Wednesday, 4 May 2011

"Majulah SINGAPURA!" is what we sing

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

1) We pledge allegiance to Singapore, not to a particular party, and sing a national, not party, anthem.

After years of doing this, can the PAP now blame us for wanting to BE Singaporeans, and not PAP puppets (PAPpets?). Still, "A+" to the PAP for making us "Singaporean".

(I've been told "pap" is English slang for something "worthless". However the National Union of Teachers is NUTS.)

2) An indispensable minister? No. If it is a truly good minister, leader, parent, he/she would have the vision, the foresight to ensure that they are not indispensable. Good leaders work themselves out of their jobs, fully confident that someone else would do similarly good, if not better, work after them.

3) My husband's company sent in one man to start up their Singapore office. Now they employ four Singaporeans and hopefully would employ several more. That is foreign talent generating employment.

Would you go to China with its vast supply of workers and then employ Indian workers because they do the work better (or cheaper, or faster)?

4) I left Singapore in 1991. Some time after that I seem to remember reading about plans for Singapore to move into the high-tech manufacturing and/or service industry because we cannot compete with labour power of China and India. So I am surprised to learn now that manufacturing is back on the agenda.

I have not read Mr Tan Jee Say's essay, I must admit. The recent debates in the UK made us realize one thing. We must have something to sell (ie export), be it in manufacturing, food or services.

The UK has a huge service industry -- servicing the benefits culture. People are paid on their 'expertise' in how the benefits system works: who gets what from which government department, and what to do if you do not get the amount that you think you are entitled to, etc, etc.

We don't want that kind of "service industry". Singapore must also have something good, something special, something "noble" (as Mr Tan might say) to export. (Please hah, not cheap tacky plastic goods that only damage the environment.).

5) Inward investment. Singapore has done well in attracting the MNCs to create employment. This strategy worked when we were a fledgling nation and there was a lot of unemployment. But to attract investments that would create jobs for foreigners seems counter-intuitive to me. Yes, GDP will grow, but what's the point if the locals do not benefit? [did someone whisper ministerial salaries?]

Were Singaporean workers overlooked because they do not want the job or that they cannot do the job? I get the impression, and I might be wrong, that Singaporeans do want those jobs. If they cannot do that job, then it is an indictment on the Singapore education policies.

Or is it because Singaporeans are too expensive to hire?

Why are Singaporeans expensive? Because Singapore is expensive.

I have blogged about the British government attracting "foreign investments" to the detriment of the British people in Money, Manufacturing, Farming, where British taxpayers (ie myself, yes!) had to bail out foreign companies on the threat of their closing factories. Closing factories would be paiseh for the government. So we were forced to bail out such companies. Just so to help that party win votes. So we voted out that party.

6) Encouraging local enterprise. What have we done to encourage Singaporeans to start their own businesses?. I feel I am doing my bit, just a tiny, teeny bit, for the British economy when I sell my little crafty bits and bobs to USA, Europe, and so forth.

It is not much, but the running of a business is such that you are actually feeding into other businesses (suppliers, stationery, postage, couriers, accountants, etc.). And of course one pays tax not only on profits (if any) but also on goods and services (ie GST) with everything that one buys and transports.

Small businesses matter. What more can we do to incubate businesses and encourage big businesses to use the smaller ones? Does our education and tax systems encourage our people, like our forefathers, to take risks, to explore, innovate, or just to become a "jobsworth"?

7) Empowerment. I remember a classmate whose family was doing very well. Sadly her father died and there were several young children. I'm not sure if her mum managed to find work, but her grandmother was soon selling wonton noodles in a coffee-shop. One of her younger sisters graduated NUS many years later. I cannot imagine how proud my friend's mum would have been.

It used to be, I believe, that people in dire financial circumstances were given priority in the granting of hawker licences. So when we looked at any school canteen there would be a widow or widows there running a little stall to support her family.

For me, this is equivalent to the work of one of my favourite charities. They give a microloan, just £50, to a widow to start her own little business. When the business becomes self-sustaining, the loan is returned and it goes to help another widow. I much prefer this model to the incredibly expensive welfare state I now am forced to fund.

But now it appears that only millionnaires get to own coffee-shops (someone please explain the significance of a Kate Spade bag to me) and so stall rental is correspondingly exhorbitant. There is no way my friend's grandmother would have been able to sell her delicious wonton mee (with bits of fatty chicken skin, yumm) to support her grandchildren.

I don't want MPs to write letters (to "endorse" suggests that the MP, a paid servant, has power and authority that others do not have) so that someone can be given special treatment. I want action to help that person to look after himself/herself after a period of support. [thinking the Cynthia Phua episode]

8) An informal economy. Very third-world, you say. But let's think, just a generation ago, my parents' generation, we were brought up on the backs of washerwomen, seamstresses, hairdressers, odd-job labourers, etc.

I was thrilled last year that through Facebook I got together with some primary school mates. I was especially happy to know that a friend's mother who used to be a washerwoman is alive and well. She used to go to homes to wash clothes by hand. I take my hat off to her.

The advent of the washing machine put her out of a job, but it was mothers like her, hundreds of them, all over Singapore, that saw a generation experience the most incredible social mobility in what was a truly meritocratic Singapore.

In my own housing estate I can remember the cries of "nasi lemak" and "mee rebus". Families requiring extra income (or simply an income?) packed their children off before or after school to walk the length and breadth of HDB corridors crying "nasi lemak", "mee rebus".

I am particularly fond of the goreng pisang that a neighbour sells from the back door of her groundfloor flat. Next to the rubbish chute, mind you.

But we never feared food poisoning. Simply because we know these people know they would lose their clientele once someone gets food poisoning.

What if middle-class Singaporeans employed local people to clean their homes instead of foreign maids?

I am a fan of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. The heroine Ma Ramotswe says it is not acceptable that people who can afford a maid (a local maid) does not employ one. It is the unspoken duty of those who have the ability to employ a maid, to do so. That way the maid could feed her family.

An interesting perspective. Certainly better than the comprehensive welfare state.

You say, but there aren't women who wish to do these jobs any more. I had an older widow who was too young to get a state pension who had time on her hands. She used to come to my house, parked her BMW outside, and cleaned for me. (I did pay her above minimum wage.)

It was a case of give and take. I am a good employer and needed some help, and she only wanted to work a few hours.

Us mothers love to be paid for doing work that we already do. So if I have to pick up my child from Games, it is no trouble if I picked up another two (which indeed I do. I don't get paid but the boys are always very polite and thank me profusely every week).

If we developed a "helping mother" culture, we can cut out the costs of hiring a maid, which makes hiring Singaporeans cheaper.

The fact is in any society there will be a whole spectrum of people with widely differing abilities. There will be people who are willing to do work on an informal basis.

9) $1,800 not enough?

Apparently a PAP candidate met a restaurant owner who said he could not find someone to do the job even at $1,800. Are my Singaporean friends too choosy? Maybe.

Are the working conditions difficult? Would you like to be the only Singaporean working amongst a whole crew of foreigners? Would you work 12 hours a day seven days a week when you have a spouse and children?

Are Singapore customers hard to please? Confirm. Double confirm (I chuckle at this term.)

I have seen how difficult some restaurant patrons are and I often feel sorry for the staff waiting at tables. More money has not made us all more gracious. To be fair to Singaporeans, we must put this $1,800 within context.

It's back to that Swiss standard of living, isn't it? Learning to be gracious. (Remember, even that waitor/waitress is a human being, possibly Singaporean.) Learning to be generous. Learning to be magnanimous. It must begin at the top.

O look! A pig ... flying!

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