Apr 27, 2008

Domestic Maids, Mas Selamat and Why Wong Kan Seng Should Be Fined

Pardon the slightly bizarre title of this post. In a roundabout way, it was inspired by the following article from Today:
2 years on, employers still skirt day-off clause
Should there be a law to get employers to comply?
Friday • April 25, 2008

NEWLY arrived, a maid asked her employer if she could get a rest day. Her employer was incredulous.

"If I wanted to give my maid a day off, I would have hired one from another country," said the employer, who had signed her up on the assumption that maids of some nationalities were more pliant than others.

Faced with an employment contract that requires them to either give their maids a rest day, or compensate them accordingly for working, some Singaporean employers have sought ways to get around the terms or extract the most from their workers.

And this begs the question of how much has truly changed for the 170,000 foreign domestic workers in our midst — two years after the industry association put together a standard contract requiring employers to give maids at least one day off a month.

A Today straw poll of 50 employers found that only 62 per cent gave their maids a rest day.

With some industry watchers criticising the rest-day clause as being too flexible, should legislation be put in place to mandate the issue? ....
There are several simple reasons why many Singaporean employers are reluctant to give their maids a day off.

You see, the maid's work permit comes with numerous conditions. For example, she cannot prostitute herself. She cannot have sex with a boyfriend. She cannot get pregnant. And she cannot (of course) commit any crimes such as shoplifting.

If she does any of the above, then she has breached her work permit conditions and the employer has to repatriate her. And if the maid runs away before the employer can do that, the government will fine the employer $5,000. For that matter, the government will fine the employer $5,000, if the maid runs away for any reason.

If you didn't know any of the above, then either you do not employ a maid, or you didn't read the small print of the Manpower Ministry's work permit conditions.

(On a positive note, maids running away is such a common occurrence that it is possible to buy insurance for it. On a negative note, maids running away is a common occurrence).

Many employers are afraid that if their maid has a day off and gets herself into trouble, the employer will not only have to solve the trouble, but also have to fork out $5,000 as a free gift to the government.

(Not that the government will then help you solve the trouble. It's just a fine, plain & simple).

Intuitively, this smacks of gross unfairness. The employer gets punished not for something he did, but for something that somebody else (the maid) did. Furthermore, once the maid leaves the employer's residence, the employer has no way of monitoring where the maid goes and what she does there.

To encourage employers to give their maids a day off, the government needs to change these ridiculous rules.

I agree that employers should be fined and punished, if they fail to perform their responsibilities as employers - for example, paying the maid's salary on time; providing adequate food and accommodation; and ensuring a safe, secure working environment.

But employers should not be held responsible, for things that a maid may do, of her own free will. When the maid goes out on her rest day, the employer simply has no viable way to ensure that she will not do anything that breaches her work permit conditions.

(Which, by the way, are quite extensive and onerous).

We may draw a curious parallel with Mas Selamat's escape, and PM Lee's determined, if muddled, defence of Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in Parliament.

Mas Selamat ran away. But PM Lee said that Wong Kan Seng was not at fault and should not be punished in any way. The reason being that Wong Kan Seng personally did not do anything which allowed Mas Selamat to escape.

Strangely, if your maid runs away, it IS your fault and you SHOULD be punished. Even if you did not personally do anything to let her run away (apart from giving her a day off).

Similarly, if your maid becomes pregnant, it IS your fault and you SHOULD be punished. Even if you did not personally do anything to make her pregnant.

Oh well. What can I say? Maids are not terrorists. But then you are not Wong Kan Seng. So the rules remain stacked against you. Wong Kan Seng gets off lightly, but you won't. Even if his lapse has far greater, and graver, implications than yours.

Your runaway maid wouldn't blow up Changi Airport, would she?

Apr 21, 2008

Emigration Becomes A Business

I was at Raffles City today. A man was standing at the entrance handing out flyers to passers-by. He handed two to me. Here they are:

Out of curiosity, I visited their website. Basically, they help you to emigrate to other countries. Click here to see some of the services they provide.

