Thursday, August 25, 2011

My President, His Daughter

And you wonder how they missed her for Tin Pei Ling?

I hope she runs for Parliament in 2016 and give voters like me a chance to let her be our voice.

After all that she has said, I don't have to give you any more additional reasons about why I am voting for her father.

As a Singaporean, I wholly agree with her. When you vote this Saturday, make your voice count.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My President, My Voice

The Workers’ Party yesterday released a statement about how their constituents are being disadvantaged by shameful politicking.

What is the President of Singapore – who is above politics; who was deemed elected by the whole electorate; who is supposed to be the balance of power – doing about it?

He has been absolutely silent. No surprise there because apparently he cannot act, except with the advice of the ruling party.

Is this the kind of confidence the presidency is meant to espouse?

Is this the kind of caged presidency we wish for Singapore to have for the next 6 years?

I was supposed to be out of this country on 27 August 2011 but I decided to postpone this trip to exercise the only opportunity I may have for the next 5 years to pre-empt such state of affairs.

On 27 August 2011, I will be voting for a President, who is not going to sit around in the Istana and watch such unfair treatment of its citizens take place idly.

I will be voting for a President, who will be the balance of power that I would like the President to be.

I will be voting for a President, who can be a voice of the people.

I will be voting for a President, who will be worth every dollar of the over S$4 million the Singaporean coffers pay him annually.

I will be voting for a President, whose office I would like to see established rather than the office that the ruling party would like to see exist.

That is my right as a citizen of Singapore because I have just about had it with twelve years of a stupendously silent presidency.

The constitution cannot be above the will of the electorate.
The electorate can ensure that the constitution continues to reflect its hopes and aspirations.

Majulah Singapura!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Law Ministry Should Share Blame

I did not wish to make any comments on this issue initially.

Many friends have made their views known to me. A foreign service government scholar even invited me to participate in a “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event this Sunday, which I accepted after some hesitation.

It heartened me that many of my non-Indian friends were the ones taking the lead in reacting to this issue, and that it underscores the efforts of the government in creating a united society irrespective of our inherent differences is paying off.

At least one of my friends has written extensively about this issue; both his views and the reply from the government have been made available here.

However, I felt I had to say some thing now that the Minister for Law has put the weight of his office behind this issue.

At the outset, I was surprised that it took the minister more than a week to respond to this issue, which he himself conceded had a xenophobic element, after some 40,000 people have begun preparations to eat curry.

An issue as sensitive as this would never have been allowed to fester for more than a week under the watch of his predecessor and mentor, Professor Shunmugam Jayakumar.

We know the minister has been busy dealing with issues raised by the looming presidential election but, surely, this was a matter that deserved greater priority, given that the minister himself acknowledged emotions were running high in certain forums.

We now also know that the report in the newspaper was riddled with inaccuracies.

If this incident happened more than five years ago, what has happened since? Has the mediation worked? Do the families now have a more constructive relationship with each other?

If the minister was going to take more than a week to respond to this issue, he could have come more prepared to provide a comprehensive account of the matter.

Unfortunately, the journalists present at the press conference failed to ask these tough questions of the minister. Then again, the government has always maintained the Singapore press is not an investigative one; it is not supposed to ask such questions. The pliant nature of its work leaves it with little choice to take at face value what is offered by the government. Later, if the information comes out wrong, it is the national duty of the press to shoulder it squarely.

Nevertheless, how did this report end up getting fed to the newspaper in the first place? The government is known to maintain a tight lid over information that reaches the press. We are told the mediator provided the information. Was the mediator not sufficiently prepared or briefed before the information was shared with the press?

The minister further gave some understanding of the mediation process. If his account is to be relied on, the mediator is absolved of all responsibility.

The reality, if you have ever been involved in a mediation, is that the mediator plays an important role in nudging parties to reach an amicable solution. Often, the process involves the mediator speaking separately to the parties before bringing them together. The mediator will then encourage parties to consider the dispute from different perspectives in an effort to get them to consider solutions that can work.

It is true, as the minister suggests, the solution is neither imposed, recommended nor enforced by the mediator. But the mediator is a key facilitator of the dispute and it is quite likely that, in the absence of a mediator, the parties would have failed to reach such a solution.

