Thursday, June 29, 2006

Colombo Calling

As Sri Lanka went on the brink on civil war and a high-ranking military official was assasinated on his way to work, I was there in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for work.

There was clearly a visible army presence in the city. At night, when you travelled, you would be stopped from time to time for random checks. But the military officers that stopped us were polite and careful not to alarm a foreign visitor.

One of the things that surprised me is how people have accepted that the political uncertainty is here to stay. Despite this, it has not dampened its people's desire to do good for their country.

My Sri Lankan host explained, "Generally, the unhappiness is with the army and political leadership. However, sometimes there are civilian casualties as a result of attacks against the army."

And this was seen in how many people are committed to learning and development. For example, I met a lawyer who for the last 15 years has almost independently coordinated the publication of the Sri Lankan Bar Association's law journal. And managing a law journal is no small feat!

There is also a lot of development work going on. Sri Lanka's tallest landmark is in the process of being built. Its airport is being renovated to match some of the best airports in the world. In fact, when I landed and walked into the arrival area of the airport, it felt like I had touched down in Heathrow Airport in London, England.

I stayed in Cinnamon Hotel and its standard of hospitality matches that of the Hilton or the JW Marriott.

Sri Lanka has also opened its economy to attract foreign investors. Foreign entities can own up to 100% of ventures. Some of the world's best companies are setting up shop here.

The Sri Lankan government has also just announced plans to have companies run taxi fleets of international standards. Banks and insurance companies are seeking to increase their capital to provide better services to their customers.

It is also easy to do business here since people speak their mind and generally tell you what they can or cannot do. So you are less likely to be left second guessing what's on people's minds!

There is also good balance of old and new. The day to day affairs of some companies are run by young persons - some a lot younger than me! And the strategic direction in these companies is handled by what I would call "wise old men"; many come back from retirement to do this. For example, the chief of one company I visited is 72 years old!

These companies have made good use of technology and talent from overseas to grow their business.

I have come home desiring to persuade my friends to take a holiday in Sri Lanka. Colombo is indeed a city to go back to.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Letter: Publish media regulators' letters on websites


About a year ago, I had written to you and suggested that the Ministry of Information, Communication & the Arts and/or the Media Development Authority should consider making their replies to issues raised in the press available on their respective websites. Your team then replied the suggestion will be looked into. One year on, it appears this idea has not been taken up.

Letters to the press often raise important concerns regarding our media's regulatory landscape, and it is in the interest of high-profile bodies such as the Ministry of Information, Communication & the Arts and/or the Media Development Authority to make their letters to the press available on the relevant websites. This to also follow the example set by other government bodies such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

I hope your team will re-consider this suggestion.

Dharmendra Yadav

Thursday, June 15, 2006

How To Be Bad Positively

Today, I had to tell someone that something he had suggested was a bad idea. It was not easy but it had to be done.

I often wonder, "Why do some people find it difficult to tell someone else, especially their bosses, that something is a bad idea?"

And this question has left me with some answers about such people:
- they are afraid of being scolded by their bosses.
- they do not wish to be written off or have their promotion or increment held back.
- they need the job more than the job needs them.
- they lack integrity.
- they have killed their conscience.
- they do not wish to be labelled negative.

But then, all these reasons cannot explain some people just get away by saying something is a bad idea, especially if these people are not the favourites of the bosses or the best performers in an organisation.

The "secret" really is in how you convey your sentiment.

If you want to disagree with an idea, it is useful to first state what you feel are the advantages. After that, state the disadvantages. Finally, weigh the advantages & disadvantages, and tell the person why you think his idea is bad.

More often than not, I have found that the other person will accept this. This is because it shows to the person that you have thought about his idea and reached an informed conclusion about it.

My boss tells me that there is also another "secret" way to tell someone bad news. If you want to give someone bad news, tell the person first that you need a few days to think about it. After a few days, come back and tell the person that you have looked into it, explain and give the person the bad news. The person is more likely to accept the bad news since it will indicate to him that you have taken some time to think about it.

