20111118 Accountability, transparency needs to be addressed

From: phillip ang
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2011 1:19 AM
To: LEE_HSIEN_LOONG
Cc: Yvonne Yeoh ; <a title="stlocal ; stanley93896999 ; ongqyqy ; newseditor ; news ; Liew Andy ; <a title="lchertan ; jayakumar89 ; aslav009 ; andrew
Subject: 20111118 Accountability, transparency needs to be addressed

Dear PM Lee

I have provided feedback to the government on numerous issues for many years. From the replies to my recent feedback and news articles post elections, it appears to be business as usual for the government (synonymous with the PAP). The important issues of accountability and transparency have not been mentioned.

2 “Never forget we are servants of the people, not their masters….” Since the relationship between the PAP government and Singaporeans has now been normalised, I take this opportunity to write to you, in a frank and honest manner, unpleasant views and facts which none in our ‘grassroots’ organisations/civil service has articulated. I am writing to you without fear or favour.

3 My personal experience worries me – many parts of the civil service have shut down. The image created by an uncritical media is far from reality. In fact, the government seems to have believed in its ‘own propaganda’. The presence of politics within the civil service, which is funded by taxpayers and is supposed to be non-partisan, may be beneficial to the PAP but is detrimental to Singapore in the long run. The recent incident between the PA/HDB and the opposition in Aljunied GRC, which represents its constituents, is testament to a government which continues not to listen. Civil servants who are handcuffed to politics are unable to serve Singaporeans first.

4 Civil servants subservient to a political master creates fear in Singaporeans. As 80 per cent of us live in public housing, there is a dependence on statutory boards such as the HDB, Town Councils etc. When citizens encounter problems, most have no choice but to turn to their PAP MP. In the long run, such a system ,where everything and everywhere is PAP, is unhealthy. Singaporeans have remained silent not because things are running smoothly but for fear that their constructive feedback might be construed otherwise, resulting in being ‘marked’ by the omnipresent PAP. I repeat the example of a fellow resident who warned me that I might be marked if I continued to be vocal even on constructive feedback.

5 The PAP cannot expect a habit of silence to suddenly change when there is a threat of terrorism. Singaporeans have been ‘conditioned’ to silence by the fear factor. Perceived or otherwise, it is a fact. A fearful society cannot progress.

6 Grassroots leaders are supposed to serve the community without seeking rewards but ours are self-serving and blindly support the government instead of providing relevant feedback. The need to be incentivised by the government renders such ‘volunteers’ subservient to their political masters. ‘Grassroots leaders’ are rewarded with national awards annually, screaming for attention in the press. Our ‘RC members’ are merely event organisers. Those who ‘serve’ long enough stand a chance to be ‘promoted’ to ‘volunteer’ at CCs. The government pats its ‘grassroots organisations’ on the back in return for a job well done ie. event organiser, nothing concerned with heartlanders’ problems . Decades-old problems remain unresolved. Most heartlanders avoided them like the plague. The number of attendees at an event is not a measure of success. Throwing in door gifts, free food and a lucky draw will always ensure ‘success’. My subsequent email – ‘PAP shot itself in the foot – compliments of its grassroots’.

7 Where credit is due, the PAP deserves to claim doubly quick. It is therefore only right that it does not disown self-created problems of its policies eg. Stop at Two, foreign workers, immigration, CPF etc. There is no issue with foreign talents per se, but the rate at which the PAP admitted them into our country. Politicians don’t live with them, travel in public transport, eat at food courts etc and therefore lack a basic understanding of our problems. Politicians insists on Singaporeans competiting with FTs except themselves, have never been in the same boat as the man in the street – the moral authority has long ago been lost. Noting bus schedules and traveling on trains once in a blue moon is PR at best. There is no sincerity unless performed regularly.

8 The PAP has always pontificated to Singaporeans whom they are supposed to serve. Applying such a lofty yardstick to the PAP, it has fallen short and is undeserving of most of the self-accorded superlatives. Singaporeans were never consulted on most issues eg. paying each minister millions annually, incredible bonus structure for ministers with only upsides, having pensions funded by taxpayers while taxpayers are forced to pool their own money together for a miserable monthly payout till we die etc. That the PAP has provided the hardware does not justify superscale civil servants being remunerated on par with the US President. And how could S R Nathan (ex-president) or Tony Tan, performing a fraction of the responsibilities of the US President, be paid multiple times the salary of Obama? (population and GDP 60 times, land area 10,000 times Singapore, natural catastophies aplenty with none in Singapore etc)

9 The ministerial salary benchmark is indeed unrealistic and ridiculous. Ministers’ salaries have increased by more than 300 per cent since the new benchmark came into effect seventeen years ago but not a single PAP MP has spoken out against such unconscionable salaries. The man in the street lags way behind and are relatively worse off today. The poor practically needs ‘progress packages’ every month. Adjusting salaries back to Day One (1994) would be ideal ie. $1 million for a PM as it had already been increased by about 100 percent during the prior decade. Such a salary does not redefine ‘serving’ the people. Although it brings you closer to the man in the street, this will never happen because the main platform of your recruitment drive was a ‘huge monetary incentive’.

