Saturday, September 30, 2006

Kuan Yew's letter

Letter -- written and sealed but not posted yet.
Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has written a letter addressed to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over his remarks on the marginalisation of Chinese in Singapore's neighbours, according to The Straits Times today.

Sep 30, 2006
MM has written to PM Abdullah

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has written to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, his press secretary Y.Y. Yeong said yesterday.

She was responding to queries from the media on whether Mr Lee had replied to a letter from the Malaysian leader.

'Minister Mentor Lee has written to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi,' Madam Yeong said.

'The letter is presently with the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, ready to be personally conveyed to Prime Minister Abdullah.'

Datuk Seri Abdullah had written to Mr Lee in the wake of reactions in Malaysia to recent comments by Mr Lee about the Chinese in the country.

It is technically incorrect to say MM Lee has written to Badawi if the letter has not been delivered yet. I'm sure it will be delivered but the statement should have been made only once Badawi has received the letter, or if the letter had been handed to one of Badawi's representatives.

One would have imagined that the legalistic Singapore government would have known the difference!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bush and Kuan Yew

This video clip is damn hilarious, better than all the comedians who have impersonated US President George Bush. Click on President Bush Impersonation. But download time will be rather long.

Bush’s presentation at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner included an impersonator, Steve Bridges, who "interpreted" the president's remarks for laymen.

By the way, Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew will be meeting Bush early next month as part of his trip to the United States. But just can't imagine anyone doing an impersonation of Kuan Yew, with or without Bush. :-)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

S'pore grants political asylum to Thai leader

another farnee email!

SINGAPORE, 28 Sept 2006 (Cock News Network) -- Deposed Thai leader Thaksinga has been given political asylum in Singapore, according to well-placed sources in the Republic.

"We confirm we have given Khun Thaksinga refuge in the Istana," said a junior security official who declined to be named, referring to the official residence of the Singapore President.

"I mean it's very easy for him to see his private banker at Stanchart on Battery Road down the road," the source said.

"I hear he likes to iron his notes everyday. And he's got billions to iron."

Putting him at the Istana also makes strategic sense, according to senior political commentator Han Look Wang.

He said Thaksinga, who sold his Shiny Corp to the Singapore government investment arm Dimasek, can continue to have easy access to PM Lee's family, who use the Istana grounds for official purposes quite regularly.

"Thaksinga can still dine with with Madam mah," said Mr Han, referring to PM Lee's wife, who helps run Dimasek.

But the Shiny-Dimasek transaction, which has effectively triggered the coup that led to the ouster of Thaksinga last week, is not expected to sour the good relations between the two first families.

"Thaksinga can really talk cock one. He's better than a used car salesman. He can sell you anything!" Mr Han added.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Malays not marginalised in Singapore

Got this email today. Quite farnee.

SINGAPORE , 27 Sept 2006 (Cock News Network) – MALAYS are not marginalised in Singapore, contrary to claims from across the causeway.

"This is conclusively proven by the fact that a second Malay has won the Singapore Idol," said Gahmen spokesman Ban Vanity shortly after Hady Mirza emerged as the winner. Hady (left in the pix) beat Chinese contestant Jonathan Leong (right) in the hotly contested show watched by more than half of the island's 4 million people.

Ms Vanity pointed out that Hady is the second Malay to have clinched the coveted title, after Taufik Batisah, who also beat another Chinese, in the previous year.

"The Malays trounced the Chinese for two consecutive years in Singapore Idol. How can Dr M say Malays are marginalized in Singapore? What utter rubbish!" said a fuming Ms Vanity at the packed press conference yesterday.

She was referring to Dr M's remarks that Malays are marginalized in predominantly Chinese Singapore.

"We could ask about the status of the Malays in Singapore, why they are not allowed to bear arms in the military or train to handle weapons," Dr M ranted earlier this week.

"Why is it that the Malays in Malaysia are so capable in the military field but the Malays in Singapore cannot hold high posts?"

The Malaysian figure had said it as an angry reaction to Singapore's MM Lee's comment that the Chinese are systematically marginalized in Malaysia.

But MM Lee was not completely right about the Chinese in Malaysia, according to analysts who track the Idol phenomenon worldwide.

"A Chinese beat a Malay in last year's Malaysian Idol what!" said Sing Song Woon, referring to Daniel Lee who defeated Norhanita Hamzah for the crown in 2005.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Historical baggage, Part 4

The political temperature in Malaysia has definitely gone up one notch following Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's racial remarks last week. The Democratic Action Party, which is primarily controlled by Chinese interests in Malaysia, has backed Kuan Yew's comments that Chinese in Malaysia have been marginalised.

The Straits Times
Monday, September 25, 2006
Chinese Malaysians are marginalised: DAP
By Leslie Lau

MALAYSIA'S main opposition party has expressed agreement with the comments Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew made on how Malaysia treats its Chinese citizens. The Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) said it was an 'obvious fact' that the Chinese in Malaysia were marginalised.

'The Chinese Malaysians, together with other non-Chinese like the Indians, East Malaysians and even poor Malays, have been systematically marginalised by discriminatory government policies that only favour the rich and politically connected,' said party's secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

MM Lee's comments were criticised by the Malaysian Chinese parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as well.

Mr Lim referred to this as 'politics of denial' by BN leaders. 'It is dishonest as BN leaders themselves have stated that discriminatory government policies such as quotas and the New Economic Policy that result in some political and social marginalisation are necessary for racial harmony and national stability,' he said.

Well, it's not entirely surprising that DAP has backed the stance taken by Kuan Yew. After all, DAP was originally the Malaysian branch of Singapore's ruling party People's Action Party. There is suspicion that they still maintain close ties although they went their separate ways after the two countries separated in 1965.

Back to present reality. Why is the current situation politically charged in Malaysia? This is because:

1. The Malays do not appreciate any challenge -- internally or externally -- to their political dominance, especially when the Malays are split. Notice how leaders of the Malaysian Chinese Association -- a component of the national ruling coalition Barisan Nasional -- behave like political eunuchs and denounced Kuan Yew?

2. The Malay feud is still on-going -- the fight between former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Even they could adopt the same stance to whack Kuan Yew. Please see Historical baggage, Part 2 and 3.

3. Malaysian Chinese components of Barisan Nasional are still seething over remarks made by Badawi's son-in-law Khairy Jamaludin that non-Malay elements (read Chinese) will capitalise on the Malay disunity.

There is no danger of bloodshed or rioting in Malaysia, which has come a long way since the May 13 riots in 1969. The conditions are completely different today.

But the undercurrent remains palpable.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Historical baggage, Part 3

Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has jumped into the fray to criticise Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's racial remarks.

As former Foreign Affairs Minister, Badawi has learnt the skills to be more diplomatic, saying that he will demand a written explanation from Kuan Yew on the matter.

He is different from former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad who didn't pull his punches in his rebuttal, which was not mentioned in the New Straits Times or The Star reports.

But will Badawi declassify letter should he get one from Kuan Yew on the highly emotional issue? We have to wait and see.

Explain yourself, PM tells Kuan Yew
By Deborah Loh

24 September, 2006

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia wants an explanation. The Prime Minister will write to Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew seeking an explanation for his remarks that Malaysian Chinese had been 'marginalised' and were 'compliant'.