I find it hard to respect a person who finds it difficult to tell someone else that something is a bad idea.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lunch Talk: Insurance Purchase

I attended a law conference on doing business overseas at Meritus Mandarin Hotel today.

At lunch, I met a fellow corporate counsel from a top global telecoms provider. She asked me, "What should I find out when I buy an insurance policy?"

An internal auditor from a property development company also asked me, "When I buy an insurance policy, should I buy from an insurance adviser or directly from the insurance company?"

Much can be said about questions like these. However, I did not want to confuse them so I answered as simply as reasonably possible.


When buying an insurance policy, a person must first understand what his / her needs are.

One buys insurance for three key purposes: savings, investment or protection.

Having understood his / her needs, a person then needs to find a product that matches or most closely relates to those needs. This requires some legwork.

To understand an insurance product, one needs to take note of a few things:
a. what benefits does the product provide
b. what the product does not cover
c. what key aspects of the product that a person must know
d. how much to pay for the product
e. when and how to make a claim


Using an insurance adviser, especially one that has many years of experience, can save you a lot of legwork and help you quickly understand a product.

Such an insurance adviser may also be able to tell you much about products available in the market, and how one product compares to another. Of course, it is important to verify such advice. I have found that the best way to do this is to check the information against what other insurance advisers tell me or call the insurance companies directly.

The insurance adviser can also help you complete the necessary forms, have these submitted to the insurance company and collect the relevant policy contracts for you.

It is also important to buy from an insurance adviser you are comfortable with, since you are likely to return to him / her to purchase other insurance policies or when you need to make a claim.

In my view, buying from an experienced insurance adviser has one significant advantage. You are immediately assured that he's not a "fly-by-night" operation, which - unfortunately - is the case with some insurance advisers today. This is why some customers prefer to deal directly with insurance companies, and more insurance companies are responding to such preferences.

I also notice more experienced insurance advisers today handing over their portfolio of customers to another competent insurance adviser; sometimes, the latter is the insurance adviser's own child or some other family member. Basically, what this means is that you are less likely to be left alone, when you buy from an experienced insurance adviser!

However, if you are prepared to do the legwork yourself, going direct to an insurance company can save you some money. Some insurance companies are willing to give their customers a discount for going directly to them.


Visit the Know Your Insurance website.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Debit or Credit Cards For Young Persons

A young person recently asked me, "I am not sure if I should get a debit or credit card. What do you think is the right one for me?"

The ideal way of answering a difficult question like this is to say: No debit cards or credit cards for a young person and end there. But then, that’s not practical in this day and age, where we espouse debt as a status symbol and, by saying so, I risk being out of fashion!

As such, it needs a pragmatic answer: Yes, young persons need credit cards or debit cards, but it is necessary to appreciate how these cards work.


Credit cards are a tool of the money economy. Like all financial services products, credit cards have been tailored to exploit a fundamental human weakness: insecurity. There are three main credit card companies in Singapore: Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Lesser known ones include Diner's Club and JCB.

It is my understanding that credit cards became fashionable at a time when cheques and other equivalent modes of payment were running out of fashion.

Merchants were not getting prompt payment because the cheques would bounce or take time to clear. Consumers did not like to carry wards of cash or the hassle that cheques brought. For example, some merchants started requiring consumers to come and collect the goods after a cheque had cleared. There were also instances when these merchants would even cheat consumers by providing inferior quality goods on the day of collection.

Credit cards dealt with these insecurities because it allowed merchants to collect payment and consumers to collect their goods immediately, at the point of transaction.


The Straits Times recently carried a series of articles on what the young want. Among other things, the newspaper found that the young liked to purchase the latest gadgets and unique travel packages. If you are a young person that likes to buy these things by spending what you have, a debit card is for you. On the other hand, if you are a young person that likes to buy first and pay later, a credit card can be useful.

With a debit card, you spend only what you have. To qualify for a credit, you need - among other things - to earn a minimum income of $30,000 per annum or you need a generous person willing to give you a supplementary card. Most graduates face little difficulty qualifying for a credit card. With a credit card, you get to spend up to twice your monthly salary. Users of credit cards must, however, be disciplined about how they use such cards.


