Futile exercise to keep sand and dust out?

There was much talk about dust and sand in Kuwait City, especially after a major sandstorm a few days ago. As the sandstorm was sudden and unexpected, some had left the windows opened, leaving a layer of around 10cm thick of sand inside the homes. Even those who had shut every door and window, there were still sand and dust inside the homes. Sand and dust will simply slip through tiny cracks and gaps.

 The Kuwaitis tell me it is impossible to keep the dust out. After cleaning the house, you will inevitably find a new layer of dust soon.

Singapore ruling party has tried for many years to keep opposition out, through GRC, through election carrots like flats upgrading and through gerrymandering. The ruling party probably sees opposition as sand and dust to be fixed. ‘Dust’ have progressively come in since JBJ entered as the first opposition MP in Singapore in 1981 since independence. The mechanisms to keep the doors and windows shut are still in place, but if the sandstorm gets bigger, more sand and dust will inevitably slip in.

GE2011 will be interesting to watch. How many opposition will enter the doors of parliament? How serious are the election issues to raise a big enough sandstorm to let more opposition in? Has the opposition raised enough quality candidates to match that of the ruling party? Time will tell.

Sand/Dust Storm at Iraq Airbase

Image: http://www.coasttocoastam.com/photo/view/sand_dust_storm_at_iraq_airbase/46040#

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Impressions of Bhutan

Visiting Bhutan is quite an experience. This landlocked country high up in Himalayas has been a mystery to me for a long time. I have heard of it being the happiest place of earth and the king being concerned about the happiness of his subjects that he designed a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index while other countries are preoccupied with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP).

I finally made the trip there from 13-18 March 2011 with a team of educators, ex-educators and education practitioners on an education exchange with the Armed Forces Special School. We did two workshops for school leaders and preschool teachers in Thimphu, followed by visits to a village school in Punakha and a private school in Thimphu. We toured famous places in Bhutan such as the Tiger’s Nest and partake in the Paro Tsechu spring celebrations, where we met and spoke with the King by chance. And by chance, I met members of both Singapore families living permanently in Bhutan (I was told only 2 Singaporean women are currently married and living in Bhutan). It was a tiring and action-packed 5 days.

A few things struck me about Bhutan:

1. The challenging geographical terrains of winding mountain roads, occasional landslides during summer monsoon rains and rolling valleys. The country is mostly agricultural in nature and the kingdom is committed to maintaining at least 60% of its land in its natural state. The love for and protection of the environment is a big thing in Bhutan, and one of the core four pillars of its Gross National Happiness philosophy.

2. The peace and genuine happiness of people here, despite the relative lack of monetary wealth. Happinesss is a function of contentment, not of absolute wealth. There’s relative peace all around with low crime rate. Actually, Bhutan is not as backwards as I had in mind, as I had been to remote villages in Cambodia, Sumatra and West Kalimantan (Indonesia), where conditions are much worse.

3. People speak English well. English is taught in school as the main language. Even at the village school, we took a look at essays written by grade 7 students and the standard of the language is good. This augurs well for the country, as its people will be able to plug into the world through English.

4. The quaint buildings and clothing styles of the people are from centuries ago, but Bhutan is undergoing change that is hitting just about every country in the world. They get access to Internet and international television. A visit to a local pub with our tour guide drove home the point. The modern Bhutanese songs have strong western and Bollywood influence. Many young Bhutanese love to hang out in pubs, dancing and listening to live music.

5. The people have strong respect for the king (see my other blog posting), respect and interest in the political process (see other blog posting) and for one another.

6. Strong influence from India. India supports Bhutan in its army, in infrastructure development and in business. This is inevitable given that India is neighbour with Bhutan and both see each other as a good way to keep China in check, especially after neighbouring Tibet became part of China. It is wonderful then to see that despite being so far away, Singapore too has started to make its presence felt in Bhutan by supporting actively in education and community projects.

