Saturday, December 29, 2007

Commonly mispronounced English words in Singapore

One of my pet peeves is the way many common words are mispronounced in Singapore, even by teachers of the English language. By mispronunciation, I mean the way the Singaporean pronunciation of a particular word diverges from that as prescribed in dictionaries. While learned opinion may remain divided as to how a particular word is to be pronounced (e.g. 'schedule' or 'often'), it is fairly safe to say that the Singaporean pronunciation of a common stock word would often be at variance with any of the established standards.

The reason for this state of affair is that reading was and still is not emphasized in English lessons in Singapore schools. I don't recall ever having a class on phonetics or on reading in secondary or primary school and I suppose this is probably true for most Singaporeans of my generation. Many older English-educated Singaporeans do however speak the language with a pronunciation scheme that conforms closely to the prescriptions in dictionaries. Two such speakers who come to mind are Lee Kuan Yew and Eugene Wijeysingha, if any RI alumnus still remembers that old dodderer. Younger Singaporeans, even the English-educated ones, have a more colloqualized pronunciation scheme.

Of course, there will be those in Singapore who will lambaste me for insisting on a foreign pronunciation standard. Afterall, it is the Singaporean-accented English that distinguishes the true sons and daughters of Singapore from foreigners. The same people also say that pronunciation should be descriptive, not prescriptive, and we should stick to the vulgar standard, if one can ever call it a standard. Strangely, no one has ever suggested that we should teach the grammar of Singlish instead of proper grammar. The consensus is that we have a linguistic diglossia in Singapore for grammar. The grammar of educated language should conform to that as prescribed in (British) English textbooks but the grammar of colloquial Singaporean English retains its distinctive character. The same goes for spelling - few in Singapore believe that we should have a uniquely Singaporean orthography. So, why should we reject the pronunciation scheme as prescribed in the same dictionaries from which we learn our spelling?

I think that it is important for educated Singaporean English speech to be less divergent from more established varieties of English such as Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American (GA). Afterall, it is the prevalence of the usage of the language that has contributed to our competitiveness in the global economy. This prevalence has enabled Singapore to position itself as a financial centre. Because English is the language of education, government, commerce and law, Singapore is able to import large numbers of workers from Australia, Britain, India, the Phillipines, the US, etc as well as to export hordes of Singaporean workers to the aforementioned countries. Even if their governments wanted to, countries like Japan and South Korea can't do that, at least to the extent Singapore can, because English is not their official medium. There is simply no reservoir of Japanese-speaking or Korean-speaking labour for them to draw upon.

This is not to say that Singlish should be eradicated but we should recognize that there are established pronunciation norms the same way there are established grammatical norms. At a time when millions in China are trying to learn English, an established English variety without any idiosyncratic pronunciations, it is highly inadvisable for Singaporean schools not to arrest this divergence in Singaporean English speech lest Singapore loses the competitive edge the prevalence of English has given it.

Anyway, here's an incomplete list of commonly mispronounced words that I can think of. The pronunciation scheme follows that of (with slight modifications since the former approximate GA as its idea). Stresses are highlighted in bold while the differences are underlined.
































[kon-dem-ney-shuhn, -duhm-]





















[v. ik-skyooz; n. ik-skyoos]

































[jap-uh-neez, -nees]



[priv-uh-lij, priv-lij]
























[wenz-dey, -dee]









[before a consonant/vowel thuh/thee]

















Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all readers of this blog. More than 2000 years, the greatest story ever told began on this very night.

Oops. I meant the greatest action story ever told. ;)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Religion cannot be divorced from politics, society or culture

I find this letter to be rather amusing. The religious persuasion to which the write subscribes is self-evident. I never knew that the Chinese character for boat (chuan2) is related to the story of Noah's ark, which any sensible person knows is, at best, allegorical.

The religious nutjobs you find in Singapore...

Religion cannot be divorced from politics, society or culture

MR JANADAS Devan in his article, 'What place religion in a secular society?' (ST, Nov 9), rightly pointed out the relevance of Matteo Ricci in today's Singapore society.

Our Government, though a secular government, has Cabinet ministers who are Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and freethinkers. Religion cannot be divorced from politics, society or culture though it may transcend ethnic groups.

CCTV has always referred to Hezbollah (literally Allah's Party) or Party of God as 'zhen1 zhu3 dang3' as this was a political party which emerged in Lebanon in the early 1980s and became the region's leading radical Islamic movement, determined to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon. Chinese Christians refer to God as 'shang4 di4' (literally the Supreme Being). The Chinese word for ship is 'chuan2' and as a pictorial language the word is composed of a boat and eight mouths. This is due to the fact that during Noah's time only eight souls were saved when he built the ark (Genesis 6:14).

The early English Christian missionary Hudson Taylor spent 51 years in China and established the China Inland Mission which sent 968 missionaries to China by 1911. One day, a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat. Taylor realised that his Western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor's goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.

The Chinese refer to the Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) as 'Li4 Ma3 dou4'. Ricci could speak Chinese as well as read and write classical Chinese (wen2 yan2). He appreciated the indigenous culture of the Chinese. He found that Chinese culture was intertwined with Confucian values and therefore decided that Christianity had to be changed to fit Chinese culture in order to be attractive to the Chinese. He called himself a 'Western Confucian' and the credibility of Confucius helped to make Christianity take root in China.

Religion basically teaches peace, love, harmony and accommodation but the radicals and the extremists have turned it into a militant movement to serve their own ends.

Heng Cho Choon

Sunday, October 28, 2007

ST: $6.3b solar plant to be set up in S'pore by 2010

I had earlier mentioned that Singapore would do well to prepare itself for the silicon solar panel industry since it shares a lot of basic technological similarities with the microelectronic industry. Turns out that Singapore has jumped on the bandwagon with a $6.3 billion solar power plant to be built in Tuas. With the price of crude hitting nearly 90USD per barrel, using alternative sources of power has become much more viable.

$6.3b solar plant to be set up in S'pore by 2010
The world's largest, it will make wafers and cells for clean energy, and create 3,000 jobs

A MASSIVE $6.3 billion plant for making solar energy products is to be built in Singapore. It is set to be the largest plant of its type in the world.

That means the future is looking bright for Singapore's ambition to become a shining light in the global market for solar and other clean energy.

The plant, which is expected to start production in 2010, will make wafers, cells and modules used to generate solar power.

Amid fast-rising oil prices and growing concerns about climate change, solar power is emerging as a serious option for future energy needs.

Singapore beat almost 200 other possible sites to clinch the plant which will be built on a green-field site in Tuas View with space set aside for supporting industries.

To be built by leading Norwegian solar energy firm Renewable Energy Corp (REC), the plant will be able to produce products that can generate up to 1.5 gigawatts (Gw) of energy every year.