In his book, The Birth of the Chaordic Age, Dee Hock, described, among other things, the emergence of Visa as "chaordic". "Chaordic" is a word Dee Hock invented. It means something whose behaviour "harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order".

In my view, credit cards are inherently "chaordic". If it is used properly, it can bring order to a chaotic life. If it is used indiscriminately, it can bring chaos to an orderly lifestyle.


There are three features that make credit cards inherently "chaordic":
1. Interest Rates, Late Payment Fee & Annual Fees
2. Minimum Payment & Deadlines
3. Incentives For Spending


Interest rates, late payment fees & annual fees are the primary ways in which credit card issuers make their money.

The interest rates that you pay on credit cards are higher than 15% per annum. Interest is charged on the total outstanding amount every month, that is both on what you spend and the current balance on your credit card. This can be painful. As one person describes in the book, Real Tips, Real Money, "It is like paying repeatedly for dinners you have already eaten, trips you have already taken and clothes you have already worn and given aways."

A substantial proportion of people have become bankrupt because they failed to pay up on time. Nevertheless, The Straits Times revealed recently that, due to a healthy economy, the numbers are falling.

If you fail to pay on time, you also incur late payment fees. This is usually charged at a fixed rate of above $20 per month. Citibank recently announced that, in addition to the interest and late payment fee, it would impose an interest rate surcharge of less than 1% if individuals failed to pay on time. The New Paper described this is a first for a bank in Singapore.

Credit card companies also usually charge an annual fee on the card. It is possible to get the issuing banks to waive it, if you spend regularly on your card. More banks are increasingly willing to do so. And, in fact, some banks now use this as a marketing gimmick to get people to apply for their cards.

If you chalk up huge credit card debts, you may also wish to consider refinancing the debt through loans from banks or balance transfer facilities that credit card issuers provides. The advantages of refinancing it through loans are that it disciplines you to pay a regular amount, the interest rates are not variable and eventually you end up getting rid of the debt!


1. It is best not to incur interest and late payment fees.

2. Get the credit card issuer to waive your annual fees.

3. If you have credit card debts, get rid of it quickly.

4. Refinance the debt to enjoy lower interest rates.


In order to continue to be able to use a credit card, one is required pay a minimum payment by a certain deadline each month.

The market practice is $100 or 3% of the total outstanding amount, whichever is higher. This minimum payment usually covers the interest and a small percentage of the principal amount owed. At this payment level and if you owe a few thousand dollars, it can take years to fully pay off the debt. It is therefore important to pay more than the minimum sum.

Some credit card issuers are known to change the deadline on which the minimum payments are due. For example, if for one month you need to pay by the 16th day of the month, you may find that in the next month you will need to pay by the 14th day of that month. The strategy is really to get you to incur the late payment fees. Some consider this tactical; others may consider this sneaky.

Fortunately, this is something that not all credit card issuers practice. For example, with Citibank, you can request for the deadline to fall on a certain day of every month. The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, which will soon apply to financial services products, is also likely to bring an end to such practices.


1. Pay more than the minimum payment.

2. Make sure you check and keep to the payment deadlines.


Many credit card issuers now try to entice individuals to use their credit cards by providing special discounts at retail outlets, introducing rewards system and organising special events. Some even provide free entry or exclusive offers at popular discos or bars in Singapore. The aim of all these is to entice you to spend and use your credit cards. Often, people end up buying things that they do not really need.

In recent times, some credit card issuers have started providing rebates or cash back, based on what you spend. A good example of this is Standard Chartered Bank's Manhattan Card. I think this is more healthy and less wasteful. It allows users to focus on buying things they need while deriving benefits from spending that is necessary.


The right question the young should ask is not how to choose a credit card. The right question to ask is how to use a credit card properly.

Dharmendra Yadav

*This article formed the basis of a speech I delivered at National University of Singapore Business School on 30 March 2006.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Grow With Your Competitors

I recently had to come face to face with two experiences involving one's competitors.