I'm not sure how many such companies there are in Singapore. If there are more than a few, then it's really quite sad. It means that so many Singaporeans want to leave their country that a viable mini-industry has sprung up to help them do so.

Interestingly, OCSC is targetting Singaporeans who work in trades and occupations such as welding, fabrication, motor mechanics and so on. This is in sharp contrast to the typical profile that the Singapore government likes to paint of emigrating Singaporeans.

For example, in April last year, Lee Kuan Yew said that most Singaporeans are not actually able to leave. According to LKY, those Singaporeans who are able to leave are the "better-educated and talented ones", who represent the "top 20 to 30 per cent of educated Singaporeans".

It seems that this isn't quite true. For example, Australia does give priority to would-be immigrants who belong to a "skilled occupation". However, "skilled occupation" does not mean "higher education qualifications", but refers instead to skills which are actually in demand in Australia.

Australia's point system is described here. Motor mechanics, cooks and plumbers are awarded the same priority as accountants, engineers and lawyers .... and higher priority than life scientists, economists and mathematicians.

No CCTV. No Grilles. No Guards. No Dogs. No High Fence. Just One Big Open Window, And A Lot of Toilet Paper To Cushion Impact.

I live in a high-rise apartment. When my baby son first started to crawl and walk, I quickly engaged a contractor to install grilles for all the windows. It was a simple safety precaution. Just common sense, really.

Too bad the Ministry of Home Affairs doesn't have common sense.
ST April 21, 2008
Gone in 49 seconds

That is the time it took for terrorist Mas Selamat to leap to freedom, in a re-enactment of his daring escape after he got out of the toilet in the Whitley Road detention centre.
By Ian Lim

IN THE executive summary on the report of Mas Selamat Kastari's escape from Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC) on Feb 27, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) found that the detainee could have made his escape on Feb 27 in 49 seconds.

In a re-enactment requested by the COI, a Gurkha guard took 49 seconds to retrace Mas Selamat's possible escape route from the detention centre.

An unsecured window in the toilet of the visitors block allowed him to make the prison breakout.

The executive summary was released by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in Parliament on Monday.

On Feb 27, the COI found Mas Selamat was taken out of his cell for his family visit scheduled for 4pm to 4.30pm at the Family Visitation Block.

At 3.35pm, two Gurkha guards escorted him to a locker room to change into civilian clothes.

After changing into a light yellow baju kurung and greenish-grey pants, he was escorted by the two guards and a woman Special Duty Operative (SDO) - a junior Internal Security Department (ISD) officer - to the Family Visitation block at 3.54pm.

He asked to use the toilet next to the family visit room to shave and comb his hair.

One guard stood outside the toilet while the other followed him inside.

Mas Selamat used the urinal cubicle and closed the door. He flipped his pants over the ledge above the door. He left the tap running.

After a few minutes, the guard felt that Mas Selamat was taking too long. He alerted the other guard standing outside the toilet, who then reported to the SDO outside the toilet. The SDO asked a male Assistant Case Officer to check on the toilet.

At 4.05pm, the male SDO kicked open the door of the urinal cubicle, Mas Selamat was not inside.

The ventilation window pane located above this urinal cubicle had been swung open.

An immediate alert was raised that Mas Selamat had escaped.

The COI found that Mas Selamat had about 11 minutes between 3.54pm and 4.05 pm to make his escape.

The COI believes that while in the cubicle, Mas Selamat climbed onto the ledge located just below the ventilation window, pushed open the window and squeezed himself through it.

He probably held on to a water pipe running vertically down the external wall of the toilet.

The COI received forensic evidence from CID that smudges were found on the water pipe, although there were no conclusive fingerprints. A packet of seven rolls of toilet paper was found on the ground, which he could have used to break his fall.

There were also two CCTV cameras mounted where Mas Selamat climbed out, but they were not switched on as they were part of the CCTV system upgrading and the system was still in its testing stage.