That is enough to power several million households at any one time. Last year, the world as a whole produced products that could generate just 2 Gw in total.

In comparison, the current largest plant in the world, also run by REC in Norway, has a capacity of 650 megawatts (Mw), though plans are in place to double this to 1.3 Gw soon.

The Economic Development Board (EDB), which signed the deal with REC on Thursday night, said about 3,000 jobs, including 2,000 for skilled staff, will be created at the plant.

The latest mega-project to hit Singapore shores will catapult the Republic into the highest echelon of the global solar energy industry.

EDB managing director Ko Kheng Hwa said the global industry has enormous potential as the price of solar energy falls closer to that of conventional energy sources.

'The industry expects the price of solar energy to drop to the level of conventional energy in many markets sometime between 2010 and 2020. This will result in rapid adoption, strong demand and sustained high industry growth.'

He added that increasing awareness of environmental issues and climate change will also boost the popularity of renewable energy sources such as solar energy.

'The REC project will be a 'queen bee' to attract a hive of solar activities to Singapore - big companies and young start-ups engaged in research and development, manufacturing and innovation, as well as the supplier ecosystem,' he said.

REC president and chief executive officer Erik Thorsen said Singapore was chosen after nine months of screening involving 200 possible locations, due diligence of 20, and final negotiations with a handful of final contenders.

Speaking from Norway via video-conference yesterday, Mr Thorsen said Singapore was picked for a combination of factors.

'Singapore does not have the cheapest land, labour or electricity, but it offers the best combination of such factors, along with things like access to technology centres and research programmes, market access, stability and security.'

Mr Ko added that Singapore's experience and world-leading position in the semi-conductor sector held it in good stead, given similarities with the solar industry.

Asked if the new plant will prompt EDB to revise its earlier target of $1.7 billion contribution to GDP and 7,000 jobs created by 2015 from the clean energy industry, he said the target was still new.

'We set it six months ago and will revise it along the way if necessary. For now, we will just focus on implementing this latest exciting project with REC.'

Friday, October 19, 2007

Are you for or against keeping 377a?

Check out this facebook group - Keep s377a! - which was created by a certain Mr. Dharmendra Yadav. Mr Yadav also wrote this blog post where he claimed to support the repeal of section 377a of the penal code.

I'm confused. Can someone explain to me what's going on?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paying people to be their stepping stone

In one of my earlier post, I discussed the use of scholarships to attract Chinese immigrants from the PRC and how it does not seem to be working very well as a population policy with most of the recipients having little propensity to settle in Singapore. Of course, that required no great insight on my part but nevertheless, it was something I felt I had to articulate.

Well, it turns out that great leader himself no longer denies what ordinary Singaporeans have known for a long time: Singapore is paying bright young PRC nationals to be their stepping stone. From the full transcript of Tom Plate and Jeffrey Cole's interview with MM Lee:

We give a lot of scholarships to Chinese and Indians. If one quarter stay on here in Singapore, we're winners, especially with the Chinese. They come in here, they get an English education, they get our credentials and they're off to America because they know that the grass is greener there. The Indians, strangely enough, more of them stay here in Singapore because they want to go home to visit their families, America is too far away. We are net gainers for how long? I think in the case of China, maybe another 20, 30 years and then the attraction is gone. We can't offer them that difference in opportunities and standards.

Well, someone had to say it.

Now, I don't have to feel guilty about quitting Singapore for good. Hey, the great leader himself has said that he doesn't mind if 75 percent of Chinese and Indian scholarship holders use Singapore as a stepping stone. I gave 2.5 years of my life to the SAF and borrowed from the bank to pay for my own university education (I got no stinkin' scholarship from no one!), so I don't see what there is for the Singapore government to complain about.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Currus meus fractus est...

Today, I found out what rear wheel bearings are and how much it costs to replace them. Ouch.

Friday, June 15, 2007

ST Forum: Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes

A couple of days ago, on June 14, 2007, this letter appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times.

Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes
I AM curious to know if the Media Development Authority would be re-evaluating the policy on satellite TV for homes.

While undesirable contents that are at odds with Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society may be a key concern, with proper implementation of policy and the choice of a responsible service provider, this concern could be addressed adequately.

Each time I visit my relatives in Malaysia, I am blown away by the wide range of channels available on Astro. Yet, I have never heard my relatives complain about inadequacy of censorship.

In fact, I have always associated Malaysia with having tighter censorship than Singapore with regard to its public television and cinemas.

If censorship seems to be a non-issue for satellite-TV audiences in Malaysia, why can't Singaporeans enjoy the same?

We don't regulate the Internet despite there being more objectionable content that risks eroding the fabric of Singapore's sensitive cultural and racial mix.

Despite the power of the authorities to revoke licences at any time, I believe it would not be too difficult to find service providers who would toe the line.

The construction of physical infrastructure is an expensive business, which might explain why it may not be feasible to have more than one or two operators offering content to the masses. Satellite technology eliminates some of these constraints and makes the distribution of content much more efficient.

My relatives across the border pay only a fraction of the prices we pay for cable TV here, and even then prices here are being increased again.

Satellite TV is already allowed in hotels here. This makes the discrimination a little difficult to understand - if tourists have access, why can't the local population?

We will soon have the Formula 1 race and casinos, and we have ditched many stereotypes about Singapore in the last five years. It is time to reflect on the rationale behind some of our restrictive policies, in view of the new-look Singapore we are aiming to build.

Wong Wai Pong

The letter pretty much summed up what I said here: the internet is provides far more access to radical material than satellite TV, satellite TV is already available to some organizations in Singapore, Singtel itself operates satellite TV services in Australia and the overhead cost of introducing satellite service is relatively low.

The lame response from the Media Development Authority of Singapore appeared today in the ST.

Ample alternatives, no plans for satellite TV
I REFER to the letter, 'Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes' (ST, June 14), by Mr Wong Wai Pong.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) encourages the entry of new media services, such as those offered by Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) players, into the market.

In addition to offering traditional TV programmes, broadband services such as IPTV can support two-way interactive TV services, which will enhance the TV-viewing experience.

Singapore will benefit from the entry of these players as this will encourage further development of our media market and increase the choice and quality of services available to consumers.

Today, StarHub Cable Vision Ltd is not the only pay-TV operator in Singapore. There are other operators. For example, M2B World offers over 40 video-on-demand (VOD) channels of content. MediaCorp offers VOD content over its MOBTV service. SingTel offers VOD content services and will be launching pay-TV services via IPTV soon.

MDA has also issued licences to a few more operators to conduct trial TV services in Singapore.

There are currently no plans to introduce satellite TV as there are already other alternatives in the market.