Given these circumstances, the agency of the ministry has to shoulder some, if not most, of the blame. My friend has sought an apology from the law ministry for this incident. I am not hopeful he will get one.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Has the Prime Minister run out of ideas?

Having sat through about three hours of the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally 2011, I was reminded of some words that an opposition politician had shared at an event a day earlier.

The opposition politician had suggested the ruling party has run out of solutions to offer Singaporeans and, like its dying founding fathers, it is ailing. The Minister present at the event naturally disagreed reflexively, “He has been very political today!”

I thought, “If politicians are not political, who else would be?”

At the National Day Rally, the Prime Minister added new meaning to being political. He had nothing new to offer, except certain enhancements to his policies here and there. The more the Prime Minister talked, the more his words sounded like an opposition party manifesto.

Yet, the solutions he offered fell just short of the solutions proposed by the opposition. Perhaps, just like the blue he wore - some shades darker than the blue of the Workers’ Party - a feeble attempt by the Prime Minister to be different?

If that was not enough, he reverted to the usual fear-mongering tactics, which has become the bulwark of dominant Singapore politics. Investors will pack up and leave. Jobs will be lost. The country will falter.

While emphasising that Singapore is not a welfare state, he announced welfare-driven changes to Singapore’s health policies.

Dismissing the suggestion that the government of the day is not populist, he paved the way for populist measures to improve access to housing and universities. The ultimate populist move came when he pandered to an opposition theme of “putting Singaporeans first” and announced a slew of initiatives to stem the flow of immigration into Singapore.

To me, the National Day Rally did not reflect a Prime Minister speaking from a position of power. It reflected a Prime Minister frightened and bullied by the electorate. His real message to Singaporeans like me was however not lost.

In encouraging Singaporeans to come forward and share ideas, in urging Singaporeans to seek different paths to success, in pleading with young Singaporeans to listen and follow the example of their elders, all the Prime Minister was effectively emphasising was that it is time to be bold and masters of our own destinies.

Behind his words, the Prime Minister was underscoring the urgency of taking a page from our forefathers to allow a new person to bring fresh ideas to the table.

If these are the kinds of things that the Prime Minister is going to champion for the next five years, the only real change likely to happen is the Prime Minister himself or the government in power.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Singapore Theatre Festival 2011

I am a donor to the theatre company, W!ld Rice. I think there are many things that can be said or expressed through theatre about issues of the day, without offending prevailing sensitivities.

W!ld Rice has, in recent years, earned a name for itself in this regard. One of the ways it does so is through its biennial Singapore Theatre Festival, which started in 2006. The Straits Times interviewed me about this development then.

W!ld Rice has been so effective in its work that the National Arts Council wanted to send a negative message to W!ld Rice about this so it snipped the funds it gives W!ld Rice last year. Donors like me wanted to send a message to the National Arts Council so we increased our donations.

Perhaps, the Government now realises that it must provide such space for critical views if it wants to avoid losing more seats in Parliament.

In a sign of changing times last weekend, a sitting Minister decided to address theatre-goers at the festival. He discussed a range of issues with representatives from civil society and opposition parties.

Even the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers made his presence felt by attending the performance immediately before the Minister addressed the festival.

Perhaps, the National Arts Council will now revisit its decision to cut W!ld Rice's access to necessary funds.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Government Reply: Mediation Result Racist

The government has replied to my friend's letter, in the face of an unfortunate and shameful attempt by an agency of the Ministry of Law to brandish as exemplary a case that had a racist outcome.

My friend's comments, the reply from the Ministry of Law and the response of my friend to the Ministry of Law is made available below.

If you agree with my friend's views, please consider raising this issue directly with the Ministry of Law or your Member of Parliament.
I know some people are considering making a police report on this matter or even writing to the Presidential Council of Minority Rights, given the looming presidential election. You can explore these options with your respective legal advisers.

Dharmendra Yadav


Many of you have read my note to the Ministry of Law's Community Mediation Program, on the absurd decision that bars an Indian family from cooking curry in their own home.

The Community Mediation Centre replied to my email. Basically, the CMC's position boils down to this: the parties reached the agreement themselves, so to hell with common sense.

This begs the question - can we trust these clowns with anything, if they're so quick to hide behind other people at the first sign of their feet being held to the fire? Also, if they are so quick to shirk any responsibility for lack of common sense, what confidence can we have that they will apply any in future?