There is no conclusive evidence of the exact route Mas Selamat took to escape.

The COI's view is that he was likely to have used a route 20m to the right of the ventilation window, where the inner and outer perimeter fences converged with the enclosed staircase and walkway.

Mas Selamat would have scaled the fence, climbed onto the roof of the enclosed staircase and walkway, and jumped over the converged perimeter fences.
The above report raises many questions in my mind. I'm sure it raises many questions in your minds too, dear readers. Overall, the security just seems so lax. Jurong Bird Park keeps its birds under tighter security.

Your comments, please.

Apr 17, 2008

Temasek And A Black Hole Named Merrill

From CNN Money:

More pain for Merrill Lynch
Wall Street firm's quarterly loss is even wider than expected after billion in writedowns, and it plans to cut 4,000 jobs.
By Tami Luhby

April 17, 2008: 7:04 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The pain isn't over for Merrill Lynch & Co.

The investment bank Thursday missed even the drastically lowered estimates for its first-quarter results, reporting a net loss of $1.96 billion, or $2.19 per diluted share.

The company also plans to cut about 4,000 jobs, or about 10% of its workforce, excluding financial advisers and investment associates. It will focus the reductions in its global markets and investment banking division.

Net revenue was $2.9 billion, down 69% from the prior-year period, primarily due to net writedowns totaling $1.5 billion related to asset-backed securities and a downward adjustment of $3 billion related to hedges with financial guarantors.

"Despite this quarter's loss, Merrill Lynch's underlying businesses produced solid results in a difficult market environment," said John A. Thain, chief executive officer, who said the bank remained well-capitalized.

Analysts had projected a $1.99 per share loss on a net loss of $1.4 billion and revenue of $3.7 billion.

Wall Street was prepared for horrendous earnings from Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500). Analysts were almost tripping over themselves to cut profit estimates and enlarge writedowns, suspecting the value of the company's assets had fallen steeply in recent months. Only a month ago, analysts were predicting profit of 48 cents per share. At the start of 2008, the consensus estimate was $1.52 per share.

"Unfortunately, Merrill has significant balance sheet exposures in many of the asset classes that experienced continued pricing pressure in [the first quarter]," wrote Jeff Harte in an April 2 note.

.... Merrill Lynch raised $12.8 billion in capital during the past two quarters and Chief Executive John Thain has said he doesn't plan to raise any more.

Early last year, I came close to accepting a job at Merrill Lynch. It was quite tempting, not only because Merrill Lynch was a brand name organisation then, but also because the job was in a rapidly growing sector - commodities.

The commodities space is still hot - in fact, it's arguably the only thing that's still hot in the financial world. It's not just the usual oil, gas and gold stories - now, even plain old rice has become a hot commodity.

Merrill Lynch is, however, no longer a brand name. Instead, among all the investment banks in the world, it's probably the one that was hardest-hit in the US subprime crisis. Merrill Lynch will take a long time to recover from this mess, if it ever does.

Oh well. Just as well I didn't join Merrill.

It's barely been 4 months since Temasek started buying into Merrill Lynch, and Temasek is already sitting on paper losses of more than half a billion USD dollars. Citizens, are you worried for Singapore yet?

Apr 16, 2008

Contagious Diseases On A Crowded Little Island

ST April 16, 2008
HFMD epidemic may be the worst since 2000
Over 1,000 kids fell ill last week, 13 warded; virulent EV71 virus behind 16% of cases By Salma Khalik & Sujin Thomas

SINGAPORE may be facing its most serious hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) outbreak since an epidemic killed seven children eight years ago.

More than 1,000 children fell ill last week - the highest number of weekly infections since the 2000-2001 period.

Of the 13 who needed hospitalisation, one girl was seriously ill, with inflammation of the brain.

..... HFMD is endemic in Singapore, with children catching the virus almost daily.

Symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat and a red rash, usually on the limbs and in the mouth, which gives the illness its name.

I just read the latest parents' newsletter from my kids' school (yes, the same one which teaches sex education to little kids). The newsletter reported that one student has just come down with HFMD.

Since HFMD is highly contagious, this means, unfortunately, that more students at the school may possibly be coming down with the illness in the next week or so. The usual incubation period is between 3 to 7 days.

I've just discussed with Mrs Wang and we decided that our little kids will get to skip school for the next few days.

Incidentally, I've often wondered whether the government has really considered the potential health implications of its ambitious population plan. I'm referring to the government's plan to increase Singapore's resident population to 6.5 million people (mainly by importing more foreigners).

There are plenty of reasons why we should be cautious about such a plan. One reason is that we live in a time where mankind seems to be constantly threatened by the likes of SARS and bird flu.

Squeeze 6.5 million people together on a little red dot. Make it the world's most densely populated country. Every day, pack a great number of citizens like sardines into the public transport system. What do you get?

Potentially, a great recipe for a massive epidemic .....

Apr 15, 2008

Online Election Campaigning Leads to Corruption. Huh?

Here's PM Lee spouting mysterious words again:
ST April 14, 2008
Laws must keep up with changing new media, says PM
But any loosening up will be handled cautiously, he adds

THE new media is changing rapidly and Singapore's laws must evolve to keep up, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

But any loosening up will be done carefully.

Otherwise, misinformation and extremist views could proliferate.

Politics might also become tainted by graft if parties have to spend large sums to campaign online, he warned.
I wonder what that is supposed to mean.

It is very difficult to see how one can spend large sums of money campaigning online. In Malaysia's recent elections, the Internet played a huge role in influencing voters. Yet practically all the Internet activity took place via Blogger, Wordpress, Youtube and other completely free Internet platforms.

Contrast this with campaigning offline. You would have to spend money printing and distributing posters; placing advertisements in traditional newspapers; hiring lorries and drivers to ferry candidates around the country to meet the electorate; and making large-scale logistics arrangements for election rallies. That won't be cheap.

Anyway, suppose we accept PM Lee's strange logic - that politics might become tainted by corruption if parties have to spend large sums to campaign online. It must then follow that since traditional, offline campaigning costs much more money, it is even more likely to lead to corruption.

Then we wonder - how come this seems to be an issue in Singapore only? After all, election campaigning occurs in every democratic nation on this planet. In fact, campaigning is a necessary part of the democratic process. Yet no one ever seems to says that democracy breeds corruption.

No one except PM Lee, that is.
Current laws disallow the making and distributing of party political films.

During campaign season, political parties are not allowed to put audio or video-casts on their websites.

Mr Lee warned that Singapore would suffer if elections came to be fought through expensive online films and advertisements.

'If a party needs money, many people are willing to donate, but these political contributions never come with no strings attached. After you win and come into power, the donors will turn up politely to 'collect their dues',' he said.
Oooh, I see. PM Lee is worried about expensive online films and advertisements.

So, hypothetically speaking, suppose an Opposition candidate merely uses his own cheap, lousy video camera at home to film his own speech, and then he posts the video on Youtube, where it is widely viewed by Singaporeans. PM Lee shouldn't be worried about that, should he?

Heheh. Well, think what you like. And draw your own conclusions. Mr Wang is only here to encourage you to think.

A Tale of One Jack Chick and Two Religions

This is going to be quite an interesting case to watch. Since details are not yet available, I'm posting the article below mainly for future reference.

ST April 15, 2008
Couple charged under Sedition Act
By Elena Chong

A COUPLE were charged on Tuesday with distributing a seditious publication to two others.

Ong Kian Cheong, 49, and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 44, are alleged to have distributed The Little Bride, an evangelistic material, to Sembawang resident Irwan Ariffin last Oct 19.

They are also said to have distributed the same publication to one Madam Farharti Ahmad at her home in Woodlands on March 6 last year .

