YJJ Rally Speech – 2 Sep 2015

Below is the speech which I had delivered in Hougang on 2 Sep 2015, on the first night of the WP’s series of rallies:

Dear Singaporeans, dear voters of Marine Parade GRC, dear supporters of the Workers’ Party, a good evening to you! Thank you for coming by the thousands, by the tens of thousands to show us your support.

4 and a half year ago, I started on the journey with the Workers’ Party. Voters of Joo Chiat SMC gave me a very strong support, even though I was a new politician then.

I was greatly encouraged by your support. It motivated me to work hard. I became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. I have raised many issues in Parliament in the 4 years of term, in areas such as education, business, manpower, the environment, early childhood, finance, and many more. My colleagues and I have raised issues in parliament a manner that the Workers’ Party strongly believes in, which is, being rational, respectable and responsible.

On the ground, I have made many visits back to the SMC, almost on a weekly basis. I have gotten to know more residents.

ESM Goh and MSF Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had said that the WP is like a rooster claiming credit that the sun rises each morning because of its crowing. Actually, they are mistaken. The rooster does not crow to make the sun rise. It crows each morning to tell people that, it is morning. It is telling the people, “Hey, wake up!”

That’s what WP has been telling PAP. That’s what you, the people of Singapore have been telling the PAP for so long and they did not want to listen. You told them that the transport system needed fixing, that letting it being run by private companies as a duopoly was a big mistake. They didn’t want to listen. You told them the prices of new flats had gone crazily high beyond what young Singaporeans could afford. You told them that you cannot peg new flat prices to the resale market and that there were simply not enough flats for the so many people they keep taking into Singapore. They didn’t want to listen. Life was good, at least for them. Why change the system?

There may be a Swiss standard of living for some, but not for many. In the words of former PAP MP, Mr Inderjeet Singh, who had said in Feb 2013, “We can safely say that we have failed to achieve the goal set by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, of a Swiss standard of living for most Singaporeans, except for the higher income Singaporeans including foreigners who just recently decided to make Singapore their home. “

You, the brave voters of Singapore, gave them a BIG wake up call in 2011 when for the first time, a GRC, the Aljunied GRC was lost by the PAP. “Hey, wake up! You have ignored us for too long”, you told them. “Wake up from you sleep and go get the system fixed!”

Then they started to listen.

In GE2011, when it was announced that I had lost the election for Joo Chiat SMC narrowly, I gave a Thank You speech on stage. It was a difficult speech to make and I then wished Charles Chong well and even asked residents to support him in his work there as their elected MP. But I said, “Keep Joo Chiat, and I will be back!”

4 and a half years later, by the grand wisdom of a small but powerful committee, Joo Chiat SMC is no more. A wise elder stateman recently said that oppositions are like nomads looking for territories to contest every elections. Well sir, I am no nomad. You didn’t keep Joo Chiat SMC, but hey, nevermind. I am still here!

In the past 4 years, besides visits within the Joo Chiat SMC, I sometimes also ventured into nearby areas such as the original Joo Chiat, to Chai Chee, to Kembangan, to Eunos and to Ubi. Guess what some people are saying to us?

Some are confused too as to which constituency they are in. Some have been in a SMC before, some in Aljunied GRC, and some in the East Coast GRC. So some residents even described themselves “nomads”, shifting constituencies at GEs without ever moving away from their homes.

So on 24 July, when the new electoral boundaries were out and Joo Chiat SMC was removed, I have to admit that I was initially quite lost, for the next few hours, about where to contest in. Then I remember some valuable lessons I had learnt from young; that if someone pushes you around, stand up to the bully and take the fight back to them. Otherwise, they will just keep doing it, again and again.

More importantly, I believe we are all, first and foremost Singaporeans, who love our country. We all want a better future, not only for ourselves but also for our future generations – regardless of which constituency we are in. I know we can form a very passionate and good team to serve Marine Parade residents. My team and I are here today ready to serve the Marine Parade residents!

The EBRC report also made me reflect on why I had joined the Workers Party in the first place. I had wanted to see a fairer democratic system, where rules are clear and contests are fair, and Singaporeans can choose the leaders without fear of repercussions. I had wanted to see a stronger alternative being developed, because I think it is dangerous to leave it only to one ‘A’ team. I had strongly believed that Singaporeans are talented. We are more talented than the PAP thinks we are. There is enough for more than one ‘A’ team and that we can benefit from a contest of ideas.

