Thursday, July 06, 2006

BHAVANI (and the government) should stop treating us like kids. *Updated*

Mr Bhavani, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, gave a "lecture" to our very own homegrown blogger Mr Brown and suggested that Mr Brown was distorting truths and being a partisan player few days back. A few things he wrote stood out. One of them is this "Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives."

This is a way of thinking which I had always thought the government should consider abandoning. They had always held the view that if anyone wants to criticize the governement or its policy, they should provide a "constructive" solution or just shut up. The fact is, this attitude basically "disallows" people from opening discussing issues, problems and does not at all promote critical thinking and developing a nation who will be able to question and tackle country's issues. Why should anyone be prevented from complaining just because they can't think of a better solution? If no one talks about any problems at all, does it mean it will become less of a problem or will it simply fade away? No! It will only allow the proponent of any bad policies to claim that it is good due to the lack of "oppositions".

The fact that the government disallows anyone from talking about any problems at all, be it in a satirical form or not, totally goes against what they are promoting about the society being an inclusive one. Here where the government in these past few years, wishes to promote people to do critical thinking, be innovative, be more involved in politics, and trying to sell an image of the government being all open and gracious, only ends up slapping themselves in the face and appearing as hypocritical, narrowminded, 2-faced and petty.

Mr Bhavani said, "mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly." Too bad Mr Bhavani cannot understand humor when he reads one. Is the goverment so weak that they cannot stand up to the criticism of a "comedic" writer? Those who reads Mr Brown's column and listen to to his podcast would not take his words as an official source of news and information, but just thoughts of an interesting individual who provides his own personal views on certain societal/personal issues. Is Mr Bhavani (and the government) intimidated by the popularity of a guy who writes funny? Maybe they should reconsider what they are doing wrong instead and try to understand why he is so popular to begin with. If according to Mr Bhavani, "opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives", then all popular newspapers in Singapore should remove all sections/columns that are "non-serious", "non-constructive", "non-opininated" and "non-critical" because they do not offer the government/people with anything useful for their readings. But then who is to judge what is constructive solutions or not? Let's see if Mr Bhavani is able to set up a similar blog as Mr Brown and provide writings which are 1/2 as entertaining and popular as his. By "hinting" that Mr Brown's standards is not "high" enough for a "widely circulated column", it almost sounds like Mr Bhavani (or the government) is telling TODAY newspaper that they should do something about Mr Brown. And it is sad to see that 3 days after Bhavani's letter, Mr Brown's column is suspended in Today newspaper. I could call it a coincidence since I do not have evidence of Mr Bhavani (or government) directly instructing Today to do so, but anyone who doesn't share the same conclusion would be an indiot.

Here we have a David versus Goliath situation. We have Mr Brown,a light-weight champion, at one side of the ring facing the Minister, who is a heavyweight. Our minister Mr Bhavani is now telling our satirical social commentator how to run his business, and (dare I think?) suggesting that Mr Brown becomes non-satirical and enter serious political writing? Let me say that it is not the people's job to provide our government with solutions to our problems, but the governemnt's job to provide us with the solutions. And if the solutions which may come in the form of the policies are deemed ineffective, the government should be the one to acknowledge or investigate it, instead of asking people to shut up. Because how else are the government able to know if the people are happy with the way things are run of they are not allowed to speak? Are the people supposed to suffer and only when things like the economy hits then do the government do something about it? Let me tell the government here, some of the problems the government has seen of the past decades like talent leak (young singaporeans leaving) and lack of innovation is a direct result of the government's bad policies and narrowmindedness. And people like Mr Bhavani making statements like he did, will only promote the migration of talents overseas as well as stagnating innovative individuals like Mr Brown to do the things that he does best - that is commenting in the non-satirical fashion, and providing an example for kids of today, that even good writers can make a decent living by following his own heart and mind.

Stop treating us like rebellious children who step out of line. We are no longer children who can't think for ourselves.

Bhavani is female not male.

