‘Slower growth means fewer job opportunities’ – reflections on comments by Minister Khaw

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan gave a talk at the Sembawang GRC Youth Executive Committee’s policy forum on 29 May 2011. http://www.facebook.com/notes/theonlinecitizen/slower-growth-means-fewer-job-opportunities/10150197185958964

At the event, he said, ‘But now we get the message that we don’t want so much growth, that we are prepared to accept slower growth,’ referring to criticism heard during the recent General Election. ‘It means starting pay also comes down.’

When asked how young Singaporeans could be equipped to compete locally and globally, he noted that all competition today is global, but that young people here have greater opportunities and resources in a broader range of fields than ever. He cited the famed Culinary Institute of America’s degree course tie-up with Temasek Polytechnic, and the growing crop of schools that offer computer graphics and game design.

The economy has been on steroids the last 2 years, with growth fuelled by the two integrated resorts and a huge influx of ‘foreign talents’ across all categories, from high end to low end salary range. I am not totally convinced starting salaries have gone up much, as I have hired many polytechnic graduates in my various businesses since 2000. The market is tighter but starting pay is not that much higher at the lower end of the job market. The foreign competition has pushed wages down. Median income has not gone up by much too.  While there may have been some increase in income, cost of living has been pushed up too.

GDP is not a good measure of the situation as our economy is export oriented. A good portion of GDP goes out to foreign companies as profits. Another substantial chunk also goes out to foreign workers as our economy is very dependent on them. This is the nature of our economy. Measuring by GDP alone does not paint a good picture of how Singaporeans at the lower and median income levels have benefited. (See: http://www.transitioning.org/2010/10/11/singapore-%E2%80%98average-wealth-per-adult%E2%80%99-owned-by-less-than-20/)

So Minister Khaw’s statement that slower growth means fewer jobs and lower starting pay is simplistic. We cannot sustain our growth by inviting foreign talents without considering our capacity for growth and our capacity to accommodate the influx of people. Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, former Permanent Secretary in various ministries has also been critical of the government’s effort to grow through reliance on foreign companies and foreign talents alone. He laments the lack of attention to growing our own ‘timber’, i.e. local industry and local talents (http://kbkee.blogspot.com/2010/06/ngiam-tong-dow-foreign-talent-are-like.html).

Minister Khaw, we do want to grow. But please consider how we can grow with our own timber rather than rely on pumping the economy with steroids as we did in the past.

On his other statement about the growing crop of schools that offer computer graphics and game design, I do happen to be involved in the new media industry as I have been involved in technology businesses since 1996.  As an Internet entrepreneur since 2000, I have hired mostly new media polytechnic graduates. There’s a lot of talk about training graduates for game design but the industry here cannot absorb them. The few top game development companies that we have managed to attract to Singapore do not hire our fresh graduates. The local industry is too small to hire enough of the graduates. As a result, most work outside of the game design field they were trained in.

The departure of top animation companies like Nickson Fong’s Egg Story (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_615197.html) and Storm Lion (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_615484.html) shows our animation industry is seriously in trouble. For those who remembered, Nickson Fong was cited by PM Lee Hsien Loong in his 2004 national day speech about how Singapore has attracted its top animation talent back home. Egg Story and Storm Lion made it into the news because they were high profile companies in their industry. Many are struggling in this industry, with many shutting down or laying off staff.

I wonder if Minister Khaw is aware of the state of the industry when he made his statement.

Let artists paint a vibrant Singapore

This article appeared in TODAY, 23  May 2011, page  18.

I refer to Major-General (NS) Chan Chun Seng’s call for young artists to ‘paint some nice murals on the bland walls at the voice decks’ (TODAY, 21 May).
In July 2010, after the case of grafitti on our MRT, I had written a letter published in TODAY making a similiar call to allow public spaces and objects such as street corners, MRT trains and postboxes to be opened up for budding artists to apply for permission to paint on them to inject more vibrancy to life in Singapore.
Street art is gaining popularity in some cities such as London, Berlin and San Francisco. In Singapore, we should encourage this too so that we can engage the creative energies of our artists and make life more interesting for all. It would also signal the opening up of Singapore to be more bold and appreciative of the expressions of others.
Hence I support this initiative by Major-General (NS) Chan. I hope to see it being practiced throughout Singapore and not just in his Buona Vista ward. We can even make it into a national competition with sponsored prize money for the best wall murals.

Footnote: I had proposed something similiar during my GE2011 campaign for Joo Chiat. I will be happy to link interested private home residents in Joo Chiat and in the eastern side of Singapore with arts group I am familiar with for paid wall mural services to their homes.