In one of the societies, where I serve actively, I proposed to promote a service provided by another company. A fellow committee member suggested that the service would be in direct competition with something our committee already did, and we should not facilitate such initiatives. This even though we recognised that the service provided by the external party was better than what the committee provided. After some discussion, we implemented the initiative by way of an experiment; our members are delighted!


I went into a computer shop to purchase 2 items. A salesman provided me both items. As I was about to pay, he asked me if he could be honest me. I said okay.

He then told me I should not buy one of the items since another shop in the same area was having a promotion on that item. I was impressed by his knowledge of his competitors. I took his advice. Now I go back to his shop frequently for more products and advice!


We should not fear our competitors. We should take greater interest in their work, especially in what they do better than us. We should be willing to use our competitors to delight our customers. We can "co-opt" them. If you do so, you may well find customers coming back to you more often.

Dharmendra Yadav

Book Review: The Little Red Dot, Reflections by Singapore's Diplomats

As a student of international law, I always used to wonder about Singapore's lack of prominence in certain areas of international relations. I thought we had many good reasons to be prominent.

After all, it was the leadership of one of our diplomats, Professor Tommy Koh, that helped the world to agree on a standardised law of the sea. The constant chants of our diplomats and political leaders also continue to influence the world that human rights must be balanced by human responsibilities. Above all, Singapore had gone from third world to first in about three decades and, even today, many countries seek to transplant our success in their own backyards.

As such, The Little Red Dot, Reflections by Singapore's Diplomats, edited by Professor Tommy Koh and Chang Li Lin, is a collection of stories long overdue.

The collection of stories puts into context our achievements and contributions in international relations while helping readers to appreciate the demands on our little foreign service beyond our little red dot.

It also highlights how our pragmatism (and, to some extent, luck) has influenced the way we deal with our many international friends.

Those who come away with the impression this is a coffee-table book providing a glossy picture of the foreign service are likely to have been charmed by the plain and diplomatic language used throughout this book. (What else can you expect from diplomats, right?)

This is, quite simply, not just a collection of inspiring stories. The real beauty of this book is in the subtle messages found across the book.

A reader sensitive to the subtleties will find in this book some of the more serious challenges faced by Singapore's foreign service in protecting its interests across the world, including having to face highly embarassing situations or near-death experiences.

The reader will also realise that our diplomats have thrived by not being "yes-men". This often has meant bending the rules or bypassing protocol. A concern facing the foreign service today is how to continue to attract such individuals who are not afraid to speak up for Singapore and be counted.

Former diplomat Vergese Matthews in his story, Speaking Up For Singapore, writes, "I fear that there has been a perceptible deterioration in MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and the civil service as a whole where this culture of speaking up and/or offering views at variance with those held by the leadership has dissipated...One possible reason is that there has been a national tendency to favour "safe hands" that would not rock the proverbial boat and that had the additional uncanny ability to second-guess what the Ministers were thinking."

Likewise, one of Singapore's leading civil servants, J Pillay, in his story, A Sojourn For Diplomacy, reflects, "Diplomats now have to practise their trade within a restricted compass. The heavy lifting is done by the politicians. It is interesting to speculate whether that situation has hobbled the skills of diplomats and encouraged them to be principally tacticians and perhaps occasionally strategists, but not mould-breakers."

These speculations perhaps explain why in the past our foreign service has been especially successful in winning over persons, like the late Dr David Marshall, who, despite holding very divergent views from the ruling party, have gone on to make sterling contributions to our country.

Some of the stories in this book are "recommended reads" to the general reader:
1. Making Friends by late President Wee Kim Wee, which may motivate you to invite your neighbours and friends to "makan".
2. Eight Lessons on Negotiations by Professor Tommy Koh, which may help you to better persuade others and give you a reason to visit Little India.
3. Reflections in Bits and Pieces by Mr Lee Chiong Giam, which will make you laugh to bits and leave you lessons in pieces.
4. Reflections of 33 years in Diplomacy by Mr Low Choon Ming, which may inspire you to "be interesting".
5. I Wish I Had a Wife by Mrs Mary Seet-Cheng, which gives a refreshing twist to showering attention to other men's wives.

