Oct 30, 2008

The Foreigner's Guide to Getting A Subsidised University Education in Singapore

Found this in my inbox too. The writer requested for anonymity, hence I'll just call him Mr Chia:
"Hi Mr Wang,

A very good morning to you. I understand that you have stopped blogging on sociopolitical issues but there are some burning questions to ask which I don't really understand. I am aware of your busy schedule so I shall keep my questions short.

I am currently a student in one of the local universities. I was shocked to hear that foreign students who are not scholars are currently being granted the tuition grant at the same rate as Singaporean students. This came from a conversation between myself and a few foreign friends so I daren't say it is applicable to all.

Furthermore, the only obligation they are required to serve is that of working in Singapore for 3 years upon graduation. Isn't that ironic as Singaporean males have to serve National Service and continue with this liability upon graduation and etc.

I guess you know my point. I wish to clarify about the differences between being a Singaporean Citizen, a PR as well as a pure foreigner. What are the differences in terms of benefits (as well as the liabilities)?

These questions are fuelled from a conversation between myself and a few friends of mine who are high fliers from top schools too. Amongst them are scholars who don't think they'd be staying in Singapore upon graduation."
Nothing new here, so I won't say very much. The "same tuition grant, as long as you work 3 years in Singapore" rule has been around for ages. However, in bad economic times (and those are the kind of times we're currently heading into), a new ironic twist emerges.

The fresh grads (Singaporean as well as foreign) will all start looking for jobs in Singapore at the same time. There won't be enough jobs to go around. But the foreign grads will be forced to stick around and keep looking, because of the 3-year rule.

Finally their finances will be pushed to the breaking point, and they will appeal to the government: "Please exempt me from this rule, because I've tried my best for so long, and I still can't get a job here in Singapore. I want to go home to China / India / Malaysia / Vietnam".

Then the Singapore government will say, "Oh very well, I release you from this obligation." So the foreign chap packs up his bags and leaves Singapore for good.

The silver lining in his cloud is still very silver. In other words, the foreign student still gets a pretty good deal. After all, for 3 or 4 years, his university education was heavily subsidised by Singaporean taxpayers. After he gets his degree, he just packs up and leaves .... with the blessing of the Singapore government. Wowee.

When discussing such issues, some naive Singaporean will chirp out, "Oh, but this happens everywhere. For example, Harvard University would also give out bond-free scholarships to foreigners."

Yes, silly, but Harvard University doesn't make the American taxpayer pay for that. Harvard comes up with its money.

Oct 27, 2008

Little Ironies of Life in Singapore

From the Straits Times:
ST Oct 26, 2008
Investors flock to 3rd rally
By Gracia Chiang

Well-educated, English-speaking investors flocked to Speakers' Corner yesterday to make their frustrations heard.

For the third week in a row, about 500 investors gathered in Hong Lim Park eager to find out how they can seek redress for Lehman-linked financial products they claim were mis-sold to them.

Organised by former chief executive officer of insurer NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian, the rally was intended for those who had sunk their money into such products to band together and exchange suggestions
One year ago, if you had done a survey among those 500 Singaporeans and asked them, "Do you think that Singapore should allow public protests?", what do you think they would have said?

I believe that many of them would have gasped in horror and said, "Nooooo, certainly not! Rallies are dangerous and will lead to violence and bloodshed. The PAP is right to make them illegal."

The Astrologer Plays Ball

It must be fun being a politician. You can make rather meaningless statements and the media will report them quite seriously, as if you really knew what you were talking about.
MM Lee predicts a turnaround from the recession in as little as three to five years
October 25, 2008

THE current economic slowdown could last three to five years — if the banking system does not malfunction. This is the assessment given by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the Singapore Human Capital Summit on Friday.

MM Lee was speaking at a dialogue with summit participants facilitated by Insead’s Dean of Executive Education, Professor Narayan Pant.

“Nobody can say how long or how deep this recession will be,” said MM Lee. “... My own guess is, if the banking system does not malfunction, then in three, four or five years, the world economy will be restored.

If the banking system malfunctions, then I don’t know. It would be a very difficult process.”
What on earth does MM Lee mean by a "malfunction" in the banking system?

The bankruptcy of banks? Huge leaps in LIBOR? A global liquidity crisis? Governments stepping in to guarantee bank deposits? The death of financial engineering? Widespread retrenchments and redundancies in the banking industry?

