get the support of the PA, funded to the tune of $1 billion a year. They also get access to certain spaces within the constituency to continue their work, with an army of people helping.

I lost in Joo Chiat SMC in 2011 by over 300 votes. I could not get any facilities to use. We once tried to use the Telok Kurau park but the use was rejected. We ended up going door to door singing carols for Christmas since our Christmas party could not be realised. Sorry for my bad singing and lousy guitar skills. The ministries cannot accept my appeals or letters for residents. It has to go through the PAP MP. GRAs, however, can.

4. Despite the challenges, I continued my twice-weekly visits from 2011-2015, only to find Joo Chiat SMC absorbed into Marine Parade GRC just weeks before the GE, with no reasonable explanation.

Just as one small proof, a lady came to me today in the Marine Terrace market to show me a picture taken with her son in her house in one of my many visits to Telok Kurau before 2015. Another showed me something similar too, yesterday at another market.

During this GE, I visited some parts of the now-defunct Joo Chiat SMC. A good number of people remembered my visit to their homes post GE2011. One even thanked me for writing back in response to an email from her over an issue in her neighbourhood which I had tried to solve. I could not even quite remember it until she mentioned that she wrote to both the PAP MP and I, and only I had replied.

We did quarterly food distribution at Marine Terrace and later in a smaller way at Chai Chee after 2015. When Covid-19 Circuit Breaker came suddenly, all the RCs and almost all social services had to cease operations on 7 April 2020.I volunteered immediately with an essential social service provider and we did daily cooked food distribution so that those who had been receiving could still get their food. Later, this expanded into Eunos in response to another request to help with distribution there.

Today, we give out some 400 packs of cook food daily, since 7 April 2020. It has grown to become a community project, by residents, for residents. No government funding at all.We just need to be more resourceful. We give them a run for their money. Competition is good.

I would like to see which high-flying PAP MPs can do any of the above when they lose in this GE? What happened to Ministers and those with Ministerial potential after they lose a GE? Go check out for yourself what happened to these high-fliers in the past. And try doing outreach work without the PA or an army to support you, or any space to do your work with. We did. Of course we can never be like the elected MPs. They are paid to do their work. Do they even do it full-time?

So don’t tell me that we just appear once every 5 years for 1-2 months before a GE. I find it ridiculous that an elected MP can compare the work we do versus the work for which they are paid to do.

Go share this.


Note: This article was first written as a Facebook post and re-posted here (with minor edits) for easier future referencing.