It is not clear why they face the Sedition Act and the Undesirable Publication Act when the publication is the same.

Ong, who works in a telecommunications company, and his wife, a bank employee, were represented by Mr Selva K. Naidu.

The police prosecutor sought an adjournment of the case pending a Health Sciences Authority on handwriting specimen.

The couple were freed on $10,000 bail each. Their passports were impounded.

The case will be mentioned on April 29.

Under the Sedition Act, the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and/or a jail term of up to three years.

The maximum penalty under the Undesirable Publication Act is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 12 months.

I had not heard of "The Little Bride" before, so I got curious and decided to google to find out more. After a quick bit of Internet searching, I've found out that it is a evangelical cartoon/comic series produced by an American named Jack Chick, who has a reputation of being very controversial.

Direct access to Jack Chick's official website has been blocked by the Media Development Authority. However, if you google around, you can see some of Jack Chick's works on other websites / blogs. I'm not supplying the links.

I have to say that if I were a Muslim, I would probably be very, very offended by some of these works.

However, at the same time, I am wondering how the Christian community in Singapore would react to the prosecution of Ong Kian Cheong and Dorothy Chan. These two individuals probably saw themselves as faithfully and courageously seeking to spread the word of God (the Christian God, I mean).

This could be a very complex, challenging case for the prosecution, if the accused persons claim trial. Ahh, times like this, I almost wish I was still a Deputy Public Prosecutor.

P.S I am, by the way, neither Christian nor Muslim.

P.S.S Readers who wish to post any comments on this post, please avoid using inflammatory or religiously offensive language.

Apr 7, 2008

The Search For Political Leaders

"Yes, you heard me right.
Back in 1978, Hillary scored a C for her A-level Chemistry.
Clearly she's not fit to be the President!"

That was a joke, of course. Barack Obama never said such a ridiculous thing. And no sensible American would care what grades Hillary scored in high school. Hillary herself would probably have forgotten. In the quest for the best presidential candidate, there must surely be many better things to focus on.

Tragically, this joke is not a joke in Singapore. The search is on for the next Prime Minister of Singapore. And from the sound of it, A-level grades are an important criterion:
ST April 2, 2008
PM still looking for his successor
It takes about three elections to groom a leader, so there's no time to lose, he says
By Lydia Lim

THE Prime Minister faces an urgent task: Find and field those who can take over from him before he turns 70.

Already 56, Mr Lee Hsien Loong is seeking political talent in their 30s and early 40s, one of whom he hopes will emerge as his successor.

He has no time to lose as past experience indicates that it takes about three general elections to groom a leader.

This means those who contest the next polls, due by 2011, might be ready to lead only two elections after that.

By then, Mr Lee will be 69 years old.

'That is very late. So there's no time to be lost,' he said in an interview with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao at the Istana yesterday.

...... Of concern to him is the outflow of top talent abroad.

He looked at recent data on the 600-odd students who score four As in their A levels each year.

About two-thirds pursue university degrees here, and one-third go overseas.

Of those who go overseas, at least 100 are not on scholarships. About half of these non-scholarship holders do not return but work abroad after they graduate.

In addition, another 100 of those who get their degrees here go overseas to work. They may come back one day but there is no guarantee.

'This flow is going to continue,' Mr Lee said.

'So it's a big challenge to find successors, particularly for politics.'
We learn that PM Lee Hsien Loong wants to groom his potential successor over a 15-year period. Possible candidates should now be in their 30s or early 40s - let's say they are about 37 years old, on average. The actual successor would take office as PM around the year 2023.

Thus we may say that whether you become the Prime Minister of Singapore at the age of 51 depends on how well you scored in your A-levels, at the age of 17.

Farsightedness is a virtue. A neurotic obsession with academic grades is not.

In 2008, it would be somewhat insane to scrutinise Hillary Clinton's or Barack Obama's high school grades, as a basis for selecting the next presidential candidate.

