Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dr M Soldiers On

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pix illustration from kickdefella) is still in his combative mood and has not lost his wit despite his recent heart attack.

According to The Nation newspaper in Thailand this week, he threw his support behind Thailand's diplomatic spat with Singapore, accusing the city-state of interfering in the Thailand's internal affairs and violating diplomatic norms by permitting a senior government official to meet ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Some observers may feel that the retired Malaysian leader should just shut up like a pensioner. And he should not add fuel to fire in the squabble between neighbours. There is some truth in it.

But there is also the view that Dr Mahathir is a strong Asian voice, often saying things bluntly without fear or favour. After all, who else would say that US President George Bush should be tried for the invasion of Iraq? Please see Dr Mahathir's current mission and earlier postings.

Of course, Dr Mahathir is well positioned to talk about his relationship with Singapore, as mentioned in an earlier posting.

The following is the full transcript of his interview with The Nation's Group Editor Thepchai Yong in Langkawi over the weekend.

Q : How do you see the on-going spat between Thailand and Singapore?
A : Well I hate to say but I think it was unwise for Singapore to seek advantages from Thailand's problems. Because they saw that Thaksin was in need of some help and they extended help not in the way that could be appreciated by the Thai people. And in the present situation, Thaksin's visit to Singapore obviously to discuss this thing, was not very diplomatic.

Q : So Thaksin shouldn't have been welcomed by Singapore's deputy prime minister.
A : Yeah, that was not necessary. There are other places you can meet to discuss business. Because I'm quite sure in order to talk business, that's why they met.

Q : Talking business could be one thing, but knowing that such reception would draw reaction from Thailand. The Thai Foreign Ministry made it clear that they had warned the Singaporean government that there would be reaction if Thaksin met its deputy prime minister. And yet the Singaporeans went ahead with it?
A : Well you see, Singapore does not really care about the opinions of its neighbours, Singapore has been very unfeeling, not sympathetic to the problems of their neighbours. And we have problems with Singapore. In my 22 years in office I tried to resolve them by being friendly but I couldn't solve these problems with Singapore.

Q : Why would Singapore not want to be friendly with Malaysia ?
A : Singapore wants to win and they believe that the most important thing is what profits Singapore. What others get is not relevant.

Q :Profits in what term, business term or diplomatic term?
A : In business term, in diplomatic term, in whatever way, Singapore must be top.

Q : The Thai Foreign Ministry reacted by suspending a visit by the Singaporean foreign minister. Do you think that was the right reaction?
A : Well you know me, I'm very tough in certain things. If I find a foreign minister in another country say nasty thing about my country that is not in the interest of my country, I would have acted very strongly.

Q : Would you have done the same?
A : Probably I would do the same.

Q : Do you think Thailand and Singapore should try to patch things up?
A : Yeah, I think they should, but in a way that is honorable.

Q : Who should take the initiative? The Thais believe that Singapore owes them an apology.
A : I think Singapore should apologize because basically Singapore was interfering in the internal affairs of Thailand, and that was not good. You see, Thaksin has problems with Thailand and its people, not with Singapore. But Singapore comes in, in order to help Thaksin. And I think it didn't work.

Q : In Thailand they say if you want to know how to deal with Singapore, talk to the Malaysians. What can we learn from your experience in dealing with Singapore?
A : Either being nice or being tough, they always think about themselves. And they think you won't be able to touch them. They are beyond any action that you may be able to take. That's the character of Singapore, not one cent for anybody else, unless they gain something.

Q : So you're suggesting that Thailand should continue to be tough with Singapore.
A : You should try to get what is your right from Singapore, but it's going to be difficult. Singapore is likely to ask you for some concessions, here there and everywhere Otherwise you won't get back what is yours by right, but that is the way Singapore deals with people.

Q : Did it surprise you that Thai army chief Gen Sonthi and the coup leader few weeks ago said every phone call in Thailand has been monitored by Singapore?
A : I wouldn't be surprised because that's the kind of things they do.

Q : You mean they eavesdrop on friends?
A : Yes they do, they even spy on friends.

Q :That happens to Malaysia too?
A : Yes, one of my political secretaries was removed and detained because he was known to be associated with somebody from Singapore. Of course, Singapore denied, but our police believe that he was passing information.

Q : But why wire-tapping friends? Neighbours shouldn't do this to each other.
A : Well, but we find friends do tap and listen to what friends talk about, but I think Singapore does it in a much more offensive kind of way.

Q : So Thailand and Singapore should sit down and find ways to get their relations back to normal. But can they be normal again?
A : It will be difficult but I think I believe in trying.

Q : Should Thais make the initiative or should Singapore do it first? Thais have been very angry and feel very strongly about this.
A : I think we need a cooling down period.

Letter from Singapore

By Uncle Cheng

Singapore may not seem the most obvious place for Hong Kong people to choose for a holiday but that is where I found myself for family reasons last Christmas and new year. It was a revealing experience and I kept on making comparisons in my mind between Singapore and Hong Kong.

The first thing I learnt, and which becomes obvious in discussions with Singaporeans, is that Singapore is on the verge of an economic boom. After years of slow growth there is great optimism that new government policies are lifting both the economy and peoples’ spirits.

Property prices are rising markedly, foreign bankers are flooding in, huge public infrastructure projects are underway, and investment capital is streaming into local bank accounts from such local nations as Indonesia and even from distant Europe. Suddenly all the ingredients for economic growth are looking good.

One of my sources is a nephew of mine who is in a favourable position to know such things as his work keeps him in close touch with business and economic prospects in Singapore and the nearby region. I was especially interested to hear him explain how the government’s decision to reverse decades of anti-gambling policy and licence two super-casinos has transformed the economic horizon. It reminded me of how Macau’s economic fortunes were totally transformed by the decision to end the old casino monopoly and open the gambling market to virtually open competition.

One argument always used by people who oppose casinos is that they attract crime, triad activity and get poor people into financial difficulty. But as everyone knows the Singapore government has always prided itself on its low crime rate and its very tough treatment of all criminal behaviour. How, I wondered, will the government be able to square its anti-crime reputation with the new casinos. Well, as usual, Singapore has thought the issue through and announced a range of measures which it says will keep the casinos free of crime.

Yet despite its great wealth, efficient government and highly disciplined society Singapore’s miniscule size remains its greatest disadvantage. You cannot flex impressive muscles when you are a dwarf. The city state’s prosperity has to depend on the friendliness of its neighbours.

No neighbour is more crucial than Malaysia for it is from there that Singapore imports fresh water and daily foodstuffs, especially vegetables. It reminds me of Hong Kong’s dependence on the Mainland for the same things. Incidentally, the worst floods in the state of Johor for many years threaten large increases in Singapore vegetable prices through the lunar new year.