Youths at risk

I have met many people over the past 2 months since entering politics. Many have interesting stories to share with me and issues to raise. None is as unforgettable as Miss C, a young lawyer-turned-civil-servant living in Joo Chiat SMC. This blog post is shared with her permission.

She first emailed me after reading my blog which I provided in my campaign materials before nomination day. She next emailed me after attending my first rally speech on 29 April at Serangoon Stadium. I eventually met with her in person after polling day.

Her story is amazing. She grew up in a broken home as a child, with her parents going through a divorce. She first attended court at age 10, again at age 12 just before PSLE and then once more at age 15. Her father had an affair. Her mother used her to fight for maintenance. Her mother had to also appear in court for battering the mistress.

At age 15, Miss C was chased out of her house by her father five times, who had by then brought his new wife into the house. She was reminded daily that she was an unwanted child. Sometimes, she slept in East Coast Park. She lived on the $150 per month maintenance ordered by the court, but often, her school expenses especially for textbooks were more than that. When she broke her glasses, she plastered them. She turned to music to get away from the misery and practiced hard with her school band and did well.

I am amazed that in spite of the environment, she turned out well. She entered a good junior college and then NUS, graduating to be a lawyer. She practiced martial art after graduation as a form of exercise and did well enough to represent Singapore in a world championship. She has not seen her father for years. Her mother lives apart from her and remained bitter over the divorce. She blamed the children for not helping her fight harder with her ex-husband over her rights during the divorce. Miss C has now set her heart on helping others to avoid or to cope with such the situation she had been in.

Her case is an exception. How many children from such broken environment can make it good in life? Last year we had several news-hogging brutal teenage gang fights, including a murder at Downtown East. My daughter was at Downtown East the evening when the murder of 19 year-old Darren Ng took place. It was gruesome, with blood splattered all over. The gang involved have been caught and are awaiting trial. All are in their teens. Many teens have wasted their lives on gangs and violence. Many led astray in their teens could end up in a life of drugs, crime and debt.

The case of Malaysian Mr Yong Vui Kong is another example of a teenager led astray through broken family and environment influence. Born to a family of 6 in Sabah, his parents divorced when he was very young. His mother brought the children up on her RM200 a month allowance as a dishwasher. Vui Kong went to Kuala Lumpur as a teenager and was introduced to gangs. He went from debt collector to drug runner. At 18 and a half years old, he was caught in Singapore with drugs and is now in death row awaiting the outcome of an appeal for clemency.

In our pursuit of economic progress, there’s a real danger that our social fabric will be torn if we do not consciously maintain the values that have held our family and society together. The family is the building block of the society and hence the nation. Strong families hold people together. The casinos have bankrupted many and destroyed families. Parents saddled with career pursuits have neglected their children.

There should be more proactive programmes targeted at youths and at families to prevent youths from being led astray and from family break-ups. Even simple reminders for parents to play more active roles at home with their children in the crucial growing up years could make a big difference. There should also be more programmes to engage youths meaningfully to move them away from gangs and to give them self confidence in the future.

Miss C is fortunate to escape the trap that snared children of broken homes. A recent news of 18-year old student Krystal Aki Mizoguchi who committed suicide is a sad reminder of what can happen in a broken home. According to her blog, the Yishun Junior College student grew up in a single-parent family and has been living with her 17-year-old brother. Her parents are believed to be separated. In the most recent blog post before her death leap, she wrote:

   “PSLE, I xxxx-ed up. Couldn’t get into dream secondary school.”

  “‘O’ Levels, I xxxx-ed up. Couldn’t get a place in dream polytechnic course.”

  “Ended up transferring to YJC.  I got my dreams crushed again, after seeing my ‘A’ Levels grades yesterday.”

  “Bye bye to NUS FASS and NTU Humanities”.

Let’s constantly remind ourselves that there are youths with needs that we can reach out to. Let’s work together to prevent the wasted lives like those who committed the murder of Darren Ng and that of Miss Krystal.

The real work starts

 Yesterday, I was at Hougang celebrating the election victory with residents. It was a joyous occasion. All the 6 elected MPs and 2 NCMPs and most of the candidates were there. The residents had thrown a buffet dinner to celebrate the momentous occasion.

In the midst of all the handshaking and congratulations, a middle-aged lady came forward and congratulated me. Without releasing my hand, she continued to say I must bring up her situation in parliament. Her mother is very sick. Just two of her medicines cost $400 every month, after subsidy. She has diabetes too and needs dialysis. It was noisy and crowd. She persisted in getting her message across. I am sure I was not the only one she had pressed her case to. I could tell she was getting desperate. Hence, every MP and even NCMP she can go to, she would.

