Singapore Politics - Insights from the Inside

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 

S&C and rental rebates for 700,000 households
By Sharon Tong, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : The government will hand out rebates of up to four months on Service and Conservancy charges for Singaporeans living in HDB flats next year. It will also provide rental rebates of up to three months. These rebates will cost the government $48 million and benefit more than 700,000 households. This is part of the Goods and Services Tax offset packages announced in the 2002 Budget Statement. - CNA/de

Copyright © 2005 MCN International Pte Ltd

Note: You might wonder that this is one more sign that elections is coming, and you maybe right. Goodies always come before elections. But there is an added (and implicit) sign to this "freebies". I can't state this explicitly just to safeguard myself from any unwarranted accusations. Clue: Service & Conservancy Charges is received by each constituency's Town Council. Town Councils are not owned by the government, but by the Party that won that constituency. The conclusion and linkages, I'll leave it up to you. ;)

East Coast Town launches S$500m makeover programme
By Asha Popatlal, Channel NewsAsia

East Coast Town, which includes places like Bedok and Siglap, is slated for a makeover over the next 5 years in a programme with a price tag of S$500 million. Bedok is an HDB estate primarily built in the 1970s. And as the area's existing 5-year estate renewal plan winds down this December, it is time for another plan to kick in from next year. And MPs brushed off talk of elections speculation, despite Aljunied GRC also announcing its S$160 million transformation plan recently.

Professor S Jayakumar, DPM, MP - East Coast GRC, said: "People will speculate but we, the MPs, felt that together with town council the time was right because the 5-year programme has ended and we have to embark on a new one. There'll be people saying we are doing this for the elections - never mind, it's for the people." And the people welcomed it. "Even though we are paying money, still we'd like to have a new lift - good for us," said one resident.

"During the upgrading, we feel uncomfortable because the surroundings are quite messy but after upgrading, we feel it's a better place to live," said another. The bulk of the S$500 million will be spent on upgrading - mainly lift upgrading ($200m), which will be accelerated and completed within the next 5 to 10 years.

The rest of the money will be spent on main upgrading programmes, hawker upgrading, and linkways among others. But it's not just about making the estate look better. A new mobile surveillance system will be put in place by March next year in places like lift landings and car parks in crime-prone and vandalism-prone areas to make the estate safe.

And with the area being a fairly mature estate, another S$200m will be spent primarily on Main Upgrading Programmes, finishing Interim Upgrading and Hawker Upgrading. And because these are generally more expensive programmes, that is also why the price tag for this renewal project has gone up to S$500 million, compared to S$380 million for the last 5 years.

The remaining S$100 million will be spent on creating linkways, upgrading playgrounds and providing new fitness corners. Of the S$500m budget, S$150m will come from the town council and the rest from the government. - CNA/ch

Copyright © 2005 MCN International Pte Ltd

Note: Need I say more if this is another sign of elections? In the post on Heng Chee How, I was telling at82 that before the elections, LHL will look East. There is a lot of interest issues that oppositions can look to and some of it is in the East. Just some clues on what I was implying: 1) "A township that was promised but never was", 2) "Changes and retirement", 3) "Demography of Residents & Leaders", 4) "Strink or Increase in the Value of Their Roofs?". Have fun guessing! I guess politics in Singapore is not that monotonous and boring after all.

Monday, November 28, 2005 

New Polls: On PM Lee

I've just added three short polls on PM Lee, just to aggregate some opinions on his performances and leadership so far. Please "in a very PAP-democratic way" reflect your views on the polls or comment box. This should give me a brief idea on the article I could and should write on him.


Sunday, November 13, 2005 

Coming Soon: Any request?

Currently, I am in the midst of my exams and stuff. Should I survive the ordeal bestowed by Ministry of Eduction, I was thinking of writing an article on Prime Minister Lee. Oooooooh, first impressions is probably that I might run into risk of "defamation", "libel suits" for bad mouthing the PM. To be honest and not that I'm covering my own behind, he is far more capable and intelligent than most people think. At least, this is what I gathered from friends within his office and one of his former classmates from Cambridge (clue: currently a professor in one of the universities).

Nonetheless, please voice your opinions on any articles (within my limited capabilities) which you would think that I should and can write on.