An irritating problem between Singapore and Malaysia has been the disagreement about a bridge to replace the existing solid earth Causeway. When no agreement could be reached about the proposed bridge which Malaysia favoured, the Malaysian government decided to spend millions on building new extravagant immigration facilities at its border. As Malaysia had made the case for an overhead bridge, which would have opened up the waterway to small shipping, Singapore hesitated and raised other issues such as the sale of sand and the use of Malaysian air space. Indeed the bridge became such a prickly issue that at one stage Malaysia came up with the bizarre suggestion that the bridge should be built without Singapore's approval. Presumably that would result in the bridge stopping in mid-air at the Singapore border!

Next week I will continue my look at Singapore and in particular I will make some comparisons between Hong Kong and Singapore — comparisons that, I regret to say, are not favourable to Hong Kong.

Sophie's note: Please see Singapore's marketing pitch for Marina Bay, the centrepiece of the Lion City.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Uncle Fatso sent a whole batch of postcard-like pictures again but I have decided to pick the best of the lot instead of posting everything due to time and space constraints. The latest pair of pictures somehow evoke a sense of tranquility. Hope everyone will find tranquility in a world that is full of chaos and injustice.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Malaysia Cup-like Fever

It's heartwarming to see the zest in yet another football encounter between Singapore and Malaysia in the Asean Football Championship fight last night.

Singapore edged Malaysia in a 5-4 penalty shoot-out (1-1 after 90 minutes, 2-2 on aggregate). Singapore will meet either Thailand or Vietnam in the finals. The first leg is at the National Stadium on Wednesday, with the return leg in Bangkok on Sunday.

According to The Sunday Times, some 55,000 fans went to the Kallang Stadium, decked in Singapore red and braving the evening showers as shown in the top left hand pix (top right hand pix from The Star shows the Malaysian crowds in predominantly yellow). ST captured the mood well by saying:

There was an outpouring of emotion on the grey National Stadium terraces, home of the Kallang Roar and so often the arena of Singapore-Malaysia rivalry.
Malaysian news reports are naturally more subdued in acknowledging the Singapore victory. The New Straits Times said Singapore would have to "fight till the very end in their own backyard", while The Star said Malaysia "let slip another win".

It doesn't really matter who won last night as long as it was good fun and entertainment for football fans on both sides of the causeway.

What's more important is the clear sign that football fans in Singapore and Malaysia starved of Malaysia Cup football ever since the great tradition was halted in 1995. The Singapore-Malaysia encounter last night was reminiscent of a classic meet between Singapore and Selangor, in terms of the size of the crowds and the national pride as shown by the partisan colours and flags.

But politicians and technocrats on both sides of the causeway will not revive Malaysia Cup due to narrow self-interest in protecting their feeble local leagues. The officials are still saying no despite very clear indication of the strong yearning for the return of Malaysia Cup.

It will definitely be good to revive Malaysia Cup for football fans and even politicians. Politicians on both sides are less likely to squabble or quibble over petty details if they are more sporting!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hiccup in Singapore-Brunei Ties?

Could Singapore be having problems with Brunei -- one of its best friends -- in the midst of its stand-offs with three other bigger neighbours?

In an odd development on Wednesday, Singapore's state-controlled port operator PSA International said it was returning the operations of the Muara Container Terminal in Brunei to the local government prematurely. PSA had only managed the greenfield port in Brunei for six years although the contract was supposed to run for 25 years until 2025. The ostensible reason by PSA was the achievement of its goals and Brunei's on-going review of Muara's longer-term capacity needs.

But it sounds more like a clash of the vision for the port industry in Brunei although PSA had worded the statement nicely. The possible clash could be partly explained by a report that said Brunei's Economic Development Board had identified a nearby island called Pulau Muara Besar in 2002 for another new terminal.

Whatever the real reason for the parting of ways, the development has great political significance as the two countries have very strong and deep-rooted ties.

Brunei is the only country in the world that has its currency pegged to the Singapore dollar. Their currencies are interchangeable. Even the Malaysian currency is no longer interchangeable with the mighty Singapore dollar since the two countries separated in 1965.

In fact, Singapore and Brunei had agreed to join the formation of Malaysia in the 1960s. But Brunei dropped the idea following an internal revolt, while Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore was booted out of the federation by the Malaysian administration of Tunku Abdul Rahman after a brief merger of two years.

Since then, the two small former British colonies have forged very close political and economic ties. They enjoy deep-rooted military and bilateral ties although they are often downplayed. The Sultan of Brunei is known to have many assets in Singapore but the fact is never played up in Singapore.

With the deep ties, one would have expected political considerations to override any differences in the state port deal. In other words, one would have imagined that PSA would continue performing national service regardless of any commercial differences due to the paramount political considerations.

Despite the botched port deal, Singapore and Brunei are expected to continue their warm and friendly ties.

The same cannot be said about Singapore's current soured ties with Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Singapore Besieged

Changi Beach 1934

Singapore has probably never felt so besieged.

Indonesia is the latest neighbour to be cross with the tiny island nation after squabbles with Malaysia and Thailand.

Yesterday, Jakarta Post and other Indonesian papers reported the Indonesian government's decision to ban the sale of land sand, which effectively deprives Singapore the bulk of its sand needs for construction jobs. Singapore is the biggest user of Indonesian sand.

Price of land sand in Singapore will shoot up overnight although the Singapore government is set to release its stockpile of sand to help cap sand price. This is probably the first time that Singapore has publicly said it has a stockpile of sand to deal with contingency. With such meticulous long-term planning, it is not inconceivable that Singapore has massive stockpiles of other essential items like water, oil, gas, rice, sugar and many other seemingly mundane things in life.

Back to the Indonesian ban on sand. The Indonesian move is ostensibly due to environmental concerns but there is also a lingering feeling that it is payback time over the haze issue. The two countries had a diplomatic spat when Singapore raised the perennial Indonesian haze problem, which was driving away investors from the region, at the United Nation last October.

With the latest ban, Singapore won't be able to buy any sand -- land sand (used for concrete in building construction) and sea sand (used for reclamation works) -- from either Indonesia and Malaysia.

Former Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad had banned the sale of all types of sand to Singapore during the crisis days in the 1990s. Singapore then turned to Indonesia for land sand as there was still a Indonesian ban on the sale of sea sand, which must be dredged from the seabed.

The Malaysian sand issue cropped up again during the failed talks between Singapore and Malaysia to jointly build a bridge to replace the causeway linking the two countries. As part of the deal, Singapore had wanted the right to buy Malaysian sand and use its airspace.

It was no go for Malaysia, which then scrapped the bridge project completely. The decision incensed Dr Mahathir, who felt that Malaysia had the right to build its half of the bridge, with or without Singapore's nod. He was also upset that Malaysia had even entertained the idea of selling sand to Singapore despite his earlier ban. The sand issue is just the tip of the iceberg in Malaysia-Singapore bilateral ties.