Ling Pek Ling (Ms)
Director (Media Policy)
Media Development Authority of Singapore

Again, MDA totally avoids the questions put forward by Wong Wai Pong and gave a typical civil service reply. For example, Wong asked:

1. If censorship seems to be a non-issue for satellite-TV audiences in Malaysia, why can't Singaporeans enjoy the same?
2. Satellite TV is already allowed in hotels here. This makes the discrimination a little difficult to understand - if tourists have access, why can't the local population?

Note that Ms. Ling Pek Ling of the MDA addressed none of the above.

At the very least, Ms. Ling did not resort to the specious argument, put forward previously by MDA, that we have to ban satellite TV because it potentially threatens the social stability of Singapore. The omission of that argument makes it obvious that protecting social stability is probably not the primary reason why satellite TV services are banned in Singapore.

Sometimes, I wonder why people write in to the ST Forum to express their views on a contentious public policy (SAF, foreign labour, GST hikes, satellite TV ban, etc). The government simply deflects the critical points by not answering them. P21 my foot.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Self-radicalisation through the internet and cable TV subscription fee hikes

As most Singaporeans might have read in the news, a certain Mr. Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader was arrested under the infamous Internal Security Act last week for making plans to pursue militant jihad in Afghanistan. The man has been described as a 'self-radicalised' individual who 'began to develop militant jihad ideas in late 2004, after being affected by the radical discourse he read on the internet'. As a result, he was considered a security threat and placed under detention.

What this demonstrates is the power of the World Wide Web as a means to disseminate uncensored unadulterated radical content. It is both a boon and a bane. In this age of the information highway, even in Singapore, we are free to read whatever we will find on the internet, learn what we want to know, listen to those who want use to hear and enunciate to others what we wish to say. Governmental censorship on the internet is next to useless as there are a myriad of means to circumvent any method of restricting access. There is no turning back now for Singapore. Undoubtedly, there will be more self-radicalised individuals emerging but that is the price of living in the information age.

Most of us do not use the internet to seek heavy militant jihadist literature. It is the easy access to alternative content that has made the internet so attractive. Politics, pornography, philosophy, pedantry etc of all forms avail themselves for download and the online community has become more vibrant and interactive. Indeed, we are no longer limited to the passivity of books, radio, television and other medium.

Of course, what I have said so far about content being uncensored and freely available is obvious most people.

Let us now turn to the impending cable TV subscription fees hike by Starhub in July. They claim that they are have no choice but to raise the fees. They claim that they have to pay more for the programming. Well, any one with some basic knowledge of economics knows that price is determined by demand and supply. Conveniently, they are the only supplier of private cable service and thus, hold great monopolistic power. They can raise the fees any time they want and nothing can stop them. This hike in July is but one of the many that will come in the future.

It is time to break this monopolistic power. There is no reason for Starhub to be the only mass private cable TV provider. We must have viable alternatives to the products offered by Starhub. Some suggest that pay TV or the internet will provide the necessary competition but I doubt that will be true, at least in the near future. The contents of such alternatives are tailored to foreign preferences.

One alternative, as suggested, is satellite TV. In Singapore, we do not have satellite TV because the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) has prohibited the subscription of satellite TV. Minister Lee Boon Yang claims

Nevertheless, the Government has constantly reviewed the satellite TV policy over the years, and where it was necessary to relax satellite TV regulations, the Government had done so. For instance, banks, financial institutions and commercial organisations with the need for time-sensitive information are already permitted to install satellite dishes to access satellite TV. More recently, we have also allowed hotels, tertiary and technical institutes, international schools and hospitals to have access to satellite TV for restricted use.

However, the reasons why we should prevent undesirable content from easy entry to the homes of Singaporeans through satellite dishes remain valid and important. In the face of increasing security challenges worldwide today, we must continue to be vigilant against external influences that may split or divide our society.

How many of you actually believe that satellite TV will pose a security threat to our society? As if the government cannot regulate satellite TV programming! If anything, it is far far easier to control satellite TV programming than to regular internet content. No one has ever got self-radicalised by watching satellite TV. What kind of security challenges can there be from making satellite services available? The internet is far more dangerous and yet we do not restrict access to it.

Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan and Australia enjoy access to satellite TV services. Even, in Australia, Singtel Optus, a wholly owned subsidiary of Singtel, offers satellite internet and TV services. Meanwhile, in Singapore, satellite dishes are banned and we do not have access to satellite internet and TV services. What hypocrisy. Instead, consumers are forced to pay higher prices for services from a monopolistic power that is shielded from competition by unjustified government regulations.

It's time for a change and it only will come when you the consumer and the citizen clamours for that change. Write in to your MPs, to the papers, on your blog, on your website, in online forums. With so many of us subscribing to cable TV, we the consumers must take action.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On UNSW Asia's low enrollment figures

This blog has been getting quite a few hits recently, thanks to my previous post on the UNSW Asia fiasco. As everyone knows, this is no small thing with tens of millions of taxpayers' money down the drain. For everyone involved, it is a spectacular failure.

Well, enough of the nay-saying. Rather than indulge in conspiracy theories as to why the UNSW hastily withdrew from this venture, I think the reason behind the closure of its campus in Singapore is fairly simple: it didn't believe that it could make money from that venture and couldn't stomach the financial risk.

Remember, the UNSW isn't a charity organisation. It didn't set up operations in Singapore because it wanted to offer more options for college applicants or enrich the experience of its students. No, it wanted to make money. That is the primary reason why it came to Singapore. When it saw that initial enrollment was barely half of its targeted figure, it decided to shut down business.

Of course, there are those those who say that it may have rather hasty to withdraw on the basis of one semester's enrollment after its investment of millions. But we have to remember, the UNSW is a state institution in Australia and public organisations in Australia are not like EDB or Temasek Holdings; they are under much higher public scrutiny and have to answer for investments gone bad. It was just a bad investment decision for everyone involved. Maybe the apparatchiks in EDB wanted to play hardball with them or maybe they realised, too late, that they can never meet the enrollment figures in the foreseeable future.

This brings us to the questions:

1. Why didn't they meet the target enrollment figures?
2. Why did they realised that its operations wouldn't succeed in Singapore?

I think the answer to the first question is fairly obvious. It's really matter of supply and demand. Obviously, the demand wasn't there. In other words, it priced itself out of the market when it expected to charge annual tuition fees of 25,000 to 29,000 SGD, equal to what it charges in Australia.