So my mind became very clear. The next morning after the EBRC report was out, I requested for the Party’s leadership to let me lead a committed team into Marine Parade GRC.

I didn’t have to look far for the passionate team members whom I had wanted. They have been right in our midst, serving alongside with our many volunteers.

Let me first introduce you to Terence Tan, lawyer. Many would know that he fought the cases for AHPETC with NEA and with MND, pro-bono, without charging us any fees. He also does pro-bono work for capital offences cases and others requiring legal aid. He is not just a lawyer, but was an entrepreneur who started a popular bar and restaurant establishment early in his career. He had stints overseas that included being the Managing Director of a multinational hotel group with operations from Spain to South-East Asia.

Terence joined WP after GE2011 and has been walking the ground with me for over 2 years. He’s also a local boy of Marine Parade GRC, a Peranakan who lives in the traditional part of Joo Chiat.

Terence has served faithfully in our grassroots and meet-people-sessions. Today, he’s your candidate for the Marine Parade GRC.

Next, we have He Ting Ru, just 32 years old and already a successful corporate lawyer heading up the legal department in a public listed company. She volunteered as a helper in our Meet-People-Session right after GE2011. She came on her own, seeking to find ways to contribute to Singapore. From there, she expanded her work into our community events and diligently assisting in the policy work of our parliamentarians. You may find it hard to believe that a bright, successful and busy lawyer would spend so much of her free time to volunteer week in, week out with us, but here we have the living proof. Ms He Ting Ru, your candidate for Marine Parade GRC.

And right in the Malay heartland of Singapore, is your local boy, Mr Firuz Khan from Haig Road. He has been in the Party longer than I had, since 2006. His service was disrupted when he went with his family to UK for several years, where he started a successful chocolate factory. Then he came back to Singapore in 2010 and continued his service with the Workers’ Party serving Singaporeans.

Firuz’s heart is in the right place. He took a pay cut from his banking career in 1999 to be the principal for the Pertapis Children’s Home, where he had learnt first-hand the issues of those that have fallen through the cracks in the Malay-Muslim community. He is also a hands-on guy, who started and grew the Royce’ Chocolate business for the Japanese company in Singapore and in the region, before starting his own chocolate factory in Wales, UK. Mr Firuz Khan, a hands-on person with commitment to help the vulnerable and needy in the community, your candidate for Marine Parade GRC.

Last but not least, Mr Ng Foo Eng, Dylan. Foo Eng came from a humble family background, studied in neighbourhood schools, worked his way through university. He found success in his banking career, working in both local and foreign banks. He has built up the wealth management business for the bank from scratch.

Foo Eng is passionate about serving the community, and has served as a volunteer in WP’s grassroots and in the meet-people-sessions. Mr Ng Foo Eng, your candidate for Marine Parade GRC.

This is a team that’s part of the renewal story in the Workers’ Party. This is a team that’s willing to take on the difficult task in what the PAP considers as one of its strongholds, to give you a credible alternative to choose from. We know the challenges are not just in fighting this election. We know there will be lots of start-up issues. This is a team with a good range of complementary strengths and operational expertise that can see this through. You will hear more from this team in the coming days.

This is team Marine Blue, because Marine should be blue, not white!  Come September 11, vote the Workers’ Party. Empower your future!

Mr Lim’s two-thirds target of Singapore core – For how long?

Today’s TODAY headline reads, “Two-thirds S’porean core in all sectors a firm target.”

The Manpower Minister, Mr Lim Swee Say had say that “The Government will hold fast to its goal of having a two-thirds Singaporean core in the economy, and this will be the structure of the country’s workforce in the ‘medium to long term’.”

This two-thirds target was first established in 2010. Mr Lim’s predecessor, then Acting Manpower Minister Mr Tan Chuan-Jin had also said this during his Committee of Supplies (COS) rounding up speech for the Manpower ministry in 2013.

