Sunday, 29 May 2011

RATS! Rats again ...

Two cases of rats being spotted at food courts in Singapore with pictures snapped and posted on the Internet has really started to get me upset over one, the level of hygiene and cleanliness at some of these places and two, a potentially related problem - the issue of overcrowding in Singapore.

The presence of rats highlights only the tip of a more serious underlying issue we have with food centres. Current laws seem to penalise stalls preparing foods by rating them poorly or suspending them for unhygienic practices. However, I am not sure if centralised handling services used by food courts where a third party manages discarded foods and washes utensils gets properly assessed by the relevant authorities on hygiene. I have on many occasions witnessed increasing numbers of food outlets which employ centralised cleaning staff who at times do not even seem to be adequately trained to clear and clean tables and used food utensils. Should the Ministry of Environment be looking into this seriously, you bet I think they should!

Now we move to the potential root of the problem: overcrowding. I read in The Straits Times that the Singapore government had originally planned to have a 5 million population by 2040. Guess what? We have reached this figure in 2011! With so many people crowding our malls and food outlets, it is no surprise that incidences of vermin and pests have grown as well. Many of our food outlets at popular places are not coping well with the traffic, but perhaps more importantly, they are unable to hire the right supervisory people with high hygiene standards to manage their cleaning staff and implement adequate pest control measures. Too many people - that's my take. Can we just slow down our ambitious growth plans and seriously reduce the influx of immigrants while putting in place measures to bring up the quality of hygiene again? Seriously, our quality of life will continue to degrade if we do not address these issues right now.

~ Jin Ghee

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Being selective on foreign investment in Singapore: parallels between Qantas' plan and the ASX-SGX bid

The recent announcement by Qantas about its plans to create an airline in Singapore is rather interesting. I just think back about what the Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan said about the planned SGX-ASX merger being contrary to Australia's national interest and wonder if our new Singapore government's would respond to this.

Yes, we have to accept that a merger or takeover is different from setting up a new firm, but let's face the facts - if SIA were to decide to set up a subsidiary in Australia to compete with Qantas, judging from the ASX-SGX response, it would be surprising if protectionist measures would not be invoked by their Foreign Investment Review Board to prevent that from happening.

And that's a major difference between Singapore and many countries. Our doors are too open for trade and commerce to the extent outsiders come fairly freely to our land to compete or set up business while we face a host of problems entering theirs. Obviously, without much natural resources, that has been our main strategy since the 1960s - to attract foreign money and people which would in turn create jobs locally and raise standards of living.

However, our traditional strategy has run its course and over the last 50 years we have not just created jobs for nearly all Singaporeans, we have also (by way of current population statistics) created perhaps many more jobs for foreigners in Singapore than for citizens. The IRs are a clear example - they hire a host of foreigners, collect a tonne of cash from Singaporeans (please read article on Singapore residents being ranked as the second highest losers in gambling dollars in TODAY on 20th May), and generate greater profits for largely foreign owned enterprises. And tourist dollars? Judging from the busloads who come fom Johor, I can see very little tourist dollars from IR visitors are spent outside the IRs. So apart from those who work in the IRs and those who own shares in Genting and some related firms, not many Singaporeans have benefited from the IRs but many of us would have heard of friends who lost money not to mention the conjestion and rising prices brought about by these icons.

So with regards to this plan by Qantas to set up a local airline here, should we not be carefully evaluating such foreign ventures which may threaten domestic employment through direct competition and again send local profits to foreign lands? Should we not be selective in attracting foreign investments to put a stop to those which may be value accretive to Singapore? We have to remember that unlike the 1960s, we no longer need massive foreign investment to create employment as we have a sufficient mass here. The marginal benefit of new foreign investments in Singapore would be increasingly small to Singaporeans per se and so we should be selective and disallow those that may be negative to Singapore. We be prudent in letting the right businesses in. Ones that would hire local people and increase their earning capacity without cannibalising or jeopardising other local enterprises. Ultimately we may need a competition watchdog which has parliamentary supervision (like Australia) that evaluates major foreign ventures such as what Qantas is proposing. We may also need a movable corporate tax rate which goes up to the extent any major foreign venture fails to prove it has hired Singaporeans and added value to our GNP. GDP is too broad a measure for value add to Singaporeans.

I hope our new cabinet can understand now that Singaporeans want quality of life and not just more businesses and people that does not add much value but crowds us out. We don't need firms to invest here only to hire more outsiders to earn money from our people. We are no longer a nation with a big appetite for foreign investments. We don't want to ask or beg people to come invest in anything - we have limits and now want the right type of investments. I hope the new cabinet takes the plan by Qantas seriously and evaluate it with prudence along with our future plans for growth and manpower.

Voices from the Woods

This blog is dedicated to the ordinary people of Singapore, who have through the last General Election highlighted a need for a stronger voice in parliament. The blog is powered by the views and thoughts of a group of ordinary Singaporeans who believe in pragmatism, simplicity, creativity, and the good old fashioned values of humility and loyalty. We have no political alignment or agenda apart from talking about what's happening here in Singapore and how we could make our land a better place for all who live here in this tropical island we call "the Woods". So voices from the Woods is for all of us here and now and those to come in future.