Friday, May 30, 2008

From Godot to Robot

"The state cannot and should not play the role of a surrogate father"

This was the response of Minister Vivian to a request for governmental help against errant ex-spouses who evade their maintenance liabilities.

There was a time if Vivian was to make this statement, it would have had an absolutely different, almost opposite intended meaning.

The state cannot and should not play the role of a surrogate father. How apt a statement in Sigapore if it contains even the slightest whiff of that dirty ideology, welfarism.

Stand on your own two feet boy. Gather your own feed. Raise your family with your own hands. Do not beg from the state. The state cannot and should not play the role of a surrogate father.

But father we are dying.

Than you will have to go for you have failed. It is not the money. it is the principle. A free quarter for you and the floodgates will open. Our economy will crumble. The state will be destroyed. singapore perishes. So go my son. The state cannot and should not play the role of a surrogate father.

Then I will speak out, my father. Make known my grievances.

Careful with that my son. If you are too inflammatory, if you are too populist than you will be seditious. You will be upsetting the balance and harmony of this state. Then you will have to be silenced. You will face the Penal Code. You will face the ISA.

Then I will protest, my father. I will protest the CPF system, I wish to opt out and take my money.

No you cannot do that. The CPF system is good for you. It ensures that you will be taken care of in your old age. By forcing you to save your own money, the State is helping you prepare for your old age. CPF plus, even, now that you can live beyond 80. And protests in Singapore are illegal. You will break the law. You will have to be arrested.

Then I will write, my father. Make my story known. Talk to my journalist friends, find others like me.

You are being subversive. The national newspapers cannot involve itself in such partisan issues. It can and only report facts. The newspapers are important institutions of the state. It cannot be used for the people by the people. The mainstream newspaper must report accurately, objectively and responsibly. And that they must adopt this model that they are part of this nation-building effort, rather than go out and purvey views that would mislead people, confuse people, which will in fact undermine our national strategy. So if you write seditiously, you will break the law. You will have to be arrested.

Then I will vote, my father. Vote you out.

Yes that is fair, that is politics. But you will find out that you are in an uncontested GRC. And we cannot change that. Its for your own good. The GRC system is so that all races are fairly represented. Its to ensure harmony, equal representation to all. It is not a system to squeeze out political competition. It is for the good of the people.

The state cannot and should not play the role of a surrogate father. Do you see that? Do you understand that? Ours is not a paternalistic system. Ours is not a father-child relationship.

Think. And finally accept. Even if you are dying.

Like me, Godot turned Robot.

Quote of the Day --

"If you broke the law, there was only the one law, which everybody broke again and again ... and there was always the same penalty for any breaking of the law, from jaywalking to treason: the penalty was the death penalty, and there was agitation to have the death penalty removed, but it would not be because then, for like jaywalking, there would be no penalty at all. So it stayed on the books and finally the community burned out entirely and died. No, not burnt out -- they had been that already. They faded out, one by one, as they broke the law, and sort of died." -- A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Kilo of Rice from Tua Pek Kong

While we were whipped into a wild frenzy over the Mas Selamat debacle, this little CNA report quietly slipped past most Singaporeans eyes. According to charities, the queue for free food is getting longer. While this queue grows longer, the Dept of Statistics uses a fairly odd adjective to describe the situation. Inflation was "boosted", it has an uncannily happy, almost positive ring.


Singapore's March inflation rate at 26-year high of 6.7% ( 23 Apr 2008 1331 hrs)

SINGAPORE: Singapore's annual inflation was 6.7 percent last month, the highest in 26 years, the Department of Statistics said on Wednesday. It said the consumer price index (CPI) was boosted by higher costs of food, transport, communications and housing.

The March CPI was down 0.1 percent from February's figure, the department added. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the index was 0.3 percent higher in March, compared with the previous month. Inflation reached 6.6 percent in the first three months of 2008, compared with the same period last year.

Singapore is not alone in grappling with inflation.

The United Nations food agency on Tuesday said the world faces a "silent tsunami" of soaring food prices and more must be done to help secure future supply.

Rising food prices are driving more people in Singapore to join the queue for free meals, charities said.

Crude oil is also trading at near record high prices globally.