7. Many people are deeply religious in this strongly Buddhist country. It’s Buddhism is the same as that of Tibet. Its unique culture and beliefs have been transmitted down for centuries.

8. Bhutanese are deeply loyal and connected with their country. While many Bhutanese now study and work abroad, they aim to be back to Bhutan rather than migrate permanently. In today’s highly open and mobile world, such deep attachment to country and culture is something many places including Singapore need to learn from Bhutan.

Ruling a nation with love – Lessons by the Kings of Bhutan

Photo taken by Yee JJ at Paro Tsechu festival

Fifth King visiting the Paro Tsechu festival on 17 March 2011 and greeting his people - by YJJ

After a recent visit to Bhutan , I am totally impressed by their kings. They serve as good examples to all monarchs and political leaders on how to rule with love for their country.

The former and fourth king of Bhutan , H.M. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck felt monarchy is not the best form of government because a king is chosen by birth and not by merit. Despite being well loved by his people, he crafted into the Constitution to allow the parliament to remove a monarch by a vote of no confidence to protect his people from having to serve under a bad king. He established the process for a democratically elected government and handed powers to the parliament. He established that no king shall not serve beyond age 65 to prevent a bad king from serving too long. He promoted the concept of Gross National Happiness as the basis for Bhutan ‘s socioeconomic development, which is about collective happiness rather than individual.

 In 2008, at age 56, he abdicated in favour of his son, H.M. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The fifth King is now popularly called by his people as the People’s King for his active involvement in promoting education and welfare for the people. He travels frequently to the countryside for long periods, sometimes by foot and living amongst his people to understand their needs. When Bhutan was hit by a massive earthquake in 2009, the King went quickly to the affected sites supervising rescue and rebuilding works.

Today, we have sad cases of rulers in Libya , Bahrain and elsewhere desparately protecting their rule by using violence against their own people. We have rulers who go through great efforts to create systems to attempt to entrench their dynasty in perpetuity. We have leaders who believe they must use authority to bully people into submission. If we have more leaders like the kings of Bhutan , we will have more peace in the world. The Bhutan kings should be the winners for the Nobel Peace Prize as an example of how to rule with peace and love.

Sandstorm in middle east

It was sudden. It was unexpected. Kuwait had its biggest sandstorm in the memories of even my friend Dr Mansour who should be in his 60s. I was told we were fortunate to arrive on 26 March. The sandstorm was on 25 March and it swept across the Arabian gulf, covering Kuwait, parts of Saudi and UAE. Some are reported dead or missing after the sandstorm which reduced visibility to zero in some areas. It was impossible to land a plane. No wonder the sky in Abu Dhabi where we transited at was cloudy and misty. Today on 27 March, the sky is bright and clear once more. There are noticeably more sand on the roads but things are back to normal.

Much of the middle east and arab world are in a different sandstorm, a political sandstorm sweeping across Tunisa, Libya, Eygpt, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Syria and more. It was sudden, it was unexpected. It was sparked by the self-immolation of a poor desparate youth in Tunisa on 17 Dec 2010. Unlike the sandstorm that came and went swiftly that caused some inconveniences and a few deaths, this political sandstorm will have a much larger and longlasting impact. Kuwait is fortunately more peaceful as they have a democratic system for some time already. No one in the middle east can fully predict the outcome. Which country will succumb next, what will happen? We can only hope it will result in a better world for the hundreds of millions of Arabs once the sandstorm has settled,  and those who died will not be in vain.

(picture from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/4967897/Blinding-sandstorm-hits-Kuwait-and-Saudi-Arabia-halting-oil-exports.html)

See Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ziKSgIw1mo

TODAY Mar 13, 2008: After the award, what next?

Written by Esther Fung 13 March 2008, featuring interview with me.

(Source: http://www.asiaviews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=2%3Aregional-news-a-special-reports&layout=blog&Itemid=9&limitstart=3736)

WHEN it comes to recognition, small firms may have too much of a good thing going.