All of the above have already happened. But from the way that MM Lee spoke, he doesn't seem to regard these events as constituting a "malfunction", LOL.

Which only leaves us to wonder what exactly MM Lee means by "malfunction". A mystery hedge word. I bet MM Lee himself doesn't know, haha. You are always right, if you just can't be wrong.

Oct 25, 2008


The diagram illustrates the performance of the Straits Times Index over the past 5 years. The spectacular dive over the past 5 months takes us back to the levels last seen about 5 years ago.

The same things are happening to just about every stock market in the world. So much for diversification, LOL.

At some point in time, equities must become cheap enough to constitute a very good buy. As usual, the million-dollar question is - when?

Methinks, not any time so soon. I'm going to sit on my cash and come out to look around again - next year.

Oct 17, 2008

Students And Their Career Choices

Daphne Maia sees a problem with the Singapore education system. She thinks that our students lack career guidance and therefore often end up choosing courses for which they neither have aptitude nor interest.

While it's a good idea to have some kind of formal career guidance, I can see one difficulty. Teachers in Singapore are precisely that - teachers - and the majority of them don't know the working world, outside of the school environment. Thus they don't come with a wealth of career experience to share with their students (apart from a career in teaching).

My (mildly radical) suggestion is that schools heavily beef up their CCA programmes, and offer (1) a wider range of activities, and (2) more support and resources for each activity. The idea is to give students more room to explore their individual interests over a number of years.

This exploration is experiential - the student will actually do things, develop skills and have fun along the way. Through this process, the student gains some self-knowledge on the type of activities and environments (and by extension, the type of future career) that might appeal to him. Such self-knowledge, I believe, would go much deeper than what a student would most likely get out of a 30-minute, one-off session with a career counselor.

Many CCAs would not have a direct viable equivalent in the working world. Nevertheless the personal insights may be valuable. For example, as a student, my friend Adrian Tan joined the debating team and took part in many competitions. This eventually led him to choose a career as a litigation lawyer, where he makes a living by making arguments in court.

Another friend of mine (who shall not be named, because her current job is hush-hush) was the chairman / president type in school. She led various student committees in her secondary school, JC and university days. Now she holds a policy-making job within a certain government ministry, where she no doubt continues to lead her committees in her usual firm, no-nonsense style.

Some other examples. Joining a science club may help a student see whether R&D work would interest him. Joining the National Cadet Corps may help him to see whether a military career is a plausible option at all. Writing for a school publication may spark off an interest in journalism.

An art club may provide opportunities for students to test their interest in design-related jobs. Students involved in fund-raising projects may try their hand at marketing. The IT club allows students to see whether information technology appeals so much to them that they might one day pursue a career in it. And so on.

All of the above assumes that the student participates earnestly enough in his chosen CCAs, to gain such insights. It also assumes that the school allocates enough resources for the CCA activities to be carried out with some depth.

I end this post, by showing you an interesting student project - here it is. As NTU is not providing any financial support for this CCA, you might wish to make a donation to the students who are running it.

Reflections on a Job Interview

I interviewed someone yesterday. He's a lawyer in London. Until recently, he was employed by Lehman Brothers. Or maybe he officially still is, but I think his salary no longer arrives.

The candidate has seven years of working experience more than me. That makes him very senior. His stated expected salary, however, was quite low (lower than mine). I sensed a little desperation. He's very eager to grab his wife and kids and get out of London (now populated with unemployed ex-bank employees) and come out to Asia as soon as possible.

Hmmm. This is going to be a trend. It will go on for years. During the good times, financial institutions in Singapore and Hong Kong were short of finance professionals. Due to the market shortage, their salaries climbed high (mine included). Now, however, a huge number of well-qualified banking professionals in London, New York and elsewhere have become unemployed and are flooding the market.

Many will aim to come to Asia. I guess the overall median salaries will have to go down. They probably have already started going down.

Good thing I specialise in various Asian jurisdictions. That gives me some insulation. You will hardly find any banking lawyers in London or New York, who are familar with the banking-related laws in countries such as Thailand, Korea, Malaysia or China. My Asian experience is what keeps me relevant (relatively speaking).

Your Money in Singapore And One Cool Cat

Just yesterday I was calling DBS in Hong Kong, trying to find out how to open a new savings account there and transfer some money over. The silly lady on the phone asked me why I wanted to do this, since I am already a DBS customer in Singapore and am neither working or living in Hong Kong.