GE2011 is over. A new and radical cabinet has just been announced. There were many issues raised during GE2011. The people have spoken and they wanted change. Not a drastic change, as the ruling party still received 60% of the popular votes and 81 out of 87 seats in parliament, but there are many pressing issues. Having walked the ground for 6 weeks, I could tell there was much unhappiness.

Healthcare is just one of them, but a serious one when you have a sick member in your family not covered by insurance. Even in middle upper class Joo Chiat, the elderly are unhappy. They live in landed houses because they bought it decades ago. They have worked hard and contributed to Singapore’s progress. They have stopped worked for decades and now face high healthcare costs with little subsidy. I met a couple who were bitter because they had to sell their house to stay in a HDB because they have run out of savings and did not qualify for healthcare subsidies in a private house. They have all sorts of health issues now. Home is a very personal thing. They have lived in their house for a long time and loved the environment. They could now no longer live where they wanted to because of Singapore’s healthcare policies.

Then there are transport grouses of crowded buses and MRTs, crowded roads, as well as poor connectivity of public transport to certain parts of the community. The young feel they cannot afford to get their HDB flats. People have lost their jobs or are stuck with low paying jobs because of ‘foreign talents’. Not foreign talents at the high end but foreign talents allowed in to supress wages. Small and medium enterprises will continue to face challenging operating environment of high costs and stiff competition.

The new cabinet has been formed. It is the most drastic cabinet reshuffle I can recall. While many have commented that most ministers are just moved from one ministry to another, I think it does signal that they have to go into a new area and look at the issues from fresh perspectives. It is hard for a minister to stay in his old ministry and do something totally different from what he had been doing all along. New ministers with the permission to effect change needs to be put into ‘hot issues’ ministries. With the latest cabinet, it seemed to be so. I hope it will be the start of something positive and not just more of the same done with a different person in charge.

The challenges facing Singapore are real. Many lives are affected. The way policies are shaped cannot just be driven by more of the same from the past. The changes to the cabinet have been radical and I hope the solutions the ministers can come up with will be so as well. The real work has just begun.

A leader steps down and Singapore moves on

So the day has finally come.  Founder of modern-day Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew retires from the cabinet, together with a former Prime Minister and former Senior Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Born in 1965, the year of Singapore’s independence, I grew up knowing only the Singapore with Mr Lee Kuan Yew actively helming it. Even though he had stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, Mr Lee’s presence in Singapore’s politics and parliament continued to be strong, at least in the perception of people. His occasional speeches in parliament would seal off debates, be it about having casinos in Singapore, ministers’ pay, or whether our pledge is an aspiration or an ideology. His statements have been eagerly followed and his overseas travels were keenly reported on.

Politics is often driven by personalities, not just in Singapore but everywhere in the world. In reality, while there’s always a team and a philosophy guiding the governance of a country, people want a face to identify with. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has been that face for Singapore’s politics since the fight for independence. He had a rare A-team of dedicated and capable people, such as the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, the late Dr Hon Sui Sen, the late Mr Lim Kim San and many more.  Without these leaders who often toiled in the background, Singapore could not have achieved what it did. This is not to take away from Mr Lee Kuan Yew what he had achieved for Singapore. The fight for independence and the fight to create the economic miracle required an inspirational leader who could helm the team together and provide the face for the people to rally behind. Mr Lee Kuan Yew provided that at a time when Singapore most needed it.

I recall when we first started our fledging education technology business, a respected independent director of our company and  prominent lawyer, Mr Arthur Loke said during a board meeting that the company needed a face for the business so that could be easily identified with by customers. Somehow, I grew to be that face for ASKnLearn, not by design but by circumstances. We had a team to run the operations, a team to create the products and a team to market them. I had the privilege to be the face for our customers, the face for investors and the face for staff to rally with together through the challenging times.

The business was eventually sold. I continued helming the company for 2 years after that and then it was time to move on. I recall the flood of emails and SMSes by staff and customers who were uncomfortable with my sudden departure from the business. I knew the team that I had left behind could continue the work. People just wanted a familiar face to feel comfortable. The business continued to grow after my departure. I am happy it turned out to be so because the business was bigger than me.

By no means am I comparing my small achievement in a start-up with the many achievements made by Mr Lee in building up modern Singapore. My point is that people identify better with a face, be it in the running of a business or a country. Bill Gates was the face for Microsoft, and still is today to a big extent even though he has stepped down as CEO for a long time already. I am confident Microsoft will continue after Bill Gates totally leaves the company because a system is already in place.