A final warning to readers of this book: it may leave you wishing you were in the foreign service!

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Interview: Internet Regulations on Political Content


It's been ten years since we've had Internet regulations in Singapore, starting with the Class Licence Scheme in 1996 and the Code of Internet Practice in 1997. How do you see regulations as having evolved? The Government talked about regulating with a "light touch" back then -- and now. How has this worked in practice? Have there been any cases where regulations have been enforced?

Firstly, there are other experts in Singapore - Associate Professor Ang Peng Hwa, Assistant Professor Cherian George and Assistant Professor Burton Ong - who can more competently look at the regulations. Please ask them; I have copied this e-mail to them.

When I started contributing to the Internet in 1999, I lived in England and the legislation only applies to an individual in Singapore. Since returning to Singapore, I have also not been too concerned about it. One of my occupational hazards just happens to be a law-abiding mentality, so I have a natural tendency to comply with the law. Hence, for me, the "light touch" has literally been no touch!

Moreover, there are other more important legislation and things to be more concerned about in Singapore. The Internet legislation is a reflection of the mentality inherent in some of our media policies and guidelines to unnecessarily escalate a climate of fear. It emphasises what already exists in other aspects of your statutory law, and which could simply have been extended by way of common law. It is something we did not need in the first place. But it was at that time a knee-jerk response to some Singaporeans' desire to have the internet regulated - for example, parents wishing to protect the interests of their children.

I was only directly affected by the legislation in my work as corporate counsel. Slightly more than a year ago, my employer wanted to set up an internet newspaper and we were concerned about whether there is a need to register the newspaper. I sent in an application and I found out you don't have to register, unless you're invited to do so. I guess that's how the "light touch" works in practice.

For Internet users/practitioners, what have the evolving regulations meant? How have they (had to) adjust(ed)? (There seems to have been talk over the years of the lack of clarity of and vagueness in Government Net regulations -- how has this had an effect on Net users?)

The regulations have had no effect on me as an Internet user, although there is anecdotal evidence on blogs to suggest that some are concerned about the vague regulations.

Can you tell us a bit about the current Sintercom and how it works, what it has been like navigating the regulations?

Please ask the New Sintercom editor, who I have copied this e-mail to. I do not own or manage New Sintercom; I am only a contributor.

How do you see the role of the Internet here vis-a-vis traditional media? How have local regulations shaped that role?

Internet or alternative media supplement what you read or see in the mainstream media. In some cases, they bring you information from primary sources, like recordings of election rallies and reactions of our leaders to their election victiories. In other cases, they provide for views that are not usually heard in the mainstream media. In the ideas marketplace of alternative media, no one idea is more superior than others; every idea deserves and gets a fair hearing. Often times, the alternative media seek to balance what one finds or does not find in our mainstream media. Alternative media place the onus on the individual to accept or reject the idea or view proposed.

Most Internet media about Singapore operate independently and anonymously. Additionally, if one tries to register those not anonymous, one will probably have a compliance enforcement nightmare! These circumstances have made it very difficult for the government to regulate such media. The issue then is not to regulate these media but to respond to them, and the solution lies in having mainstream media feature a plurality of perspectives.

Unfortunately, the irony here is that local guidelines on how mainstream media should report news or views have made it very difficult for mainstream media to respond to the challenge posed by alternative media.

What did you think of the role of the Net/Netizens in the recent GE?

There are other experts in Singapore - Tan Tarn How, Alex Au, Seah Chiang Nee - who can more competently look at this issue. Please ask them; I have copied this e-mail to them.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that the manner in which alternative media covered the General Election had some influence on how mainstream media covered information. For example, some media have had an open policy of supporting the party they believe to be the best choice for Singapore's voters. I noticed a shift in that policy, with more balanced reporting.

Two key facts support this shift. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said at separate events that Singapore's journalists have strongly rooted for the opposition in this General Election. And lo and behold, even the opposition said the same about the mainstream media coverage of the dominant party. Thus, I think our mainstrem media coverage is somewhere in the middle now.