The comments could cause racial tension, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday, adding that a stable Malaysia was crucial to Singapore's well being.

"I will write a letter to him. I want him to explain his statement,'' Abdullah told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport yesterday upon arrival from London, after a two-week working trip abroad (Pix from the The Star).

He was asked if he would demand an apology from Lee, whose statement has been criticised by DPM Najib Razak and Chinese politicians, including Gerakan president Dr Lim Keng Yaik.

"Najib said it was a naughty statement and I agree. But it is also a statement which can incite Malaysian citizens of Chinese descent. It is not fair at all, for a neighbouring country to say that.

"Lee should understand that our relationship with Singapore is one that has to be nurtured well. He should appreciate the stability we have on our side, because if we are not stable, Singapore will have problems," Abdullah said.

Lee made his remarks at a forum last week.

Abdullah said Lee's statement was "not welcomed" and the republic's founding father had appeared to show no qualms about making such a highly-charged remark.

"Singapore too has problems in terms of race relations. Not everything there is 100 per cent perfect," Abdullah added.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thai cool pix

Rather surreal pictures in the wake of the military coup in Thailand early this week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Historical baggage, Part 2

Well, it should not come as a surprise that former Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad has condemned Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew's statements on Malaysia's race issues.

Pix of Kuan Yew and Dr M during a bilateral meeting in Putrajaya in Malaysia in September 2001. Despite all the smiles, everyone present then was quite sure that their skeletal agreements to resolve all the outstanding bilateral problems, including the sale of water to Singapore, would not last.

Dr M's quotes in Bernama report, 22 Sept 2006:

He's not bothered with his neighbours. That is why he deliberately raised something he knew to be sensitive in our country.

We could ask about the status of the Malays in Singapore, why they are not allowed to bear arms in the military or train to handle weapons.

Why is it that the Malays in Malaysia are so capable in the military field but the Malays in Singapore cannot hold high posts (in the military)?

Why is it that the Malays in Singapore are marginalised to the extent that they have no status at all?

This is done deliberately by Singapore. There is no other country that does it like them.

The Chinese in Malaysia can join the military and rise to become general, major general and so on. But what is the per capita income of the Malays in comparison with the Chinese in Singapore?

We should have an independent investigation on why the Malays are left behind in Singapore.

It is not because they are lacking compared to the Malays in Malaysia but because they are pressured, marginalised and oppressed. That is the kind of government founded on the views of Lee Kuan Yew.

You should just guard your own rice bowl. You are not that clever. In a small group, perhaps you seem clever.

But when he goes to China, the Chinese there don't want to listen to him.

The Chinese in China don't think much of him and it is a fact that he is marginalised by Chinese in the world.

Please see earlier posting and Kuan Yew's full quotes below for the context of the latest barbed exchange, and Dr M's blunder.

Mr Lee also said it was important for Singapore to have a government that was 'really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute'.

'My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they're hardworking and therefore they are systematically marginalised, even in education,' he explained.

'And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese, compliant. So every time we say 'no' to some scheme to knock down the Causeway and build a bridge, he says 'Oh, you are not cooperative'. You are only thinking of yourself.'

Mr Lee explained that Singapore eventually said it would agree if there were 'commensurate benefits'.

'But you need a government that will be able to not only have the gumption but also the skill to say no in a very quiet, polite way that doesn't provoke them into doing something silly.'

Great Malaysia sale

This podcast is quite farnee -- Great Malaysia Sale from mrbrown. Downloading may take some time though.

Can also read earlier postings comparing policemen in Malaysia and Singapore, Malaysian police, and Singapore police.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thai coup

Dad was right about the impending coup in Thailand to help break the political deadlock in the country. He was only off by three months. :-)

As correctly pointed out by many pundits, Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings effectively triggered the coup!

The whole saga started when Temasek's purchase of Shin Holdings from the family of premier Thaksin Shinawatra caused a groundswell of unhappiness. This led to a series of complex events, culminating in the coup on Tuesday night.

Anyway, it's rather incongruous that many countries have been quick to condemn the military coup, while many Thais in the capital seem to support the seizure of power.

Well, many democratic countries have to chastise any non-democratic means in seizing power. Are they too presumptuous to condemn the coup?

As pointed out by dad's colleague, Thailand has a generally benign military like the Philippines. So, is it wise to condemn a coup that has been blessed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- the paramount moral leader of Thailand?

Similarly, what was wrong in backing a military coup (non-democratic means) that accompanied the People's Power movement that overthrew corrupted Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos in 1986?

The situation is Thailand is more complex. According to conventional wisdom, most rural Thais continue to support Thaksin. Most city dwellers continue to spit on him.

Historical baggage

This is another example of the historical baggage of Malaysia and Singapore ever since they split in 1965 due to differences over their political systems.

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak made the comments below as a rebuttal to Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's earlier comments about its predominantly Muslim neighbours at the Raffles Forum organised by the LKY School of Public Policy during the IMF/World Bank week.

Malaysia chides Singapore's Lee over race comments
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Malaysia denied on Thursday that it mistreated its ethnic Chinese minority, responding to criticism from former Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew.

"It's a comment that we can do without. It is not appreciated at all," Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said, referring to recent remarks made by Lee.

Lee told a forum in Singapore last Friday that it was vital for Singapore, a predominantly ethnic Chinese state, to stand up to its bigger, mainly Muslim neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"Our neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful. They are hard-working and therefore they are systemically marginalised," Lee said.

Singapore and Malaysia have deep economic ties, but diplomatic relations are often strained. The two countries briefly united as one country in 1963 but separated two years later in a falling out related to racial politics.

Indonesia and Malaysia "want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese -- compliant", said Lee, who was Singapore's prime minister from 1965 to 1990.

Najib said Malaysia did not marginalise ethnic Chinese or Indians in favour of majority ethnic Malays, who are known as bumiputras (sons of the soil).

"Malaysia does not practise a policy of blocking opportunities for non-bumiputras to progress further," he said.

Who's right? Well, the situation is not so simple in the two neighbouring countries.

Yes, the Chinese are marginalised in predominantly Malay Malaysia. Not through direct blocking of opportunities for non-Malays as mentioned by Najib, but through the unfair and exuberant promotion of Malay interests.

Yes, the Malays are seen to be marginalised in predominantly Chinese Singapore. After all, there are few key positions in Singapore that are held by Malays.

Is there true or absolute meritocracy in the two countries? Not at all.

Malays have an unfair advantage over non-Malays in Malaysia as part of the affirmative action policy called bumiputra policy, which should have expired in 1990. It's still going strong. No wonder so many Malaysian Chinese move to Singapore in search of true meritocracy.

But is there real meritocracy in Singapore? To a certain extent, yes. The government has always tried to attract the best talent, regardless of race or nationality. But there will always be rumblings on the ground about the influx of "foreign talent" into the country.

Does Singapore need its own bumiputra policy to safeguard its locals?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

IMF reformasi

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) has finally decided to give some of the poorer club members a bigger say.