Of course, Singapore is still sorting out the mess in Thailand.

Monday, January 22, 2007

China Monk

Latest pix from Uncle Fatso in Hangzhou showing the statue of a legendary monk called Chi Kung. There's not enough literature on him though. Maybe I got the spelling wrong.

Anyway, I cropped the pix on the right a bit for effects. So which pix is better?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Singapore's Failed Coup?

So much has happened in Thailand ever since former premier Thaksin Shinawatra sold his flagship Shin Corp to Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings last year.

The deal sparked widespread protest over the non-payment of capital gains tax by Thaksin although it was a common practice in Thailand. Bangkok saw widespread protests and the unprecedented burning of effigies of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong and wife Ho Ching, who also heads Temasek. Incidentally, Temasek reports to the Finance Ministry, which is headed by PM Lee. The entire Singapore government machinery backed the Temasek deal despite the disastrous outcome.

That's not the end of the saga. The ageing Thai King backed the military in ousting Thaksin in yet another coup d'etat in the country's history. The military-backed government was incensed when Thaksin made a private visit to Singapore last week. Singapore defended its right to host Thaksin although it's highly questionable whether it was indeed a private visit.

While the saga unfolds, the basic question remains unanswered: Why did Temasek buy Shin in the first place? Although Singapore politicians have said ad nauseam that it was simply a commercial deal, nobody was convinced. Why did the Singapore government arm rush into a badly structured deal with the former Thai premier?

One sexy theory has since surfaced that could help explain the whole saga. According to the theory, the payment of $3 billion to Thaksin for his holding company was part of a quid pro quo to abandon Thailand's long-cherished dream to build the Kra Canal.

According to one wit, Thaksin had wanted to build the canal to resolve two issues at one go -- turn Thailand into a major shipping hub, and isolate the Islamic separatist movement in southern Thailand. A canal will literally divide Thailand into two distinct regions.

The canal project, which has been on the drawing board for more than 300 years, will have major impact on Singapore and even Malaysia should it take off. This is because ships can sail from South China Sea to Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean straight, bypassing Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. The role of Singapore as a shipping hub will be greatly diminished should the Thais finally build the canal.

But not everyone buys the theory. One counter argument: The costs outweigh the benefits of such a project. Furthermore, the time saved for shippers and liners is minimal, unlike the more crucial Panama Canal. Another counter argument: It would have been cheaper for Temasek's port operating arm PSA International to take a stake in the Kra Canal project should it materialise.

Whatever the truth is, events in Thailand are truly fascinating. It's got all the right ingredients for a Hollywood movie!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Causeway Blues

Maybe, it's a good time for the two governments to sit down and discuss ways to help improve the massive flow of people and goods between Malaysia and Singapore via the two bridges linking the two countries.

The current situation has not been ideal, as reflected in the front page article in Singapore's Business Times today.

Possible long-term solutions:

1. To build a wider bridge to replace the ageing Causeway. Allowance must be made on the new bridge for additional infrastructure such as high-speed rail tracks and monorail tracks. Please see earlier postings for context.

2. The toll rate at the two bridges must be reviewed:

a) It's entirely unclear why one must pay toll to use the old causeway that was built by the British in the 1920s. They have the right to collect toll if they can provide a good service, which means seamless travel between Johor Baru and Singapore. Instead, motorists have to bear with constant traffic jam at the causeway that is even worse than Bangkok's infamous traffic woes.

b) In the case of the Second Link, it's also unclear why motorists have to pay toll to use the bridge, which was jointly built by United Engineers Malaysia and the Singapore government. Although it was a half privatised project in the mid-1990s, UEM's parent Renong was awarded a large tract of land at Nusajaya near the Second Link in return for the construction of half of the second bridge linking Malaysia and Singapore.

It's also debatable as to why the Singapore government should collect toll on its end of the Second Link although it was implemented on the principle of matching the Malaysian toll. Why was there a need to match it? The Singapore government had used the money of taxpayers to build the bridge jointly with Malaysia's UEM. At the same time, there are many other direct and indirect taxes on motorists in the Republic -- COE, ERP, road tax and GST.

While the two governments sort out the latest move to divert lorries to the Second Link for about one year starting Sept 1, motorists will continue to bear with the inconvenience and the high price of using the two public arteries.

It doesn't sound quite right.

Detour will hike cost of M'sian goods: business

MALAYSIA'S move to divert heavy vehicles to the Second Link from the Causeway for about one year, starting Sept 1, could push up the cost of many essential goods entering Singapore, according to freight forwarders and other businessmen.

The temporary diversion of heavy vehicle traffic is aimed at easing the traffic gridlock to facilitate roadworks at the almost-completed new Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex (CIQ) in Johor Baru.

But the move will push up business costs on both sides of the Causeway as the toll rate on the Second Link is substantially higher.

'They are shoving it down our throats but we cannot be subsidising, so we have decided to bill back to the customers,' Er Sui See, president of Pan Malaysian Lorry Owners Association (PMLOA), which has 10,000 members, told BT yesterday.

Operators of semi-trailers using the Second Link would have to stump out a total of as much as RM160 (S$70) return using two tolled highways plus the Second Link bridge connecting Tuas in Singapore and Gelang Patah in Johor state.

In contrast, the cost of using the Causeway in Johor Baru is up to RM22 for a two-way trip.

This represents a hike of over 600 per cent, before taking into account the Malaysian government's proposed rebates to truckers for the higher toll at the Malaysian end. The value of these rebates has not been disclosed.

Malaysian lorries ferry a substantial portion of Singapore's food needs on a daily basis.

An estimated 45 per cent of Singapore's supply of vegetables, 40 per cent of fish and 35 per cent of imported chickens come from Malaysia.

The bulk of the Malaysian supply of some 300 tonnes of vegetables daily is transported by lorries via the Causeway. Lorries carrying general goods are not likely to be entitled to the rebate.

Freight forwarders and transport companies were quick to say they will pass on the higher toll charges to end-users as well as the cost of covering the additional distance of some 30km each way from the Causeway to the Second Link.

'Definitely, the costs would be higher for goods imported and exported,' Federation of Malaysian Freight Forwarders (FMFF) secretary-general May Yee told BT.

Both bodies said they had not been consulted on the diversion or informed of the proposed rebate.

On Thursday, Malaysian Works Minister Samy Vellu said lorries providing logistics services between Johor Baru and Singapore would be given a toll rebate for using the Second Link but operators would have to apply for a special identification card to be entitled to the rebate.

He said the government would reimburse the rebate amount to the Second Link concessionaire.

The level of the rebate is currently being worked out but Ms Yee said a previous proposal last year by FMFF for a 50 per cent rebate had been rejected.