It should be so in Singapore politics. For a nation to progress, it has to be bigger than a person. It has to be bigger than even a political party, as former Permanent Secretary, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow once said, that Singapore is bigger than the PAP. We see that happening ever so often elsewhere in the world when respected leaders move on, whether by retirement or demise. As long as we ensure a stable system grounded by a process respectful of the views of the people, the country moves on.

Let’s not take away anything of what Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong have accomplished. They have played important roles in modern Singapore. Singapore will move on and build on whatever has been achieved. Soon Singapore will see its 4G leadership take shape. We will also have stronger alternative voices in parliament after GE2011. Personalities come and go. Some leave behind big shoes for others to fill. New personalities will come and define themselves in their own way. We cannot be just engineers of the past, relying on pervious successful formulas without thinking. The world is changing. Our 4G leaders need to be architects for the future, bolding defining Singapore in a way consistent with the new world order. As a nation, let’s have more confidence in ourselves that we have come so far, and we will continue to progress together.

Article written by Yee Jenn Jong, a member of The Workers’ Party. This article is written in my personal capacity and does not reflect the views of the Party.

My journey continues on

Dear voters of Joo Chiat SMC, dear Singaporeans

As you now already know, I have lost narrowly in Joo Chiat SMC. I had wanted badly to win it for all the supporters who walked tirelessly with me, who blasted emails and phonecalls to lobby for support, who gave selflessly of their time and money, and for all the residents I have met who cheered me on. I accept the results and urge Joo Chiat residents to work with Charles Chong as the elected MP for the common good of residents.

My political journey officially started only 2 months ago when I was first accepted as a member of The Workers’ Party and then accepted as their likely candidate for Joo Chiat. It was not that I was not interested in politics before this, but my fear for my business and my family led me to delay my formal entry as a member of a political party until I was certain of myself. I had followed political developments in Singapore for a long time, written to the forum pages of the newspapers, sat on government committees recommending policies and served in many community activities. These have gradually led me to my conviction that there is an need for a credible alternative voice and a need to move out of my comfort zone to be part of the change process.

It has been an incredible 2 months. As a political rookie, I had to learn to overcome my fears, learn how to engage with residents, how to speak at rallies, how to organise supporters around me and how to organise a campaign. There were mistakes and hiccups but I am proud of the way we close ranks and overcame whatever problems that came our way.

We did well. I know many residents have been won over and have come out openly to declare their support for our Joo Chiat campaign, despite whatever mistakes I may have made. We swung many voters. I believe I had lost because there is still a large silent majority who have fear in them; fear of their votes not being secret, fear of the uncertainty of an alternative party running the constituency and fear of losing whatever benefits the ruling party can give to them. 

My journey has just begun. It will not stop with this narrow defeat. In whatever capacities available to me, whether as an active citizen or through the political processes, I will continue to push for improvements to our political system so that there will be a fairer Singapore, there will be true democracy and there will be channels where your voices will be effectively heard. I will continue to propose ideas which I believe can improve our lives and better shape our economy.

Once again, I like to thank all the supporters and residents who have given me their confidence and I look forward to your continued support.

[My speech at Hougang Stadum after results were announced:



Thank you, dear supporters

I have reached the end of campaigning. In minutes, it will be cooling day.

What an experience it has been, a truly humbling experience. I started very simply, walking the streets next to my house with just my election agent Shaun less than 2 months ago. It has now snowballed into over 40 people helping in so many ways even though I have nothing to offer to benefit them in return. Help in so many ways; walking the streets with me, help to fix the posters when the contractor failed to do the job properly, being my assentors, help to upload stuff for my facebook posts, defending me against baseless posts, buying food and drinks and so much more. 

The selfless help my family members, friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers have given me has truly touched my heart. I have walked the entire Joo Chiat SMC at least once, and have gone door-to-door in more than half the condo population. I have visited all the coffeeshops many times over. The energy that I have found is from all of you. Every time I get tired, I see the energy in all of you to want to visit the extra house, to talk to an extra person, to convince an additonal swing voter, I just have to press on. I want to give the best fight I can, because it is for all of you.

I truly believe that this election will signal the start of a new era of politics in Singapore, one in which the people’s voices will be heard, where the ruling party will be forced to play it fair, where the ruling party will have to listen more humbly to you. This change can only come because all of you have come forward to make it happen. I have seen for myself how much the people want a change to happen. I have seen genuine outpouring of support. I have found new faith in Singaporeans, that we will embrace this change no matter how difficult the road may turn out to be.

Thank you. Thank you for supporting me in my political journey. It has been my deepest honour to be your candidate for the Joo Chiat SMC.

Text of my third rally speech – Sengkang Open Field 3 May 2011

(Chinese) Good evening, everyone. I am Yee Jenn Jong, the Workers’ Party’s candidate for Joo Chiat SMC.