The reform, which took place during the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Singapore, has been billed as the biggest shake-up in the fund since it was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The four beneficiaries are fast-growing China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey. China's new share of quotas is 3.72 per cent (from 2.98), Mexico's is 1.45 per cent (from 1.21), South Korea's is 1.35 per cent (from 0.77), and Turkey's is 0.55 per cent (from 0.45).

Time to pop the champagne? Time to embrace the IMF again?

Not quite.

There is still a need for greater structural reforms within the IMF before it could truly be seen as an impartial global financial policeman.

First, tinkering with the voting power or quota has not changed the overall equation.

The United States, which will see its voting power ease by a marginal 0.3 percentage points to 17.1 per cent, continues to have the final say. This is because the charter allows for veto by countries with more than 15 per cent of the voting power. In other words, no major changes can take place within the IMF without Uncle Sam's nod.

Also, critics of the IMF have always pointed out that the Group of Seven industrialised countries has a voting bloc of 45 per cent. This reinforces the view that the fund acts predominantly in the interests of rich countries.

Second, the perception of IMF as the trojan horse of developed nations will continue to make poorer countries resist the IMF, especially after the Asian financial crisis nearly ten years ago.

True, the crisis was triggered by the Asian countries' flawed policies in some instances. There was no doubt many Asian countries had to reform their faulty economic and political systems then. But the foreign and mainly Western capital must also share the blame, and be regulated to help avoid sudden and overly destabilising effect on the real economies.

Instead, only the stricken economies were forced to swallow overly bitter medicine.

The IMF approach was flawed. It was a prescription that could have strangled even the fittest economies. To restore faith in battered currencies, one of the IMF suggestions was tight credit policies, which meant high interest rates at a time when many businesses were still reeling from the currency devaluation effect. High interest rates could have helped restore confidence in currencies in the short term but many companies collapsed.

Has anyone noticed how many foreign and mainly Western companies ended up as big buyers of distressed assets in IMF wards -- Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea -- at bargain prices during the crisis?

The IMF is now trying to rebrand itself, moving into the so-called "multilateral surveillance" -- essentially a platform to consult with multiple countries at the same time on problems that affect all of them.

One key agenda is addressing the global imbalances -- the big surpluses chalked up by Asian nations and the huge external deficit of the US.

Can IMF be truly impartial in coming up with proposals to help achieve a global equilibrium? Highly unlikely. This is because any proposal that does not quite favour the US will be shot down by the US.

And with such a checkered legacy during the Asian crisis, it is difficult to listen to the IMF preaching about reforms in countries, especially when it is unable to undertake big reforms itself.

Outdoor Protests, Part 3

These are pictures that didn't make it to mainstream newspapers in Singapore.

The pictures show opposition politician Chee Siok Chin being barred from staging a protest march in downtown Singapore during the IMF/World Bank meet.

Visit blogger PK's Digital Diarrhoea to get a better feel of the situation.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Lee's Memoirs

Dad said it's a great book. I shall try to read volume 2 of Lee Kuan Yew's Memoirs -- From Third World to First. But it's so bloody thick. Let me sniff at the book first. :-) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Malu Malaysia

Malaysia has not been getting fantastic press coverage either. The world press has had a field day reporting and dissecting the protracted bickering between PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Badawi remains a beseiged leader although he's unlikely to be unseated by Dr M. And despite all the pledges to carry out reforms as part of his electoral promise, people are just not convinced that Badawi has the political will or clout to carry them out.

And the official and unofficial response to points raised by Dr M has been less than convincing, to say the least.

For example, Dr M has been harping on details of the bridge discussions between Badawi's administration and Singapore, urging Badawi to declassify documents to prove him wrong. Instead, the government 'declassified' documents of negotiations between Dr M and Singapore. The documents were released by Singapore in the first place -- long before Badawi became premier!

And although Dr Mahathir failed to get enough votes to speak as a delegate at the Umno convention in November, nobody is convinced that he lacks the grassroot support in his current crusade. Many suspect that the government mobilised its machinery to snuff out and humiliate Dr M in the division election in his own constituency, which he had led for more than three decades.

This abridged article is another example of rumblings in Umno.

The Straits Times
Sep 16, 2006
Umno MPs startle party by criticising Abdullah
Comments by two lawmakers suggest PM should beware of perceptions of his inaction

By Malaysia Correspondent, Carolyn Hong

IN KUALA LUMPUR - TWO Umno MPs went against the grain this week by openly criticising the Prime Minister for his lacklustre reform initiatives.

Speaking in Parliament earlier this week, the two MPs - one a respected veteran and the other somewhat of a maverick - said Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi's pledges have not been met with real action.

Former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the MP for Gua Musang in Kelantan, was quoted as saying that cronyism was still rampant and projects were still awarded based on who one knew rather than on one's merit.

'We are seen as producing rent-seekers in new forms,' he said.

He also criticised the government for not doing enough to kick-start the sluggish economy and described the Ninth Malaysia Plan as unexciting.

Tengku Razaleigh, who rarely makes comments on political controversies, is a veteran politician whose views are still much respected.

He was the only Umno leader to have posed a serious challenge to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when, in 1987, he took him on for the Umno presidency. He lost narrowly.

He was not the only one who startled fellow MPs. Another MP from Kelantan, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who represents Kota Baru, used even stronger words in Parliament.

Datuk Zaid, an outspoken politician, said there has yet to be any real reforms, perhaps 'due to Abdullah's lack of political support'.

He said there has been no political will to combat corruption, and the Abdullah administration had also failed to use the concept of Islam Hadhari, or progressive Islam, to create a clean political culture.

He warned that if PM Abdullah did not right the wrongs of the Mahathir era, there was no difference between the two men.

The two MPs are so far the only ones to have spoken out against the Prime Minister. It is not an indication of a breaking of ranks because they are regarded as slightly out of the mainstream of Umno.

But it is nevertheless a significant development in the light of Datuk Seri Abdullah's prolonged battle with Tun Dr Mahathir, as Umno leaders are expected to defend the Prime Minister.

The two MPs do not support Tun Dr Mahathir, but their critical views are a strong hint that Datuk Seri Abdullah may find himself on slippery ground if he continues to be perceived as lackadaisical in fulfilling his pledges.

Tun Dr Mahathir has already adroitly tapped into this seam of unhappiness over the lacklustre economy several times in his talks.

Malu Singapore

This news is damn malu (embarassing) for Singapore. The about-turn came shortly after the Singapore government said no to admitting some of the so-called bad apples. What a flip flop!

The turn of events is also embarassing because CSOs are now protesting against Singapore, instead of holding banners to denounce IMF or the World Bank as originally planned. Pix from Al-Jazeera website.

The Straits Times
Sep 16, 2006
S'pore agrees to admit 22 of 27 blacklisted activists
By Li Xueying

SINGAPORE will allow 22 of the 27 civil society activists it had objected to previously to enter the country after all.

In an unexpected statement last night, the Singapore organising committee for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings said:

'Based on input provided by the IMF and World Bank this morning, the S2006 Organising Committee has reviewed the list of 27 CSO representatives whose entry was subject to interview by Singapore. The S2006 Organising Committee has decided to allow the entry of 22 of the 27 CSO representatives.' CSO refers to civil society organisations.