Just ask Mr Yee Jenn Jong, chief executive officer of e-learning business ASKnLearn, who recently trashed as spam an email inviting him to be part of a ranking of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore.

He gets so many of such emails, he said, and rarely bothers with responding because, as he pointed out: “Some of these awards are quite tiring to apply for; they come with a lot of forms, interviews. In some cases, you even have to pay to apply.”

The number of business excellence awards and rankings has proliferated in recent years. True, winning one of the more well-known ones can boost the image of a company’s products and services, differentiating it from the thousands of SMEs operating in Singapore.

But critics say that “momentary glory” is all it sometimes brings. Some firms think the sheer number of such competitions has diluted the recognition accorded to winners.

“The recognition is not as it was before, although it’s still good to be awarded,” said Mr Abdul Rasheed, CEO of telecommunications services provider Navcom. As of last December, there were some 170,000 active SMEs with substantive business operations.

The judging criteria of some awards ? which these days are handed out by a range of agencies, including accounting firms, banks and government-linked bodies ? can be “quite mechanical” and may not truly reward enterprise, said Mr Sunny Chin, CEO of engineering firm Robotronics Land.

Often, the criteria include quantifiable factors such as annual revenue and net profit, and non-tangibles such as achievements, business practices and future expansion plans.

But the winning of an award should be more than just the earning of a badge, says Mr Chin. That is why he suggests that organizers model their awards on Miss Universe pageants, where the winner is groomed to be an ambassador over the course of a year. That means nurturing the firm with grants, management training and help in overcoming barriers when expanding overseas.

That’s not to say current practice achieves little. “Rankings and awards are an acknowledgement of an enterprise’s good work,” said Mr Lawrence Leow, president of the Association of SMEs. “Such awards set a benchmark for good entrepreneurship and encourage enterprises in Singapore to do better, propelling them to expand domestically and overseas.”

Likewise, recognizing supportive official agencies has paid off. Mr Philip Yeo, chairman of enterprise development agency Spring Singapore, said last July the Action Community for Entrepreneurship awards had “been instrumental in raising awareness among government agencies to be pro-enterprise” and in turn, they can improve the regulations “to support and encourage SMEs to grow and prosper”.

And that’s important. More than awards, what would better stimulate the set-up of successful businesses is a combination of pro-enterprise policies and a breed of enterprising individuals, said Mr Leow.

During the recent parliamentary debates, at least five Members of Parliament expressed concerns about whether SMEs got enough support from the Government. Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, gave assurance that the Government “is committed to create the most conducive environment for start-ups and SMEs”.

For instance, with the help of financial institutions, Spring Singapore made available 3,573 loans worth $716 million last year.

Awards make up but a small part of a business-friendly landscape, say entrepreneurs, and it is better access to funding and more flexible business regulations that will go a long way to boost entrepreneurship.

“If it’s relevant and not too onerous to apply for and it’s good for our business, we will continue to apply for the awards,” said Mr Yee. But ultimately, what shareholders and staff want is long-term profitability, “so, firms need to get business fundamentals right”.

Respecting the opposition – lesson from Bhutan

I visited Bhutan 13-18 March 2011 as a part of a community project with a group of educators.

My first impression of Bhutan is from the Druk Airlines (the Bhutanese airline and the only airlines to fly into Bhutan) magazine while flying in from Bangkok. A simple introduction page of the symbols of Bhutan caught my attention. There were the photographs of four key persons in the country – the current king, the chief abbot, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. I cannot think of another country that would put the leader of the opposition in the publication of a national airline in the same manner as three other obviously important persons in the country.