And in my opinion, it would be just as insane to choose to groom a Prime Minister to take office in 2023, on the basis of the A-level grades he scored as a teenager, 34 years earlier, in 1989.

Now of course, PM Lee Hsien Loong will not use A-level grades as his sole selection criterion. But the fact that he uses A-level grades as a selection criterion at all is quite shocking.

In my opinion, A-level grades are just simply quite irrelevant. Even if you were the best A-level student in the whole of Singapore, this demonstrates nothing about your ability to lead a nation. And conversely, even if you flunked your Chemistry paper, this doesn't mean that you can't lead a nation.

Winston Churchill - a well-known dumbo in class.
Also one of the greatest leaders in the history of Europe.

Apr 6, 2008

Very Poor Service By The Straits Times

I think MM Lee will be quite angry with the Straits Times, when he reads this ST article.
ST April 5, 2008
Guards were negligent, says MM
His message: Those who think nothing can go wrong are being complacent
By Sue-Ann Chia & Goh Chin Lian

FUGITIVE Mas Selamat Kastari was 'an escape artist' who had evaded arrest many times, and Singapore's security officers knew this, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.

Yet, the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist leader was able to lull his minders at the Whitley Road Detention Centre into believing that they had him under control, before he gave them the slip.

'When you are complacent in handling a wily detainee, then you have been negligent,' Mr Lee told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.

He responded to questions on the issue of complacency for today's Insight feature which takes off from his earlier comments on Mas Selamat's disappearance.

He said last month that the break-out was a 'very severe lesson in complacency'.

Mas Selamat, 47, who had planned to crash a plane into Changi Airport, escaped from Internal Security Department custody on Feb 27. He is still on the run.

The Government has promised a full account of how he escaped, after a three-member panel completes its investigations.

In answering questions posed by The Straits Times, Mr Lee addressed the issue of complacency among citizens, saying: 'Anyone who believes nothing can or will go wrong in Singapore is living in a make-believe world.'

He said Singaporeans are being complacent when they believe that the Government will take care of all security matters.

MPs and political observers interviewed for the Insight feature said decades of peace and prosperity could have caused some Singaporeans to believe the Government had everything under control and nothing could go wrong.

How did complacency creep in? Some observers like former MP Augustine Tan blamed indifference or lack of understanding of the Government's workings.

Others felt the Government was partly to blame.

People's Action Party MP Lim Wee Kiak called complacency a 'side-effect' of an overly successful Government and civil service.

'This has bred a dependency mentality in our population who will blame the civil service and Government if any of their needs are not met,' he noted.

But MM Lee disagreed that the Government deserved to be blamed. He said: 'Complacency sets in when a people have not suffered any shock or setback for a long time.'

Hence, his warnings against complacency over the years, 'because most people believe that bad things will happen to others, not to themselves'.
Let's put it this way. MM Lee is an extremely prominent government leader. Now a terrorist has run away from prison - no matter how you look at it, this is a very major mess-up. One of MM Lee's key tasks is therefore to manage public perception of this matter.

It seems to me that MM Lee is opting for a fairly sophisticated communications strategy to do this. He's striving to place Mas Selamat's escape in a much wider broader context - about the complacency not of his government, but of the entire nation of 4,000,000 Singapore citizens.

Thus MM Lee wants to say that yes, there was a bungle-up at the detention centre; BUT no, it was not really the government's fault (he'll gloss quickly over this part); INSTEAD let's talk about the wider, more-important and very urgent issue of national complacency (that means you, me, Tan Ah Kow and the neighbourhood kopi tiam man - not Wong Kan Seng).

And then the government PR machinery will launch into the "broad complacency" theme - and discuss our complacency about our economic competitiveness; our water supplies; our lack of natural resources; and of our young generation of Singapore citizens who never experienced the racial riots of the 1950s etc.

With perhaps just a little lip service to the real matter - Mas Selamat and MHA's complacency, in February 2008.