Mr Er pointed out that last year's special fleet card rebates for subsidised fuel for transport operators when diesel prices were raised would have involved such onerous paperwork that his fellow lorry owners instead decided to pass on the increased costs.

Singapore's Transport Minister Raymond Lim had earlier said that 'any diversion of traffic from the Causeway to the Second Link will have material implications for Singapore'.

Malaysia is completing a new road to link the CIQ to the Causeway, following the abandoned plans to build a new bridge to replace the Causeway, which was built in the 1920s.

The FMFF said 2,500 lorries use the Causeway each day, with only 900 taking the Second Link, despite Malaysia's attempts in the past to get more heavy vehicles to use it. Vehicles carrying hazardous goods are already required to use the Second Link.

The Malaysian Works Ministry told BT yesterday buses would not be affected by the diversion.

It is unclear how much freight movement is transacted daily between both countries, but estimates by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) in the mid-90s of trans-border trade volumes was 15-20 million tonnes annually, mostly across the Causeway and the Second Link.

With additional reporting by Janice Heng

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Courtroom TV

By Uncle Cheng

Recently there has been some interest in the local press about allowing television cameras into our courtrooms for the broadcast of high profile cases. But what interest there was proved strangely short-lived and evaporated as quickly as it appeared. In some ways I was sorry that the proposal aroused so little public interest because it is an important subject that warrants a full public debate.

The issue entered the public arena after the Lord Chancellor of England had suggested that certain high profile criminal cases might be televised in order to encourage a greater public understanding of the legal system. And because our legal system is a colonial inheritance, it seems only logical that Hong Kong should also consider the pros and cons of court TV.

In fact, our Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross has seemingly voiced his support for reform in this area. He is reported to have said of court TV that "if implemented, it would give the public a far greater awareness of the way in which our criminal justice system operates". Mr Cross's opinion matters because he is a very seasoned criminal lawyer with almost 30 years' experience and is the first post-1997 Director of Public Prosecutions. His opinions always deserve respect and consideration.

For myself I am generally in favour of allowing television into our courtrooms as a matter of principle. However, I do not agree with the Lord Chancellor that only certain high profile criminal cases should be televised. The vast majority of criminal trials are not at all high profile and about 80 percent of all criminal trials in Hong Kong are held in the magistrates' courts. These magistracy cases can be termed as invariably low profile, mundane, and they do not always involve well-known people (such as Jacky Cheung Hok-yau's former helper and a fan of Ella Koon Yun-na) but they often involve the liberty of the subject.

I appreciate that low profile criminal trials may not be very exciting or popular. But I do believe the purpose of introducing television into courtrooms should not be to provide additional entertainment but to educate the public about our legal system. If court TV concentrates only on the high profile cases the result will be a media circus such as that which accompanied the notorious O. J. Simpson trial in the United States a few years ago.

But even before we introduce television into our court rooms there remain many bizarre laws that need to be amended to tune them with the modern world. If you care to look, as an example, at the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228) Laws of Hong Kong, you might well suffer a temporary shock.

Under that Ordinance a person can be branded as a criminal for taking a photograph in a courtroom or making a sketch portrait of a judge for publication. And the Ordinance defines a "judge" to include justices of the peace! Other equally bizarre laws in the Ordinance include six months' imprisonment for failing to obtain a permit for a unicorn dance! "Taking fish in any water which is private property" is also an imprisonable offence. Why such things need to be listed as separate offences in this day and age is totally beyond any common sense but as a wise man once remarked the law is not necessarily based on common sense.

There are of course cynics who argue that allowing television into courtrooms may not be such a good idea for one unfortunate reason. Do we really want to expose everything that happens in our courts, especially in the magistracies, to real-time public scrutiny? For as the famous English constitutional lawyer Walter Bagehot once observed about exposure of the British monarchy "It might bring out the sunshine on places which are best hidden from view".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Couplehood, Part 2

Another interesting love story in Singapore -- the impending marriage between Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng and Scotsman Graham Berry (Pix source: The Straits Times) in July.

The former Malaysian is 43 while her husband-to-be is 62. The union is not unusual despite the big age gap of nearly 20 years.

What is slightly curious is the condition attached before she said yes although they appear to adore each other.

According to The Straits Times, Irene said: "I said I couldn't give him an answer until he visited Singapore and my constituency. It was important to me that he loves both. He came here in November and loved both. So I said yes."

Would the politician still have said yes if he had loved her but not her constituency?

Maybe she would, but their love story still can't beat that of the late Singapore couple Tan Swee and wife, who passed away last year.

Their love was unconditional.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hangzhou Vegetables Again

Latest batch of pictures from Uncle Fatso, who seems to be avoiding seafood for a change in China. woof woof.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sinking High City

(Pix source: The Star, The Straits Times)

IT is indeed ironic that the sleepy town of Kota Tinggi in the southern Malaysian state of Johor has been inundated with flood water. Though sad, it's odd because Kota Tinggi literally means High City in Malay.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reportedly said the government was "monitoring" the second wave of flooding closely, and that a state of emergency would be declared if it was deemed necessary by the National Security Council. If it happens, reports said it could mean flood victims being barred from returning to their homes, a ban on travel to affected areas and the enforced closure of businesses, among other possible measures.

'So far, it is OK,' the premier reportedly said, after the attending the Asean Summit in Cebu.

The Malaysian leader must be quite detached from what is happening on the ground. How can the premier say it is OK when more than 100,000 people have been displaced in the state alone? This must have been one of the worst natural disasters in Malaysia.

The number of people displaced is equivalent to 3.6 per cent of the state's population of 2.8 million people. Most of those affected are in Kota Tinggi, which has a much smaller population base that is estimated to be less than 500,000 people. This means as much as 20 per cent of the population in the Kota Tinggi area could be homeless now.

It's also ironic that water-rich Johor -- the main catchment area for water to be sold to Singapore -- is now submerged in water. Perhaps, a long-term solution is to channel excess rain water in Johor to Singapore, which is always hungry for more water.

One possible solution is to build monsoon drains to channel flood water in the state to existing water treatment plants, which can then channel the raw water to Singapore.

But will Singapore see it as a breach of their water agreements? Well, that's another story.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Welcome to Singapura!

The incessant traffic snarl on both sides of the causeway has spawned a growing number of cottage industries in the southern Malaysian city of Johor Baru.

Visitors entering Singapore via JB will witness more beggars asking for money from motorists and enterprising boys selling copies of 4-D gaming results, especially after 7pm.

For the first time, dad saw an instant pizza delivery service for motorists today. The young man in the third pix gladly advertised Domino's Personal Pizza for only RM5 apiece or about S$2.20 each. Not a bad service if you are starving while stuck in the jam.

While caught in the traffic crawl, dad thought of other enterprising ideas to help motorists bypass the constant traffic jam since the two governments cannot come to terms to build a wider bridge to replace the old causeway linking Malaysia and Singapore.