Mr Tan had said, “First, we are watching very closely the growth rate of our foreign workforce. We want to slow the growth of the foreign workforce significantly in this decade, so that the proportion does not increase significantly beyond the one-third ratio that we adopted in 2010. Last year, our foreign workforce grew by about 67,000, excluding foreign domestic workers. This is still too large, and we have tightened our policies to bring it down further. We will be watching the numbers closely this year sector by sector.”

I had just two months prior to this COS debate, worked with the WP’s team to prepare our alternative proposal to the government’s Population White Paper. The figures were then fresh in my mind. I knew from the government’s own projection that this ratio of one-third foreign manpower did not hold in their own projections in their own White Paper. So I sought clarifications from Mr Tan. Below is an extract of the debate on 14 March 2013 from parliament’s records:

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The Chairman: Before I call the next two Members, I note that Mr Dhinakaran and Mr Yee Jenn Jong have been raising their hands very diligently. The reason I did not call you earlier is because you did not raise any cuts under this Head and, therefore, I am giving all the other Members the first right. I will come to you, Mr Yee Jenn Jong.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Thank you, Mr Chairman. Just a quick clarification from the Acting Minister. The Acting Minister has said in his speech that the foreign workers will not go significantly above one-third of the total workforce. But during the tea break, I took the Population White Paper and I did some quick calculations. I found that the foreign worker workforce could grow to around 45% by 2030 and it is not difficult to understand this if you look at the chart 3.4 of the White Paper, where the foreign workforce growth is growing much faster than the local workforce for the next 17 years. So my question is: how long can we keep foreign workers to one-third of the total workforce?

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin: I thank Mr Yee for the question and the opportunity to clarify. When we are looking at the ESC’s recommendations, I think we are looking at keeping to about a third where we can, and we are really looking at this decade. For the following decade, the dynamics are a bit different. So for this decade, depending on how it unfolds, with the measures taking place, we would aim to hover at or around one-third if we can. I think we can probably manage to do that but it will be painful. But beyond that, of course, as you all know, by 2020 our own domestic labour force growth will basically end up at about zero. So whatever growth we have thereafter will largely be foreign labour growth. So what happens in the following decade? A lot depends on productivity. A lot depends on where we are in terms of restructuring efforts which is why this phase is particularly important. So it is really about one-third for this decade until about 2020.

Chart 3.4 of the Population White Paper (source: http://population.sg/whitepaper/resource-files/population-white-paper.pdf)

Chart 3.4 of the Population White Paper (source: http://population.sg/whitepaper/resource-files/population-white-paper.pdf)

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In his reply, Mr Tan had admitted that the one-third target is possible only for this decade. That I agree with. Whilst doing our own computations for alternative models, we had then studied all the publicly available numbers about population in Singapore. There will be net addition to the local workforce from 2013 till 2020, the end of this decade. This is because there will be more Singaporeans turning of age to be included into the workforce than there are Singaporeans retiring. Beyond 2020, the numbers are horrible. In order to get the kind of economic growth the government had wanted in the White Paper, there has to be more addition of foreign labour without any addition of local manpower. How much to add will depend on productivity growth, which the government had set a target of 2-3%. Sadly, this productivity growth has been near zero or negative in recent years.

So Mr Lim’s comments that the two-thirds Singaporean core will be something for the  ‘medium to long term’ is rather puzzling. What is  ‘medium to long term’? His predecessor had already agreed with me that “by 2020 our own domestic labour force growth will basically end up at about zero. So whatever growth we have thereafter will largely be foreign labour growth.” and that “it (foreign workforce) is really about one-third for this decade until about 2020.”

At the point that I had asked the question in March 2013, based on available manpower data of 2012, locals made up 63.0% of the workforce. By 2014, this figure has dropped to 61.9%. It was 62.1% in 2013. (Source: http://stats.mom.gov.sg/Pages/Labour-Force-Summary-Table.aspx)

Mid 2012 Mid 2013 Mid 2014
Total Workforce (‘000) 3,361.8 3,443.7 3,530.8
Local Workforce (‘000) 2,119.6 2,138.8 2,185.2
% Local 63.0% 62.1% 61.9%

               Figure 1: Summary of data from MOM’s website

Is Mr Lim’s definition of long-term up to 2020 only? If it is beyond 2020, how is he going to achieve that because even with a growing local workforce in this current decade, the ratio has been declining well past the two-thirds ratio already while productivity has failed to improve.