My own view is that the decision is extraordinarily bad, and inexcusable. It's either racist and inconsiderate in the extreme, or severely lacking in sense. Which is worse, you decide.

Still more disappointing is the knee-jerk defence of the decision. These people clearly don't get the point - that the decision is one that is offensive to right thinking people.

Had there been an apology by the Ministry, or a promise to reconsider the decision, you would have been forgiven for thinking it's a one-off. However, the defence of the decision lends weight to the suspicion that our country's civil service has evolved to the point where many decisions are made in a vacuum, disconnected from good sense, by a corps who have a deeply ingrained aversion to taking responsiblity.

This is bad for our country's future. And its present. I do wish there was more we could do to hold these people accountable, but it does seem like they're cocooned and live in an ivory tower.

For those of you who want to write to the CMC yourself, you should. If nothing else, it may emphasize that common sense is still a commodity in demand, and dodging responsibility is not appreciated.


We thank you for your feedback and concerns raised regarding the article in Today, “Number of neighbour disputes hit high” (8 August 2011) and write to clarify the case facts.

The article stated that community mediator, Mdm Marcellina Giam, “got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home”. We have checked with Mdm Giam and this is inaccurate. The solution to the dispute was proposed by one of the parties and accepted by the other party. Mdm Giam did not propose the solution for the parties, neither did she impose it on them.

This is in fact the crux of mediation. The community mediators, who are trained volunteers, act as a neutral third party to facilitate discussions between the disputing parties. Their role is not to decide on the outcome of a case; they have no authority to do so. The final outcome, which is unique to each case, must be a mutually acceptable solution arrived at by both disputing parties after discussion. Mediation seeks to provide an informal and amicable way of settling inter-personal, social and community disputes to cultivate a more harmonious, civil and gracious society.

In cases where parties are of different ethnicities, cultural background or nationalities, the community mediators take great care in trying to get parties to understand the varying perspectives, and foster greater understanding and communication. In this particular case, despite clearly different cultural backgrounds, both parties were able to come to a mutually agreed solution by themselves in the interest of neighbourliness.

We have also issued a clarification on the matter.

Joanna Hor
Deputy Manager
Community Mediation Unit


Thank you for your response. It does not address the concerns raised in my email.

Stripping away all the window dressing in your reply, what you're saying is that the parties agreed to the decision, and the mediator facilitated it, and so that should be the end of it. I've also read your ministry's clarification in the linked article. It is similarly unhelpful, and, like your reply, dodges the obvious issue:

- at a deep fundamental level, your mediator facilitated in 2 parties arriving at an extraordinarily bad decision, that is overtly racist, disrespectful of a family's right to enjoyment of their property, and prefers the spurious demands of a foreign family while relegating the rights of a local family.

I did in my earlier email say that it's not an answer to say that the mediator had nothing to do with the outcome. Yet you glibly state that the mediator "did not propose the solution for the parties, neither did she impose it on them". Aside from being a nice turn of phrase, this means nothing. Irrespective of what (you say) parties agreed to, there is absolutely no room for you to say that the outcome reflected any good sense. If that's what you're trying to imply, it's disingenuous. Let's be clear about this: The mediator had a responsibility to exercise good sense. The decision reflected a total lack of sense. In this case it is binary. You are either for common sense or for the decision, and going by your defence of the decision, it's clear that common sense is, after all, not that common.

Your knee-jerk defence of the mediator and the bad outcome sends the message that the mediation centre/your ministry could not care less about fundamental unfairness in the outcomes you strike, and that you will hide behind the parties to dodge responsibility for bad decisions, ignoring all good sense, and no matter the policy interests that are offended by it. That's plain irresponsible.

Please also enlighten me as to what is the "more harmonious, civil and gracious society" that you say the program aims to achieve? Going by your view, it seems that will be a society where your centre endorses foreigners making unreasonable demands of locals, and has no qualms about having locals bow to these. Please, spare us such a society, we can do without it. If your ministry / centre does not have the spine to call out a stupid and unmeritorious request for mediation for what it is, what confidence can we have that you will safeguard any of our interests? Or that we can trust your centre with anything of significance?