Those new ideas include a ferry/boat service to Singapore, a helicopter service to Singapore, a cable car system to connect the two cities, or even a direct budget flight from JB to Singapore via Bangkok or Jakarta. Like the plan to build a new mass rapid transit network in JB and link it to Singapore's MRT subway system, all these ideas will take time as they will involve bilateral discussions.

In the meantime, dad is certain that some enterprising businessmen in JB will come up with a mobile toilet service soon for those who brave the causeway jams daily to enter Singapore.

Vietnam Images

Dad also can take pictures but his collection, as shown in the recent pix montage of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, ain't as exquisite as Uncle Fatso's.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lake Images

Another batch of exquisite pictures from Uncle Fatso in Hangzhou, China. He must seriously consider submitting his pix for some photo competition!

Death of a Spy

By Uncle Cheng

The case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy whose life came to a bizarre end when he was poisoned by a rare radioactive isotope, continues to haunt Moscow and is attracting worldwide attention. Acres of newsprint and hundreds of hours of television coverage have been devoted to the mysterious circumstances that led to his death in a London hospital.

Alexander Litvinenko
The case has all the hallmarks of a James Bond thriller or a Le Carre triple-twist plot but the Litvinenko case is unique in that it is being played out in the full glare of public investigation.

As I followed the incredible twists and turns of Litvinenko's life and death, my lawyer's mind became intrigued by what had happened to Litvinenko in 1999. At the time he was a high ranking officer in the KGB, which was the notorious and infamous Soviet security agency and the equivalent of the British MI6 or the American CIA. Following the demise of the Soviet Union the KGB changed its name to FSB but it appears it did not change its tactics. Litvinenko continued to work in the FSB until he fled to exile and arrived in London in November 2000.

Just before he managed to escape Russia first to Turkey and then to London (he claimed asylum at Heathrow airport while in transit) Litvinenko had been incarcerated for eight months in what the Russian legal system calls 'pre-trial detention' and which to us means that he was refused bail pending his trial. What most intrigues me as a lawyer is the details of the criminal charges he faced. They are of great legal interest because he was charged with what we in Hong Kong call 'misconduct whilst in public office' and which the Russian legal code calls 'abuse of power whilst in public office'.

What, I wondered, was the actual background to the charges? Presumably, like all secret agents and possibly most civil servants the world over, Litvinenko surely took an oath of secrecy on his original appointment as a spy. He must have known the nasty details of many of highly unpleasant operations conducted by the spy agency. Like any spy he could cause chaos if he broke his oath of confidentiality and told the public or foreign governments what he knew.

It is well known that Litvinenko took a special dislike to our friend President Putin of Russia, who had himself worked for the KGB. Litvinenko allegedly leaked secrets — important and very embarrassing secrets — about his bosses' wishes to eliminate a man who is one of the richest Russian tycoons and a sworn enemy of Putin. No doubt he leaked directly or indirectly many other secrets that he had sworn to keep secret.

Now, dear readers, come the awkward questions? What is your moral position on this issue? Do you condemn Litvinenko or praise him? There is hardly any doubt in my mind that most sensible people outside Russia will applaud Litvinenko's actions and praise him for exposing such wickedness, if true. However, on the other hand he was clearly in gross breach of his duty of confidentiality to his bosses. In that case his misconduct in public office was a very grave one.

Which brings me to the relevance to Hong Kong's law. There is perhaps a lesson to be learned here for Hong Kong. In 2002 our highest court ruled that misconduct in public office has always been a criminal offence under the common law, even though no one has ever been charged in Hong Kong with such an offence. And because it is a common law offence the maximum possible sentence is life imprisonment.

On the hypothesis that one of our compatriot civil servants in Hong Kong were to reveal something remotely akin to what Litvinenko exposed, what would your reaction be? Would that civil servant be a hero or a villain? Should he be charged with misconduct or should the law be ignored? Does the rule of law have certain limits?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Malaysia's Israeli Dilemma

It takes former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to see the less obvious.

Singapore's ST and BT today cited him as criticising a proposal for two passport-free zones at the southern tip of Malaysia as making those areas 'foreign land'.

"It becomes extra-territorial land for some countries. Singapore would be very happy," he reportedly said.

The swipe at Singapore wasn't surprising as Dr Mahathir had always felt uneasy with Singapore, ever since he was humiliated by a Chinese taxi driver when he was a young medical student in Singapore.

But Dr Mahathir also highlighted something that probably nobody in the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration has thought about: He suggested that Israelis could effectively enter Malaysia via Singapore without any restrictions.

'Singapore has relations with some countries, for example Israel, which we do not,' he said.

Malaysia bars its citizens from visiting Israel as it doesn't recognise Israel due to its sympathy for the Palestinian plight. In fact, Israel is the only country in this world that Malaysians are barred from entering. At the same time, Malaysia bars Israelis from entering Malaysia*.

But the point about Israelis entering Malaysia via Singapore may be moot. Israelis will probably remember the hostilities of Malaysians towards former Israeli President Chaim Herzog when he visited Singapore in 1986.

Muslim and Malay politicians in Malaysia objected vehemently to his presence even though he didn't set foot in Malaysia! They even called for the demolition of the causeway linking Malaysia and Singapore in a bid to cut off ties with Singapore for hosting Herzog.

* Malaysia is not alone in barring Israeli passport holders from entering its shores. Malaysia, like any country, has the right not to recognise certain regimes. Malaysia had barred its citizens from entering rogue states such as North Korea and South Africa (when apartheid was still enforced) in the past. The US, which is a strong ally of Israel, has imposed sanctions on a long list of countries for ideological, political and strategic reasons.

Monday, January 08, 2007

China Fruits and Sweets

Uncle Fatso is having a good time in China. He loves eating citrus fruits and seafood, apart from taking pictures of them. :-)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Polished Royal Selangor Pewter

Today's New Straits Times has an interesting recap of the story about one of the most famous Malaysian brands in the world -- Royal Selangor Pewter.

But readers should look at the first book on the company -- The Royal Selangor Story: Born and Bred in Pewter Dust by Chen May Yee, who is the great-grand-daughter of the founder of the business in 1885 -- for a more complete account of the fascinating business and history.

Despite the long history of the business, the company has curiously remained privately owned. Maybe it doesn't need public capital to expand in the global arena.

New Straits Times
Catching up with: First family of pewter
By Wilson Henry

The Royal Selangor Pewter story is not just about a successful Malaysian enterprise that went global. It is also the story of an immigrant Hakka family from tin-mining Kuala Lumpur whose fortunes were determined by the pewtersmith patriarchs and their dream to keep the business alive. Packed tour buses arrive daily at the Royal Selangor headquarters in Setapak Jaya, Kuala Lumpur with eager tourists from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.

They are piqued by Malaysia’s famous pewter brand, Royal Selangor.