And if you are curious on the inside take on the NKF incident, I heard that he (the CEO) is unlikely to be convicted of any wrongdoings. Not to put any prior judgemental comments before the proceedings, I heard that it is difficult in law to pintpoint such cases on the "misappropiation of funds". Simply because of the nature of the board and system. If he did consult the board on any use of the funds even if it is for his personal benefits, it would be only guilty of "bad management" but not "misappropriation of funds". As for the board, it is just a case of "bad judgement" rather than corruption or anything similar. Just a thought.

By the way, if you are wondering whether I was at the PAP Conference? Let's just say, maybe..just maybe... :P

Saturday, November 05, 2005 

Profile of Heng Chee How
Is He the “Eight-wonder” Minister of State or Just a One-Hit Wonder?

As promised, here is the article on Heng Chee How. Thanks to the constant reminders by Ted, I’ve have to be accountable to my word and do the write up on him. Much of the assessment on him is based on my interaction with him, for several events and activities earlier this year.

Basic Background of Heng Chee How
Born on 14 July 1961, Heng Chee How received his secondary and pre-university education at Raffles Institution. In 1980, he was awarded the Singapore Police Force Overseas Scholarship to read Economics at Cambridge University. He graduated with Second Class (Upper) Honours in 1983.

He spent the next twelve years in the Singapore Police Force, where he held both Command and Staff appointments.

In 1991, Heng was awarded the Singapore Police Force Postgraduate Overseas scholarship. He was an Edward S. Mason Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University, where he received his Masters in Public Administration in 1992.

Heng left the Singapore Police Force in 1995 to join the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). Within the Labour Movement, he held numerous appointments, including being the Chief Executive Officer of the NTUC Club, the Executive Secretary of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees Union (SISEU), the Executive Secretary of the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries (UWEEI) and the divisional director overseeing industrial relations, skills development, productivity improvement and employment assistance.

Heng was also an elected member of the NTUC Central Committee since 1997, and was appointed Assistant Secretary-General in 1997 and Deputy Secretary-General since 1999.

Heng was elected as one of five Members of Parliament for the Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency in the November 2001 General Election. He was appointed Mayor of the Central Singapore District and Chairman of the Jalan Besar Town Council in November 2001.

On 12 August 2004, Heng was appointed Minister of State for Trade and Industry. He retains the portfolios of the Mayor of the Central Singapore District and Chairman of the Jalan Besar Town Council.

Heng was a Board member of the Economic Development Board (EDB), the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the National Library Board (NLB) and the People's Association (PA). He also served on the Boards of the NTUC FairPrice co-operative, the NTUC Childcare Co-operative and the NTUC FoodFare Co-operative. He was also a member of the Economic Review Committee (ERC).

Political Life of Heng Chee How
His political career in politics was not a plain sailing one and in fact, he is one of the very few PAP candidates and Minister of State that experienced an election loss. He first entered politics in the 1997 General Election, contesting against Low Thia Kiang in the Hougang constituency ward. Up against the incumbent of Hougang, he lost the battle and scored only 42% of the votes, which is 5% lower than the previous PAP (1991 GE) candidate (Tang Guan Seng). After his loss, he joined NTUC as the Assistant Secretary-General and later, Deputy Secretary-General, a role to prepare him for the next election battle in 2001.

In 2001, he was part of the five men team led by Dr Lee Boon Yang in Jalan Besar GRC contesting in the GE. Like all the other GRC teams, they won with ease, garnering 74% of the votes. In that same year, he was appointed as the Mayor of Central Singapore District, a post he had held until today. The post of a Mayor is almost equivalent to a Minister of State but less prestigious. For a first-time Member of Parliament, the leap to the post of Mayor was quite a significant one. When he first entered the Central Singapore CDC, there was less 10 full-time staffs performing limited functions. Today, the Central Singapore CDC is a full-bodied statutory board serving 830,000 residents. Thus, he was very much credited to the development of the roles of the CDCs and the effective (but debatable) dispersion of funds to the needy.

In 2004, he was promoted to Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development while retaining his post as a Mayor. Later, he relinquished his portfolio in Ministry of Trade and Industry to take up the portfolio as the Minister of State for National Development.