Of course, the other factor why we had balanced reporting has to do with the dynamics within our media companies. In recent years, I am meeting more young, well-trained and critical journalists. They are willing to ask tough questions and they are willing to take up a good fight, even if it means in the process they find themselves in a cul-de-sac and wounded. From where I sit, I see a clear divide within newer and older ranks of the media, especially on what and how news or views should be covered. I believe there is a heightened sense of fairness and justice within our media companies now, and a thirst to feature a plurality of perspectives.

In a 31 May 06 speech, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts Lee Boon Yang said that regulations may evolve further and by the next General Election, the Government "may be able to adopt a lighter-touch approach during the election period". What do you think of this? What will this mean for Net users? Can and how might this "lighter-touch approach" work in practice?

Lee Boon Yang was merely emphasising - for the benefit of less-informed Singaporeans - what is already found in our legislation. As for his comments on an evolving legislation, it is part of the natural progression of any law and I think Singaporeans, who understand how the law works, will appreciate why this happens.

It is hard to say how this law will evolve, since there has been no public consultation on this issue, and the Ministry of Information, Communication & the Arts has been focused on not engaging others on this issue. I wrote to Dr Tan Chin Nam, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Communication & the Arts, about this on 5 April 2006. He did not reply. I wrote to him again on 8 May 2006. His team replied on 9 May 2006. They have thanked me for my "views and have taken note of them". I think this is good progress. From not replying to my suggestions, his team noted them. My letter dated 8 May 2006 and their reply dated 9 May 2006 is on the New Sintercom website.

How do the regulations keep up (or not) with changes in technology?

It is very difficult to deal with questions on expectations of statutory law. Some people feel the statutory law can be more dynamic, others feel the statutory law should respond less reactively to changing whims and fancies of society. There is value in the latter since you don't want to be allowing - for example - pornography in Singapore one day and banning it the next day.

Our common law heritage has many examples of statutory law not always being able to keep up with changing norms. It is because of this we have judges and lawyers, who help the law keep up (or not) with changes. Of course, we need to provide some flexibility in our legislation for our legal profession and judiciary to exercise such discretion.

Saying that regulations should keep up with changes may place an onerous burden on our legislation writers. It is akin to saying that our legislators have all the solutions to our problems and can predict the future, when most of us recognise this is really not the case.

Nevertheless, it is important for a policy maker to keep abreast of changing norms in society. My hope in this regard is that the many advisory committees of the Ministry of Information, Communication & the Arts or the Media Development Authority will become more accessible, and meet the public more regularly. Let people engage these advisory committees and from such regular and direct contact, specific areas for legislative reform will naturally follow.

What are your views on regulating the Internet (at all)? Why?

Our media regulators should realise that the more they control online discourse, the more people will go anonymous. Dr Balaji Sadasivan has said, "In a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public."

My experience has been the opposite. Take the case of Sintercom. Before our media regulators engaged its owners, Sintercom's forum had a vibrant community. There was good debate, and it was a crucible of wonderful ideas and suggestions. There is currently no lack of "unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions" on the Internet. I don't think the public has been misled and confused. With more access to information, a person can better differentiate between waste and useful material. The Internet has helped me understand television and newspapers better. I can now verify the information I read or see on mainstream media quickly. Others now tell me they are doing the same. And I think this has paved the way for more accountable journalism in Singapore.

How does the regulatory regime here compare with that of other countries?

I have no competency to answer this. I have copied this e-mail to more competent persons in Singapore - Bryan Tan of Keystone Law Corporation and Assistant Professor Burton Ong. Please ask them.

Dharmendra Yadav

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Response: Private Sector Talent In Government


Of the eight new office-holders appointed, five are from corporations. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for an easier 'two-way flow' between private-sector talent and the public sector. The Straits Times published a story on this issue on 3 June 2006: "Private enterprise, public service". What is your response?