What do you think?

 

A tribute to our volunteers

Livia and Qiqi getting ready to cycle home after house visits

Livia and Qiqi getting ready to cycle home after house visits

One of the most amazing things I have experienced since entering politics in 2011 is the wonderful commitment of volunteers. I am reminded of that again yesterday with Livia and her daughter Qiqi.

Livia first signed up to help WP in 2011 through our website. She was assigned to help in the Joo Chiat SMC campaign. I remember her asking for permission to allow her daughter Qiqi, then in primary 2 to tag along because there was no one to look after her. I agreed and Livia joined us on several visits with Qiqi, a very obedient girl who could follow us on our tiring visits without any fuss.

Since GE2011, Livia went on to help in WP’s grassroots activities, first in Kaki Bukit and now in Punggol East, with her daughter following along on many occasions. Qiqi has become a darling amongst our grassroots volunteers.

Today, Livia and Qiqi turned up in bicycles at the start of our evening house visits. They had cycled from a relative’s shop in Hougang and after a tiring evening of visits, they had to cycle for about an hour to their home in Pasir Ris. I was concerned if it would be too strenuous on them, but Livia said they are used to such long cycling. Qiqi is in primary 6 this year, with her PSLE starting next month. Livia assured me that Qiqi is doing ok in school.

Livia’s dad had brought her to WP rallies when she was young and she felt her daughter should also have a similar exposure. Livia is a busy professional who has to also look after her daughter.

I am constantly humbled by the commitment of those who volunteer their time to help in our political work. Grassroots and campaigning activities are time consuming and require dedication. We are not able to provide big titles like BBM and PBM to them, nor offer privileges for primary school registration or free parking within the wards they are serving in. Yet many continued to help silently, committed to the cause of helping residents.

I was reminded yesterday again of how I had started my GE2011 campaign with just one Party member assigned to be my Election Agent. I was then relatively new to the Party and did not know who else in the Party to recruit to help in campaigning. Campaigning for Joo Chiat SMC seemed like an impossible mission. I had committed to the leadership that I would cover every house that was publicly accessible and will write to all the major condominiums for permission to visit. The campaigning time was short and I was desperately short on manpower.

Family members and friends joined in along the way. Volunteers signed up. Some residents of the SMC were so enthusiastic that they immediately became volunteers after we had met them. An amazing story is that it turned out that two of the residents whom we had met and recruited separately turned out to be great-great grandchildren of Mr Chew Joo Chiat, which Joo Chiat is named after. They continue to help with the Party till today.

The sincerity and dedication of the volunteers had spurred me to make the GE2011 impossible mission into a possible mission. Now, two weeks after the EBRC report was published, with an ever larger mountain to climb, I am once more encouraged by the enthusiasm of supporters who are again coming alongside to help in the mission. Thank you!

* story and photo shared with Livia’s permission

A story to warm your heart

We conducted our first house visit yesterday since the release of the EBRC report. As usual, it was a tiring affair, going door to door. People were noticeably more interested to engage with us now that the report is out. They were curious if we will be the ones that will contest in their constituency. As usual, we tried to cover as many houses as we could given that GE is imminent.

At this house, a lady in her mid 40s, Miss J, came to the door. We introduced ourselves. She opened the door and invited us in. Usually, we would just converse with residents at the door. This time, I saw an old lady sitting on a sofa gazing at us. Something made me want to go in and talk to the old lady, so we accepted the invitation to enter.

She was highly advanced in age, body deeply bent and her legs looked like they were too weak to support her. I spotted a wheelchair nearby, presumably used to transport her around the house and outside. Miss J went in to the kitchen to make drinks for us. It was extremely difficult making any conversation with the old lady. We used a mix of Chinese and Hokkien. Sometimes she seemed to understand, sometimes she would say something unintelligible to us. If not, she would gaze at us or at the television.

Miss J came out with the drinks and explained that her mother, aged 87, has dementia. It became very severe two years ago, so she quit her job to become a full-time caretaker. She said that her mother would get confused easily. Sometimes, she would think that Miss J was her daughter, sometimes her ah-ma, sometimes a maid, etc. At times, she seemed to understand and apologised to Miss J for causing her not to be able to work because of her poor health.