A common remark is that Royal Selangor’s story is closely linked with Malaysia’s social and economic transformation that began in the tin mines.

Inside a dramatic glass and steel-clad building that also houses a museum, visitors are reminded of the Royal Selangor story that grew from a modest shophouse operation to an international brand.

In the museum, multi-lingual guides begin the tour at the large panel where a black-and-white photograph of an old Hakka man with wire-rimmed spectacles hangs.

The steady gaze of Yong Koon Seong tells an amazing story of a city’s beginnings, the tin industry and of a pewtersmith and his family.

If the visitors are fortunate, Datin Chen Mun Kuen nee Yong, the 64-year-old granddaughter of Yong Koon Seong, would pop in and enquire if they need any assistance (her grandfather subsequently shortened his name to Yong Koon).

The Yong family story began at the time when Kuala Lumpur was already a state capital.

It was in late 1885 that the founding father of Royal Selangor, Yong Koon, sailed from the southeastern Chinese port of Shantou in Guangdong province to Malaya.

He was 15 years old then. Three years before sailing to Nanyang (as Southeast Asia was known in the Chinese world), Yong Koon was already an apprentice pewtersmith in Shantou.

"I don’t remember much of my grandfather," says Mun Kuen in meticulous English picked up from the Pudu English Girls school in Kuala Lumpur. "But what I do remember is my grandfather being fiercely proud of his Hakka origins.

"He would scold his grandchildren if we spoke another dialect, saying Hakka people must speak Hakka, otherwise you are a foreign devil!

"We spoke English, Malay and Cantonese instead."

Mun Kuen recalls how her grandfather’s story was handed down to the grandchildren by her father, Yong Peng Kai.

After landing in Malaya, Yong Koon joined his two brothers, Chin Seong and Wai Seong, in the newly established tin mining town.

"He left neither diaries nor letters," says Mun Kuen.

Besides early photographs, there are also Yong Koon’s tools and a pewter melon teapot he designed in the museum.

"There is an interesting story behind the melon pot," says Mun Kuen, while holding it to be photographed. "We call it the lucky melon-shaped teapot.

"When bombs were being dropped during the Second World War, hungry villagers in Kajang were scrambling for rice in a godown.

"One of the villagers, Ah Ham, ran in during the bombing. Instead of picking up the rice bags, he saw a melon-shaped teapot on the ground.

"As he bent to pick it up,shrapnel whizzed over his head.

"Ah Ham was convinced the teapot saved his life.

"In the 70s, Ah Ham sent his teapot to a pewter factory for cleaning. Someone immediately recognised the Ngeok Foh touchmark (Yong Koon’s handiwork) at the base.

"Today, the teapot is part of the museum collection and has since inspired a new range of melon teapots."

In 2003, Mun Kuen’s daughter, Chen May Yee, who studied journalism in Columbia University and is now based in the United States, put together the family story in a coffee table book — The Royal Selangor Story.

Harvard Business School’s John A. Davis promptly referred to the story as "a model family business story".

May Yee’s story traces the pewter business to a shophouse in 23, Cross Street (the present Jalan Silang).

Yong Koon and his tinsmith brothers made a variety of simple household items at Cross Street, from pails to gutters and weighing scales, and selling pewter incense burners, joss stick holders and candlestands for the altars of Chinese prospectors.

As his pewter business flourished, Yong Koon returned to China to bring back a bride, Loh Pat.

They had sons Peng Pow, Peng Sin, Peng Kai and Peng Seong who were, according to Peng Kai, "born and bred in Pewter dust" since the family worked and stayed in the shophouse in Pudu.

"Yong Koon would not have gone far without his formidable wife, Loh Pat, by his side," writes May Yee.

Loh Pat was described as a "no-nonsense Hakka woman" who saved enough money to buy their own shophouse at 219, Pudu Road, where Malayan Pewter was established.

Yong Koon and his sons later went separate ways because of differences over how the business should be run.

From the split, three other pewter companies — Tiger, Lion and Selangor — emerged.

The eldest son remained with Malayan Pewter until it was taken over by Peng Seong. The struggling company folded in 1950.

Before this, Peng Sin, Peng Kai and Peng Seong had set up Tiger Pewter at the original premises after parting with their eldest brother.

Within a year,Tiger folded but was revived as Selangor Pewter. While the other two brothers branched into other businesses, Peng Kai, the third son, focused on pewter and established its name.

In 1952, the patriarch Yong Koon passed away, aged 81.

Peng Kai had by then married Guay Soh Eng, a Hokkien and this is the branch of the family that has kept Yong Koon’s pewter business alive.

Peng Kai once remarked to his friend, retired Singapore police officer Sun Sai Lum, that Soh Eng was his right arm.

"She was the stablising factor, very calm and very level headed. He was the highly stressed worrier," recalls Sai Lum.

Their eldest son, Poh Sin, was born in 1939, daughter Mun Ha in 1941, Mun Kuen in 1942 and youngest son Poh Kon in 1945.

Subsequently, they moved operations from Pudu to the present factory in Setapak.

Peng Kai "worked alongside his employees, sweating in his Pagoda-brand white cotton vest, always paying his staff promptly and never raising his voice".

One employee, Hoo Wee Meng, remembers: "It was not unusual for a Chinese businessman to scold and use foul language. But Peng Kai treated us like family. I worshipped him."

Once pewter became an item of fascination for tourists, it spawned a variety of decorative items.
The company’s royal link is a story which Mun Kuen relates with fondness.

"The late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah was in Australia when he entered a store and was asked respectfully where he came from.

"He replied ‘Selangor’ and the store assistant gave a look of recognition by saying ‘Selangor Pewter’.

"The Sultan was impressed that pewter was making his state famous. On his return, he decided that the company should have royal status, which he conferred in 1979."

Today, the younger generation such as Chris Yong, Andrew Yong, Sun May Foon, Chen Tien Yue, Yong Yoon Li, Yong Yoon Kit are involved in the family business in various capacities.

"They are taking it to another level," says Mun Kuen.

It was the third generation of the Yongs led by Datuk Yong Poh Kon and Yong Poh Shin who took Yong Koon and Peng Kai’s vision further by going global.

As May Yee says: "The enterprise has sprouted wings."

Along the way, Royal Selangor acquired Canadian Seagull Pewter, Englefields, a 350-year-old London company, and set up Selberan, a jewellery company.

Royal Selangor also went into silver with the acquisition of Comyns, the London company of silversmiths whose designs date back to the 17th century.

Today, the company exports to more than 20 countries and has retail stores in London, Toronto, Melbourne, Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

If Yong Koon was alive today, he would be proud that his humble business has grown into a giant.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Eyes on Singapore, Malaysia

Both Singapore and Malaysia are rushing to complete their respective giant ferris wheel projects to help woo more tourists.