One of the things the PAP government realised in its early days was we lacked the entreprenuerial calibre that made Hong Kong tick. We sought to fill that gap through "quasi-entrepreneurs" in Singapore Airlines, Temasek Holdings, Housing & Development Board, etc. And these organisations were helmed by the entrepreneurs and private sector talents, such as Lim Kim San and Richard Hu. We now seem to be stretching the "quasi-entrepreneur" into the realm of private sector talent. Ask the reasonable person on the street and the person is likely to tell you that Temasek Holdings, PSA and even the NTUC cooperatives are not really private sector; they are, in fact, government-linked entities.

Thus, Amy Khor and Teo Ser Luck are clearly private sector. It will be interesting to see if Amy Khor and Teo Ser Luck will one day go on to be full ministers.

Over time, the People's Action Party appears to have lost the ability to attract the likes of Lim Kim San and Richard Hu. It is telling that the opposition parties featured a better slate of such entrepreneurs and private sector talents in the recent elections. Of those that the PAP currently attracts, very few go on to be the calibre that Lim Kim San and Richard Hu represented; some are also eased out after one or two tems. I think our policy-makers now accept this, and that's why they have sought to engage such entrepreneurs and private sector talents through alternative channels.

Does this then mean our parliamentary democracy needs to be changed? My answer would be no. To me, it is simply an indication that the PAP needs to change and I think the PAP leaders have already recognised this.

Dharmendra Yadav

*Part of this response was published in The Straits Times (Singapore) on 10 June 2006.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Rahul Gandhi - A Son Rises


Rahul Gandhi's visit to Singapore shows its leaders are mindful he may one day be Prime Minister of India

A big name is visiting Singapore this week on a trip that has sparked speculation.

Why is Mr Rahul Gandhi in Singapore? This is a question Indians, Singaporeans and others are asking in the wake of the Indian Member of Parliament's visit here.

As the scion of a very important family of prime ministers that has shaped independent India, Mr Gandhi, 35, is no unknown in Indian politics. He is the great-grandson of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He is also the grandson of the late Indira Gandhi and the son of Rajiv Gandhi — both prime ministers in their time. Sonia Gandhi — the current leader of India's ruling Congress Party — is his mother.

During his visit, Mr Gandhi had access to the highest levels of government in Singapore. There were meetings lined up for him with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo and Minister for Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam — key members of our Cabinet who are likely to helm Singapore politics for at least the next decade.

Tellingly, Mr Gandhi's trip came at the invitation of modern Singapore's founding father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who also met him.

His week-long trip, which started on Monday, included visits to government agencies and key Singapore organisations such as Changi Airport, the Singapore Management University, Biopolis, the Singapore National Eye Centre, the Port of Singapore Authority, Singapore Airlines, Keppel Corporation, Creative Technologies and SingTel.

This shows he is no ordinary junior parliamentarian and that this may well be a trip to align Singapore's interests with India's future leadership.

The two countries are becoming increasingly important to each other.

Our armed forces now undergo training in India. We are providing more scholarships to students from India. More Indian firms are setting up offices here; some even have regional headquarters in Singapore. Bollywood films are being made in Singapore, and we have more Indian television channels reaching Singapore homes.

Mr Gandhi, meanwhile, has already started making his mark in politics.

His visit comes after a historic win for Sonia Gandhi in her constituency, which he was instrumental in securing. Media in India described her winning margin of over 400,000 votes as the "highest ever by anyone in the Gandhi dynasty".

Analysts believe Mr Gandhi is now ready to take on greater responsibility in India, which his mother has confirmed as foreseeable. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also appears to be building up this perception by taking a more than casual interest in the young man's development. Some observers are certain he is being groomed to eventually take over as India's Prime Minister.

In his first two years in politics, Mr Gandhi — who studied economics at Harvard University but never completed his degree — learnt (or re-learnt) governance and public administration. Following the example of some of the democratic world's more successful leaders, he has left no doubt of his desire to build his support base from the ground up.

He is wooing India's young voters and speaking out for them. Earlier this year, he said in Parliament: "No Indian girl or boy should be deprived of higher education because they cannot afford it." The Indo-Asian News Service has noted: "Rahul Gandhi, who has toured different parts of the country to learn how self-help groups and healthcare systems function in rural India, now appears to be in a mood to learn about high-tech developments and the free-market economy."