Those fees are really too exorbitant. Now, this may come as a shock to many people but there are already international universities in other countries in the region. Take Monash university for example. It has had a campus in Petaling Jaya for many years and you can see for yourself what its fees are like here. A lot cheaper than UNSW Asia, I must say, considering the exchange rate of 2.22 MYR to 1 SGD according to Yahoo. The fees for Monash range from 25,000 to 32,000 MYR or, in SGD, 11,200 to 14,500, less than half of what UNSW was charging.

Monash University isn't the only foreign university that has set up operations in Malaysia. The University of Nottingham also has a campus there, offering a range of undergaduate and postgraduate courses at about the same rates as Monash. Definitely a lot more affordable than UNSW Asia. Now, you can see what UNSW was up against.

If you think about it, why on earth would anyone want to pay 25,000 SGD to study in UNSW Asia when he/she can pay half of that to study in Nottingham or Monash in KL? Oh, the cost of living is much lower in KL too. The reason why UNSW did not take off in Singapore was that the competition from across the Causeway was too strong. From this CNA article, Professor Hilmer, the Vice-Chancellor of the UNSW, claimed:
"Last year....we actually had much stronger demand in Sydney than we had in the previous four years. I think one of the things we've learnt, and it's really for Singapore to draw its own lesson, is that geography is really important. When a student says he wants an Australian degree, what he really means is, 'I want the experience of living in Sydney', and not just in educational terms but riding a surfboard, doing the other things a lot of students in a campus like ours, do."
Not really. If that were so, Monash would have closed down its Malaysian operations a long time ago. Anyone who takes that as a message from a burning bush needs a swift kick to the balls.

To be fair, the UNSW ranks higher in terms of academic reputation but surely its reputation doesn't command a premium of 100 percent in fees. Furthermore, the UNSW Asia degree could have suffered from the stigma of being a second-rate compared to a degree obtained from the main campus. Also, if they qualify, foreign students have the option of enrolling in NUS/NTU/SMU where the fees are subsidised (in exchange for signing a 3-year bond which only restricts one to working in Singapore). All these factors resulted in the diminished pool of foreign students willing to pay to attend UNSW Asia.

By now, the answer to the second question should be fairly obvious. I hope I don't have to tell you why. If you still don't get it, let me go get my steel-tipped boots.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another one bites the dust

I guess this isn't really hot off the press but by now, most people ought to have known that the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is going to shut down its campus in Singapore because of the low enrollment barely three months after starting operations. You can find reports of the closure of its Singapore campus here, here, here and here.

Originally, an enrollment of 300 in the first semester was planned but after seeing only 148 students in its first batch - 100 Singaporeans and 48 foreigners - the university threw in the towel and decided to pull out of this joint venture with EDB. The setting up of UNSW's Singapore campus was suppose to be a landmark in EDB's drive to turn Singapore into an educational hub as it was suppose to be the first comprehensive private university in Singapore. There are other private universities which have set up operations in Singapore but they are usually operations that offer part-time degrees or specialised programmes like the University of Chicago Graduate Business School. EDB probably decided that it was time to go in for the kill and invested a substantial sum of money - the quantum which it refuses to disclose but is rumoured to be around 80 million AUD - to help set up Singapore's first international private university.

In many ways, the university was an abysmal failure. It did not meet the targeted enrollment figures and most of the undergraduates were Singaporeans, not foreigners. Remember, after all, the point of setting up this university was to attract more foreign students to Singapore. If the point had been to enroll more Singaporean undergraduates, the local universities could have just made available more places.

In retrospect, the university would have been a failure anyway. After, it was charging around $25,000 to 29,000 in annual tuition fees which is the same as what the parent university UNSW charges in Australia. The fees were simply too high. To put it more harshly, there just weren't enough foreigners who believed that it was worth that sum of money to study in Singapore for an Australian degee or, for that matter, any other degree.

That fact may be surprising to some people, especially the geniuses working in EDB. After all, aren't there 75,000 foreigners studying in Singapore? Don't foreign students make up 20 percent of the undergraduates in our local universities? Well, it may be so but we have to ask ourselves how we reached those numbers. Take our local universities for example. Yes, today, 20 percent of the undergraduates are indeed nonlocal compared to 10 percent ten years ago but that is because Singapore offered and still offers shiploads of scholarships and subsidies to those foreign students. Naturally, this lead to an inflation in the number of foreign students in our local universities.

The truth is, very very few of the nonlocal undegraduates in our local universities are full fee-paying students although the option does exist for foreign students. Full fees in local universities amount to 18,000 to 24,000 SGD per annum. How many foreign undergraduates in NUS/NTU/SMU are willing to pay that kind of money?

The paucity of full fee-paying students in our local universities should have warned the those with helicopter vision in EDB that, in the eyes of most foreigners, it isn't worth paying full fees for an undergraduate degree in Singapore. And that is for a degree from our state universities, one of which is suppose to be in the top 20 in some ranking exercise. Yeah, right. If you can believe that, I don't suppose you would have any trouble believing that people from other countries will come to Singapore and pay 120 grands for an undegraduate degree from UNSW instead of going to Sydney and paying 120 grands for the same deal. By the way, the cost of living in Singapore is not that low compared to Sydney but wages (after taxes) in Singapore are less than half of those in Sydney. That ought to give some clues as to why some people would be reluctant to pay that kind of money to get a degree in Singapore.

This whole fiasco has shown that our reputation as an educational hub isn't as fantastic as some people believe and that we have a long long way to go before Singapore can profit from being such a hub. It has also shown how delusional some of our talented planners are. After all, they believe the bullshit about Singapore's education reputation although anyone with common sense and a bit of knowledge of the ground would have believed otherwise.

Tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money down the drain... Who's going to answer for that?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Singapore's real carbon emission level.

May 12, 2007
For S'pore, it pays to go green
With the environment making headlines all round the world, Singapore too is investing as never before in clean energy and sustainable development. But does this reflect a real shift in mindset towards global environmental concerns? Aaron Low reports


Singapore Environmental Council executive director Howard Shaw suggests doing more to push industry towards energy efficiency.

Instead of just encouraging companies to conduct energy audits, for example, the Government could mandate them.

Or put in place a tiered-energy tariff system to enforce mandatory reductions of carbon emissions by industries.

'It may be time to bite the bullet if people are not responding,' he says.

But the Government's bottom line is that it makes no sense - economic or otherwise - for Singapore to take the lead in the push to cut carbon emissions.

Articulating what he termed a realistic and pragmatic approach to going green, Mr Tharman said in his Budget speech: 'Singapore is tiny. What we do cannot make a significant difference to global warming or the ozone.

'If big countries like the US, China and India do not come on board, everything we do will be in vain.'

He added that if Singapore forged ahead to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions while other countries did not, 'it will increase our costs and affect our competitiveness'.

Dr Amy Khor, chairman of the National Climate Change Committee, defends Singapore's record with figures from the International Energy Agency.

