Saturday, July 18, 2009

Uncontroversial issues

Over the years, starting from the old Sintercom forum, which was shut down in 2001, and soc.culture.singapore, I've been involved in numerous online arguments with people. While I find some of the issues to be thought-provoking and interesting, many of them should have been decisively settled by sheer weight of logic and evidence. I am tired of arguing over the same things again and again, so I will be starting a series of posts to discuss some uncontroversial issues on which I have very strong views. I consider them uncontroversial because it is no longer possible for a well-informed rational person to sustain an argument over them. This does not mean that they won't touch some raw nerves. Nevertheless, arguments will continue because some people will hold on to their positions for irrational and emotional reasons.

In some sense, the series of posts will be a repository of arguments that I have used for nearly a decade. In my opinion, my arguments are still good and I have not found the need to change them.

Here is a list of uncontroversial issues that I will like to discuss:
  1. Mother tongue and ethnicity
  2. Foreign students in Singapore universities
  3. Gender equality and national service
  4. Homosexuality and the consequence of legalizing it
  5. The scholarship system
  6. Promoting bilingualism in Singapore
  7. Racism in Singapore

Hopefully, I will like to finish discussing all of them before the year is over.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bottled water or not?

I don't know what this guy is complaining about. If bottled water were banned, then can't he bring his own water bottle or go into a kopitiam and order a cup of water? No one is asking him to drink from the tap in toilets. His post becomes even more ludicrous when he says that bottled water is a 'basic right'. Excuse me but I can't seem to find the right to bottled water anywhere in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bottled water is a sheer waste of money. Hardly anyone used bottled water when I was growing up in Singapore. It didn't make any sense to me to pay money to get what I could bring from home for free. I had the habit of bringing my own water bottle when I went to the gym or to office. There were occasions when I bought bottled water but it was only when I forgot to or could not bring my own water bottle. Using bottled water is a habit that Singaporeans acquired only in the last 15 years as a result of increasing material affluence.

This reminds me of some self-centered Singaporeans who complained when they were charged 10 cents for a plastic bag on the Bring-Your-Own-Bag (BYOB) day. Excuse me but even my Chinese-educated Zaobao-reading Channel 8-viewing retiree parents know better and bring their own bags every time to NTUC. (In fact, I'm proud to say, they are more conscientious than I in terms of recycling.) They also have enough sense to bring their own water bottles when they go out.

And I haven't even touched on the environmental effects of plastic water bottles. A lot of the plastic water bottles end up in the ocean. That's how we got the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. What about the oil and gas that we have to use to produce the bottles?

Monday, July 13, 2009

S'pore aligning tax code with OECD's

This was published on Asiaone's website [link] on 2 Jul 2009.
S'pore aligning tax code with OECD's

DRAFT amendments have been made to the local tax regime to align Singapore with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's standard for the effective exchange of information on tax matters.

One proposed change will lift the domestic interest requirement for information exchanged under Double Taxation Agreements (DTA) that incorporate the OECD standard.

'The amendments will enable the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) to assist on requests from our DTA partners for information where Singapore does not have a domestic tax stake or interest in the request at hand,' said Lim Hwee Hua, Second Minister for Finance and Transport.

Also, IRAS will be given greater power and scope to request information held by banks and trust companies, as well as exchange information on taxes other than income tax, when presented with genuine requests.

The standard, however, allows the requested jurisdiction to reject requests that are frivolous or spurious in nature - otherwise known as 'fishing expeditions'.

'Banks cannot serve to harbour financial criminals, but they are equally held accountable to their clients in ensuring that confidentiality cannot be lifted without justification,' said Mrs Lim.

Other financial centres such as Hong Kong, Switzerland and Luxembourg have announced similar plans to implement the OECD standard.

The draft legislative amendments to the income tax law have been aired for public consultation until July 28.

This article was first published in The Business Times.

I'm surprised that no one has realized the significance of this move to revise our tax laws. Here's a clue [link]. Then think about Indonesia and our banking industry [link].