His constituency under Jalan Beasr GRC is Whampoa Division. According to my sources, his grassroots at Whampoa is very strong and cohesive, partly because he has the support of majority of the market committees at Maxwell as well as Kim Keat area. Most people expect the Opposition to contest in Jalan Besar GRC in the coming GE as Dr Lee Boon Yang is likely to retire. These leave two questions for Heng Chee How:

First, who will be next incoming anchor Minister for the GRC (since he is unlikely to be promoted before the GE to a full Cabinet Minister)? Second, the incoming Minister for the GRC is likely to require his full knowledge for the election battle but would he still be in this GRC? His role in the GRC is more of being the stabilizing force for the next incoming Minister. Beside, he has election loss experience and would be able to do the ground works while the incoming full Minister adds weight to the GRC. The other strength is his position as the Mayor of Central Singapore CDC. He has the power to disperse financial assistance to the residents of Central District and in particular, his GRC. Considering Jalan Besar’s demographics and population of needy and elderly residents, the prime voting concern is not upgrades or rights issues, but bread and butter issues. And he is in the best position to bring these financial solutions to the residents. He has a wider appeal to older folks than, let’s say, Dr Ng Eng Hen or Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. These other two Ministers is expected to head their own GRC, but I would think that Lim Swee Say is the more likely candidate for Jalan Besar, considering his grassroots appeal to older folks. Swee Say will be the Secretary-General for NTUC, and has a good relation with Heng Chee How during their time in NTUC. Thus, I think in the next GE, both of them would be in the same GRC, making it reasonably strong.

My Experience with Heng Chee How
Earlier this year, I had some interaction with him for several events (undisclosed) and he came across as an unassuming, courtesy, humble and extremely patient gentlemen. One would not have known that he is a politician if they didn’t know his prior background. He definitely doesn’t have the airs of a Minister and has a common touch with laymen like us. Even though it may not be representative, my impression of him is that he lacked the political acumen and shrewdness. He is too nice and perhaps, too gentle to be a politician. He is not as eloquent as Dr Ng Eng Hen, not as charismatic as Dr Vivian, doesn’t have the “Buddhist calm” of Khaw Boon Wan and doesn’t have the analytical mind of Dr Balaji Sadasivan. However, he is a very grassroots and caring MP. He is the kind who gets things done and is more of an administrator than a leader personality type. Talking to him, you could just sense his enthusiasm and genuine concern to get the assistance across to those that desperately needs it. And in a Cabinet, you would need this kind of Minister (another one would be Lim Swee Say) to bring in the “common touch”.

Once, I had a casual conversation with another Minister (was then a Minister of State) and one of the professors asked this Minister (he was then a Minister of State) this question, “Minister, so do you think Lim Hwee Hua would be the first female full Cabinet Minister?” He said, “She is a very intelligent lady, graduate from Cambridge, similar to the likes of Lim Hng Kiang or George Yeo. Put them together, she has no problems blending into the Cabinet” “But do you need that so many highly intelligent (like graduates from Cambridge or Harvard) people in the Cabinet?” The professor asked, “Isn’t that what the Prime Minister (then Goh Chok Tong) is looking for?” Minister replied, “First, a MP should not be chosen just because she is female, but is because of her capabilities. As such, there should be no distinction between a male Minister or a female Minister but based on merits”. “Second, from my view (the Minister’s View), the Prime Minister has a choice from so many intelligent people who were formerly graduates from Ivy League Universities, but the key is not qualifications but is the capable people who can carry difficult policies to the people and convince the people that it is the best alternatives.” “Such Ministers are people like (Khaw) Boon Wan and (Lim) Swee Say, and they are valuable assets to the Cabinet”.

This is very true and in Heng Chee How’s inclusion, you could see how his role adds to the likes of Lim Swee Say and Khaw Boon Wan. Initially, he spends most of his office time in MTI but that role doesn’t really taps on his strengths. Now that he is in MND, he can assist in the role of HDB as well as to combine that of this knowledge and connections on the ground via the CDC. It remains to be seen on how far he will progress but he seems to be traveling with Prime Minister Lee and SM Goh more often than the other Ministers of States. That is one telling sign on their intention to groom him to a full Minister.

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    The author of this blog bears no responsibility for any misinterpretation, libel, defamation, injury and death as a result of reading this blog. Contents are high subjective and readers should read with caution. All readers should be 18 years and above, with half a decent brain to judge the validity of the articles.

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