As in many things since the separation of the two countries in 1965, Singapore will have the edge.

The Singapore Flyer will be the world's biggest with a diameter of 178 metres. This will surpass record holder -- London Eye, which has a height of 135 metres.

Eye on Malaysia will have a diameter of a mere 60 metres. But the Malaysian Eye will start operations this weekend, while the Singapore project will only be completed next year.

(Pix source: The Singapore Flyer)

Eye500_0058.jpg(Pix source: Screenshots)

Updated: Malaysia's Eye of the Storm

Brace for severe storms
Another severe monsoon storm will hit rain-soaked Malaysia. According to The Star, seven northern and east coast states are bracing for thunderstorms and possible floods as strong winds may turn into a cyclone. Severe weather is expected to hit Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang till Monday.

The southern states have already been quite badly hit, as noted in earlier postings.

As Malaysia grapples with the fresh bout of floods in the eastern states, another storm is already brewing in the Malaysian capital. All attention is focused on the upcoming trial of murdered Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

(Pix from The Star of Razak Baginda)

The trial has been fixed for March 10 2008* by Shah Alam High Court judge Justice K.N. Segara. Political analyst Abdul Razak Abdullah Baginda, who has been charged with abetment in the murder of Mongolian beauty, was sent back to prison Friday after he failed to get his bail extended.

(Pix from The Star of Altantuya Shaariibuu)

The trial is set to be highly sensational as Razak Baginda is known to be an associate of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Razak and others in the corridor of power. Razak Baginda is also said to be a middle man in some defence contracts.

The case will be jointly tried with that of two police personnel from the Bukit Aman Special Action Squad -- Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, who were alleged to have blown up the Mongolian girl with C4 explosives after shooting her.

Many questions may or may not be answered. Was she dead before she was blown to bits? Why didn't they deport her instead of silencing her permanently? Are there bigger forces at work? Why were special force policemen involved? How did they get the plastic explosives? Was she involved in defence-related contracts?

It's unfathomable that such a high-profile trial will only be heard next year. The Malaysian courts must expedite the case despite the backlog of cases due to the enormous public interest in the case. An earlier trial will, hopefully, answer some of the nagging questions and help prevent further speculation that may prejudice the case.

An earlier trial and verdict will hopefully bring closure to the most gruesome murder case in Malaysia and, hopefully, placate the wandering spirit of Altantuya Shaariibuu.

* Earlier posting gave the impression it was 2007. Apologies.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Atheism and Buddhism

By Uncle Cheng

Readers of this column will know I am a Buddhist. I have often stated as much. But I now wonder if it is possible to be a Buddhist and an atheist at the same time.

This question has arisen after I read the latest, totally fascinating, book by Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. The title is “The God Delusion” and it is currently a runaway best seller in Europe and America. I have no doubt that a Chinese translation will be on the shelves in Hong Kong before long.

Dawkins is a scientist, an evolutionary biologist to be precise, but he writes for non-scientific readers. In “The God Delusion” he uses science and fact-based logic to demolish the “myths” that any god has ever existed. He demonstrates forcefully how destructive religions have been in history and continue to be so even today. Religion is, he argues, a curse on modern society.

What caught my special attention are the professor’s comments about Buddhism. Is Buddhism, he asks, a religion? His answer is that Buddhism is unlike normal religions and is more of a set of moral and philosophical beliefs.

His exact words are “I shall not be concerned at all with ... Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.” Therefore, if Buddhism is not a religion it is possible for a Buddhist to be an atheist. It is a novel and most intriguing thought.

The religions which Dawkins aims his venom at especially are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His most scathing condemnations are of Christianity.

As for Buddhism I agree with the professor that Buddhism is best not treated as a religion because Buddha made no claims to godhood. Confucianism is even further removed from being a religion than Buddhism since Confucius was a philosopher who never preached about a soul or an after-life.

A famous remark of Confucius’ was “Devote yourself to the proper demands of the people, respect the ghosts and spirits but keep them at a distance — this may be called wisdom”. It was acceptable that in those unscientific days people did believe in ghosts and spirits. On another occasion Confucius remarked “We don’t know yet about life, how can we know about death.”

Of course the Buddhist sutras were not written during Buddha’s lifetime but hundreds of years, just as the Christian gospels were written after Jesus’s death. Buddha’s teachings concentrated on our actions in this life and taught how desire is the cause of all suffering. The eradication of desire brings the ending of suffering. So it is that Buddhism teaches the correct way to conduct our lives.

Buddha had only two devoted disciples in his lifetime and it is worth remembering that the pantheon of gods which enriched many schools of Buddhism were all created long after Buddha’s life. As an example, the pure land school of Buddhism which is so popular in Japan originated in the Ghandara region of northwest India. Some 500 years after Buddha’s death, under the influence of Hindu beliefs in past and future Buddhas, there emerged the Buddha Amitabha, the patron deity of the pure land school.

As I finished reading Dawkins’ denunciations of religion, I wondered if he is really a communist at heart. He would have much in common with Karl Marx and for that matter with Chairman Mao. After all it was Marx who famously wrote:

“Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Singapore Images in 2006

Some images of 2006 captured by The Business Times of key business and political events in Singapore and business deals linked to Singapore entities overseas.

Big stakes, buoyant sentiment

2006 was a year of big numbers, big stakes and bullish sentiment. The resurgent economy brought waves of investment and optimism to our shores, but also winds of change. Meanwhile, those who strayed from the straight and narrow were brought to account as the law took its course.

One of Singapore's biggest financial scandals finally came to a conclusion when former China Aviation Oil head Chen Jiulin was jailed for four years and three months and fined $335,000 for insider trading. Likewise, former corporate poster boy Victor Tan, founder of Accord Customer Care Solutions, was jailed for four years and three months for his role in trying to cheat Nokia in 2003 and 2004. And former National Kidney Foundation boss TT Durai was charged under the Anti-Graft Act for having tried to deceive the NKF while he was its chief executive.

But a sense of stability prevailed when the ruling People's Action Party won 66.6 per cent of the vote in the May general election and was returned to power.

Big buys also made the news, led by Temasek Holdings' $6.5 billion purchase of an 11.55 per cent stake in Standard Chartered Bank from the family of the late Khoo Teck Puat, who was Singapore's richest man, and $3 billion spent on former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's family stake in Shin Corp.

Apple's US$100 million payout for a licence to use Creative Technology's patent in its iPod ended legal disputes between them. The battle hit Creative's profits badly, but the settlement looks like a win-win result, and the local firm will focus more on making sound chips and accessories for Apple and other companies.

Waves of interest and winds of change from abroad came in through the course of the year. In May, Las Vegas Sands won the right to build Singapore's first integrated resort (IR) and casino at Marina Bay. And six months later, Asian gaming outfit Genting International/Star Cruises won the Sentosa bid. The year's foreign buzz culminated in the 16,000 visitors and delegates coming to Singapore during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in September.