Bhutan had their first parliamentary elections in 2008, when the fourth king initiated and handed powers voluntarily to a democratically elected parliament, and even worded into the constitution himself to allow parliament to remove a king by a vote of no confidence should any king fail in his duties. It’s a wonderful lesson for world leaders on how to be graceful to others even when in power. There’s respect for the opposition and the role they play in this newly democratic country. As Singapore enters into GE2011, I wonder if such respect and fairplay will be accorded to the opposition.

Links related to my entrepreneurship journey

Below are some links from published sources related to my entrepreneurial journey:

Education Magazine, published when ASKnLearn was just 9 months old in Sep 2000: http://www.asknlearn.com/2004web/press_2000_edumag.htm

Feature in IDA newsletter (2007): http://www.ida.gov.sg/insg/post/Home-Grown-Companies-Win-Global-Accolades.aspx

Feature in NUS School of Computing profile of alumni (2006): http://www.comp.nus.edu.sg/~cisaa/aa/aa-aug-06-highres.pdf

Feature by Straits Times (2008) on how we took a polytechnic’s  invention and made it commercially successful: http://www.asiaone.com/News/Education/Story/A1Story20080425-61862.html

First publication of magazine by ASKnLearn: http://www.asknlearn.com/2004web/newsletter/anl75.pdf

A blogger, Lee Xun Yong mentioned my positive entrepreneurial example when writing about Singaporeans being entrepreneurs: http://msjoyce-crs.blogspot.com/2006/05/singaporeans-make-poor-entrepreneurs.html

A blogger from Ngee Ann Polytechnic writes after my talk on my entrepreneurial journey: http://www.squarecirclez.com/blog/asknlearn/57

Two Norwegians students from Norwegian School of Entrepreneurship write about my entrepreneurship journey after an attachment at ASKnLearn: http://www.asknlearn.com/2004web/newsletter/ennovate3.pdf

TODAY Voices Jul 6, 2010 – Why not liven up MRT cabins legally?

Published in TODAY Voices Jul 6, 2010 (following is original unedited article)

Those who have seen the recent MRT grafitti seemed to agree on one thing – that it was done artistically. Even the MRT staff thought it was an advertisement and hence did not report it. And it was done in the dark of the night!

While the breach of security certainly cannot be tolerated, I feel our drab MRT trains and other spaces and public objects around us can have more colours. We want to be a liveable city rich in arts and creativity. SMRT can help to make Singapore more colourful by inviting people to submit their intention to paint the exterior of MRT cabins with their proposed designs. Organise this like a competition and have the designs changed once every few months. This will allow controlled expressions of our creativity.

SingPost attempted a rather unfortunate expression of their creativity in January this year by spray painting on six postboxes that backfired. However, I applaud their effort. Their subsequent attempt was more tasteful. I now have a pleasant looking postbox near my house along Marine Parade Road with nice artwork on it.

Getting our postboxes, MRT trains and even public spaces on streets decorated in a controlled manner will add to a more vibrant city life. I am sure there will be aspiring artists who are eager to add to their portfolio and will apply for these street art projects. Street art is gaining popularity in some cities such as London, Berlin and San Francisco. Why not in Singapore too?

 

Yee Jenn Jong

Singapore Athletes Need Leaders And Coaches Like Mr Tan Eng Yoon

Sent to TODAY, February 1, 2010

I read with sadness the passing away of Mr Tan Eng Yoon. I am impressed to hear the testimonies of great athletes like C. Kunalan, Mani Jegathesan and others about how they were motivated to train and perform because of him (TODAY, Sports 39, 1 Feb 2010) These athletes have achieved greatness for Singapore at a time when sports does not pay and athletes have to hold full time jobs.