Published in TODAY on June 30, 2006

S'poreans are fed, up with progress!

THINGS are certainly looking up for Singapore again. Up, up, and away.

Household incomes are up, I read. Sure, the bottom third of our country is actually seeing their incomes (or as one newspaper called it, "wages") shrink, but the rest of us purportedly are making more money.

Okay, if you say so.

As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Except we are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.

Cost of watching World Cup is up. Price of electricity is up. Comfort's taxi fares are going up. Oh, sorry, it was called "being revised". Even the prata man at my coffeeshop just raised the price of his prata by 10 cents. He was also revising his prata prices.

So Singaporeans need to try to "up" their incomes, I am sure, in the light of our rising costs. Have you upped yours?

We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Just after the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting the important event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying to pay our bills.

It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely.

The other reason I am glad with the timing of the cost of living increases and wages going down, is that we can now deploy our Progress Package to pay for some of these bills.

Wait, what? You spent it all on that fancy pair of shoes on the day you saw your money in your account? Too bad for you then.

As I break into my Progress Package reserves to see if it is enough to pay the bills, I feel an overwhelming sense of progress. I feel like I am really staying together with my fellow Singaporeans and moving forward.

There is even talk of future roads like underground expressways being outsourced to private sector companies to build, so that they, in turn, levy a toll on those of us who use these roads.

I understand the cost of building these roads is high, and the Government is relooking the financing of these big road projects.

Silly me, I thought my road tax and COE was enough to pay for public roads.

Maybe we can start financing all kinds of expensive projects this way in future. We could build upgraded lifts for older HDB blocks, and charge tolls on a per use basis.

You walk into your new lift on the first floor, and the scanner reads the contactless cashcard chip embedded in your forehead. This chip would be part of the recently-announced Intelligent Nation 2015 plan, you know, that initiative to make us a smart nation?

So you, the smart contactless-cashcard-chip-enhanced Singaporean would go into your lift, and when you get off at your floor, the lift would deduct the toll from your chip, and you would hear a beep.

The higher you live, the more expensive the lift toll.

Now you know why I started climbing stairs for exercise, as I mentioned in my last column. I plan to prepare for that day when I have to pay to use my lift. God help you if some kid presses all the lift buttons in the lift, as kids are wont to do. You will be beeping all the way to your flat.

The same chip could be used to pay for supermarket items. You just carry your bags of rice and groceries past the cashierless cashier counter, and the total will be deducted from your contactless cashcard automatically.

You will not even know you just got poorer. And if your contactless cashcard runs out of funds (making it a contactless CASHLESS cashcard), you just cannot use paid services.

The door of the lift won't close, the bus won't stop for you, taxis will automatically display "On Call" when their chip scanners detect you're broke.

Sure, paying bills that only seem to go up is painful, but by Jove, we are going to make sure it is at least convenient.

No more opening your wallet and fiddling with dirty notes and coins. Just stand there and hear your income beeped away. No fuss, no muss! I cannot wait to be a Smart e-Singaporean.

I also found out recently that my first-born daughter's special school fees were going up. This is because of this thing called "Means Testing", where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose some or all of the subsidy you've been getting for your special child's therapy.

I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100 per cent increase, but who's counting, right? We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.

But don't worry. Most of you don't have this problem. Your normal kids can go to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will not introduce means testing for your cases.

We need your gifted and talented kids to help our country do well economically, so that our kids with special needs can get a little more therapy to help them to walk and talk. And hey, maybe if the country does really well, the special-needs kids will get a little more subsidy.

Like I said, progress.

High-definition televisions, a high-speed broadband wireless network, underground expressways, and contactless cashcard system — all our signs of progress.

I am happy for progress, of course but I would be just as happy to make ends meet and to see my autistic first-born grow up able to talk and fend for herself in this society when I am gone.

That is something my wife and I will pay all we can pay to see in our lifetimes.

Printed in Today on 3 July 2006

Letter from K BHAVANI
Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.