(Remember? Or were you successfully distracted already).

Now why did I say that I think MM Lee will be angry? Basically, this communication strategy is quite elaborate. It is not that easy to push this one through. No doubt - MM Lee will have the nation-building cooperation of the nation-building press. But technically speaking, it will still not easy to push this one through; it requires quite a lot of skilful spin on the local media's part.

And the Strait Times really did a bad job. This particular article failed to sell. It is just outright illogical & unpersuasive. Yes, many Singaporeans are dumb enough to be duped by anything. But many other Singaporeans who aren't even particularly bright will go, "Harrrh? What is MM Lee trying to say? Mas Selamat run away, is MY fault arh??"

Yes, that is exactly what the article is trying to say - see these excerpts:
He said last month that the break-out was a 'very severe lesson in complacency'.

...... Mr Lee addressed the issue of complacency among citizens, saying: 'Anyone who believes nothing can or will go wrong in Singapore is living in a make-believe world.'

He said Singaporeans are being complacent when they believe that the Government will take care of all security matters.

... People's Action Party MP Lim Wee Kiak called complacency a 'side-effect' of an overly successful Government and civil service.

... MM Lee disagreed that the Government deserved to be blamed.
When you break down the message like that, it becomes quite obvious how nonsensical it is. Of course citizens should expect their government to take care of a security matter like detaining Mas Selamat - were you going to entrust that task to the security guards at your private condo.

The article is just doing a very bad job of subliminal persuasion, that is all. MM Lee will be very disappointed with the Straits Times.

Apr 1, 2008

The Elusive Nature of Medical & Other Truths - Part 1

Recently, the practice of "aesthetic medicine" in Singapore received a lot of media attention. Since I like my own face as it is, I did not really pay much attention to the specifics of the debate.

However, I did gather that some doctors in Singapore have been offering beauty treatments which are "scientifically unsubstantiated". The issue is whether these doctors should be stopped, and if so, how.

For more background, refer to these doctors' blogs - Angry Doctor; Alien Doc; and No Fear Singapore. (Notice how doctors tend to choose such unusual blogging names for themselves).

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has taken the position that the Ministry will step in only as far as invasive, high-risk procedures are concerned.

Thus the Ministry will not bother to intervene with non-risky beauty treatments, even if their benefits are not scientifically proven. Instead the Ministry will leave it to the medical profession to regulate itself on such matters, through organisations such as the Academy of Medicine.

In my opinion (although Angry Doctor would furiously disagree), Khaw's approach is very sensible.

I am quite confident that most, if not all, the aesthetic treatments offered by your neighbourhood HDB beautician are also "scientifically unsubstantiated". This does not mean that all these aesthetic treatments do not work.

It merely means that the treatment either does not work, or the treatment works, but has not been "scientifically" proven to work. And most of the time, the latter simply means that scientists have not bothered to do research on that particular treatment.

Which is quite alright, if the treatment does not harm or hurt you. It just means that you may have wasted some of your money on your neighbourhood HDB beautician. Your loss. Next time, try some other fruit or vegetable.

"Mr Wang is wrong. Chillis would hurt.
And durians could be downright dangerous."

Now the question then is whether we should regard doctors who provide aesthetic treatments in the same light as neighbourhood HDB beauticians.

Obviously there is some risk to the reputation of the medical profession, if many doctors go around offering beauty treatments which are non-risky but scientifically unsubstantiated to be beneficial.

The reputational risk to the medical profession would decrease, if these doctors offer beauty treatments which are non-risky and scientifically unsubstantiated, and actually work. (Happy patients don't file complaints).

But either way, the potential damage is only to (1) the medical profession's reputation, and (2) the patient's purse.

If you're not a doctor, well, frankly, who cares about Risk (1). And if you're the patient, well, Risk (2) is no different from the kind of risk you face, going to any beauty salon or parlour.

So I think Khaw is quite wise to leave it to the medical profession to regulate itself.