On the other hand, I am frustrated like most Singaporeans about the lack of success in athletes over the past two decades. There has been enough debate over this after the last SEA Games. Motivating athletes to perform is more than just dangling monetary incentives and throwing KPIs at them. While such things are important, Singapore needs nurturing people like Mr Tan who can inspire the best out of athletes to restore the good old days of athletics. Nowadays, we read of law suits and threatened law suits between athletes and associations, failed submission of training plans and other accusations. I wonder if today’s athletes can testify if they have the inspiring figure like Mr Tan Eng Yoon guiding and leading them.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong

ST Forum Jun 16, 2006: Strong case to upgrade opposition wards

I AM surprised at the change of tone by the Government regarding estate upgrading, as communicated by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan (‘Upgrading for all wards, but PAP ones first’; ST, June 11).

This policy is divisive and short-sighted. After a surprising change of tone by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong that the Government could consider if a request for funds was submitted by Hougang MP-elect Low Thia Khiang, it is now back to the usual tack of PAP wards first.

Mr Mah stated that all wards will be upgraded by 2015. The next General Election is probably in 2010 or 2011 and the one after that will likely be after 2015.

What started off as a brilliant strategy in the 1997 GE is now starting to work against the ruling party. Already in this year’s GE, upgrading has proven to be not an important issue, as evidenced by the results in Hougang and Potong Pasir. Ground feedback seems to show that it is costing the PAP votes, even in other constituencies, as it is seen as unfair use of the nation’s resources.

If all wards must be upgraded by 2015, the Government might as well start to do it fairly across all constituencies now, rather than be seen as a sore loser.

By the next GE, most PAP wards would have been upgraded. Does it mean that the people can start to vote in the opposition once they have obtained their lift upgrading? And by then, even if the opposition wards do not vote in the PAP, they would have to wait just a few more years.

Really, there is limited scope to use upgrading as a reward anymore, if the intention is to gain votes.

As upgrading must eventually be done and soon, the Government would do better by being more generous and embracing the opposition wards. The chances of success for the PAP in the next GE would then be better.

Yee Jenn Jong

—————– reply —————

ST Forum Jun 17, 2006:

Upgrading is a unique programme by Government

I REFER to the commentary by Ms Chua Mui Hoong and the letters from Mr Basant Kapur, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Yee Jenn Jong on the upgrading programme for public-housing estates (ST, June 13 and 16).

The writers argued that the Government has a fiduciary obligation to act on behalf of all Singaporeans who pay taxes and serve national service. I agree. Indeed, the Government has provided all Singaporeans with good and affordable health care, subsidised public housing, equal opportunity to receive a good education, and much more.

However, the upgrading of our older public-housing estates is over and above these basic obligations of the Government. It is funded out of Budget surpluses generated by the PAP Government. No other government in the world has anything similar, in terms of scale and commitment.

The PAP presented upgrading as one of its key programmes during the election. It asked for the people’s support in order to carry out these programmes. Having received a clear mandate, the Government will now fulfil its promise to the people.

Upgrading is a national programme that will be implemented in all constituencies. But we cannot avoid prioritising upgrading, due to limited resources. It is not a question of generosity or otherwise by the Government, as Mr Yee suggested. Between PAP and opposition constituencies, other things being equal, PAP constituencies will go first, as the Government had made clear before the election. Ms Lim herself noted that no one living in an opposition ward expects special treatment, i.e. to jump ahead of PAP wards.

Ms Lim stated that election campaigns should be fought over long-term national policies which affect Singaporeans’ lives deeply. Again, I agree. Unfortunately, during the election Ms Lim did not ask voters to think deeply about long-term national policies and support the Workers’ Party because it offered better policies than the PAP. Instead, she told them to go ahead and vote opposition, even if they wanted a PAP Government and its policies, because they could safely assume that the PAP would win, anyway. If enough Singaporeans had taken her advice, the opposition parties would have ended up governing Singapore, even though at least two thirds of Singaporeans preferred a PAP Government.

Hence, the need for the HDB upgrading-priority policy, so that Singaporeans’ votes will make a difference to their own lives in HDB estates, as well as decide which party will govern Singapore. Only then can our system of democracy work. Only then can we stay together, and move ahead.

Mah Bow Tan
Minister for National Development