The buoyant economic mood was infectious and spread to the property market, which finally got some reprieve from a decade of gloom when the luxury residential segment saw record prices, led by Marina Bay Residences which commanded up to $3,500 per sq ft in December.

Movements in the boardroom also created a stir. Robinson's chairman Michael Wong Pakshong was voted off the board at the company's annual general meeting, prompting the resignation of three other independent directors and sparking a debate on the role of independent directors. SingTel CEO Lee Hsien Yang surprised markets in July when he announced that he would step down after 12 years with the company.

Finally, the year closed with an ominous reminder of our vulnerability in the Information Age, when a post-Christmas quake off Taiwan damaged vital undersea cables and disrupted telecommunications in and out of Singapore and throughout East Asia.

March 27: Temasek hogs headlines
Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings spends almost $10 billion on two big buys. On March 27, it announces an estimated $6.5 billion purchase of Khoo Teck Puat's estate's 11.55 per cent stake in Standard Chartered. Earlier in January, Temasek paid $3 billion for Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's family stake in Shin Corporation. The Shin deal sparked unexpected events that eventually led to a military coup that ousted Mr Thaksin.

April 18: TT Durai charged with graft at NKF
Former National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief TT Durai is slapped with two charges over alleged false claims with intent to deceive the foundation. The NKF fiasco has brought about unprecedented scrutiny of charitable organisations and their accountability.

May 6: PAP returned to power
The People's Action Party is returned to power with two-thirds of the valid vote at the general election. The closest fight is in Aljunied GRC, where the PAP wins 56.1 per cent of the vote in a contest with the Workers' Party. The opposition retains Hougang and Potong Pasir.

May 26 and Dec 8: Singapore hands out casino licences
Singapore awards two integrated resort and casino licences after a 40-year ban on casinos. The first licence, at Marina Bay, goes to Las Vegas Sands, controlled by Sheldon Adelson, who has roped in architect Moshe Safdie (top) for the project. The second, at Sentosa, goes to Malaysia's Genting group, controlled by Lim Kok Thay and family.

July 21: Lee Hsien Yang announces decision to step down
Lee Hsien Yang surprises the markets by announcing that he will step down as SingTel's chief executive officer after 12 years with the company. After a two-month global search, SingTel appointed its chief financial officer Chua Sock Koong as CEO.

Aug 23: Creative versus Apple
Apple agrees to pay US$100 million for a licence to use Creative Technology's patent in its iPod. And as part of the settlement, Creative, founded by Singapore businessman Sim Wong Hoo, joined the ''Made for iPod'' programme to produce accessories for Apple's mp3 player.

Dec 13: Irrational exuberance reigns at Marina Bay Residences
After a downturn that lasted a decade, the upper end of the property market rebounds. The best performer is Marina Bay Residences, where all 422 units were quickly sold at unprecedented prices of up to $3,500 per sq ft. Prices at the 99-year leasehold project, located near Las Vegas Sands' upcoming integrated resort and casino, even surpassed those of some units at the 999-year leasehold St Regis Residences in the Tanglin area.

Sept 10-20: IMF and World Bank meetings bring in 16,000 visitors
With a campaign of four million smiles, and tens of thousands of flowers lining the route to Suntec City convention centre, Singapore lays on a grand welcome for visitors and delegates to the IMF/World Bank annual meetings.

China Seafood

Uncle Fatso has taken rather vivid pix of seafood in China that is supposedly aphrodisiac. They include things (counter clockwise from top right) like clams, mini squids, fish rich in Omega 3 fat and even fish that are still half alive!!! He must be eating a lot of seafood in China. Haha

Monday, January 01, 2007

Western Crusades Again

The following press statement by former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is one the most well-argued condemnations of the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Dr Mahathir noted what most Western and even Asian observers failed to notice -- Saddam was hanged on a holy day in the Muslim calendar.

And as pointed out by Dr Mahathir, the inaction thus far by the International Criminal Court against Bush, Blair and Howard exposes the double standard of the said Court, when it does not hesitate to prosecute war crimes committed in Dalfur, Rwanda and Kosovo.

The Western agenda and action in the Saddam hanging clearly reflect a continuation of its crusades.

saddamhanging_31122006.jpgBY TUN DR. MAHATHIR MOHAMAD
The Barbaric Lynching of President Saddam Hussein

On the Holy day of Eid, the world watched in horror at the barbaric lynching of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, allegedly for crimes against humanity. This public murder was sanctioned by the War Criminals, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.

This sadistic act broadcasted to the whole world is a travesty of justice, and was meant to demonstrate the imperial power of the United States and serves as a warning to peace loving peoples that we must either bow to the dictates of the Bush regime or face the consequences of a public lynching.

The lynching was also an insult to all Muslims, as it occurred on the Holy Day of Eid, whereby Muslims devote themselves to prayer and forgiveness. It is all too clear that the war criminal Bush has no sensitivities whatsoever for Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca. This barbaric act is a sacrilege!

The entire trial process was a mockery of justice, no less a Kangaroo Court. Defence counsels were brutally murdered, witnesses threatened and judges removed for being impartial and replaced by puppet judges. Yet, we are told that Iraq was invaded to promote democracy, freedom and justice.

A peaceful country has now been turned into a war zone. Over 500,000 children died as a result of the criminal economic sanctions, and the latest findings by the medical journal, Lancet reveals that over 650,000 Iraqis have died since the illegal invasion of 2003.

The War Criminal Bush has killed more Iraqis than President Saddam ever did, if in fact he was guilty of any crime. If President Saddam Hussein is guilty of war crimes, then the world must find Bush, Blair and Howard equally guilty and the International Criminal Court cannot but prosecute these war criminals. The inaction thus far by the International Criminal Court against Bush, Blair and Howard exposes the double standard of the said Court, when it does not hesitate to prosecute war crimes committed in Dalfur, Rwanda and Kosovo.

If we support human rights and justice, we must condemn this barbaric lynching of President Saddam Hussein. There can be no excuse whatsoever for this injustice under any circumstances. War Criminal Bush and the puppet regime in Iraq have made a mockery of the Rule of Law.

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Member of the International Committee
For the Defence of President Saddam Hussein
30th December 2006

Note: Pix and press statement sourced via Screenshots

Welcome to 2007!

Pix credit clockwise from top left: Bombing in Bangkok (AFP pix via The Straits Times), Fireworks in Sydney (Reuters pix via The Straits Times), Fireworks at Marina Bay in Singapore (The Business Times), and the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein (Iraqi TV footage via CNN).

The new year started rather ominously with mixed images of celebration and suffering. Fireworks across the region were probably eclipsed by the more unforgettable images of the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein hours before the new year. Bombs also marred the celebration in Thailand, killing at least two people.