It found that Singapore's carbon emissions per capita compared favourably against several developed countries, and was in fact lower than those of Germany, Japan and Australia.


If you had read this article from the bastion of journalistic integrity - the Straits Times - in Singapore, you might have got the impression that, despite being an industrialised country. Singapore's industries are less polluting in terms of carbon emission than Germany's or Japan's. After all, according to Dr. Amy Khor, Singapore's per capita level of emission is lower than these two countries'. Hence, we shouldn't enforce mandatory reductions of carbon emissions by industries in Singapore.

Technically, Dr Amy Khor is right about the figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) but that being rather economical with the whole truth. Singapore's carbon emission per capita, according to the IEA, is indeed lower than Japan's and Germany's. However that is because the emission figures are calculated based on the burning of fossil fuels. However, a great deal of carbon emission in Singapore also comes from other human activities - gas flaring and cement production - and these are not included in the IEA's figure. If you look at the UN's Human Development Report figures for CO2 emission, which includes the contributions from gas flaring and cement production, Singapore is right up there at number 16 in total carbon emission per capita and its CO2 emission levels at the per capita level are considerably higher than Japan's and Germany's.

So, why do we have this discrepancy?

The truth is, Singapore's CO2 emissions are high because of its heavy industries, namely the petrochemical and the construction sectors. To get a feel of the extent of the contributions of Singapore's heavy industries, just compare Singapore's emission figures with Hong Kong's here. Hong Kong has virtually no heavy industries despite the abysmal quality of air there which is really a consequence of pollution from mainland China. Thus, in some sense, the emission figures for Hong Kong serve as those for a hypothetical Singapore sans heavy industries. The 2003 carbon emission figures for Singapore and Hong Kong are 11.3 and 5.5 metric tons per capita respectively. Basically, at the per capita level, Singapore emits more than twice as much carbon dioxide as Hong Kong.

Don't blame the air-conditioners in Singapore. If you look at the figures for electricity consumption per capita here, it is 8,087 and 6,103 kilowatt-hours for Singapore and Hong Kong respectively. Although it is not very well known, a great deal of Singapore's carbon emission come from gas flaring - the burning of waste gases in the petrochemical industry - and the manufacture of cement. Given the size of the construction industry in Singapore, it won't be surprising if they are responsible for quite a bit of our carbon emissions.

So, if the Singapore government is really serious about going green, it should go after the main polluters in the heavy industries. Putting up a few photovoltaic panels here and there isn't going to make much of a difference. At the very least, it should consider mandating the introduction of environmentally-friendlier technologies into the industries.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A log and a speck of dust

Some time ago, I gave the reasons on why I don't disgree with the ministerial pay rise. Of course, this doesn't mean that I agree with it. It just means that the issue is very complex, coloured very much by emotions and impossible to decide on a purely rational basis. I don't want to go into the merits and demerits of the issue but I think I have learned a few things about people in general over the course of the debate.

Most of the Singaporean undergraduates and graduates in my university are vehemently against the pay rise. That's hardly surprising. Those who are not against it simply don't care. I think I'm probably the only person around who has said that the pay rise is not necessarily a bad thing although I try to keep my opinions to myself. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that I believe that the pay rise is a great idea.

Some of the common arguments against the pay rise that I have heard from m are:
  1. Our political leaders and senior civil servants are greedy. They should be be willing to incur some financial sacrifice for public service.
  2. They are highly over-rated and already overpaid since none of them had worked in Goldman Sachs, McKinley, etc. They usually get shuffled off to comfy jobs in the GLCs after their stint in the public sector.
  3. They are out of touch with the common people whom they are suppose to serve.
Of course, these criticisms are very fair. Defenders of the pay rise usually have trouble answering them; the PAP politicians just avoid them entirely.

Amidst the barrage of protests against the pay rise, I couldn't help but notice that many of the people around me who made those criticisms were also recipients of scholarships awarded by the Singapore government or GLCs. Obviously, these scholarships don't come cheap and only the government and the GLCs give them out in Singapore. I've been told by a lady friend that if she were to break her bond, she would have had to fork out over 350K SGD in liquidated damages.

So, when the arguments about financial sacrifice and all that came up, I thought of asking some of the critics if they would have signed up with the public sector if they hadn't got the scholarships. Or that if they could have got equivalent scholarships from *real* private sector companies like the Boston Consulting Group. Or how in touch with the common people they were, living overseas with comfortable allowances paid for by taxpayers. Perhaps, they can consider donating part of their allowances to poor families so that the latter wouldn't have to rely on monthly public handouts of $290?

No. In the end, I didn't ask these questions. It would have been too awkward and discomforting. But even though some things remain unarticulated, I hope that there are those among us who know of and understand a great man's teaching about removing logs and specks of dust from the eyes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A thoughtful article on the homosexual debate

Three cheers for Associate Professor Victor V. Ramraj for writing this thoughtful article in the Straits Times today (9 May 2007). I guess someone had to step in to show that the law faculty in NUS isn't entirely staffed by intellectual pygmies. In this article in the review section of tehe ST, Prof. Ramraj takes neither a pro-gay or anti-gay point of view but instead gives a brief and balanced discussion of the issues needed to be considered with regards to the criminalisation to homosexual behaviour in Singapore.

May 9, 2007
The freedom to disagree, respectfully
By Victor V. Ramraj, For The Straits Times

IT HAS been argued that the decriminalisation of sodomy is the first step on a slippery slope towards a 'homosexual agenda' that includes civil unions and same-sex marriages.

I disagree with this view and the arguments advanced in support of it. Still, the debate on this subject has provided us with a key lesson on the importance of public discussion on matters of deep moral significance - and the importance of respectful disagreement.

First, a few comments on some of the claims in the debate.

Even in societies abroad where legal structures such as same-sex civil unions have been introduced, this did not happen overnight, but only after significant shifts in social and political attitudes.

If the majority of Singaporeans find homosexuality offensive, then there is little reason for them to worry that the entire legal landscape will change in an instant.

If change eventually does come, it will follow only after open and respectful debate and a conscious choice on the part of Singaporeans to become a more tolerant and hospitable society.

Others, particularly in cyberspace this past week, have challenged the accuracy of empirical claims behind the argument to retain sodomy as a crime - and the debate will no doubt continue. I will not repeat these arguments here. As for constitutional law, formal constitutional doctrine on such matters is hardly conclusive. In 1930, Lord Sankey likened a Constitution to 'a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits'. Particularly in Singapore, where the methodology of constitutional law is still evolving, there is much to be said for this vision.

Intolerant vs criminal

I WANT to turn, however, to a rather different point that arises from this controversy. Does branding opponents of decriminalisation 'intolerant' undermine or effectively censor free speech?