"Because the HK government guarantees all bank deposits in Hong Kong, and the Singapore government doesn't," I replied. Doesn't she read the newspapers?

However, today's news is that the Singapore government has also decided to guarantee all deposits, in any currency, placed with banks in Singapore. Therefore you won't have to perform any of those $20,000 tricks which I discussed in my earlier post here.

Side note: Now that the government has given such a guarantee, does the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation still have a reason to exist? Yes, because the government's guarantee is only up to 31 Dec 2010. However, till then it does seem that the SDIC has no practical significance and will fade away into obscurity.

Oct 15, 2008

Park Benches & Public Transport Standards

Now that I've given up on serious sociopolitical blogging, I see that in fact we live in a very humorous country:

ST Oct 14, 2008
Costly park bench nap
Nappers can be fined $200 for misuse of park facility.

WHAT was supposed to be a free 15-minute nap on a park bench turned into a costly snooze for one Singaporean.

The New Paper on Tuesday reported that a 62-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Mr Kassim, was fined $200 when he dozed off on a Sun Plaza Park bench while taking shelter from the rain.

The National Parks Board (NParks) fined the private bus driver for having misused the park facility by sleeping on the bench.
In Singapore, popular beaches such as East Coast Park, Changi Beach and Pulau Ubin are also classified as "parks". Therefore they fall under the purview of the National Parks Board. So do be careful, the next time you go to the beach on a sunny day and lie down on the sand to get a tan. You just might be committing an criminal offence. Or maybe the trick is not to fall asleep. That way, you can get up and run away, if you see a park officer approaching.

Here's another fine story about Singapore:

Oct 15, 2008
SBS, SMRT fined again
They did not meet certain service standards.
By Christopher Tan

SINGAPORE's two bus operators were fined again for not meeting service standards as the Public Transport Council enforces a year-old penalty framework.

SBS Transit and SMRT Buses were fined $9,300 and $1,000 respectively for failing to meet standards such as scheduled trips operated, scheduled headways as well as passenger load for the six-month review between Dec 1 and May 31 this year.

In April, they were fined $300 and $200 respectively for similar shortcomings.
SMRT is an SGX-listed company with more than $1,300,000,000 of assets (based on its 2007 annual report). And for failing to meet national service standards in public transport, it gets fined $1,000? Ouch, that must hurt. It's like being caught five times, for sleeping on a park bench.

Oct 13, 2008

Family, Home, School and Money

Next year my son goes to primary school. It's a very good school - not the best, but very good. Importantly, the school has strong Chinese traditions (being affiliated to a SAP secondary school).

I don't care whether my son soaks up the Chinese culture. I do care whether he learns the language and becomes fluent in it. His world will be in the era of a very significant China. For general career purposes, Mandarin may well be the most important language that he'll ever need to know.

In two years' time, my daughter will also go to primary school. Since my son's school is all-boys, my daughter has to go elsewhere. Fortunately, there is a girls' school in the neighbourhood which is also quite good. To increase her chances of admission, I am toying with the idea of moving house (applicants who live closer have higher priority in the admissions process).

The plan would be to move somewhere halfway between the two schools. That way, both children can walk (in opposite directions) to school every day. This is a daily convenience for the next six years. After primary school, if they choose to go to the respective affiliated secondary schools, they get to enjoy another four years of convenience each (because, in both cases, the secondary school is right next to the primary school).

All in all, it could be a very good idea to move.

What about the costs of moving? The area between the two schools is mostly terraces, bungalows and one or two condos. It is rather costly. I could afford it (fingers crossed), but my strong preference is to live with as little debt as possible.

According to my crystal ball, residential rentals must fall sharply this year. A host of new, big residential projects (all of which were launched in the recent bubbly years), will get completed soon. What happens next? The market will be flooded. At the same time, due to the economic slowdown, many expats might predictably pack their bags and go home. This would lead to a further collapse in residential rentals.

The stock market has also crashed very badly. Many Singaporeans would have lost serious money. Bonuses will shrink. Thus many potential property buyers would be eliminated. Furthermore, a real recession is very likely to be on the way (the technical one is already here). Some people will lose their jobs. And among them, the highly-leveraged home-buyers of the past few years will be blown apart.