The remaining five activists will be 'subject to interview and may not be allowed in', if they try to enter Singapore. As in previous statements, the 27 were not named.

Singapore had earlier objected to their accreditation to attend the meetings, citing security and law and order concerns.

Hours before the about-turn, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said that Singapore had inflicted 'enormous damage' to its reputation. Describing its actions as 'unacceptable', he told a meeting with the CSOs that he had raised the matter with President SR Nathan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In the afternoon, 164 CSOs announced a boycott of all official IMF-World Bank events.

Mr Wolfowitz said that Singapore would have to decide whether to show it was 'authoritarian' or 'at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process'.

His comments, the harshest yet, came after a week of wrangling between the IMF, the World Bank and Singapore over the issue.

It began on Monday, when Singapore police announced that the activists could be barred, igniting widespread criticism from CSOs and the two institutions.

On Wednesday, the World Bank accused Singapore of breaking the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003, when it was made the host of this year's meetings. It invited a response from Singapore that it would honour the pact, but that it also had to weigh security concerns seriously.

The decision last night was met with a muted response from activists - both in Singapore and among the blacklisted activists, many of whom are in Batam for a CSO forum. Some said it came too late.

Said Ms Shalmali Guttal of Focus on the Global South, from Batam: 'I think the Government really owes us an explanation for why there was even a blacklist in the first place... we will come to claim our space.''

Oh, and PM Lee Hsien Loong and father Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew filed a suit against Far Eastern Economic Review over an article on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan
early this week -- when the entire world media attention is focussed on Singapore for the wrong reasons. Not exactly the best timing. Sigh!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Singapore bans IMF, Worst Bank chiefs

Latest hot news from a new CNN!!!

Singapore bans IMF, Worst Bank chiefs
By Cakap Ayam and Sophie Kok

SINGAPORE, Sept 14 (CakapAyam News Network) -- In a shocking move, the Singapura government has banned I'M Fired (IMF) managing director Rodeo de Rato and Worst Bank president Paul Cry Wolfwolf from entering the country for attempts to incite riots.

"It's very serious. Their call to allow demonstrators to demonstrate freely in Singapura is tantamount to rioting. We can't accept that," government spokesman Ban Vanity told CNN. "They mocked our system without offering any constructive advice on how to handle the trouble makers."

The terse statement, which was reminiscent of the rebuke of popular blogger mrbrown for mocking the high cost of living in the serene island, came amid mounting pressure on Singapore to ease its tough stance on protesters.

The government's decision to ban 28 out of 500 protesters accredited by the Twins of Bretton Woods has caused an international outcry.

But Singapore will not capitulate to the foreign demands.

"If we allow them to run amok, our people will also want to follow. How can like that?" said senior government official Chin Kia See.

The senior government official said IMF and Worst Bank chiefs should stop their calls for riot.

"They should kuai kuai come here and network with our bright scholars and businessmen. We can discuss ways to make more money lah," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Wolfwolf plans to take his protest to the Suntac demonstration corner with his entire Worst Bank staff.

Unfortunately, the Worst Bank has gotten so fat they couldn't fit into that little corner that the republic has set aside for such world public events.

Police spokesman See Bay Tau said all his anti biological, chemical and nuclear warfare squad will be ready to meet Mr Wolfwolf since he has a history of unleashing shock-and-awe initiatives on his adversaries in the past.

Please see another version in

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Outdoor Protests, Part 2

Singapore, which is hosting the IMF/World Bank meet, is hogging the headlines for the wrong reasons.

There has been a growing call for Singapore to soften its stance on protesters. Singapore has so far barred 28 out of 500 protesters accredited by the two organisations from entering the country on security grounds.

Even the European Union has jumped into the fray, urging Singapore not to bar the activists.

According to a Reuters report out of Brussels, a statement from the Finnish EU Presidency said the activists had been accredited by the World Bank and should have the right to participate.

"The Presidency of the European Union is worried about the decision of the Singaporean authorities," it said. "The Presidency considers civil society participation an indispensable part of the World Bank and IMF Annual meetings."

The World Bank in a separate statement again urged the city-state to allow the activists into the country, saying the move by the Singapore government was a breach of an earlier agreement.

"This is a breach of the formal agreement we had with the government of Singapore, in a September 23, 2003 memorandum of understanding," an aide to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said in a statement.

"We work with these representatives of civil society and we value their role -- even when we disagree with what they say," the World Bank said in the statement.

Singapore is not expected to back down. Furthermore, daddy understands that Singapore pledged 'reasonable' access to demonstrators in the MOU. The MOU didn't spell out all the terms that were deemed reasonable for protesters.

Obviously, Singapore has a narrower definition of what is deemed reasonable for demonstrators, activists or protesters in the country.

Outdoor Protests

The two main Singapore newspapers have backed the government stance on the ban of outdoor protests during the IMF/World Bank meet this week.

According to The Straits Times in an editorial entitled "Warfare or business?", the decision to ban outdoor protests was a judgment made by the security authorities with the interests of the Singaporean people uppermost in their minds. Singaporeans would expect nothing less.

Pix from cyberspace of IMF-related street protest at Czech Republic for illustration purpose.

Similarly, The Business Times' editorial entitled "Right to ban outdoor protests" thundered that while Singapore's position may not please some parties, it is entirely consistent with what the country stands for. The editorial echoed Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's point that Singapore cannot have a different set of rules for its citizens and another for foreigners - street demonstrations have been banned here since the 1960s.

The BT editorial went one step further, saying: "Singapore's political culture may eventually have to be more open than it is now, as its society matures and evolves. But that is a transition for it to make at a pace dictated by its own comfort levels, not outsiders."

The two papers have taken the right position. Singapore has all the right to ban outdoor demonstrations or decide who should or should not be barred from entering the island, regardless of what the rest of the world think. It's the sovereign right of every independent nation.

As the BT editorial suggests, the pace of liberalisation must be dictated by the country's own comfort levels. And in analysing its own comfort level, Singaporeans must re-assess the premise for banning outdoor protests in the first place.

The premise -- the torn social fabric as a result of the riots in the 1960s -- may not be so applicable today. Singapore has moved from third world to first world in forty years. With the tremendous improvement in the standards of living, Singaporeans are less likely to be swayed by emotions and rhetoric. In other words, rich people are less likely to riot or run amok!

Singapore can afford to give more room for healthy dissent in whatever form of protest further down the road as long as it is not destructive (for example, protesters should not loot or destroy physical properties) . There must be a reasonable avenue or channel for people to vent their frustration or feelings of injustice, without fear of being arrested or accused of inciting riots. How long can you keep the lid on the pressure cooker?

The change, at the country's own comfort levels, can be done without the undertone of a revolution.

PS: Although Singapore has set aside space for protest by civil society organisations during the IMF meet, the conditions are simply too stringent.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Singapore and Sept 11

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. All major newspapers have extensive coverage of the event that changed the course of world history.

There is no exception in Singapore. The Straits Times dedicated big space to commemorate the anniversary, which coincides with the big International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting in Singapore.

Security has been tightened considerably as a result of the event -- the biggest to be held in Singapore. The government has also reiterated that the tough stance, which includes banning 28 protesters out of 500 members of civil society organisations accredited by the Twins of Bretton Woods, is partly due to the fact that Singapore is a terrorist target.