This letter (show letter of complaint re Pub at xxx Joo Chiat Road) was recently sent to The Workers’ Party  HQ, attention to me. It is attention to Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, complaining about the underground and vice activities in a pub along Joo Chiat Road.

If you read the comments on my blog and posts on my facebook page, you will find many complaints regarding parking problems and vices in Joo Chiat Road.

My standard reply to all is to refer these matters to SM Goh Chok Tong or give your feedback to the NSP. This area is now under the Marine Parade GRC. The PAP believes that SM Goh’s chilly crab franchise is capable of solving many problems.

PAP says there’s no gerrymandering. Well, the people in Joo Chiat are confused why Joo Chiat road is not in Joo Chiat and those in Siglap who have never been under Joo Chiat before now are. The entire Siglap is now in Joo Chiat but nothing of old and historical Joo Chiat is.

PAP gerrymanders so well that it confuses themselves too.

My esteemed opponent, Charles Chong of the PAP said in a Channel News Asia interview on 9 April that if elected, he will continue his predecessor’s work in preserving the area’s heritage while modernising its infrastructure. I wonder which buildings and heritage he wants to preserve, because all but 2 small buildings under conservation are now in the Marine Parade GRC! Joo Chiat SMC has 99% private houses which is impossible for you to preserve.

I am sure Charles Chong can share his plans with SM Goh.

I like to thank the PAP for gerrymandering in Joo Chiat.

They have put my parents’ home in Opera Estate where I lived for 28 years into Joo Chiat. My home next to Siglap centre is right at the centre of the Joo Chiat SMC. So are the schools I studied in, St Stephen’s and St Patrick’s, while Temasek JC where I have served for 20 years in the alumni EXCO is just across a road.

With the PAP’s habit of gerrymandering, what do you think will happen to Joo Chiat SMC if Charles Chong wins and he steps down at the next GE?

Gerrymandering is not the only unfair practice that the PAP uses.

  1. Upgrading tied to votes turns me off even though I am not living in public housing. It goes against our nation’s pledge of equality for all citizens. It is outright vote buying. Well, in Joo Chiat SMC where it’s 99% private homes, the PAP cannot use this threat.
  2. Opposition cannot use the community centres while PAP has the PA and PCF, which obtains facilities at heavily subsidized rents, competes against private preschool operators while providing facilities for PAP activities. Mr Chan Soo Sen, outgoing MP for Joo Chiat SMC conducts his MPS at PCF at Lor K.

We are the hammer party. The Wikipedia definition of hammer is to deliver a sharp and hard impact on an object. Don’t worry; come 7 May, we will deliver a sharp and hard impact on the PAP so they have to stop all these nonsense! Vote The Workers’ Party, towards a first world parliament.

People have asked me if Joo Chiat will be well maintained if I win.

Why not? Roads are maintained by PWD, trees by NParks, garbage collection is managed by NEA and outsourced to private companies. Public transport run by privatised companies will continue to run. Charles can’t do anything more than I can.

I can do more, because I live in Joo Chiat and if things are not well, I will be affected and I will jump on these agencies or companies much faster. I live in Joo Chiat 7 days a week.

Mr Chong was quoted by the press as saying that I will have difficulties managing the 4 blocks of public housing as these are now handled by East Coast Town Council. Why is he assuming we cannot win East Coast or Aljunied or even both GRCs? In any case, why should I be afraid to oversee the maintenance of just 4 blocks of flats?

Minister George Yeo said the WP is asking voters of Aljunied GRC to give a blank cheque to us. The word “blank” has a special meaning to me.

(Show blank paper)

Entrepreneurs start from blank. I started my business that way too. It was with a blank piece of paper like this that many years ago I wrote my business plan, executed the plan, adjusted the plan, overcame whatever obstacles along the way and built a tangible business that continues to run after I have sold it off.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the famous Mona Lisa painting from a blank canvass.

The late Lien Yien Chow came to Singapore at age 14 on a boat with just a few coins in his pocket. He built up the OUB bank, which is now merged with UOB. He started from blank too.

Our founding fathers built Singapore together with you from blank . We had no military, a weak economy, no public housing, and so on. The current leaders , though seemed to have lost their way. They have forgotten the passion and sacrifices made by the first generation of leaders . They have lost the passion and are focused more on driving GDP growth so they can pay themselves well. SM Goh said most of us are not concerned about high ministers’ pay. Is that true? Perhaps he should attend a Workers’ Party rally.