10 Singaporeans are aware that it is not the PAP who “work hard to help turn the economy around quickly”. The recession ended quickly because the “steady hand” of the Federal Reserve created another monstrous bubble which temporarily ‘lifted’ every country out of the recession by printing US$1.3 trillion in 2009. As an export-dependant country, we are affected by external events totally beyond any Singaporean’s control.

11 It would have been approriate for Gerard Ee to chair the review committee on ministerial salaries if he had been a vocal critic of our exorbitant ministerial salaries. Instead, the PAP could have silenced all its critics by appointing Sylvia Lim. She is the ideal person as she was the only MP who had criticised our stratoshperic ministerial salaries in Parliament in April 2007. Eloquently. Now there is little doubt the outcome of the review will be anything but meaningful. Singaporeans are not cynical for no rhyme or reason.

12 “Sacrifice is an admirable sentiment but people live in the real world”. Either Lee Kuan Yew is wrong or our educational system is an abysmal failure. Should the government then continue to invest billions when we could not even produce a single politician who is not self-serving?

13 The PAP made a huge mistake when it dangled an upsized carrot to entice Singaporeans to ‘serve’. ‘Grassroots leaders’ included. If there is really no one willing to sacrifice, then we do not deserve to survive as a nation. Leadership has been a bad example all these years and it has become self-fulfulling – more Singaporeans now ask what the nation can pay him/her instead of what he/she can do to repay the nation. Greed is inherent in human beings and needs no inculcation. Greed running amok describes corporations and aptly applies to Singapore Inc.

14 On the issue of engagement, it is dead where accountability does not exist. As my experience has shown, engagement ‘PAP style’ is just an opportunity for more uncalled for ‘PR’, forced familiarisation of government procedures without necessarily acknowledging the feedback (complaint, problem). eg. On the issue of ministerial pension, Teo Chee Hean simply made general statements without taking into account the unhappiness of the public.

15 MND minister Khaw Boon Wan currently needs to build a record 50000 flats for 2 years. This is really haphazard planning, unlike the PAP, no thanks to Mah Bow Tan. How could a million dollar minister be so off the mark? Did he not have an inkling that our population was increasing? Accountability demands that a minister cease receiving a pension from the same people whom his policies had brought misery. (tens of thousands of Singaporeans have now been enslaved to a mortgage for a much longer period. Assuming a HDB flat costs $100,000 more, this translates into paying an additional $400 per month for 30 years/$535 per month for 20 years. (HDB mortgage) May be loose change for a minister who could pay in full for a landed property every few years. With such a high monthly committment on housing alone, is it any wonder why our TFR continues to fall?

16 The government should not expect property prices to shoot through the roof, offer a token incentive (relative to costs) and expect such an approach to increase our local population. Singaporeans have done their sums and most do not want to be enslaved (dual income) for life to a bank. The government has an academic approach to solving real problems in the real world.

17 Property values are not an indication of progress. Compared to 20 years ago, our quality of life has in fact fallen. Increase in property values translates into a disproportionately huge increase in the cost of basic necessities ie. everything in land-scarce Singapore for the man in the street. Needless to mention the poor. The only roof over our head cannot be sold and, therefore, spells trouble for heartlanders and only benefits the rich who have more than one property.

18 The price of a flat bought from the HDB has increased more than 500 per cent since 1990. Any non-graduate couple, after having worked for 5 years, could still only afford a 3 room flat to start a family with little left for any emergency after renovation and the birth of junior. A resale five room flat averages half a million and goes as high as $800 thousand in central Singapore. How can public housing be a luxury for Singaporeans where, even after working for more than 10 years, it is still out of reach for most? (unless enslaved to a mortgage for 30 years) This is due to the HDB pegging public housing to private housing prices and offering a discount it terms a subsidy (similar to politicians pegging their salaries to the private sector). That the HDB has repeatedly been unable to provide Singaporeans an explanation of breakeven costs further fuels speculation that there was never a subsidy to begin with.

19 Million dollar ministers seems to have run out of ideas when Singapore boasts not one, but two, casinos as the only means to ‘better’ our standard of living. Every man in the street already knows that casinos are money-spinners. Our scholars’ understanding of addiction seems to be purely academic – problems could be solved by forming committees upon committees. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be many smokers, internet and gaming addicts etc. Where smoking only causes immediate harm to oneself, gambling ruins an entire family. As the detrimental effects of our casinos have already been felt. Gambling-related problems will continue to increase over time.