In these days of uncertain liquidity, local banks will be quicker than usual, in deciding to foreclose on defaulting borrowers. There may be much less tolerance for alternatives such as rescheduling the borrowers' payment schedules etc. In other words, if a borrower fails to pay on time, the bank will be quick to say, "Sorry, game over", to grab the property and to put it up for public auction at a firesale price.

All this points to a crashing Singapore property market. I am sorry for all those who will suffer. However, it does bode well for a genuinely interested buyer like me. Furthermore I don't have to buy immediately. I can adopt a wait-&-see approach. My deadline is around June 2010, when my daughter is to register for primary school. That gives the property market slightly more than 1.5 years to hit bottom, which seems quite ample.

In other news, Mrs Wang and I have been talking about having a 3rd child. In economically uncertain times, most people tend to err on the side of caution and put off such "projects". However, the logic of such putting-off is somewhat dubious to me. Why?

Well, if a couple has a child, they might expect to financially support the child for at least 21 years. However, there is no such thing as a business cycle that stays good for 21 years. In other words, if you have any child at all, you must expect that in the first 21 years, the world will go through several cycles of good and bad times.

And it is not evident to me that going through bad times with a baby is worse than going through bad times with a 5-year-old, or a 11-year-old or an 17-year-old. To put it another way, all parents must expect the world to go through some bad times, regardless of when exactly they first become parents.

So the key question still remains the same - do you want a child or not?

I think I do. I will think more about it, but I think I do. My kids are growing up so quick. I do miss having a really young one toddling around the house. :)

Oct 11, 2008

How To Protect Your Money in Singapore Banks

I have never really paid attention to the Singapore Deposit Insurance Scheme. Until recently, it seemed irrelevant to me as a bank customer. But now the world is bidding goodbye to the good old days when banks were strong, solid institutions that couldn't possibly fail. So today I am surfing the Internet checking out what the SDIS is all about.

The scheme is for the benefit of individuals and charities. If you, as an individual, deposit your money with a bank or finance company that is a scheme member, your money will be insured for up to $20,000. This means that even if your bank fails, the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation will compensate you for up to $20,000.

The SDIC is able to do so (or supposed to be able to do so) because it has been regularly collecting insurance premiums over the past few years, from all its scheme members. Let's briefly discuss a few technical details.

Firstly, the coverage is net of liabilities. This means that if you have $10,000 in your DBS savings account, but you owe DBS $7,000 for your credit cards, then the SDIC protects you for only $3,000. That's because on a net basis, DBS owes you $3,000.

Secondly, the coverage is only for Singapore Dollar deposits. So if you have a USD account or a fixed deposit in Australian dollars, those savings won't be covered.

Thirdly, the SDIS basically covers savings accounts, current accounts and fixed deposits. Money in the form of funkier products, such as structured deposits, will not be covered. Neither will any unit trust investments.

Fourth, who are the scheme members? There are 34 institutions in the list, including the most well-known retail institutions in Singapore such as DBS; UOB; OCBC; Stanchart and HSBC.

Now, let's discuss a few simple ideas on how to maximise your SDIS protection. Basically the trick is to get the protection where you can; to max out the $20,000 protection where you have it; and to reduce any excess you have, over that limit. A few examples to illustrate.

Suppose Mr Tan keeps all his life savings (SGD 80,000) in DBS. Since $20,000 is the protection limit per eligible account, $60,000 of Mr Tan's money is left unprotected. However, Mr Tan can open three new accounts (say, with UOB, OCBC and Stanchart) and place $20,000 in each of his four bank accounts. Now, the SDIS will fully cover Mr Tan's $80,000.

In our next example, suppose John has $20,000 in an OCBC savings account. He also has an outstanding OCBC mortgage of about $200,000, and he pays the monthly instalments using his CPF. Note that John's $20,000 doesn't enjoy SDIS protection at all (because on a net basis, he owes OCBC about $180,000). To get such protection, Mr Lim can transfer his $20,000 to another bank.

In our third example, suppose Lily has $30,000 in her UOB account and $10,000 in her Stanchart account. Although all her Stanchart money is covered, one third of her UOB money is not (because it's over the $20,000 limit). However, by withdrawing $10,000 from her UOB account and placing it on fixed deposit with Stanchart, Lily ends up with about $20,000 in each bank. Therefore her money is now fully covered by the SDIS.