But Singapore must do some deep soul-searching on its long-term plan to counter terrorism.

One obvious and tacit reason for being seen as a potential terrorist target is Singapore's almost unflinching support for the Big Bully called the United States. US President George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 although there was no clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction. And Singapore continued to support the Big Bully even after it was established that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the first place.

Here's an abridged ST article stating Singapore's position on the war that was clearly and unequivocally wrong.

Mar 12, 2004
S'pore was right to back war in Iraq
By Eugene Low

SINGAPORE was not wrong to throw its support behind the United States-led war on Iraq as the aftermath of the conflict and resulting curbs on the spread of banned weapons has made for a safer regional and international environment.

Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jayakumar acknowledged there are those who question the wisdom of Singapore's move especially now that Washington is unable to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - which prompted American-led action in the first place.

Washington and London launched inquiries into why their intelligence agencies did not get it right. Regardless of the outcomes, he said, the global threat of WMD proliferation real 'and must always be of real concern to a small, densely populated country like Singapore'.

Disagreeing with the view that Singapore was 'too pro-US', he said protecting national interests lay at the heart of the matter. It is not simply about agreeing with the US on everything. In fact, Singapore does not see eye to eye with it on issues such as Palestine, Myanmar and cloning. Neither does support for the US come at the expense of ties with other countries as it is not 'a zero-sum game'.

But he also stressed the uniqueness of links with the US, as it is a 'force for stability' and a 'source of investments, technology and know-how'. 'Ultimately, what guides us in our foreign policy is our national interest. And that remains our fundamental approach.'

Singapore will have to grapple with terrorism for many years, especially since networks are deeply embedded in South-east Asia. 'We cannot deal with the terrorist threat alone. The struggle against terrorism is and will be a global one, and only the US has the capability to lead it,' he said.

Has the world become a safer place as a result of the war? Obviously not. Security has been beefed up everywhere but you will never know when or where the next strike will take place.

Can Singapore be vigilant 24/7? Is it too high a price to pay to support the Big Bully?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Singapore's Hinterland

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has pitched the southern state of Johor as the Shenzhen for neighbouring Singapore. He said this in his meeting with with its premier Lee Hsien Loong on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki.

According to ST, Lee said both he and Badawi expressed hope that Singapore and Malaysia would be able 'to continue to develop their cooperation in many areas and move forward'.

Badawi also spoke about ongoing projects to develop Southern Johor, and likened Singapore to playing the role of Hong Kong while Johor would be like Shenzhen in China. The report described it as a mutually beneficially relationship between the two territories.

Lee gave his full support to the plan: 'I said I fully agreed and we supported Johor becoming prosperous and successful with Singapore and we hoped we would be able to work together on this.'

Badawi also said plans to develop the South Johor Economic Region were meant to 'complement' and not 'compete' with the Republic, and that it would be a 'win-win' situation.

Great sound bites. But is it really a win-win situation? Well, almost.

Singapore can continue to count on Johor as its biggest hinterland, moving lower-end factories across the causeway. At the same time, Johor can continue to rake in big dollars by doing very little as it has done in the last three decades, thanks to massive Singapore investments and tourism dollars due to the strong Singapore dollar.

But the HK-Shenzhen kind of relationship also means that Johor will never rival Singapore, as envisioned by former Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He had wanted Johor to rival Singapore as the new investment destination -- not as a hinterland like Shenzhen. Dr M helped push for the development of Port of Tanjung Pelepas, which captured two of the biggest clients from Singapore's PSA.

Dr M had other big plans for the state -- turn Senai Airport into a major rival to Changi Airport in Singapore, a financial centre, a double-tracking railway network from Johor Baru all the way to southern Thailand, a new city near the Second Link, and a new transportation hub to replace the old causeway.

Badawi has taken some of the ideas and re-packaged them as his South Johor masterplan. But he has scrapped the double-tracking and the bridge projects, among other things.

Johor Baru will remain a relative backwater next to Singapore without all the plans to alleviate the third-world traffic gridlock in the Malaysian city, exacerbated by the big number of Singapore cars in the state.

In other words, Johor will remain a hinterland to Singapore.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dance with Me

Posted by Picasa

OK, enough of serious blogging today. Here's something light -- Me dancing with mommy! :-)

Naked Black Woman

This is the winner of the 25th UOB Painting of the Year Competition for the painting entitled Charisse by Namiko Chan Takahashi. The organiser said it is a "portrait of a strong, witty and self-assured woman". Other winners are captured in this list.

Nice painting but not quite sure why it is described as witty. What is even more interesting is the observation of the panel of judges, who noted that "some contour lines do not correspond with the naturalistic rendition of the human body and this accentuates strong characterisation of the individual, which is an unusual approach to a representational painting".

Sounds rather cheem! :-)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dr M's Defeat

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lost a major battle in his tussle with current leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Earlier today, Dr M failed to garner enough votes to become a delegate for the upcoming convention of the United Malays National Organisation or Umno. As a delegate at the annual meeting of the ruling party in November, he would have been able to voice his grouses more effectively and may even engineer a motion of no-confidence on Badawi.

Will this be the end of the political bickering in Malaysia?

Don't bet on it. Dr M is not likely to shut up even though his former party division has rebuffed him for whatever reasons.

Mao and Others

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong, the man who established the People's Republic of China in 1949 and was once known in the country as the "great leader" and the "great helmsman".

According to reports, there was no celebration in China to commemorate the event. Instead, reports highlighted Mao-backed movements like the Great Leap Forward -- a disastrous attempt at speedy industrialization -- and the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution that led to tens of millions of deaths.

Will future generations remember some of the statesmen of Asean countries? Or will they fade away like Mao?

The legacy of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years, hinges partly on his current fight with chosen successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew is still an overly dominant political figure although he stepped down in 1990 after 31 years in office.

In Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra has lost some of his political clout ever since he struck the controversial deal to sell his flagship Shin Corporation to Singapore's government investment arm Temasek Holdings this year.

In Indonesia, former strongman Suharto left office ignominously in 1998 following massive street protests that ended his three-decade dictatorship.

Future generations will probably have mixed feelings about some of the Asean leaders. But they can take comfort in the fact that they did not purge millions of their fellow citizens.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Malay Warrior

A little bit of Malayan history has been literally unearthed in Singapore. According to newspaper reports, a chieftain of Perak who was banished from the state together with his father-in-law following the death of the first British resident during the colonial times in the late 19th century has been exhumed from a Muslim cemetry in Singapore.

The Perak chieftain was Tengku Menteri Ngah Ibrahim and the victim -- J.W.W. Birch, the Malaysian state's first British Resident. Image of Malay revolt after the death of Birch from the website of Perak museum.

But newspaper reports -- and historical accounts -- differ slightly on the reasons for the killing of Birch.

ST's report said he was murdered, which suggests a criminal act by the duo. NST's version said he was assassinated, which gives the impression that the killing had political or ideological motivation.

The online version of Today gave more insights into the incident: The tale dates to 1875, when four men were implicated in the assassination of Perak's first British Resident, James Birch. No concrete evidence linked them to the crime, but they were denied their right to a trial and banished to the Seychelles in 1877.

