Feb 24, 2010

Local & Foreigner - Little Ironies in Singapore

My brother-in-law (BIL, for short) is an engineer. He used to work in the manufacturing industry, in a well-known MNC in Singapore.

I say "used to", because BIL no longer does. You know what has happened to the manufacturing industry in Singapore, over the years. The MNC in question is still a famous global brand. But it has drastically reduced its manufacturing activities in Singapore, and moved those activities to cheaper offshore locations.

For a year or two, BIL was posted to Thailand to help the MNC set up its new factory there. Meanwhile, the operations in Singapore continued to get downsized. Eventually, when the new factory in Thailand was up and running, BIL lost his job too.

He tried to find another job in Singapore. But he could not. Those were dark days for the manufacturing industry here. Eventually, BIL did get an offer. The job was to help set up a new factory in China. So off he went. He didn't really want to go, but it seemed like the best option at that time.

While BIL was working in China, he met a young Chinese woman (quite a bit younger than himself). They fell in love. They got married. The woman was keen to come to Singapore - she felt that she would have better job prospects here - so the plan was that they would make Singapore their home.

In fact, they did come back to get married here, and since then Sister-in-Law (SIL) has been staying with Mother-in-Law. However, BIL was, and still is, unable to find a job in Singapore. It seems that nowadays, there is no demand whatsoever in Singapore, for his type of work experience and skills.

So he's still working in China, setting up new factories there. He flies back to Singapore whenever he can, to visit. Now, years have passed, and they have a two-year-old daughter (here, in Singapore).

In the meantime, SIL had been upgrading herself, by learning English, and by taking courses to be a beautician. SIL now works in a beauty parlour in the Raffles Place area. She also has the ambition to set up her own beauty parlour business in Singapore.

And yes, SIL flies to China a couple of times a year, to visit her husband.

A series of small ironies here - do you see them?

1. The China wife ended up in Singapore; the Singapore husband ended up in China.

2. The Singapore man could get a good job only in China; and the China lady could get a good job only in Singapore.

2. The China lady came to Singapore to be with her Singapore husband, only to find that the Singapore husband is still stuck in China.

I offer no conclusions, no final remarks. Just telling a true story ....

Feb 2, 2010

The Problem with Singaporeans

I was chatting with an old friend. She's a headhunter specialising in lawyers. 10 years ago, which was probably around the time I first got to know her, her work was mostly about recruiting Singaporean lawyers for local law firms and corporations.

That work has changed with the times. Like many other things in Singapore, her work has become much more globalised. Yes, she continues to be based in Singapore. Yes, most of her clients are still banks, companies and firms located in Singapore. But her candidates have changed.

The Singaporean lawyers are still around, of course. But as a proportion of her candidate pool, they have dwindled. As a headhunter, she is now also placing lawyers from Australia, the UK and India. In fact, she spoke about having to fly to India, to directly interview and recruit fresh law graduates from a top Indian university.

She made one interesting observation. She says that Singaporeans consistently lose out to the Australians, the Brits and the Indians in one important respect. Singaporeans are not as articulate. They don't speak so well. They are more reserved.

So at job interviews, Singaporeans consistently appear to be less capable than they really are. Consequently, the Aussies, the Brits and the Indians often get the job instead. ("In particular, the Indian lawyers," my friend remarked, "are excellent talkers").

My headhunter friend is a little saddened by this. She knows that many of these Singaporean candidates are at least as capable and competent as the foreigners. It's just that culturally, the typical Singaporean candidate does not feel comfortable aggressively tooting his own horn and singing his own praises at a job interview. This misplaced Asian sense of modesty/humility ends up killing his own chances.

Sad to say, you can extrapolate this into a wider context, and see quite clearly how Singaporeans have screwed themselves. The consistent failure of Singaporeans to speak up boldly for themselves has led to adverse consequences, politically, socially and economically.

I have more to say, but I gotta run. Talk more later, in the comment section.

More on the HDB Market

Well, now that the news is public, I guess I can talk about it ....
    ST Jan 29, 2010
    HDB reviews rules to stamp out possible speculation
    By Jessica Cheam

    THE Housing Board is embarking on a review of its rules to ensure that property speculators are not abusing the system - and driving up flat prices.

    It will check if any rules are 'encouraging or allowing' people to speculate on HDB flats, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

    At the same time, it will step up efforts to make sure people do not get away with abusing the system.
No, Mah Bow Tan is not my uncle. However, back in December, I already knew that the HDB would be reviewing its rules to stamp out possible speculation.

How did I know? Back then I was looking for a place to rent. I viewed many homes. And one property agent told me, in a most assured tone, that the HDB was in the process of reviewing its rules and would announce this publicly, in February 2010.

How did she know? She said that she had heard it from her "source", a friend working in the HDB, who constantly gave her the "inside news". She further exclaimed that I was fortunate to have just sold my own HDB flat (otherwise, by February 2010, its market value would very likely have been dampened by the HDB public announcement).

So much for official secrets.
    Some disgruntled homebuyers, priced out of a rising market, worry that some HDB buyers are exploiting the rules to try to make a fast profit.

    They claim these speculators snap up flats on the resale market and then either rent them out illegally or sell them legally after the stipulated one-year period.

    Under HDB rules, citizens and permanent residents who buy resale flats without housing grants or HDB loans must live in the flats for at least one year before selling, or at least three years before renting out the entire flat.

    Speaking on the sidelines of a housing conference hosted by the HDB on Wednesday, Mr Mah said these claims were worth checking and he wanted to ensure that such factors were not inflating the market artificially.
The HDB initiative does not impress me. In my opinion, it is at least partially politically motivated.

Mah wants to do something (more importantly, to be seen as doing something). After all, public unhappiness with high HDB prices is already quite palpable. However, the rise in HDB prices has, in my opinion, very little to do with speculation (unless one applies a very liberal definition to the word "speculation"). That's because the existing HDB rules, such as these, already effectively eliminate most of the speculative activity:
    1. Resale flats bought on the open market without a CPF housing grant and with a private bank loan can be sold only one year after the date of resale.

    2. Owners of HDB flats are allowed to sublet the whole flat only after living in it for three years, (for those who bought it on the open market without a CPF grant), or after five years (for those who bought it directly from the HDB or on the open market with a CPF housing grant).

    3. Those who illegally sublet entire flats may have their flat compulsorily acquired or pay a penalty.
HDB flats are rising, simply because of the usual law of supply and demand. For years, this country encouraged a massive inflow of foreigners (and handed out citizenship and PR status generously), but the housing authority didn't factor this into their plans and projections at all. Now the demand for accommodation has outstripped the supply. Simple as that.