Surely, the answer to this question is no. Indeed, the reverse may be more likely; opponents of decriminalisation effectively silence others by continuing to regard the behaviour they oppose as criminal. To be branded intolerant is one thing; to be branded a criminal is quite another.

The publication of letters and commentary in this newspaper shows that those who disagree with decriminalisation are perfectly free to express their views. Perhaps, then, the deeper concern is not that these views will be censored (plainly, they haven't been), but that others will not find them convincing. If that is the true concern, then rigorous and respectful persuasion would be the answer.

If the discussion on Singapore blogs is any indication, recent exchanges about the decriminalisation of sodomy have provoked an important debate, one that demonstrates that Singaporeans, including many tertiary students, are far from apathetic when it comes to issues of great social significance. An issue of profound social importance is receiving the serious public attention, reflection and debate it deserves.

The sources of identity

FOR those who choose to engage in this debate, let us remind ourselves that our words have profound personal impact on those around us, on both sides of this controversy.

Those whose religious views are tolerant of homosexuality, and especially those of us with secular-humanist inclinations, must remain sensitive to the deeply personal and communal role that religious doctrine plays in the lives of many.

At the same time, we must have faith that those who oppose the decriminalisation of sodomy on religious grounds will acknowledge that personal identity need not be a matter of religion at all. It is possible, even common, to define one's identity outside of religion - in terms of one's intimate relationships, career goals, community service, life-long projects and deep personal convictions. A person's sense of identity is no less worthy of respect in the public square on account of its secular sources.

I can only imagine the deep personal anguish experienced by gays and lesbians in Singapore when confronted by the criminal law. Their voices should be heard in the spirit of an open, respectful and meaningful discussion.

Whatever is said in the course of this debate, it is clear that someone, somewhere, will take offence. But the ability for all to speak out should not be taken for granted. There are reasonable limits to be placed on hateful speech - a view that I have defended elsewhere. But in the present context, in a society that is increasingly more open, I find myself drawn to the pithy comment sometimes attributed to Voltaire: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

The writer is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. This essay reflects his personal views only.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Preserving the Chinese language

There was a slew of letters in the ST Forum yesterday (7 May 2007) on how the standard in the Chinese language has declined among young Chinese Singaporeans, which is something I don't deny. Given the growing dominance of English in Singapore as a lingua franca, it is hardly surprising that fluency and literacy in other languages have waned.

One writer correctly diagnosed the cause of this decline - it is the lack of usage or practice of the language. Many of those who wrote in suggested that the people in charge of the Speak Mandarin/Huayu Cool Campaign should appeal to people's sense of the aesthetics, by communicating to people 'the sheer beauty and elegance of the Chinese language', in the words of one of the letter writers, to get more people to use the Chinese language.

While their aims are laudable, I think these people are rather naive and refuse to face up to the root cause of this decline. The use of the Chinese language in Singapore is declining because of its limited functionality in Singapore. You don't necessarily have to use it to file your taxes, shop in NTUC, get a taxi, read a book on financial investments, find a job, etc. On the other hand, not knowing English is a serious handicap in Singapore nowadays. Not knowing it would exclude you from many economic and social opportunities. The same is true for Tamil and Malay in Singapore although they don't quite receive as much attention in the Singapore papers.

It's simple. People use languages primarily to communicate, not to appreciate its beauty and elegance. As if Tamil and Malay have any less beauty and elegance than Chinese! And yet, you see that Tamil and Malay are also declining in Singapore, maybe a little less so for Malay since the local Malay community can tap into the linguistic reservoir of our neighbours up north. Given the limited utility of non-English languages in Singapore, it is no surprise that literacy in these languages have declined. For most people of my generation, our fluency in our ethnic languages atrophied once we left school.

To improve literacy in these languages, we have to create the environment in which these languages are of greater social and economic utility. One way would be to set up isolated ethnic enclaves, as in Malaysia where you have entire villages/towns of Hakka or Tamil speakers. Another way would be to push actively for the use of ethnic languages in government services. For example, if you are are a Chinese HDB applicant, you have to file your documents in Chinese. People are not going to use a language or maintain their command of it for the purpose of appreciating its beauty alone. For me, my command of Chinese actually improved, out of sheer necessity, after I had left school because I was forced to work with colleagues from the PRC.

Of course, such measures would be impossible in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society in which English is the working language. The state of the linguistic ecosystem favours the acquisition of English as the primary language no matter of how cool or beautiful some other language is made out to be. We have to accept that so long as some languages have a more limited functionality in Singapore, they will have to play second-fiddle to the one that offers the most practical advantages.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Some thoughts on high civil service/ministerial salaries

I promised earlier to blog on arguments for and against the pay hike. After thinking it throught, I realised that the issue is actually very complicated and a thorough discussion would require more substantive investment of time and brainpower on my part than what I actually have. Hence, I will merely reproduce an email post of mine in which I talked about the issue.


Sorry, I don't think I will have the time to blog on why I don't oppose the recent pay hike. Neither do I support it. It's simply because I do not have enough background information/knowledge to pass judgement on the issue and the issues to examine are too many. It would have been helpful if the PSC had released more information on the attrition rate of AO's and senior civil servants (like where they went after resigning or what their new salaries are or the reasons given for leaving).

However, I have a few quick and dirty ones.

1. The pay hike should be seen in the context of the overall salary review for the entire civil service - doctors, lawyers, teachers, firemen, policemen, etc. Presumably, the salary review is pressing since public sector salaries seem to be lagging. Having a separate special pay review exercise for the ministers and civil servants will cause a bigger uproar and isn't too practical. I have no problem with the timing. Perhaps, it might have been too close to the GST hike. In that case, the GST hike exercise should have been postponed.

2. The argument against the MR4 benchmark is not convincing. It is claimed that those people may not get so much in the real private sector or be consistently earning that sum of money. I don't know enough about that to assess that claim. However, people should be more consistent and apply that argument to other civil servants like policemen, nurses, etc. A person who spends many years in the SAF and the SPF may find it hard to get a financially-equivalent job outside after leaving the service because of the lack of relevance of his/her working experience. Should we then pay policemen and army regulars less?

It is precisely the low value of working experience in the civil service that higher compensation may be needed. Someone who rises from an AD to a perm sec may have a lot of working experience that is not highly valued outside of the civil service. We may have people who want to leave the civil service to get more valuable private sector experience. Thus, it may be necessary to compensate people for their lack of private sector experience.

3. LKY's claim that our politicians will become corrupt if they are paid too little is ridiculous. Eradicating corruption depends on many factors e.g. the effectiveness of CPIB, whistleblower laws, etc. LKY has been especially unhelpful in the rationale debate on this issue. Since when, in any time in Singapore's history, even under British colonial rule, have Singaporeans been exported as domestic helpers? Absurd.