Our Secretary-General, Mr Low Thia Kiang became Hougang MP in 1991. He was not given the use of the town council. He built a new town council facilities from an empty void deck in 45 days. He had no grassroot organisation to count on. Today, Hougang is growing stronger everyday.

I have built organisations up from blank. The Workers’ Party has built Hougang from blank.

Singaporeans, we must have confidence in ourselves. We were once an entrepreneurial people. Our forefathers came here with nothing. We built a nation. Why are we now so afraid to start from blank?

I have stated that I will be a full time MP. I know the challenges of building up something from blank and have proven myself to be able to do so. Have faith in me for Joo Chiat. Have faith in my fellow candidates in the constituencies they are stand in. Don’t let the PAP frighten you with blanks.

Today, my speech is about the heart.

In my campaigning over the past 2 months, we have walked every corner of Joo Chiat where we were allowed to walk in. My wife walked with me, my brother walked with me, friends and ex-colleagues walked with me. Friends of friends came along, and then strangers came along often even taking leave to campaign together. Those who could not go on the walkabouts sent out emails or called their friends to get them to support me.

But I was most touched when my father, 78 years old, insisted one day he must walk with me around his Opera Estate home. So one hot morning, he walked with me to all the neighbours he knew to introduce me to them. Later, when I went to the Jln Tua Kong coffeeshop, the owner told me my dad had already gone there and now the coffeeshop owner is also telling his customers to vote for me. I went to the Hainanese coffeeshop yesterday at East Coast road and found that my parents had told them too.

A Mr Mustaffa whom I don’t personally know in Opera Estate took down my poster and hung it on his gate. My father drove by and he flagged my father’s car down and told my father to vote for me. My father said, “Hey, that’s my son!”

Amongst my assenters are 3 former members or immediate family members of grassroot members of Joo Chiat. They came forth only after I started my campaigning.

All of you have given me confidence that starting from blank is nothing to be afraid of. We can build a new grassroots, we can overcome any problems that come to us. For all my helpers and supporters, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

We don’t always have to always focus on the hardware, the infrastructure and facilities. We can focus on the heart-ware, the soul that should make Joo Chiat, Joo Chiat.

We can encourage social entrepreneurship.  We can look at organizing activities for neighbours. What activities these will be should be driven by the residents. People must want to come forth and take ownership of the programmes and I will be happy to support and push for them if they are themselves prepared to commit time to the programmes. The news reported that I said possibly a place for dog run because a resident had told me he was prepared to mobilise a group of people to pay for and construct a fence in an empty plot of state land for temporary use for dog run. It can also be another programme, but residents must initiate and own these.

I cite an example of Mr Yap Keng Ann from Telok Kurau. His son was admitted to Taonan school when he discovered he had ASD, a form of autism. He quitted work to coach his son and started an online forum to support parents of children with ASD. My company recently ran a programme for some of these children. This shows that active citizen participation can move things. It does not have to come only from the PA and it doesn’t always have to be in a building.

This also brings me to another topic, that of building up values in our society. Yap Keng Ann sacrificed his career for his son. I met my former MBA classmate Mr Seow too, while campaigning. He was a high flying corporate person but gave up 10 years of his career to groom his son. I salute them because they have placed family values above material things.

I met Father Simon of the Novena church at his seminary located off East Coast Road. He shared what he felt was wrong with our society – The erosion of values. There are over 10,000 abortions a year, increase in teenage violence, increase in divorce rate, a suicide a day and so on.

I totally agree.

Our society has been too caught up in economic development and material pursuit. There’s a need to remind people of the importance of family values and I hope to see it happen in Joo Chiat as well.

Another matter of important concern to Joo Chiat residents in healthcare, especially because there is a big group of retired elderly like my parents, who have lived there their whole life. They bought the property when it was cheap decades ago. Some have retired for 20, 30, 40 years. They are asset rich but cash poor. They do not have enough if they fall seriously ill.

Our government healthcare expenditure is about 1% of GDP. Our government spends far less in healthcare per capita than any other developed countries. Those in private houses get little subsidies while healthcare costs are rising rapidly.  A man in his 70s living in Jalan Baiduri in Telok Kurau said, (in Chinese) “I have been to many countries. Singapore is ok for everything, but in healthcare, it is too expensive. Once you are sick, you are dead.”

We must review the cost for elderly patients. We must look at a universal insurance coverage for those above 85 years old and children born with congenital conditions.  We must look at how to provide for the social needs of elderly, which forms a big group in Joo Chiat.

I have spoken about things of the heart. I want to run Joo Chiat with my heart. I want to serve in parliament with a heart.

I like to end with a story about Mrs Chen, a retired teacher in Opera Estate. She called me a few days ago after receiving my calling card. She said, “People of my generation have voted for the PAP out of fear for so long. They are afraid that their vote is not secret. They are afraid for their jobs. They are afraid of what will happen.”