All newspapers agree on one current account -- Perak royals and senior officials mounted a hero's welcome in Lumut to receive the remains.

An account of Birch in Wikipedia gave several reasons for the killing.

He was killed on 2 November 1875 by a local Malay chief, Dato Maharajalela and his friend Sipuntum, in Pasir Salak, near today's Teluk Intan (Teluk Anson), because of his disrespect to the local custom and tradition, and conflict with local chiefs.

Birch's assassination was ultimately due to the fact that he outlawed slavery in Perak. Dato Maharajalela, whose income depended on capturing and selling the indigenes of Perak or
Orang Asli as slaves, was then incensed and plotted with some of the slave-traders to kill Birch by spearing him when he was taking his bath in the river.

Whatever the real motivation for the killing (a more neutral term) was, historians in Malaysia will always credit the duo for the first uprising against the British colonialists.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cheaper Flights?

Will Malaysia and Singapore strike a deal to liberalise the popular but expensive KL-Singapore air route? Talks are still going on following the well-publicised meeting of the transport ministers of the two countries earlier this week.

Whatever the outcome, it is blatantly clear that the move is long overdue as the route is effectively monopolised by Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Malaysia Airlines (MAS). They have both fixed high prices -- at more than S$300 for a confirmed round-trip ticket -- to the detriment of consumers.

The two airlines have managed to keep prices high despite the growing number of budget carriers -- Malaysia's AirAsia, Singapore's Tiger Airways and Australia's Jetstar -- in the region since 2003.

This is because MAS and SIA have a virtual monopoly on the KL-Sing route as a result of a 32-year air services agreement between the two countries. According to an earlier report in The Straits Times, this restricts competition on the route, leading to SIA and MAS operating eight out of 10 flights, or 154 out ofthe 184 flights a week.

Whatever the outcome of the current talk, the point will be moot come 2008. Why? This is because the KL-Singapore sector will have to open up anyway by then under the Asean open skies pact. Of course, Malaysia could still resist the Asean spirit, as it did in the automobile sector. Malaysia was tardy in opening up its car sector under the Asean Free Trade Agreement, or Afta, in the bid to protect national carmaker Proton.

But there is less need to be protective of MAS as its role is gradually taken over by Tony Fernandes' pace-setting AirAsia. Following yet another restructuring of MAS, AirAsia has taken over most of the domestic routes -- long deemed unprofitable by MAS despite heavy government subsidies.

Another ramification is the potential demise of many buses plying the 320-km Singapore-KL route, if Tony could deliver his promise to price the airline seats cheap. He can always price his seats cheaper than the national carriers but can he price them lower than buses? It's not so easy although there will be a limited number of headline-grabbing cheap air tickets for the 45-min flight. It's another story when you try to book them! Will dwell on AirAsia's plus and minus points on another day.

Another interesting scenario is the possibility of a bullet train service from KL to Singapore, which could cut travel time to just 90 minutes. This will be a lot faster than going by road (3 to 5 hours) or trains operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (6-8 hours). Again, it's not so clear if the two governments can strike a deal for the project by Malaysia's YTL Corporation.

Whatever the outcome of all the plans, the two governments must do more to make it easier for the citizens of the two countries to travel seamlessly between Malaysia and Singapore. The current situation is less than satisfactory to accommodate the high traffic volume.

The heavy traffic in the KL-Sing sector reflects the closeness of the people in the two countries despite differences between the two governments.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dr M's Blunder

Finally, a Malaysian politician has said the obvious thing publicly although it is something that has been widely discussed in the cocktail circuits in Malaysia and Singapore.

Sep 6, 2006
Mahathir 'shouldn't have left Cabinet'

SUNGAI PETANI (KEDAH) - FORMER Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad would have fared better if he had remained in the Cabinet, Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said.

But it was too late now as 'he has missed the boat'. He said Tun Dr Mahathir should have emulated Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who chose to remain within the government after serving as prime minister for 31 years.

'Lee Kuan Yew is smarter than Tun (Dr Mahathir) for he chose to remain as a minister mentor to the government after stepping down as prime minister,' Datuk Zainuddin told reporters after a visit yesterday to Kampung Bujang, near Sungai Petani.

'That way, he is still able to contribute to the government and be involved in the country's administration,' he said, referring to Mr Lee. -- THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BERNAMA

It has been one of Dr M's biggest mistakes to relinquish all his political and government posts when he retired in Oct 2003 after 22 years in office, instead of staying on as a minister in the cabinet like Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew. Kuan Yew stayed on as Senior Minister and later became Minister Mentor. (In Singapore, the parliamentary hierarchy is Prime Minister, Senior Minister and Minister Mentor).

Dr M (right) and former Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew (left) in their meeting in Putrajaya in KL in August 2000 -- the Singapore statesman's first visit to Malaysia after he stepped down as Singapore PM in 1990.

If Dr M had stayed on as Senior Minister or Minister with Special Functions (a flexible and existing portfolio in Malaysia), he would have been able to provide a check on the current administration more effectively.

Instead, Dr M the commoner now faces the daunting government machinery in his crusade to unseat his chosen successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over major differences. Many doubt he will succeed although it is difficult to rule him out completely as he has won all his political battles in the past.

Dr M thought Badawi would have carried out his legacy as promised. Furthermore, some of the key national projects were quickly dished out on the eve of his retiremement. They included the RM14.5 billion double tracking railway project, which would have been the biggest project in Malaysia, and the contentious crooked bridge project to replace the old causeway to Singapore. Both projects have since been shelved by Badawi and associates.

It is not suprising that Dr M refused to remain in the cabinet after his retirement like Kuan Yew. It is well known that Dr M and Kuan Yew have not seen eye to eye since their early political days. They clashed in the Malaysian parliament when Singapore was part of Malaysia between 1963 and 1965.

For instance, Kuan Yew recalled in his memoirs "The Singapore Story" that Dr Mahathir, who was then an Member of Parliament representing the United Malays National Organisation, had denounced Singapore's People's Action Party in Parliament as "pro-Chinese, communist-oriented and positively anti-Malay".

Hence, Dr M probably did whatever he could to avoid being seen as following the footsteps of Kuan Yew, who stepped down in Nov 1990 after 31 years as Singapore's longest-serving premier.

It remains one of Dr M's biggest political blunders.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Carribean Chinese

Wow, my daddy's uncle is as prolific as my daddy! He has just sent us another article that was published in Sing Tao Daily in Hong Kong. How does he find the time???? Maybe I should not spend so much time gnawing on my bones. hmmmm

Anyway, here's something unfamiliar to many readers -- Chinese in the Caribbean, which is simply part of the bigger Chinese diaspora.

Recently Beijing’s leaders have been visiting many African countries but I would like to suggest that we should also cultivate Chinese ties with the countries of the Carribean. This is because 2006 marks the 200th anniversary of the first arrival of Chinese migrants in British Trinidad, from which island the Chinese communities extended their presence to many other countries in that part of the world.