Obama has essentially made Singapore do what the Indonesians had asked for years. Intentionally or unintentionally, 'Barry' Obama has done a favour for his step-father's homeland. Maybe it is time for Singapore to act like an honest citizen of the world like the rest of the world.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Migrant and Stayers

The Kent Ridge Commons (KRC) has a new article Migrants and Stayers. Well, it is not exactly new because the article was written more than two years ago after Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (GCT) had said that Singapore was 'leaking talent'. Around the same time, I also offered my own perspective [link] on why Singapore was 'leaking talent'. There is a subtle but important difference between what I wrote and the KRC article. The latter concentrates on why some young Singaporeans want to leave while the former tries to explain why some Singaporeans are leaving or have left.

I'm just going to repeat myself again in this post. This is an issue that I have given much thought about over these years. After all, I left Singapore to pursue my postgraduate studies in the US and the issue is very close to my heart.

There are many reasons - social, economic and political - why many Singaporeans want to emigrate. Some people wish to leave because of the lack of political and social freedom in Singapore. Homosexuals enjoy no legal protection and we have close to no press freedom. And I can go on and on. But that's unlikely to be the main reason why people leave. Make no mistake about it: I support gay rights and I value press freedom but I am not going to say that these things are why people are leaving.

Let us consider another small country with a similar population size and a English-speaking population - New Zealand. New Zealand undeniably offers more political and social freedoms than Singapore. Nevertheless, a large proportion of their university undergraduates choose to leave NZ for Australia for sheer availability of economic opportunities. It can't be that Australia fares much better in terms of human right, can it?

Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why many Singaporeans are emigrating. In the pursuit of economic developement, we have become very much westernized over the past decades. This very high level of westernization is a result of a deliberate government policy to attract western MNCs. After all, well-trained English-speaking workers make a perfect fit to the labour needs of investors from Australia/UK/USA, much like the workers in their own countries but cheaper. The government built an English-medium education system, emphasized engineering and technical training and developed the use of information technology. Mind you, it did and still does not do this out of pure altruism or familial love for its people. Let's be clear about it: the purpose is to attract investors.

A consequence, intended or unintended, is that many young Singaporeans have become a good fit to the labour needs of MNCs... and of their home countries. That engineering diploma, which was good enough for the American MNC, has become good enough for an American company operating out of California. This means that Singaporeans have better prospects to emigrate. Singaporeans have become a much better fit to the world or to see it another way, the world has become a better fit to Singaporeans. The rest of the world has become much more comfortable - economically, socially and culturally - for Singaporeans. The catchword is 'globalization'.

Many people underestimate the difficulties of emigration. First of all, emigration involves cultural uprooting. The US, which is one of the most welcoming socities, can be difficult for an immigrant to assimilate into, especially for an Asian. I have met Koreans, Malaysians, Thai, Chinese and Japanese students who have told me that they feel out of place in the wider American society and desire to return to their home countries after spending a few years in the US. Indians don't seem to have that problem - their home country is already highly westernized (for different reasons) and they are accustomed to living in a messy complex democratic society. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Singapore's Asian culture has been drastically blanched to westernize our work force. (I confess to being one of the highly westernized.) The loss of the inclination towards cultural protectionism has led to the increased propensity of Singaporeans to emigrate.

In summary, Singaporeans are showing a greater wilingness and ability to emigrate because of the socio-cultural transformation triggered by our economic development policy. By making Singaporeans into workers more desirable for MNCs, the government has also inadvertently moulded them into better emigrants.

I hope that what I have written has shed some light on Singaporean emigration. I welcome all comments. In particular, I will like to know how Singapore should respond to the trend of increasing emigration.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Come together?

This is the logo of NDP 2009. No kidding. I'm not bluffing you.

Come together? Five fingers of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality? Reaching up? Five fingers reaching up? Was there no one in the committee that designed this who foresaw the potential for sexual innuendos and schoolboy snickers?

They told us that we had to stand up for Singapore but this is ridiculous!