I told Miss J that she is very filial and that it must be really difficult for her to play the role of the sole caretaker. To my surprise, Miss J replied “No, it is my privilege that I have my mother to love and to care for”. Every night, she would hug and kiss her mother before she goes to bed. She said that whenever her brother’s children visit their grandmother, the grandchildren will do the same thing to their Ah-ma. She said that it is important for them to do this so that they will do the same thing for their own parents when their parents are old.

Miss J struggles with the finances. Her savings are mostly dried up. She tries not to ask for too much help from her siblings as they have their own family expenses. She has to buy adult diapers and to pay for all sorts of medicine that her mother requires. However, there was no trace of any bitterness in her. She said these as a matter of fact and ended by saying that this is what she wants to do as this is her mother. It is her privilege.

I was deeply moved and asked for permission to share her story. As she was narrating her story, the image of the recent viral video of a daughter beating up her mother and making her eat faeces and drink urine came to my mind. How did something go so wrong in that family, and how did Miss J find the strength to go through all these difficult daily duties with such a big heart?

May God bless people like Miss J for showing to the world what filial piety is.

Time to review our scholarship framework for international students

I had filed two questions during the recent parliament sitting on 13 July 2015, with answers as follow:

75 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education (a) since 2012, what percentage of international students on scholarships awarded by the Ministry have graduated with second class upper honours or better; (b) how does this figure compare with the 97% of Public Service Commission scholars who graduate each year with second class upper honours or better; and (c) whether the Ministry intends to set a base score of a second upper honours or its equivalent which international scholars must attain to maintain their scholarships at each renewal review.

Mr Heng Swee Keat: Since 2012, about 68% of international students on undergraduate scholarships have graduated with second upper class honours or better. This is comparable to the performance of Singaporean scholarship holders studying at the local universities. It is also higher than the overall percentage of students graduating with second upper class honours or better, which is about 38%.

Mr Yee asked how these figures compare with that of PSC scholars. There is no good basis for comparing as the number of PSC scholars is extremely small and they undertake their studies in a variety of top-tier universities, both local and overseas.

The basic grade that the international scholars have to meet in order to maintain their scholarships is a cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.5 out of 5 for NUS, NTU and SUTD, and 3.4 out of four for SMU. This is commensurate with what is required of Singaporean scholarship holders studying at these universities. These criteria strike a careful balance between encouraging students to achieve certain standards in academic work, while giving them the time and space to learn deeply and widely through a variety of activities

And

  1. Mr Yee Jenn Jong: To ask the Minister for Education (a) since January 2012, how many scholarships have been awarded each year by Ministries to international students to do their undergraduate studies at our local universities; and (b) what is the current average cost of each scholarship a year including but not limited to school fees, accommodation and other allowances.

Mr Heng Swee Keat: The annual number of scholarships awarded to international students at the undergraduate level has come down in recent years. Since 2012, about 900 such scholarships are awarded each year.

The scholarships include school fees, and typically include accommodation and some allowances. The annual cost per scholarship is about $25,000 on average.

The questions were to get an update from data I had obtained when I first entered parliament. In January and February 2012, MOE had revealed then that it awards 170 and 900 scholarships at the undergraduate level each year to ASEAN and non-ASEAN students respectively, making a total of 1,070 new international scholars a year. Budget per scholar then was between $18,000 and $25,000 a year.

A GPA average of 3.5 out of 5 is roughly the grade that will secure a student a second class lower honours degree. 68% of international students graduated with second class upper honours in the last four years, a slight improvement compared to the figure I had obtained in 2012.

At $25,000 per year per international scholar and with a scholarship lasting typically 4 years, the annual budget on international scholars would be $25,000 x 900 x 4, giving a total of $90 million a year (this figure excludes the amount spent on pre-tertiary and post-graduate scholarships, as well as that spent on tuition grants). The expenditure on an international scholar would be $100,000 over the 4-year time period to obtain his/her first degree. I believe this figure excludes tuition grants of typically $10,000-$20,000 per annum per student which almost all international students will get.