While in New York recently I came across an interesting book which tells the remarkable story, for the first time as far as I know, of the early Chinese migration to the islands of the Carribean. The book reveals a fascinating account of how large numbers of our compatriots travelled to the West Indies and how they then subsequently spread out throughout North America. Their motive was always economic, which remains the main reason for mass migration even today.

It was in the year 1806 that 192 Chinese were first recruited in Macau, Penang and Calcutta by trading agents (the equivalent of today’s employment agencies) to go and work in Trinidad. That fateful first shipload of Chinese took more than two months to complete the long journey and eight of the Chinese sadly died on the arduous journey. Once in Trinidad some of the migrants soon decided to emigrate to other parts of the Carribean.

But it was that humble start in 1806 that led to the subsequent mass migration of Chinese to the West Indies. Within a few years another 18,000 Chinese arrived in the West Indies excluding the 125,000 who migrated to the large island of Cuba. Another 100,000 Chinese chose to find work further south in Peru. Of course these figures pale into insignificance when compared with the 6.5 million Chinese migrants to various parts of southeast Asia during the 19th century.

There were though one or two fascinating factors about the Chinese who made it to the Carribean. For instance, the vast majority were Hakka who usually found work on the sugar plantations. Later on many Hakka moved to find no doubt more exciting employment in gambling dens and brothels of Belize (then known as British Honduras). The island of Jamaica was a late starter with its first 300 Chinese only landing there in the year 1854 but Cuba became the favourite place with some 140,000 arriving during a 30-year period and most of those originated from the Pearl river delta.

As time passed the descendants of the first Carribean Chinese began to look for work further afield. Thus it was that a large segment of Cuba’s Chinese community emigrated to settle in New York and became an important ingredient of that city’s Chinatown. It was those Chinese who introduced Chinese cuisine to New Yorkers. Little did they know that one day Chinese cooking would become a famous household name throughout north America.

It is also interesting to learn that many descendants of the Hakkas working in the West Indies decided to migrate to Toronto. No doubt this was not because they loved Canadian winters but because the employment opportunities were good. In both New York and Toronto those early Chinese arrivals from the Carribean soon started growing families and as they became rich they attracted more family members to join them from China and elsewhere.

So there are very good reasons why the Beijing government should do something to mark an historical moment and commemorate the 200 years that the Chinese have resided in the Carribean.

Biggest Singapore Event, Part 3

This article in The Straits Times came as a surprise as dad thought all hotels will be filled to the brim due to the IMF/World Bank meet in Singapore in the next few days. Maybe the report is a bit premature. Dad bets all hotel rooms will be fully booked during the biggest-ever event to be staged in the tiny island.

The story didn't take into account the number of protesters that will be in Singapore during the convention although the number may not be that big. Sadly, Singapore doesn't allow people to protest freely in a civil manner.

Sep 5, 2006
Some rooms for delegates not taken up yet
Over 3,000 of 11,000 rooms set aside still available; last-minute rush not ruled out
By Lim Wei Chean

THEY were expecting full house, and had turned away guests in anticipation of a bonanza from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings.

Instead, with eight days to go, to the start of the meetings, some hotels here are dealing with the problem of empty hotel rooms.

That is because Singapore hotels seem to have confirmed bookings in only 70 per cent of the rooms that had been set aside for the meeting's delegates.

That is according to latest estimates from the organising committee for Singapore 2006, the official name for the high-profile event taking place from Sept 13 to 20.

In total, 11,000 rooms were set aside for the 16,000 delegates.

This is because some delegates are local and do not need rooms. Others could be sharing rooms. At a 70 per cent confirmation rate, there are more than 3,000 unfulfilled bookings islandwide.

Commenting on the issue, a spokesman for the Singapore 2006 organising committee said that it had always expected rooms in the Marina area to be snapped up first, and rooms outside the Marina area to fill up more slowly.

The meetings are being held in Suntec City which is in Marina Bay area.

He noted that the five-star hotels in the Marina area collectively have enough capacity to provide all 11,000 rooms to hold the 16,000 delegates.

But the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), the agency in charge of accommodations for the event, have provided rooms spread across the island and over different price ranges.

So it may just be a case of full-house in the Marina hotels and empty rooms elsewhere, said the spokesman.

He added: 'Some of the delegates may have also booked their rooms directly with their preferred hotel without going through the association.' 'These are numbers that we don't track.'

The situation is a far cry from the rosy picture the industry was expecting just three months ago when five-star hotels spoke about how they planned to turn away disappointed guests, and budget hotels relished rate hikes to cash in on the room crunch.

Yesterday, The Straits Times called 20 hotels, ranging from three- to five-star, to book two rooms between Sept 9 and 23.

It was able to get rooms at all but four hotels. It was even possible to book rooms in Marina area hotels like Marina Mandarin, Pan Pacific Hotel and Swissotel The Stamford.

The unexpected shortfall in bookings has caused problems at some hotels.

A hotelier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Straits Times: 'We expected to be chock-a-block full. The rest of the rooms reserved for delegates have been returned to the hotels.'

His hotel, which is outside the Marina area, is only 60 per cent full, far below its usual occupancy rate of over 90 per cent.

Inbound travel agents that The Straits Times spoke to said they have received e-mail and last-minute calls for help from hotels. But the agents, too, face an uphill task.

One, who asked not to be named, said September was traditionally a peak period for corporate travel.

'But because we were told that rooms would not be available, we told our clients to avoid coming to Singapore during this time, or to postpone their trips,' he said, adding that his company has seen a 20 per cent drop in business.

Another travel agent said that, after turning most of his customers away in the past few months, it would be difficult to make a U-turn and ask them to visit Singapore now. Many would have made alternative plans.

In any case, he added, few would be willing to pay the price difference. For instance, a premier deluxe room at Raffles The Plaza usually costs $330. Between Sept 15 and 20, the same room is priced at $550.

SHA said yesterday it is not ruling out a last-minute rush for accommodation, as bookings are still streaming in.

Biggest Singapore Event, Part 2

I applaud Singapore's Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on his call for Singapore and other Asian countries to push for greater say in the International Monetary Fund, which will stage its annual meeting together with the World Bank in the Republic from Sept 11 to Sept 20.
Please see abridged article below by Bloomberg on September 4.

What the former Singapore Prime Minister said is truly necessary as the IMF structure is archaic even though it behaves as if it has the mandate from heaven to tell countries how to restructure their economies.

Please see earlier posting, which argued how the IMF is in effect controlled by a handful of developed countries due to their overwhelming voting power. Five countries -- US, Japan, Germany, France and UK -- control nearly 40 per cent of the voting power as shown in the IMF chart.

Singapore Should Get Bigger Voice in IMF, Goh Says
By Linus Chua and Haslinda Amin

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore and other Asian countries should push for a bigger voice in the International Monetary Fund as the region gains importance within the global economy, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said.

The IMF will give China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey a larger voice at the annual meeting in the next two weeks to match their increasing size, Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato told reporters on Sept. 1, describing the formula for government representation in the fund as "unsatisfactory.''

"We have to get others in Asia who think like us to see how we can have a bigger voice in the IMF,'' Goh said in an Aug. 31 interview in Singapore. "Asia is growing and Asia has become more important in contributing to the global economic growth.''