You seem oblivious to the firestorm that this has created. I'd encourage you to access the online media to appreciate what Singaporeans really think about your centre and the decision.

The initial decision was disappointing. Your present email even more so.

Harveen Singh Narulla

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making President Tan Kin Lian Happen

I had initially held back endorsing my former boss, Tan Kin Lian, as I did not wish to pre-empt the issuance of the Certificate of Eligibility. It is time to stand up and be counted.

I worked with him for some 5 years. I have written about what his presidency will mean. I know his strengths and weaknesses. I believe he has the right values that this august office needs. I agree he can be the Voice of The People. I am voting for Tan Kin Lian.

If on Nomination Day Tan Kin Lian declares that he will not be standing for the presidential election, I will vote for any candidate he endorses.

Thank you, Mr Tan, for giving me the opportunity to vote again.

Dharmendra Yadav

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What Singaporean first DPM should do

[Note: This is a third party perspective of a grassroots leader.]

During a dialogue themed Singaporeans in Conversation, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke to about 250 students. When asked about the PAP losing power some day, he replied affirmatively. He added, "But do I see a smooth transition to a system that's more glorious? The answer is no. I think it will be a very difficult transition. And I'm not sure what the outcome will be and I'm not convinced the outcome will be a better one."

I was uncomfortable with his comments and concerned that our DPM took such a position. What troubles me is not that one day the PAP may lose power, but that the transition would not be smooth, as he articulated.

Many thoughts go through my mind when I reflect on the term “transition”. Does transition mean that the hand-over from one government to another would be road blocked with administrative hurdles? Does transition mean that PAP supporters will go onto the streets to protest (and worse still riot)? Or is he taking a view of transition to mean that a new government would take many years before they reach a point of maturity to govern effectively? I can only speculate.

Personally, I cannot agree with the DPM for the following reasons:

1. We have a highly educated, efficient and effective civil service. We are praised far and wide for being a “government that works”. Credit goes to the years of evolving our civil service into a pragmatic, efficient and somewhat unemotional entity that “follows protocols”. I would rule out the civil service as a cause of any major transition road block.

2. Will a change of government lead to turmoil and unrest? Again I doubt so. If this were to happen, it would suggest that our police officers are ineffective and unable to provide law and order. I have faith in our fellow brothers and sisters in the police to ensure that any turmoil or unrest would be quelled before it escalates to what we see in London in recent days.

3. How effective will a new government be? Can they be as good as the PAP? Or better? On this point, the answer really depends. From my observation, it is evidently clear that the opposition is getting better. Credible, intelligent and highly capable individuals are starting to step forward to serve. Should they one day come to power, they will not be alone in governing the country. They will be backed up by an army of scholars in the civil service to provide insights, research, and advise.

Many professionals are likely to also come forward to serve. Senior business executives would be quick to switch allegiance to the new government (business people are pragmatic). While I expect some hiccups, I wouldn’t go so far as to speculate that the transition wouldn’t be smooth and paint a doomsday impression.

To help allay my concerns, and for the sake of our nation’s future, I wish to offer my humble advise to DPM Teo look into the creation of a “Transition Framework” that will ensure a smooth transition from one government to the next, if the PAP one day loses power. This framework should be made public.

As our DPM, it is not only his duty to ensure that such a framework for transition exists, but it is also his moral duty as a Singaporean to do so. The DPM should stop politicking and start acting as a Singaporean first. The general election is over.

Great Expectations

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mediation Result Racist

My college friend has written a letter below in relation to recent achievements that an agency of Singapore's Ministry of Law sought to trumpet. Their benchmark in the promotion of racist practices in secular Singapore is hardly something to be proud about. I support his views and I hope the Ministry apologises.

Dharmendra Yadav


I'm writing in respect of the much publicised mediation on the Indian family cooking curry.

It is hard to believe that your centre turned up such a silly, and offensive result. As an Indian, I am personally offended at the gross insensitivity of the decision and its utter lack of good sense.

There is nothing laudable about it and much that is troubling:

- It shows your mediator's insensitivity to a local family's very acceptable practice (cooking in their own home, and that too a culturally identified cuisine).

- It shows appalling judgment in identifying something as a problem that anywhere else in the world would be laughed out of the room (REALLY.. and if you don't believe that, go ask around).