There is quite a bit of mythology about Singapore's economic history. I strongly recommend "The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century" by W.G.Huff for a less biased academic perspective.

4. I don't oppose high pay for any single person. I don't subscribe to the 'moral authority' argument. This is a matter of perspective on what our political leadership should be like.

5. The benchmark is highly contentious. Several alternatives have been suggested - benchmarks to GDP, GDP per capita, Gini coefficient, GDP growth, GDP growth per capita and salaries of political appointment holders in other countries. The last one is highly popular but silly since we just cannot import Bill Clinton even if he wanted to come.

The argument that, since George Bush runs a country 100 times larger than Singapore but makes about 1/5 the money, we should cut the salaries of our ministers and civil servants, is a little strange. There is no law of scaling of political salaries that I know of. If there is anything that scales, it is the number of civil servants. A country 100 times Singapore's size has probably 100 times the number of civil servants. The USA may have one president running the federal government but 50 governors running the 50 states. I don't hear people suggesting that governors should be paid 1/50th of the US president's salary i.e. 8K per annum.

There is a sense of arbitrariness in the benchmark. I don't think we can get away from that with any benchmark. However, I see no good alternative. There could be alternatives in the sense that a component in the formula is indexed in some way to the GDP per capita.

6. However, the benchmark has the possible advantage that it makes mid-career switches from the private sector to the civil service more attractive. Again, this is speculation on my part. Perhaps, the government wants well-paid lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc to join the civil

7. The MR4 benchmark itself has been acknowledged to be a little faulty by the government in the sense that it is highly variable and if the government were to stay faithful to the benchmark every year, the MR4 people will see fairly large swings in their salaries year in year out. Thus, the benchmark is itself not a good compensation formula. I bet that it is going to be revised in the future.

People complain that the benchmark is risk-free since it is always pegged to the top 8 earners. This ignores that fact that the amount is actually highly variable.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ST Forum: MM's comments have me and family worried

This letter actually appeared in the ST Forum section of the print edition of the ST on 1 May 2007.

MM's comments have me and family worried

I AM writing about the review of the criminal code. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's recent comments about liberalising laws regarding homosexuality have got my family and me very concerned.

My expatriate friends find Singapore a conducive place in terms of its low crime and cleanliness. More importantly, they comment that it is a wholesome place. One does not find pornography sold openly in a neighbourhood shop. Having lived in the West myself, this down-to-earth wholesomeness is what makes Singapore special.

Singapore today faces the challenge of a declining birth rate and families are breaking down at the same time. To legalise homosexuality will compound these problems, given that homosexual couples do not reproduce.

The homosexual lobby in the West is extremely aggressive. It is the same here. Observe how it is now considered intolerant when one criticises them.

What would it be like to have a homosexual teach our children that it is normal to be gay? You might scorn the idea but this is what is happening in the West.

Homosexuals lead a promiscuous and hedonistic lifestyle. What else can you expect when you do not have children to live for or be in a loving and committed relationship? This increases the risk of STDs, Aids, etc, further increasing the risk to the general population.

Homosexuality is not going to go away. All I am saying is that we do not make it easier to be a homosexual by legalising their activities. Singapore is our home and I am proud to be Singaporean. Let us keep it a wholesome place.

Jonathan Cheng Hern Sinn

I was dumbfounded by the inanity of this letter. The only thing that came to my mind was:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No special day

Happy birthday, my dear. It has been nearly 7 years and you would have been 28 today.

Friday, April 27, 2007

ST Forum: Speak better English - let's get it right

This letter appeared in the online letters section of the ST Forum on 26 April 2007.

April 27, 2007
Speak better English - let's get it right

APRIL is the speak-better-English month. On, the latest slogan is: 'Be understood. Not just in Singapore, Malaysia and Batam' and the focus is on students, teachers, parents and frontline workers.

Miss Singapore-Universe 2007 aspirant Peggy Chang spouted her stuff with: 'James Dean said: 'Dream like you'll live forever and leave (live) like tomorrow's your last day'.' Correctly, she didn't drag her first 'live' but did the second to sound 'leave'.

Another time, she quoted Dean had both 'lives' correctly undragged. Inconsistency betrays poor grounding and a cavalier attitude. Unremediated contestants let down pageants, their organisers and the nation.

Paradoxically, I learn from global contestants who announce their origins. For instance, Chile is pronounced 'Chee-lay', not 'Chilly'. Antigua is 'An-tee-guh', not 'An-tee-gwa'; Guyana is 'Gye-anna', not 'Gee-anna' and Lesotho is 'Luh-soo-too', not 'Lee-soto'. Those unfamiliar may miscall us 'Sing-kia-pour' or 'Sing-ah-pour'.

American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken called his North Carolina hometown 'Raw-lee' (Raleigh) which I smugly pronounced, heretofore, as 'Rare-lay' - a popular bicycle brand of the past and Sir Walter Raleigh. A Brit on TV pronounced it as 'Rah-lee'. How many know that Leigh is 'Lee' as in 'Wood-lee' (Woodleigh)?

British place names in America can sound different: Birmingham is 'Bur-ming-ham' (Brit: 'Buh-ming-huhm'). Warwick is 'War-wick' (Brit: 'War-rick'). Australians turn Brisbane and Melbourne into 'Bris-buhn' and 'Mel-buhn' which some American newscasters assume as 'Bris-bane' and 'Mel-born'.

On TV, an American guessed petrol as 'puh-trole' - probably misled by 'puh-troh-leum' as their term is 'gas' or 'gasoline'. He hadn't heard the Brit 'pet-truhl', like many of us. When London's mayor was here, local newsreader Neena Maraita literally called him Mr Livingstone which is 'Living-stuhn' to Brits.

Another gaffe over airwaves is 'com-pile-lay-shun' (compilation). Invariably 'com-puh-lay-shuhn' to native speakers. Word variants can delude: 'Com-pair' (compare) becomes 'com-pruh-ble' (comparable). Unlike written music, spelling alone can mislead pronunciation even with sprachgefuhl (intuitive familiarity).

A teacher on TV claimed a shy boy 'crams up' (clams up). Someone called me for a 'brieving' (briefing). A grocery assistant was replenishing 'lick-uh-rais' (licorice) instead of 'lick-uh-ris' or 'lick-uh-rish'.