Foreign affairs also appears to be a new interest of Mr Gandhi's. Last year, he was in Afghanistan with Mr Singh, and was also at the World Economic Forum in Germany. This interest culminates in his trip to Singapore where he will have an interactive session on public policy and South Asian matters with two think-tanks here.

He may also be in Singapore to understand India's relations with China. When British Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to learn about engaging China, he sought the views of MM Lee, among others. Mr Gandhi could be learning from Mr Blair.

Indeed, his visit to Singapore — to quote CNN — brings him a "step closer to the Gandhi throne".

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Confront Your Assumptions


Undergraduate Surekha Yadav recently shared how many around her just watched as a foreign labourer was assaulted ("A bashing and a S'porean's shame", June 2).

Readers have written in and many focused on what onlookers should have done. But few discussed what could prompt a person to act so aggressively against another. In my view, the cause lies in a person's failure to take responsibility for confronting his or her stereotypes of others.

Many around the world see immigrants and foreign labour as taking jobs away from citizens, and bringing with it social menaces to burden a country's criminal justice system.

Yet, official statistics in most parts of the world indicate that there is little or no basis for such belief. In fact, it is possible to argue that immigrants and the use of foreign labour has helped countries.

Take Singapore for example. Without an immigrant population, she may have simply remained a fishing village.

Incidents against people one has pre-conceived notions about are not isolated. In some parts of the world, heterosexual men wait outside watering holes for homosexual men to assault the latter as they leave. The former labour under the illusion that it is the wish of every homosexual man to get every heterosexual male to bat for the same side.

Some employers are unwilling to employ HIV-positive persons for fear that talent will be driven away and the disease could spread in the office. They are unconvinced by medical evidence that the virus spreads through an exchange of bodily fluids.

We are unwilling to be seen in the company of women from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia or Thailand, or even transgenders, since others might see us as their "customers". So we avoid places like Orchard Towers.

If such assumptions are not confronted, there is a risk these generalisations will root themselves in our psyche and escalate to aggressive or insensitive acts.

I used to think I would never be able to survive in a local company as some of my views diverge from the established thinking of the day.

I also believed that the leaders of such companies have a penchant for toeing the line.

I confronted my assumption — and have had three enjoyable years working for a local cooperative where critical thinking and robust debates about the established line are encouraged.

I am comfortable with both my homosexual and heterosexual friends. A night out in Orchard Towers is as decent as a night out at the Ministry of Sound.

Every time I have had to confront my assumptions about others, I usually found myself to be mistaken. Instead of throwing stones, I have found it better to engage with these people.

Our judiciary has shown a desire to help people confront their preconceptions with the setting up of a community court. Judge Bala Reddy directed a young person who had made negative remarks about an ethnic group to work within that group.

Other organisations here can follow the judiciary's example.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has consistently emphasised the need to build an inclusive and gracious Singapore. He reiterated this at the end of a divisive electoral battle and at his Cabinet's swearing-in ceremony.

An inclusive and gracious Singapore cannot happen if we — as individuals — are not willing to take responsibility in confronting our assumptions.

Dharmendra Yadav

P.S: Lest you assume, I am not related to Surekha Yadav.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Think Happiness Inspiration

Last month, Alex Au of Yawning Bread, suggested that I set up my own blog to discuss my views and perspectives on issues of the day.

He felt I had a lot to say about equally many things and it was just impossible to put all these on New Sintercom, without compromising its independence.

Over the last few weeks, I have given this idea some thought. Initially, I was concerned if I would have the time or the resources to achieve this.

I have also thought about why I want to do this. My view is that if one wants to do something and one can find a strong reason to do so, one is likely to do it. I have now persuaded myself that I can and need to do this.

Think Happiness is thus an attempt to record some of my musings on current issues that concern me. The musings are in no way my final word on such issues. Over time, these views - like most perspectives - will meander and evolve.

Perhaps one day, these musings, through its meanders, will become my own personal mantras.

Thank you Alex Au for this inspiration!

Dharmendra Yadav