It is so sad that in Singapore, a democratic society built by our forefathers and built by us, we should be afraid to vote who we wish to vote. Your vote is your sacred right, you need not be afraid.

Mrs Chen ended her conversation by telling me, “I have been voting for many years with my head. I now believe I must be true to my heart. I am a retiree. I wish to give you something but I have nothing to give. I can only give you my vote. I will vote for you.”

Thank you, Mrs Chen wherever you are. I am truly humbled by your support.

On 7 May, vote with your heart. Vote for the Workers’ Party, towards a first world parliament.

Text of my second rally speech – Bedok Stadium 30 April 2011

(Chinese) Good evening dear voters and dear residents of East Coast GRC.

I am very happy to be here in this familiar stadium. East Coast is located next to the Joo Chiat SMC. It is home to my in-laws, brother, sister and many friends. My alma matar, Temasek Junior College is also here.

(English) My topic today is on entrepreneurship and small and medium enterprises.

First, let me give a background of myself. I taught computer science at NUS and later worked at the trade development board and was General Manager for an education chain.

In June 1999, I had chicken pox. While on MC, I had time to reflect. Singapore was going through an Internet boom. I decided to seize that opportunity to start an e-learning company. My son was just 1 month old, my daughters were 6 and 7 years old then.  My wife and I decided to venture out full-time into this and in January 2000, we started ASKnLearn. The dotcom crash came 3 months later. We had raised very little money and we faced many big competitors. Many wrote off our chances of survival. We outlasted some 30 competitors to become a leader in our industry in Singapore. ASKnLearn was sold to a public listed company and I have since started other education services companies.

As an entrepreneur, I was very happy when the government announced in the 2003 budget that it will appoint a Minister in charge of Entrpreneurship to promote a change in mindset and culture. Since then, we have had 3 Ministers in charge of Entrepreneurship – Mr Raymond Lim, Dr Vivian BALAKRISHNAN and now Mr Lee Yi Shyan. Two of the three are in the PAP’s East Coast GRC team.

However, as an entrepreneur, I felt too little had been done. These ministers are experienced bureaucrats, able to deliver numbers to meet Key Performance Indicators. We are one of the best places in the world to start a business, that is true; and they come up with grants and awards to honour entrepreneurs. So they seemed to have gotten the job done. But I feel they have missed the forest for the trees. Numbers don’t tell anything.

It is just like how PAP government uses GDP growth to tell us that they have run Singapore well and then they pay themselves 8 months’ bonuses. Each minister gets between 1 million to 3 million each in salary a year.

How much of the GDP growth went into benefitting ordinary Singaporeans? GDP is measured by goods and services generated in Singapore. Much of it goes to foreign talents and to the profits of MNCs. For example, each of our 2 casinos generate around $300 million profits every 3 months. These are foreign owned companies, the same with many other MNCs which contribute to but also take away a sizeable portion of our GDPs.

I am not against foreign companies setting up profitable businesses here. I am just saying that all these GDP numbers don’t translate to ordinary Singaporeans like you having a better life because most of these don’t go to you. It is just used to reward our bureaucrats with increments.

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2010 reported that while Singaporeans are the fourth richest people in the world with an average personal wealth of US$336,000 per adult, the median wealth in Singapore is just US$30,092 per adult.  In other words, half of the adults in Singapore are worth under US$30,092. This puts Singapore below 25 other developed countries in the report, below Greece and Portugal. Singapore is also the only country in the Credit Suisse report where median income is below GDP per capita.

So statistics can tell lies because the wealth distribution is not balanced. GDP can grow but you are not necessarily better off.

That’s the same with entrepreneurship. We can be shown numbers that try to convince us that small companies are well looked after, but it is not so.

What is the problem with entrepreneurship in Singapore?

  1. GLCs or Government Linked Companies are crowding out local companies

We have formed many GLCs and they now run so many businesses that they crowd out the small players. Not all GLCs are bad. You need some of them to focus on areas with global advantages (e.g. Keppel and Sembcorp in building oil rigs) but GLCs should not mindlessly compete with SMEs in all areas of businesses.

We also have the NTUC going into all sorts of areas of businesses which I cannot understand why it is necessary. In the education field which I am familiar with, NTUC runs many child care centres. They get privileged locations at highly subsidized rents. These kill off many smaller players because they have to pay high rents for locations and they often find it hard to get good locations because the choice void decks are given to PCF and NTUC. In budget 2011, Minister of State for Education, Masagos  Zulkifi announced a doubling of budget to $290 million for preschool for next 5 years to lower cost of preschool education. What he did not say is how and where the money will be spent because it seems most, if not all will go to PCF and maybe  to NTUC as well. My letter to the Straits Times forum on this was published but the ministries didn’t give any meaningful reply.