Common gaffes are: 'flah' (flour: 'flau-uh'), 'ah-roh-mah' (aroma: 'uh-roh-muh'), 'loo-nah' (lunar: 'loo-nuh'), 'soh-lah' (solar: 'soh-luh'), 'fo-toh-grah-fuh' (photographer: 'fuh-taw-gruh-fuh'), 'ree-hair-billy-tate' (rehabilitate: 'ree-huh-billy-tate') and 'sahl-muhn' (salmon: 'sair-muhn').

There is a televised spelling contest for primary schoolers which imparts pronunciation. How about one for older students? Words like 'infinitesimal', 'indefatigable' and 'schadenfreude' would be eye and ear openers.

Anthony Lee Mui Yu

I say I have to agree with Mr. Lee here although 'flour' can also be pronounced as 'FLAA-uh' (as the queen does) - it gets contracted into 'flaa' in the mouth of the average Singaporean (actually, so does the queen).

However, his letter seems to imply that Singaporeans have trouble pronouncing only rather uncommon words like 'Leigh' or 'licorice' when, in fact, many words that Singaporeans use in their daily lives are also mispronounced. One cause of flawed pronunciation is the lack of elocution lessons - people are just not taught proper pronunciation of words in schools. People of my generation certainly weren't taught English pronunciation and I had to work on my pronunciation for many years (I'm still working on it). However, looking at the Singaporean undergraduates in my university, the problem seems to be getting worse with younger people. Or maybe it's because many of them come from SAP schools where the lingua franca is Mandarin. Good grief, what do English teachers do in those schools?

Allow me to give you a few examples of poor pronunication. Take the word 'vehicle'. It should be pronounced 'VEE-uh-kel' with the stress falling on the first syllable but most Singaporeans pronounce it as 'Vee-hee-kel'. I cringe every time I hear that. Some words can be pronounced in different ways, depending on the context. For example, 'rebel' is pronounced 'RE-buhl', with the first syllable identical to that of 'reservoir', when used as a adjective or noun. On the other hand, it is 'ri-BELL' when used as a verb. Another example is the word 'contest'. As a noun, it is pronounced 'CON-test' whereas as a verb, it is 'kuhn-TEST'. Seriously, many of the Singaporean whom I have met in this university don't realise the difference. Also, many Singaporeans are ignorant of the fact that the stress in a word shifts depending on its usage and meaning. I don't even want to go into the difference between 'three' and 'tree'. 'Power'/'Flower'/'Lower' isn't pronounced as 'PAU-wuh'/'FLAU-wuh'/'LOH-wuh'; it is 'PAU-uh'/'FLAU-uh'/'LOH-uh'. The 'w' sound is silent. Actually, even when there is no 'w', as in 'hour', there are people who still pronounce it as 'au-wuh'. Oh, by the way, it is 'AH-muhnd', not 'AL-muhnd' for 'almond' as in almond jelly. Yummy.

Well, those are the more obvious ones. There are some that most well-spoken (by SG standards) Singaporeans don't even realise. The vowel in 'pen' and 'pan' are pronounced differently. 'Texas' is not a homonym of 'taxes'. Nor are 'men'/'lend'/'send'/'met' and 'man'/'land'/'sand'/'mat' identically pronounced. Characteristically, many people also fail to realise that 'bear' has diphthong in the middle - it is suppose to sound like 'BE-uh' (glide quickly) where the 'e' sound is as in 'rest' and 'met'. Ditto for 'chair', 'care', 'dare', 'tear', etc. You get the idea. Mr. Lee, who penned the letter, doesn't realise that 'sair-muhn' isn't an accurate pronunciation of 'salmon'; it is 'SAE-muhn'. The 'ae' sound is the 'a' sound in 'sam' or 'land'. Also, 'sure' is pronounced 'shoo-uh', not 'shuh'.

Seriously, folks, the Speak Good English Movement is needed in Singapore. I think I'll make up a list of commonly mispronounced words sometime in the near future and post it on the blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Arguments for and against the pay hikes

This is work in progress and not even a beta version. The issue is complex and there are many arguments to examine. I have put up the outline/incomplete draft so that the readers can know what to expect (roughly) of the final version.


The government recently announced its decision to increase the pay of civil servants after conducting a major review of its wage system for the entire civil service. The decision to increase the already high pay of senior civil servants and ministers has caused an uproar in Singapore, especially with the pay hike coming so soon after the decision to impose the 2 percent GST hike. Evidently, most Singaporeans are against the pay hike for ministers and senior civil servants. Many Singaporean bloggers have railed against the pay hike, presenting a myriad of arguments against the pay hike. The objections are many and you can find some of the more prominent ones here, here, here and here. It is clearly evident that the popular opinion is against the pay hike.

The purpose of this post is to examine some of the arguments for and against the pay hike.

Arguments for the pay hike

1. Part of general salary review/revision in the civil service (which includes firemen, teachers, clerks, engineers, lawyers, etc). Big lag between current salaries and benchmark for ministers and senior civil servants.
2. Benchmark was decided in 1994. Why dispute it 13 years later?
3. Need decrease attrition rate. Private sector has become relatively more attractive.
4. Cost of ministerial pay hike is insignificant to the size of the government budget/GDP.
5. Composition of public sector salary has been changed with more MVC. Pay is linked with performance.
6. Public sector in Singapore has to take a more pro-active role compared to other countries. Hence, constant need to attract talents.
7. Having public sector talents is important to Singapore's survival or else our women will become maids in other countries.
8. Cannot have revolving door government. Need for experienced leaders.
9. It's tough being a minister - they deserve their high salaries.

Arguments against the pay hike

1. Bad timing given the recent GST hike. Ministerial salaries are always an unpopular issue. Costs too much political capital in light of the widerning income gap.
2. Unnecessary given that the pay of ministers and senior civil servants are already so high. Too high according to some. Issue of greed.
3. Hike does not address issue why young Administrative Officers (AO) are leaving public service. No clear proof that people are leaving because of low pay.
4. Main beneficiaries are ministers and senior civil servants on and above the MR4 level. Almost everyone else only see modest increase in pay.
5. Not evident that ministers and senior civil servants are worth their salaries or being properly scrutinised or assessed. Insufficient checks and balances. Ministers may not get so much in the private sector.
6. Reduces moral authority of our political leaders. Political leaders are expected to do their 'national service' by bearing some financial sacrifice..
7. Why should public sector salaries be indexed to private sector salaries?
8. No good KPI's. Salaries should be benchmarked to something else, e.g. GDP growth or GDP.
9. Civil service salaries should not be conflated with those of political leaders.
10. MR4 benchmark is wrong/unfair since it is only linked to top earners.
11. Other countries pay their leaders much much less. Why can't we do the same with ours especially since they are much bigger?
12. Before 1994, we had ministers and senior civil servants who earned much less and did a good job. Why should we have the benchmark? Civil servants =/= CFO's, CEO's, lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.