- It stokes the public disaffection on the overwhelming numbers of foreigners in Singapore by favouring a foreign family making an unreasonable request of a local one.

- The outcome is deeply unfair - to locals, to Indians, and to anyone enjoying the use of their property.

- The outcome has an explicit racial dimension (the whole Chinese/Indian, curry-issue overtones).

- Because of the racial overtones, you've put the mediation program at risk of being sucked into more such issues.

- Because of the racial overtones, you've opened up the possibility that this becomes a point of unhappiness between people of different communities. Did your mediator not know that there are other practices by the different races that can be fodder for similar complaints? Like burning of paper during the Seventh Month, for example? (incidentally a practice that I myself participate in with family and friends each year out of respect for their Buddhist tradition even though I'm Indian)

- The outcome threatens to make criminals out of ordinary people for doing something that does not break the law. ie, if they get into trouble for not observing the decision, it will only be because of your centre's decision, not because of any underlying wrongness (that is the the act would be "malum prohibitum", not "mala in se").

- It totally undermines what is essentially a very positive scheme to help people live happily in close proximity and deconflict / defuse situations when they arise. Your decision decreases the public acceptability of the scheme. Knowing now the silliness that can result from a session at your centres, it is likely that any right thinking person would doubt your mediators' ability to come up with better.

Please do not try and hide behind the fact that the Indian family agreed to the outcome in the mediation. You have a duty and a responsibility to exercise judgment and good sense (otherwise why are you mediating other people's disputes?).

Just because they may have gone along with your silliness does not absolve you of your responsibility to exercise common sense.

Thankfully all the commentary I've seen on the internet about this has been overwhelmingly critical (as is appropriate and necessary) and incredulous. I've my fingers crossed that it does not lead to other complaints that have racial undertones, to test or highlight the decision.

Your centre owes the public, Indians in Singapore, and the Indian family concerned in particular, an apology. Quick action may yet save the mediation program. Trying to make excuses about this or justify it (on any grounds) will only make your position more difficult.

Please, do the honourable thing and take responsibility. Singaporeans deserve at least that.

Harveen Singh Narulla

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Income's Orange Revolution

Minister Lim Swee Say (LSS) has come out to defend the position of my former employer, NTUC Income, in the wake of revelations as to why my former boss and presidential hopeful, Tan Kin Lian (TKL), left NTUC Income. He has shared he wanted NTUC Income to be run more professionally, not that it implies that TKL ran it unprofessionally.

LSS has a very different style from that of his predecessors, Lim Boon Heng and Ong Teng Cheong. In his tenure, he has been shameless in his pursuit of preparing NTUC and its cooperatives for a future, where it sheds it straight-jacketed, stingy image. That image may have appealed to a generation of past; it will not to a generation that is more questioning and image conscious.

To achieve this vision, LSS has had to get rid of NTUC's old guard, albeit in a respectful and sensitive manner. Unfortunately, as is the case with such changes, no matter how well one manages it, feathers get ruffled. What LSS did with NTUC Income is a microcosm of his unwavering pursuit to reposition NTUC.

I had decided the year before TKL's retirement that 2007 would be my last year as a full-time employee in NTUC Income. I was taking a sabbatical to complete my qualification process as an advocate and solicitor of Singapore. I informed NTUC Income of this.

I was in my last months of full-time service in NTUC Income when TKL was succeeded by Tan Suee Chieh (TSC). I worked part-time for NTUC Income until December that year. It was my intention to return to NTUC Income after my sabbatical ended two years later. However, the policies of the law firm I joined in order to complete the applicable regulatory obligations required me to resign from NTUC Income. Nevertheless, during that limited period, I was in a position to experience first-hand the transition of leadership.

In all fairness, TSC did not have an easy time. He had to dismember the entrenched association of NTUC Income to TKL. This required turning upside down a lot of the practices of NTUC Income. He had to divest a lot of non-core assets. He also had to pull the plug on several unprofitable product lines, among other things. He went on a massive spending spree to improve the office environment, including his own office, and to bring in top-tier consultants to revamp the image of NTUC Income.

It also meant, in carrying out this task, he would have to bring in new people he could trust. To attract talent, salaries were increased across the board with employees taking home bigger bonuses. Several employees were re-designated or shipped out.