This mindset is also displayed in the PAP’s brand of politics – They allow you to play in a few SMCs but when you get serious in their GRC market, they get angry. They call you undemocratic. What so undemocratic about sending your best team in to contest in a GRC? Or is it undemocratic to them because they must win every time? In business and in politics?

2. Mindset of people – We have been conditioned to study hard to get scholarship, get good job. We are told we cannot fail. So we produce good workers and managers but not creative people who are resilient and unafraid to fail. We categorise children early in life with various high stake examinations and society conditions us that there is only one way to succeed.

There are more than 1 way to succeed in life. In politics, there are more than 1 way too. There’s not just the PAP way.

 3. Play-if-safe kiasu, kiasi mentality in society

Many in the government service like to play it safe when it comes to awarding contracts. They prefer to give to a big company even when smaller ones meet the criteria at lower costs. This is because they don’t want to make mistakes. If they do, they will be sidelined.

PAP knows that Singaporeans are risk averse (kiasu, kiasi), so in politics too, they scare voters that if you vote opposition, Singapore will fail. They tell you that PAP is big,  it cannot fail. The opposition is small, it will surely fail.

Let me give you an analog using race horses.

The PAP is like an old winning horse. It is strong but it is starting to weaken. The opposition is young and has not won much yet, but it is getting strong. Which horse do you bet on for long term? You don’t have to be afraid. Vote The Workers’ Party, towards a first world parliament.

The Minister in charge of Entrepreneurship should be a passionate crusader, championing whatever it takes to create enterprising spirit and environment, even if it means taking on the GLC mentality, pushing for change in education approach in schools, pushing for change in mindset in government agencies in awarding contracts and more. I have not seen being done.

The government should be helping small companies cope with rising rental costs, manpower costs, and inflation. Instead they are competing against them for businesses.

We should not be risk averse. We should have a brave and enterprising spirit. We should dare to vote the Workers’ Party, towards a first world parliament.

My reply to Mr Charles Chong’s comments

My PAP opponent, Mr Charles Chong said in a press interview yesterday that:

a. Upgrading is necessary and is what residents want,

b. I do not understand the parking problems and that it cannot be solved by just promoting neighbourliness and tolerance.

I replied through telephone interviews with the press. However, as some of my statements were not fully reported, I am putting up a reply via this blog post.

a. What residents want

The vast majority of residents I have met in my walkabouts have raised national issues such as healthcare costs, living costs, need for checks and balances, foreign talent issues, crowded facilities and transportation issues. There were some who did ask about upgrading of various facilities. There are some upgrading requests that are necessary and which are under the charge of specific government agencies. These I will certainly also raise to the relevant agencies.

The PAP has always been using upgrading as a carrot in elections. There may be some specific funds they can tap on but will deprive an opposition MP access to. I was referring to these unfair upgrading advantages the PAP has, despite the fact that these are actually the people’s money.

When I further asked residents if they would sacrifice having an additional credible alternative voice in parliament versus the upgrading they have asked for that requires funds accessible only to the PAP, most would choose to have the alternative voice. After all, the residents of Hougang and Potong Pasir have rejected bigger upgrading carrots to their flats.

Hence, I made the statement that upgrading is not a key issue in Joo Chiat SMC versus the bigger goal of having a better representation for the residents in parliament on national issues. The PAP’s upgrading carrot cannot work in Joo Chiat.

b. The parking issue

Charles’ ability to problem solve the parking issue will not be greater than mine. This is because an MP, whether from the PAP or from the opposition cannot make decisions unilaterally on creating additional parking spaces or changing traffic direction of roads.

I will certainly be looking at feasible ways to create additional parking spaces. Proposals will be disscussed with the relevant national authorities after gathering all necessary feedback and studying the feasibility of proposed solutions. However, there is only so much anyone can do because of limited space in the area. Charles cannot create more space for parking than I can. We face the same constraints. Changing the direction of traffic may cause more problems, as evident by the problems in the Palm Road / Tay Lian Teck area after Palm Road was converted into a single way traffic some years ago. The problem remained unresolved today despite strong feedback from residents.

Neighbourliness and tolerance can help to minimise some problems. For example, many of the parking problems are due to events, such as those related to places of worship and community centre events. These are occasional or periodic events and some creative solutions can also be found by the community collaboratively. For example, those going to the community centre could be asked to park somewhere else with more space and be car-pooled into the area.