If you have quite a lot of cash, it may be difficult to find enough banks to place all your cash, such that you have no more than $20,000 with each bank. There may also be some banks (among the scheme members) that you don't want to open an account with (either because you don't trust them, or because they don't provide the range of retail services you need / expect).

However, in such a case, you can still increase your SDIS protection by spreading some of your cash, among the banks you do trust (relatively speaking) and don't mind banking with. Better than nothing.

Next week, I will be going around town opening a few extra bank accounts and placing some SGD fixed deposits here and there. Just up to $20,000 per new account.

[If you found this article useful and informative, do tell your friends and relatives about it.]

The Mysterious Universe of Fraudulent Spam

You know what I mean, right? I'm talking about the unsolicited email that arrives regularly in your Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail account. The ones that tell a long story about someone in Nigeria or Botswana or Kenya.

Somebody's grandmother died and left money; or someone was wrongfully arrested for life and left money; or someone came across a big pool of money accidentally left behind by corrupt government officials. Stuff like that.

The email ends with the sender asking if you will help by providing your bank account details to him, or by sending him some money so that he can get out of some terrible emergency.

Naturally, such emails are quite fake and you can smell fraud all over them. Typically we should delete them without a second thought (if they have't already been caught by the spam filter).

However I've often wondered how exactly the perpetrator plans to go about cheating his gullible victim (if he does find one). So yesterday when I received one of these emails, I decided to play along, just to see what happens next. The email address sounded more authentic than usual (it had a Chinese Singaporean name) and the message was as follows:
How are you doing today? I am sorry i didn't inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Ghana , South Africa and Nigeria . It has been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition i found myself is very hard for me to explain.

I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because i have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of $1050 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management.

I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need $1250 to feed and help myself back home so please can you help me with a sum of $2300 to sort out my problems here? I need this help so much and on time because i am in a terrible and tight situation here, I don't even have money to feed myself for a day which
means i had been starving so please understand how urgent i need your help. i have decided not tell my family so that they will not be worried. when I return I will tell them and they will understand.

I am sending you this e-mail from the city Library and I only have 30 min, I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home so please let me know on time so that i can forward you the details you need to transfer the money through Money Gram or Western Union. Hope to hear from you. James.
So last night I replied as follows: "hi james, sure. It's not a big sum and i an glad to help. Please give me the hotel's name and bank account no. and i will send some money for that bill".

What happened next? This morning I checked my emails and sure enough, there was a reply. Here it is:

please ignore the mail..my email account been hacked... ;(.

So now I may have uncovered one possible step of the modus operandi. It seems that the fraudsters hack the email accounts of innocent folks, and use those email accounts to send out their fraudulent message.

Any of you know the rest of their tricks?

Oct 9, 2008

The Adventures of Being Homeless and Broke

A few days ago, a man named Karthik Rajaram shot his mother-in-law, his wife and his three sons (aged 7, 12 and 19). Karthik then proceeded to shoot himself.

This happened in an upscale neighbourhood in Los Angeles. According to Karthik's suicide letter, he had decided to kill his family and himself because of their financial difficulties.

Karthik was a well-educated man with an MBA and used to work for major accounting firms such as Price Waterhouse. However in recent months, he had been unemployed. One speculates that recent events such as the stock market collapse might also have wiped out his investments.

Coincidentally, this week I received an email from another American. Adam has just published a new book (his first) and he asked if I would review it on this blog. I said yes, and the book is now in the mail on its way to me in Singapore. I'll write again about the book, after I've received and read it. Apparently it has received considerable media publicity in the US, but so far, not outside the US.

Briefly, what is Adam's book about? It's a true story. It's about Adam's personal 1-year adventure to investigate whether the American Dream is still alive. One day, Adam left his home and family, and took a train to a randomly-chosen city. He carried only $25 and some clothes in a haversack.

His goal? To see whether he could start from zero and within one year, have $2,500 in his wallet, a car and a furnished apartment. The rules of Adam's game were that he would not rely on his education qualifications (he is a graduate), and he would not ask any of his personal contacts, friends or relatives for help.

Since I have not yet read the book, I don't know how Adam's adventure turned out. (I do know that he spent some of the time staying at a shelter for the homeless). For the current times, the book's theme is very topical, especially in the US. How bad does it really get, when you're homeless? How do you survive, when you're broke? Can things get better? If so, how?