However, one thing that annoyed me at a fundamental level was when I found out much later that head-hunters had been appointed to find a replacement for or to bypass NTUC Income's independent and competent general counsel. TKL tried to do something similar before in devolving the responsibilities of the general counsel; TSC was just following TKL's example. To the credit of the unity of the Singapore bar, no lawyer worth his or her salt accepted the job. Any general counsel, who asks tough questions and is a true guardian of an organisation's interests, should be prepared for such surprises from time to time.

TSC continues to run NTUC Income like a very tight ship, as did TKL. Given the interests and importance of NTUC Income to the Singapore landscape - for example, in holding key stakes in Singapore assets like the Singapore Press Holdings - there can be no other way.

I initially had reservations about LSS's plans for NTUC Income.

While many things have changed, including the CEO becoming perceivedly less accessible, I still sense NTUC Income remains committed to its social charter of delivering better value to its policyholders. With innovations like its annual kite festival and city running event, it also remains true to its cooperative roots of giving back to society.

If the saffron revolution has defined the freedom fighters of Burma and Tibet, the orange revolution has been the hallmark of the leadership of Tan Suee Chieh. He must be credited for beating the odds and changing the course of NTUC Income to appeal to a more active, image-driven Singapore citizenry, as much as his predecessor may disagree with the way things have panned out.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Negaraku Singapuraku

In 2005, on the occasion of Singapore's 40th year of independence from colonialism and Malaysian rule, a newspaper asked me about my wish for Singapore.

I replied, "I wish Singapore will be a nation of persons that seek happiness, love happiness and share happiness. As we continue to progress as a country and personally, we must continue to embrace changes (including accepting people with different views) and, above all, not forget the helpless, the needy, the minorities, the victims of unjust deeds or any other person requiring some form of assistance."

I didn't realise at that time how evergreen the wish was.

All Singaporeans must continue to stand up for Singapore, and be counted. Fly the flag proudly, wherever you may be.


If you have a wish for Singapore, share it on the Think Happiness Facebook page from 9 August 2011 to 27 August 2011.

The top six wishes that get the most number of likes and comments, as at 31 August 2011, will each be entitled to a cash or voucher prize worth at least $46!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Presidential Economic & Financial Views Redundant

[Note: This is a third party perspective.]

The Presidential Election is heating up. Candidates have started “soft campaigns” to bring their message out and to let voters get to know them.

One in particular caught my interest. Dr Tony Tan has voiced that the president must be someone in a position to share expertise with the government and aid, guide or advise the government where needed.

More specifically, he argues that Singapore’s economic stability will be hurt by a global downturn and that his understanding of the financial markets and role in GIC (Government Investment Corporation of Singapore) make him a suitable candidate. He goes on to say that “GIC is not a government agency, it is a private sector company owned by the Ministry of Finance” (quoted at the sidelines of an event) and because of this, he would be in a better position to share his expertise with the government if he was a president, as opposed to being part of the GIC.

I find this line of argument somewhat strange.

Wouldn’t he have had significant influence and timber for the government to listen to him as the Deputy Chairman of the GIC? After all, the GIC is owned by the Ministry of Finance (MOF), so wouldn’t the MOF take the feedback of the Deputy Chairman of a company they owned seriously? I would think so.

As the Deputy Chairman of the GIC, he would have access to valuable insights into the financial markets given to him from very talented researchers, analysts and portfolio managers within the GIC. Giving up this access to vital information might limit him in his ability to give insights. I find it curious why he is seeking voter acceptance and support just because he claims he might be able to add value and advise the Government in the event of an economic downturn.

Frankly, I don’t think we need a president to give insights to the government on how best to protect Singapore’s economic interests. We are blessed with a very talented Finance Minister. He has steered our economy superbly through the 2008/9 economic slowdown. Over the years, he has put in place sound economic policies that aided many segments of the business community and society at large. In fact, I would think that it is the minister who is more qualified to give the in-coming president insights into the economic situation and what are the best courses of action to take.

I don’t agree with Dr Tony Tan (or any of the other presidential hopeful for that matter), that we should vote for a presidential candidate because of his ability to give insights to the government on economic matters.

Great Expectations

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

NTUC President should have held tongue


I write to you as your union member.