MOE had said that the expectation of a GPA of 3.5 out of 5 (or 3.4 out of 4 for SMU) is the general expectation for Singaporean scholars as well. It had said that we cannot compare PSC scholars’ performance with that of international scholars on MOE’s scholarship, as the number of PSC scholars is “extremely small” (5 President’s and 83 PSC Scholarships were awarded in 2014) and they study in a variety of top-tier universities, both local and overseas. DPM Teo had in May 2012 revealed that more than 97% of PSC scholars graduate with Good Class Honours (2nd upper or better) each year. PSC scholars I had spoken to have told me that if they did not maintain the GPA required for a good class honours for two semesters, their scholarship would be suspended.

The question then is whether our expectation for international scholars has been set too low or we have set a target number for recruitment and have not been able to attract applicants of suitable quality. When the expectation is a GPA of 3.5 out of 5, you can expect many of them to graduate without good class honours, as the case has been for many years.

Our universities have been constantly rising in their rankings to be amongst the top internationally. Since we expect our PSC scholars to study in top-tier local and overseas universities, we should also set top-tier standards for those we wish to fund generously for their studies in Singapore. I do not object to having top quality international students to study here on scholarships. Some Singaporeans do get scholarships from overseas to study in their top universities as well. I can imagine how difficult it is for Singaporeans to get fully funded scholarships to study in top universities internationally. You have to be really good and will likely graduate with good class honours if you manage to get a fully funded scholarship from a foreign government to study in their top institutions.

Perhaps we can draw lessons from how PSC maintains the consistently high standard of academic performances of its scholars. It takes in an “extremely small” number each year, puts them into top-tier universities including top local universities, sets a high expectation for the scholars in terms of GPA and monitors their performances continuously.

Since our universities are now world class, it is time to review and raise our expectations for those who we wish to fund generously to be in Singapore to provide competitive interaction with our local students. Perhaps the number has been too large and standards were set too low. Other international students can continue to come here to study on their own, subject to already established quotas for international students. With our universities’ top rankings, do we expect difficulties to attract enough international students to study here on their own?

A politically more robust Singapore

I contributed the following article to the just published Hammer newsletter of The Workers’ Party:

Former top civil servant, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow was once asked in an interview what kind of Singapore he hoped his grandchildren will inherit. He replied with a story of two city states in Greek history – Sparta and Athens. Ngiam said Singapore was like Sparta, where the top students were taken away from their parents as children and educated. Each cohort selected their own leadership, ultimately electing their own Philosopher King. Ngiam felt that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. He believed that was how Sparta crumbled in the end. He observed that Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived. Sparta was a well-organised martial society, but was very brittle. Athens survived because of its diversity of thinking and was a city Ngiam considered as worth fighting for.

In today’s post-Mr Lee Kuan Yew era, the question of what kind of system we want for Singapore has become more pressing. It was a question that I had asked myself five years ago before I eventually entered politics. No political party or government can rule forever. A party can become incompetent or corrupt over time. I had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of diversity of views in our government and was concerned about whether my children will have viable alternatives to the current ruling party to choose from.

We have often heard the narrative that Singapore does not have enough talent for two teams, something which I disagree with. I believe there are enough people who want to serve Singapore, given a fair political climate. All the more going forward, Singapore needs to have diversity in political views for its long term sustainability. In an interview conducted at the World Economic Forum in 1999, when asked about people contesting against him politically, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “They can run against me, but it’s an effort to gather enough people to make that consistent try year after year, to build an organization.”[1]

It is extremely difficult to form an organisation quickly to respond to a future situation where the incumbent party may no longer competent enough to rule. It takes a long time to build up a rational, respectable and responsible alternative party and to attract good people to join it. I believe this continuous process of building up of the alternatives is even more relevant today as we move into the post-Mr Lee era to have a more resilient Singapore.

In the business world, we value competition and even have anti-monopoly laws to protect the consumers. Competition forces the incumbent to improve or be forced out. It has been so in every business. Monopoly brings about complacency and dearth of innovation because there are few incentives for those with monopolistic control to improve or else lose market share.

There should be healthy competition in politics as well. Democracy is about empowering the people to choose their leaders and make decisions affecting their life. It should be about a fair system that allows willing people to come forward to serve according to the political beliefs they have. We should break away from the unhealthy fear factor under the iron-fist rule of the past that has unnecessarily limited the choices of our people because capable people have been deterred from politics due to high stake political price.