20 Having served in the RSAF for six years, I understood the need to go through ‘proper channels’. It proved to be a waste of time. ( After attempting for years a politically correct approach, I have decided to abandon it) I had never expected such arrogance and nonsense in the replies from civil servants. (issues such as grassroots leaders abusing public resources, Town Councils which did not follow its own by laws, CEO of charity offering 3 different figures of his salary to 3 different papers etc). Highlighting problems to ministers after all avenues were exhausted was also a waste of time.

21 The ministers concerned did not even verify the facts and simply forwarded my feedback to the source of the problem. Ministers who trivialise such feedback behave irresponsibly, are lazy, and therefore deserve little respect. (when a citizen sacrifices time to feedback a problem to the government, a minister has the right to ‘arrow’ but at least hit the right target) Respect needs to be earned.

22 As could be concluded from my numerous emails, PS 21 remains a myth. Officers currently perform the job of directors – whether contractors discharge their responsibilities is immaterial because there has never been post-work checks. Wholesale unsupervised work seems to be the norm. Officers should just discuss among themselves what needs to be done (lower expenses for the government) as the position of a manager seems redundant. (other than to provide absurd excuses for irresponsible conduct of subordinates). Unfortunately, this does not concern only Town Councils. (more examples in future emails) I would like to invite Teo Chee Hean to look around his estate for a start. Aren’t there thousands of things which should have been done years ago?

23 Cowboy towns exist because the government imposes its views on (sometimes the majority) Singaporeans. Its high-handedness has left many questions unanswered. eg. how HDB flats are subsidised etc. The internet is a means for Singaporeans to vent their frustrations, although the use of expletives leaves much to be desired. However, the combination of English and local dialects to comment on certain ‘popular’ politicians is quite entertaining. PM Lee need not have an aversion to cowboy towns as Singaporeans are a discerning lot, really not daft noises. There are valid arguments against government policies and constructive criticisms, as well as rumours and nonsense. The internet certainly provides better feedback than our muted grassroots ‘cheerleaders’.

24 Other than race and religion, the government (as servants of the public) has no right to place OB markers to prevent ‘inconvenient’ issues being aired. Everyone is entitled to his opinion of politics. (Catherine Lim deserves an apology) If I have a negative opinion of politicians whose theoretical nonsense of stayers and quitters only sidetracked Singaporeans from more important issues, I have the right to speak out. Again, respect is earned.

25 The PAP needs to relearn how to engage Singaporeans. Arrogant politicians have set a bad example to the civil service in the past and this urgently needs to be corrected. If by increased engagement through Facebook etc. means more of the local media, more Singaporeans will become cynical to the extent that they shut out themselves from the government. eg. on the issue of ministerial pension, Teo Chee Hean only enlightened the public on the government procedures but what the public needs to know is simple – an example of who gets how much? What is the government’s annual pension liability? Why was the pension scheme not done away with since ministers were already the highest paid in the world? Why the double standard? etc.

26 Engagement has to result in clarification, not more doubts. Provide relevant facts and figures and allow Singaporeans to decide.

27 The press cannot continue to simply take statements from government agencies instead of asking simple question to verify facts. eg. PUB as in the case of the recent flooding. Please refer to my recent feedback on flooding dated 15th, 22nd and 23rd October. Some photos shown below.

(one of thousands of choked drains)

(PUB contractor clearing a choked drain) (not one, but an entire street)

From the above photos, it is evident that many in the PUB have been in a slumber. Did the reporter even verify that not a single drain was partially/totally choked? (photo below)

27 Like everyone else, members of the PAP are also human beings who have made mistakes, sometimes blunders, and will continue to do so. One can only move forward after acknowlegement of mistakes and an offer of apology. But not last minute ones.

28 There are many issues (I will also revisit some) which I will highlight in subsequent emails. I am not totally negative about the government as there are exceptions. (please see attachment)

Conclusion

We may have excellent hardware but our Windows 97 software needs urgent replacement. A system revamp is imperative to resolve self-created problems, not piecemeal efforts. The issues of accountability and transparency must be addressed. To serve Singaporeans better, the civil service and ‘grassroots’ must be depoliticised.

Thank you.

Regards

Phillip Ang

** Opinions expressed in this email are mine. I have no need for a pseudonym for my constructive feedback. I arrived at such a negative conclusion after having engaged government agencies and ministers for years. It is unneccessary for the government to thank me. If you are more concerned with the tone instead of the contents, you would have missed the forest for the trees. PM Lee has unfortunately inherited a catch 22 situation. But nothing is impossible if you do it from the heart.

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