I just have a feeling that Karthik might have done some things differently, if he had had a chance to read Adam's book.

Oct 6, 2008

Singapore's Media Tied Up in Its Own Knots

Here is an extremely interesting article from the Straits Times. In a moment, I'll tell you why.

ST Oct 5, 2008
Students protest uni censorship

A GROUP of students staged a protest in Singapore on Sunday against their university's censorship of a campus newspaper article.

Fronted by a black banner with the slogan 'Responsible Press For Students,' the four protesters made speeches in front of about 40 students at a park designated for limited free speech and demonstrations.

The four were protesting against the decision by the Nanyang Technological University to pull the plug on a recent article about the visit in August of secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan, to the campus.

'Let us again be reminded that this incident is not about Dr Chee's visit but rather about the censorship of the news... We are proposing responsible editorial independence,' Scott Teng, one of the four, said in his speech.

Mr Teng said the article was initially given the go-ahead to be published in the campus newspaper last month before being axed suddenly.

It was about Mr Chee's visit to the school and carried nothing about his political views, he added. According to Mr Teng, the university's reason for axing the article was they did not want the campus newspaper 'to be used as a platform for unsolicited guests to air their views'. -- AFP
The article is very interesting because it is NOT really by the Straits Times. Instead it's an AFP story reproduced by the Straits Times. ("AFP" stands for Agence-France Press, a global news agency)

The ST does regularly use articles from international news agencies like Reuters, AFP, AP and Bloomberg. However, these articles are usually about foreign events happening in other countries. Typically, the ST would not rely on the foreign media for reports on events happening on our very own little island.

However, here we have a protest in Singapore, held at Hong Lim Park. The event is organised by students from a local university, and concerns an editorial decision about an article, which itself is about a very local event - Chee Soon Juan's speech at a local educational institution. It is a highly local story.

And yet the ST did not cover the story itself. It did not assign any reporter to interview the students or NTU or Chee Soon Juan. It did not even send a photographer to take any of its own photos of the event (the photo I reproduced above is an AFP photo).

Why? We can make a few guesses.

(1) The ST is incompetent at sniffing out newsworthy events. It found out about this particular event only after it had happened, and had to purchase the article from AFP, instead of sending its own journalist to cover the event.

(2) The ST knew about the event. However, in the same way that NTU had been nervous about publishing the article about Chee's speech, the Straits Times was nervous about doing its own report, about a protest concerning that matter.

In other words, the ST decided that it was too politically risky to report the event itself. If the ST published the "wrong" things in its article, it might attract a reprimand from the Singapore government, for crossing the line. It would be much safer to just reproduce a foreign agency's report.

(3) The ST had deliberately chosen not to report this event. It intentionally decided not to publicise this particular matter concerning a protest about censorship in Singapore. However, after AFP broke the story, the ST felt that for the sake of its credibility, it could not pretend that the event had not happened. Therefore the ST quickly purchased the article from AFP and published it here in Singapore.

Which theory do you prefer?

Oct 1, 2008

A Preventable Tragedy

What we have here is a real-life, genuine example ... of how things can go terribly wrong in a country where the state controls the media.

I suppose the Chinese government must be feeling very pleased with its "nation-building" press.

There is an important lesson for Singaporeans here, I suspect. If only we were not too blind to see it.

China covered up milk scare to protect Olympics: critics

BEIJING (AFP) - - China knew about the contamination of milk products months ago but covered the scandal up to prevent it tarnishing the Beijing Olympics, according to journalists, rights groups and media critics.

The crisis broke in mid-September, a month after the Olympics, but several Chinese reporters had long known about babies being hospitalised after drinking tainted milk, yet were muzzled by the authorities, the critics say.

An editor at a respected southern China newspaper said that as early as July one of his reporters was investigating how milk powder might have been to blame for children developing kidney stones and falling seriously sick.

"As a news editor, I was deeply concerned because I sensed that this was going to be a huge public health disaster," Southern Weekend news editor Fu Jianfeng said on his blog.

"But I could not send any reporters out to investigate. Therefore, I harboured a deep sense of guilt and defeat at the time."

Fu's blog posting was later removed, although it could be read on some overseas Chinese websites. Fu himself could not be reached for comment.

An estimated 53,000 Chinese children have been sickened after the industrial chemical melamine was added to milk products, and four infants have died.