Asian economies want a greater voice in the management of the IMF, the global agency charged with ensuring the health of the world economy, to ensure it doesn't repeat mistakes during the 1997 regional financial crisis.

Voting Rights

The U.S. has the largest share of votes at the fund, with more than 17 percent. Japan is second with 6.13 percent. By comparison, the voting shares of all sub-Saharan African countries total 4.6 percent of the vote, and Singapore has 0.4 percent. Increases in voting shares for developing countries are likely to be a central topic for the IMF meeting in Singapore.

Voting rights at the IMF, which represents 184 countries, are a legacy of the organization's founding in 1945, at the end of World War II. Voting rights have been increased to reflect changes in member nations' positions in the global economy, the IMF said on its Web site.

Past Mistakes

Asia, which makes up nearly a quarter of the world's gross domestic product and has a third of capital inflows, wants more say in fund policies. The IMF made incorrect forecasts about Indonesia, South Korea and Brazil and mishandled economic crises in the three countries, an independent report from the IMF said in 2003.

In 2002, the IMF praised Malaysia's currency peg to the U.S. dollar as a "stability anchor,'' four years after having warned the country was taking a "retrograde step'' in using such a peg to stabilize its markets. It was widely criticized for its handling of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, when the fund advised many countries to raise interest rates to protect the value of regional currencies. Banking crises erupted across the region as companies and consumers struggled to repay loans at higher rates.

Resistance to Change

Still, some countries oppose changes to voting rights at the meeting in Singapore. Bundesbank President Axel Weber said European Union states shouldn't surrender voting power to poorer nations, Handelsblatt reported Aug. 27. The IMF should instead devise a voting mechanism that is "fair and transparent'' for all, Weber was quoted as saying.

India will also oppose any changes in the quotas of developing countries in the IMF, the Business Standard reported Aug. 31, citing an unidentified official at the finance ministry. India is against any changes that will hurt its interests, the official was cited as saying.

"International cooperation is not an easy issue, every country has its own interests, and I think all the interests have to be taken into account,'' de Rato told reporters on Sept. 1. "The question is to be able to see your own interest in the picture of the whole institution.''

With a greater say in how the IMF is run, China and other developing nations may be more willing to heed the fund's calls to allow their currencies to strengthen, say the plan's backers, which include the U.S. and Canada. That would help reduce the U.S.'s record $805 billion current-account deficit, which Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge says risks a global recession.

More Voting Power

The proposal would give the four nations voting power that more closely approximates their weight in the global economy. Belgium, which has a $352 billion economy, has more voting power -- sometimes referred to as a quota -- than Brazil, India, Mexico or South Korea. All four of those nations have economies that are at least 70 percent bigger. Asia, excluding Japan and Australia, has about 10 percent of the voting rights.

"We should give a greater voice to economies that are growing which would have a bigger weight in the world economy. They may be poor nations now, but they would become middle-income countries very quickly,'' Goh said. "This would include Singapore, small, but we are in a sense an open economy, we do well, so we believe we should have a bigger voice in the IMF.''

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Biggest Singapore Event

While the patronage system is in full swing in Malaysia following announcement of generous budget handouts yesterday, Singapore is in full swing to host its biggest-ever event -- the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank Board of Governors meetings from Sept 11 to Sept 20.

Some 16,000 high-powered delegates from 184 countries will descend on Singapore in less than a fortnight. The number of visitors will be even higher as some delegates will bring their wives, families, partners or even mistresses. Another 2,000 local and foreign journalists will cover the event.

Accommodation will be a challenge. Singapore has 37,000 official hotel rooms. Will some of them be forced to stay in cheap hotels in the red-light district known as Geylang? Or will some stay in nearby Johor Baru across the causeway or Batam in Indonesia? haha.

Public service reminder to motorists during the convention:

The Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre will be closed to the public from Sept 8 to Sept 20, but the Suntec City Shopping Mall and the office buildings will remain open.

As for roads, a stretch of Nicoll Highway, Raffles Boulevard and Temasek Boulevard will be closed from 10pm on Sept 10 till 11.59pm on Sept 20.

Please see map for details of road closures.

The Singapore police are all primed to handle any unruly demonstrators during the meeting. Ten thousand police officers -- including the reservist Police force -- will be involved in the largest security operation for the IMF and World Bank conference in Singapore.

Well, I don't know anything about the agenda of the would-be demonstrators but dad definitely doesn't think IMF is such a great institution, judging from its track record in Asia during the regional financial crisis in the late 1990s. He sniggered at how IMF was initially hailed as the ultimate saviour of stricken Asian countries.

The IMF arranged generous international rescue packages for Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea in exchange for commitments to fiscal discipline, tight credit policies and financial sector reform. The general conditions sounded fair and reasonable but the policy makers didn't foresee or expect the reaction on the ground. Or maybe they did?

In the case of Indonesia, strict IMF-mandated fuel price hikes led to riots and deaths in Jakarta, and culminated in the downfall of long-time Indonesian strongman President Suharto. Former IMF managing director Michel Camdessus acknowledged that IMF was the root cause for the fall of Suharto in an interview with New York Times when he resigned in Nov 1999.

"We created the conditions that obliged President Suharto to leave his job," Mr Camdessus said. "That was not our intention."

Whether the change in the political scene in Indonesia was by chance or design, nobody will forget the chaos in the country. And nobody will forget the famous picture of Mr Camdessus, with his arms crossed in what was seen as an arrogant gesture, overseeing Suharto signing the agreement for an IMF bailout package worth nearly US$50 billion. The picture was widely used to personify Asia's loss of its independence.

Thailand and South Korea also underwent painful adjustments as part of the IMF bailout package. Singapore was strong enough to withstand the crisis and didn't have to seek foreign help. Malaysia undertook massive counter-IMF reforms without the IMF.

Both Malaysia and Singapore emerged stronger after the crisis, without having to go through as much pains as their neighbours.

The IMF approach was flawed. It was a prescription that could have strangled even the fittest economies. To restore faith in battered currencies, one of the IMF suggestions was tight credit policies, which meant high interest rates at a time when many businesses were still reeling from the currency deflation effect. High interest rates restored confidence in currencies in the short term but many companies collapsed.

Notice how many foreign -- mainly Western companies -- ended up as big buyers and owners of assets in Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea at bargain prices during the crisis?

Did the doctor create the conditions conducive for Western capitalists and other foreigners to own a big chunk of dying patients? The lender of last resort will probably maintain that it was not its intention. (The IMF seeks to represent the interest of the entire planet but, in reality, it is controlled by a handful of developed countries due to their overwhelming voting power. Five countries -- US, Japan, Germany, France and UK -- control nearly 40 per cent of the voting power as shown in the IMF chart.)

At the height of the crisis, IMF preached about the need for reforms in stricken countries but ignored the role of international capital, currency traders and hedge funds.

The sudden movement of the big money had a destabilising effect on many countries. Dr M's call for reform of the international financial architecture as part of the overall new regime fell on deaf ears. There was no doubt many Asian countries had to reform their faulty economic and political systems then. But the foreign and mainly Western capital must also share the blame, and be regulated to help avoid sudden and overly destabilising effect on the real economies.

The debate will continue for some time.

In the meantime, let the Singapore meetings and demos begin!