[1] http://infusionetwork.livejournal.com/4131.html

SG50 Charity Art Exhibition

My wife and I have contributed some of our paintings for a SG50 Art exhibition, with part of the proceeds going to World Vision for rebuilding homes hit by the earthquake in Nepal. It will feature works from 6 artists, as well as from budding visually impaired artists from Dialogue in the Dark. Event is from 13-18 June 2015 at Gallery@The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane. Come join us for the event!

Below are the pieces we are contributing.

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Art pieces by JJ Yee:

Self-portrait: my first oil painting done in 2013

Self-portrait: my first oil painting done in 2013

My parents sent me for water colour and Chinese painting lessons when I was young. However, I didn’t quite appreciate painting then, and so I quit art. It was only two years ago that I restarted art after my wife had picked up oil and acrylic painting.

French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas had said, “Everyone has talent at 25. The difficulty is to have it at 50.” I was born in the year of Singapore’s independence. Now at age 50, I do not think it is too late for me to pick up a new skill. I paint whenever I can find free time in between running my businesses and my active community commitments. I am happy to contribute my pieces for this SG50 art exhibition.

(YJJ: Acrylic and oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

(YJJ: Acrylic and oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

Colours of the Bay

This piece depicts a celebration scene at our iconic Marina Bay. Many national celebrations are now held at the Bay.

Most of the buildings in the Bay were built in the last 10 years, many of them on land that has been reclaimed from the sea. It is a reflection of the rapid pace of development in Singapore in our 50 years of independence. The bright colours on the Bay each night is a constant reminder of the busy and bustling global city that Singapore has now become.

(Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 51 cm, 2015)

(YJJ: Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 51 cm, 2015)

Reflections of Nature

This piece is a scene of the “Little Guilin (小桂林 )” in Bukit Gombak. It is a granite rock sitting within a lake. The place was once a granite quarry, where granite rocks were blasted to obtain needed construction materials as Singapore modernised. It was originally intended to be covered up and a road built on it. However, the place was turned into a pond when the town planners decided that the rugged granite outcrops against a backdrop of green hills made it a beautiful place. Today, it is part of the Bukit Batok Nature Park. In rapidly developing Singapore, there is a need to balance development with having places of natural beauty.

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Art Pieces by Sharon Ngoi

self-portrait, oil on canvas

self-portrait, oil on canvas

It takes a long time to become young.  ~ Pablo Picasso

 I reconnected with visual art whilst on a project in 2010, working with primary school pupils using different art styles. It was an eye-opening experience to see the works of the great artists through the eyes of the children. This started my journey to play with different colours, paint mediums and styles… just like children.

It is a privilege to contribute my pieces to this SG50 Art event that will raise funds to rebuild homes in Nepal. I had participated in an earlier World Vision’s charity art exhibition organised by Pin Lay and was happy to have played my part to raise funds to build classrooms in Zambia.

(SN: Oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

(SN: Oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

The Last Kampung

This painting of a bicycle shop in Pulau Ubin depicts life in the rustic and rural island, abundant with flora and fauna.

Once, several thousand people live on this island. Today, only about 100 villagers remain. Many Singaporeans visit the island for day-trips to get away from the busy city, often renting bicycles to peddle around the island to get a glimpse of what life in Singapore used to be like with kampungs everywhere.

A kampung is a village in the Malay language.

The actual Ubin shop, photo taken by artist on 9 June 2015

The actual Ubin shop, photo taken by artist on 9 June 2015

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 91 cm, 2014)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 91 cm, 2014)

Rising over Storms

This abstract piece depicts a sun rising over stormy seas, radiating its light over the darkness. Singapore has faced many storms since its independence. With resilience and resourcefulness, Singaporeans have risen over these storms and will continue to do so even as more storms come our way.

(SN: Oil on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2013)

(SN: Oil on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2013)

A Forest Giant

Singapore may be a bustling city, but it is also a city in a garden. Trees play an important part to maintain the green environment of the city. Today, several patches of primary rainforest still remain on the island.