You disclosed recently that you invited one of the presidential candidates to speak to fellow union members. The NTUC has always supported values of fair treatment and equal opportunities. It is therefore unfortunate that it has not invited others in similar situations to do the same.

I must also protest your expression of personal views on your preferred presidential candidate. It has never been in the tradition of trade union leadership in Singapore to have one's personal political views expressed in the face of a high likelihood of the NTUC making known its preference.

It is for this reason union leaders must be publicly supportive of the People's Action Party, even though personally they may hold a different view. Anyone who has dared express such a divergent personal view publicly has been swiftly removed from his position as a union leader.

In expressing your personal views, you may have prejudiced the process by which the NTUC
goes about deciding its preferred presidential candidate. In the interest of good governance, you may wish to now detach yourself from such a process.

You have also disturbed that fragile balance that exists between the public and private views of a union leader. You may have set the wrong precedent for union leaders to follow. It is not surprising that other union members have started to follow your example, and are expressing their own personal views on this issue.

Your exemplary act thus frees me to register my disagreement with your choice of presidential candidate. If your criteria is that you "want a person who has got that kind of stature and that kind of exposure, who understands the fundamental role of the President", there are many others within the NTUC, including yourself, who can meet your criteria.

With respect, a unionist does not need to support a person, who cut his links with the NTUC more than a decade ago.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Preaching from flawed perch

I really do not like it when public servants perched in their lofty crystal towers preach of values they don't seem to have. A case in point is this recent letter from the Ministry of Manpower, which was a response to this letter featured on The Online Citizen.

The ministry's letter states "it is critical to remain objective and ensure that employees' claims are valid". This value of objectivity surfaces again in another line: "We urge NGOs to assess each case objectively and comprehensively, rather than rushing to assign blame".

Yet, the letter in disclosing the work MOM did in this case, goes on to provide, "we reviewed documentary evidence of salary calculations and records of the company and established that Yang was not owed any salary".

How is that being objective when you rely on the documentary evidence of one party, and totally remain silent on the evidence of the other?

A lot of times the person representing the company in such manpower dispute resolution sessions at Ministry of Manpower has had some form of legal training. How does this stack up against the foreign worker who speaks little English and has peripheral knowledge of his legal rights?

The fact is the Ministry of Manpower in being the investigator and adjudicator of such claims is hardly in a position to be objective.

Many years ago, a body of corporate lawyers representing employers in Singapore recommended that the resolution of employment disputes should really be the remit of a properly equipped and independent tribunal, as is the case in jurisdictions of similar standing to Singapore. That paper is probably now gathering dust on some public servant's shelf.

Notwithstanding the lack of judicial training and legal qualifications, which would go towards determining ability, a public servant whose mandate is to protect the job market in Singapore and therefore the employer hardly has the will to work in the interests of workers.
It is an inherent trait in this role that such a public servant cannot be objective let alone preach to others about being objective.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, August 01, 2011

ST Sponsored Stories Not News


The Straits Times has spent the last three days promoting its new application for portable devices, which was launched today.

I am not sure how long this will continue but I will not be surprised if you run a story tomorrow to tell readers about the reception of this launch.

As a reader of The Straits Times, I cannot help but wonder if either The Straits Times has run out of stories to tell or, like some in dominant positions, it is trying its best to live in an illusion of its own creation.

It would hardly seem newsworthy since The Straits Times appears to be the only media in the world running such stories about its application and given there are many similar such applications launched on a daily basis.

Whatever the case may be, I request that these stories in praise of The Straits Times by The Straits Times be treated and labelled as "advertorials", which is the case for other sponsored content in your stable of publications.

I would rather The Straits Times focus on improving its content and perception of journalistic standards. For example, several readers have accused The Straits Times of having an editorial stance that disproportionately favours its former boss in its coverage of the presidential elections. There is also a sentiment that The Straits Times has been slow to criticise its former boss. These sentiments also reflect observations underscored by some other presidential candidates.

Of course, I am mindful and appreciative that, unlike some of its foreign counterparts, The Straits Times is not embroiled in controversies involving invasion of privacy, notwithstanding that several in its ranks have once been involved in sensitive intelligence gathering functions in government and this is a key skill inherent in these journalists at least.

In the hope that The Straits Times will continue to grow from strength to strength, I remain your loyal reader.

Dharmendra Yadav

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