Such a major boost in inflation should have been printed prominently in our media bastion, the Straits Times. Prominently featured just as when the paper positively glowed and glistened with feel-good mojo during the glorious proclamations of the GST hike.

Boosted, booted, busted, bastard.

The proclamations have become faded echoes. Faded as always with these mass Govt-media campaigns. If we were to replay the jingoistic speeches during 2007’s Budget Debate , they would sound horribly hollow now. Irrelevant, inconsequent, insipid, invalid. Faced with boosting inflation, the Government reverts to its trusted media strategy, another two billion dollar package to help Singaporeans tide over these dire times just like the billion dollar package to tide over the GST hikes. Another screaming headline. Another faded echo to come. Repeating, repetitive, recursive, eventually repulsive. Media mediated visions to re-slave the enslaved, to nurse the sleeping to unconsciousness.

And while the state machinery churns out its movies, its frames to rapture us about our future, to squeeze us in our ennui, its efficient and grotesque political machines continue humming at the local levels, local governance, our little temaseks, masked as town councils, blithe to the cries of our citizens, standing in line for a kilo of rice from Tua Pek Kong, a kilo of rice from Prophet Mohammed, a kilo of rice from Jesus Christ.

There is something fundamentally wrong in Singapore.

There is something fundamentally wrong when our town councils masquerade as little temaseks, squirreling away significant percentages of our conservancy charges into enormous sinking funds. Little temaseks hoarding 30% of what we pay every month and investing them in funds and financial products with only whispers of accountability. Town councils playing little temaseks, while those they bleed from, stand in line for a kilo of rice. Perhaps these little temaseks should occasionally pretend to be town councils and build some covered walkways to all the charities so that citizens can wait for their kilo of rice in condescending shade.

It is perhaps tolerable for the citizen during times of reasonable plenty, to witness political control of local governance, our town councils, our little temaseks through Governmental manipulation of community funding, and turn a blind eye. Political control through fund conditions like the mandatory allocation of surplus funds to sinking funds, which in the case of Hougang means that the town council is forced to charge higher conservancies, or the inequitable distribution of Community Improvement grants by MND to different constituencies, are political luxuries in times of plenty. In times of plenty, all these manipulations at local governance to add gloss to living in a PAP-controlled ward as opposed to an Opposition ward, does not hurt the citizen and he is mostly oblivious to the difference.

In times of need, the burden of such systemic grotesque political mechanisms, like maintaining huge sinking funds, while the needy are trying desperately, simply, just to get food on the table, is a political cruelty. It is cruelty when almost 30% of what you pay in conservancy charges is allocated into town council sinking funds; it is a political cruelty when conservancy charges have to be raised so as to meet the minimum contribution into town council sinking funds.

It is cruelty to forget the impact such political controls, such political mechanisms, have on the lives of citizens at these local governance levels.

Rolling out billion dollar packages are mere stop-gap measures which look good on paper. There is a reason why more people are queuing for free food at the charities. It is not only because they need this aid; it is more the simple fact that aid disbursed by charities comes with much less bureaucratic tangle than the billion dollar packages. With the charities, the needy need not have to crawl through broken glass to get a kilo of rice; they need not have to have their dignity broken.

There is something fundamentally wrong in Singapore if we have to stand in line for a kilo of rice from Tua Pek Kong while 30% of the conservancy charges we pay every month feeds nobody.

Quotes of the Day --

“You are a historian. You know what evils have been perpetrated through the ages to ensure the survival of nations, sects, religions, even individual families. Whatever man has done for good or ill has been done in the knowledge that he has been formed by history, that his life-span is brief, uncertain, insubstantial, but that there will be a future, for the nation, for the race, for the tribe. That hope has finally gone except in the minds of fools and fanatics. Man is diminished if he lives without knowledge of his past; without hope of a future he becomes a beast … We have plans that will ensure that the last generation fortunate enough to live in the multiracial boarding house we call Britain will have stored food, necessary medicines, light, water and power. Besides these achievements, does the country greatly care that some Sojourners are discontented, that some of the aged choose to die in company, that the Man Penal Colony isn’t pacified?” – Children of Men, PD James

“A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed... When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker, a raving lunatic.” – Dresden James