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2015)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2015)

Supertrees

These “Supertrees” at the Gardens by the Bay are giant man-made structures which also function as vertical gardens. They are lit up beautifully every evening. Which giant do you prefer – the Forest Giant or a Supertree?

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 27 x 35 cm, 2012)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 27 x 35 cm, 2012)

Waterfall at Botanical Gardens

This waterfall is at the Ginger Garden within the 74-hectare Botanical Gardens. The Gardens played an important part in Singapore’s early history as it was the place where plants that were of economic importance were cultivated to assess their suitability for our climate.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Sports CCA

Encouraging sports CCA

Madam, several Members including myself have spoken previously about a greater level of sports engagement for our pupils and to increase the number of sports on offer by schools. Active participation in sports from young can hopefully help students develop a culture of active sports in the future.

I wish to suggest how we can add to schools’ efforts to provide more sports engagements for students:

  1. Introduce more fun competitions for sports within schools, which can be tiered so students who are at a lesser skill level can move up to a higher level when skills have improved.
  2. Introduce the concept of a minor CCA where students who want regular exposure to various sports can sign up for as a second or even third CCA. The time commitment may not be as intense as a regular CCA but it will allow students to try out more sports. CCA points would be correspondingly lesser.
  3. Recognise and award CCA points for the achievements of students who participate regularly and competitively with external training providers outside of school hours, even if the school does not offer the sports as a CCA. This will encourage students to pursue sports of their interest at a serious level where schools are not able to find the resources to offer that sport as a CCA.
  4. Allow international schools to join in the local inter-school competitions to increase the level of challenge, a point also raised by NMP Dr Ben Tan.

Thank you.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Mother Tongue exemptions at PSLE

Mother Tongue exemptions at PSLE

Madam, I agree with bilingualism being a cornerstone of our education system.  All students in our primary and secondary schools now have to offer a Mother Tongue Language (MTL).

In a recent parliament reply, MOE had said that around 3.5% of students are exempted from MTL at the PSLE yearly. I accept that there are genuine reasons for exemptions such as those who join our education system mid-way without prior learning of the MTL or there are medical reasons that adversely affect their ability to cope with MTL.

In another reply, MOE cited that on average over the past 5 years, 178 MTL exemptions were given at PSLE in the 5 schools with the highest exemptions. That is 35.6 students per school, which is around 15-17% of the PSLE cohort in an average school.

This is high compared to the national average of 3.5%. Has MOE examined the reasons why there are wide variations in MTL exemptions across schools? Has MOE or the principal of schools with high exemptions sought to interview applicants to probe further into the reasons for seeking MTL exemptions? Seeking exemption based on medical reasons is costly. Is there a strong correlation between MTL exemptions and the socio-economic status of parents?

I hope students will not find ways to opt out of MTL even if they find the subject difficult or parents worry that offering MTL may pull down their children’s PSLE T-Score.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Internship

I delivered the following speech during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Education on 6 March 2015.

Management of industrial internship

Madam, internship will play an increasingly important role as we move to a more skills-based economy.

I had spoken on this topic before. While I am happy that there will be more internship and are told that it will be more structured, I remain concerned about how industries will be engaged to ensure that internships are meaningful as we ramp up the number of such places.

I have taken interns over the past 15 years and have spoken with others who have as well. From the perspectives of companies, the supply of interns has been somewhat unpredictable. Some institutions give longer notice period of incoming interns, some are as short as two weeks before commencement. Sometimes we are allowed to interview and select interns but often we are not. It will be difficult for companies to plan for meaningful projects if the supply is unpredictable and if the existing skills of the interns are not properly matched to what companies need.

For projects to be even more meaningful and realistic, where possible, it will be better if there could be continuity across different internship intakes from an education institution. We can encourage projects commenced during internship to continue as say, a final year project when the interns return to school.

We have a new Earn and Learn programme with generous funding support. I hope to see internship funding support for companies that take in a minimum number of interns a year so that they can dedicate resources to make internship rigorous, akin to a sort of apprenticeship programme. I also hope there can be close coordination between companies and supervisors in schools so that projects will be useful to companies while the internship experience will result in the learning required by the school. Where possible, we can also bring in the expertise of industry associations to help plan and validate internship programmes.