Jan 6, 2012

Grace Fu Should Consider Resignation

Singapore has the world's most highly-paid ministers. If I recall correctly, they have held this world record for about the past 20 years. It is a record that has caused a huge amount of public unhappiness. Especially in the past decade, during which the government didn't ever seem to be particularly impressive or outstanding.

Now, finally, ministerial salaries are going to be cut. Mind you, after these cuts (which are quite substantial in percentage terms - about 36%), the ministers will STILL hold their world record. Which must surely suggest to any half-intelligent person how grossly overpaid the ministers have been all along.

But then you get the likes of Grace Fu (who is our Minister of State for something or the other). Writing on her own Facebook wall, Fu says:
“When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one [sic] considering political office.” Grace Fu.
Now, lots of Singaporeans are angry with Grace Fu. The comments have come thick, fast and furious. As of right now, her Facebook post has drawn about 1,300 comments (that's about 650 times the average number of comments on her other Facebook postings). And of course, there is plenty of negative media attention, online and in the newspapers too.

Putting aside the other issues for now, I'm startled at Grace Fu's lack of political sensitivity. It was really, really stupid and unnecessary of her to write such a thing. Fu wasn't even under pressure. It wasn't as if she was at a press conference, and a belligerent journalist had just thrown an unexpected and difficult question at her, and she couldn't think fast enough about what best to say.

Instead - we can imagine it - there she was, relaxing in her living room, playing with her iPad, sipping a nice cup of tea, logging in to check her messages. And then suddenly, Fu decided to write what she wrote. On Facebook. Not in a private journal, not in a personal memo, but on Facebook.

She must have totally failed to foresee what would happen next.

What poor judgment! What a severe lack of foresight. And she's a minister, for goodness sakes. Who knows what other horrible errors she might have spoken or written, on other past occasions.

Now, of course Fu is backpedalling and she has made a statement that she had been "misunderstood". This is damage control .... for completely self-inflicted damage. LOL, that is funny.

Imagine this - you are a minister, and you say something, the public is shocked and angry. And then you say, "Oh, all of you tens of thousands of people, you've misunderstood me. I am the poor, unfortunate, misunderstood one."  Sing me another song, birdie.

"Me talk cock. Also can sing song.
How much you pay me?"

If Grace Fu can be so badly misunderstood, then that surely says something about Grace Fu's  communication skills. It is extremely difficult to get thousands of people to misunderstand you. I am sure that I could not possibly succeed in pulling off such a feat. (But then I am not a PAP minister, I lack such talent).

However - and this will surprise many of my own readers - I am not actually angry about the content, the actual substance, of Grace Fu's statement.

Why am I not angry?

Look - this woman is merely a product of the system. And what is the system that I speak of? It is the PAP recruitment system that Lee Kuan Yew decided to create, 20 years ago. A system that deliberately entices job applicants with world-record-setting amounts of money.

The inevitable result - the PAP attracts many talented political wannabes whose main interest is in the money. (Meanwhile, talented political wannabes who just hope to serve the nation can join the Workers' Party - like Chen Show Mao did).

And when the money gets cut, well, you can naturally expect the PAP ministers (at least, the more money-minded ones) to get upset. Isn't that logical? If you had come for the money, then you WOULD be upset by a pay cut, surely.

My blog post is entitled "Grace Fu Should Consider Resignation". Sounds sensationalist, doesn't it? But it isn't really. (I'm not that kind of blogger, lah). Let me just explain my thinking.

It goes like this - if any minister is really very unhappy with his or her pay, then he or she can always quit. It's not like they are being forced to be ministers.

Unhappy employees don't perform well - we know that from our own experiences in working life. It is better for the company if they quit. It is better for themselves too, for they can go elsewhere and find another job that is more satisfying for them.

Why would we expect things to be any different for our ministers? If they are not happy with their pay, they won't perform well. They should just quit and get a more lucrative job elsewhere (if they can, of course). After they resign as ministers, Singapore can replace them with new ministers who care less about the money, and care more about serving the nation.

So I say this to all the ministers - if you're not happy with your pay, please quit. Now, rather than five years later. Do yourself a favour, and do the country a favour. Just get out.

Jan 5, 2012

How to Get $100 Worth of Free Vouchers

This might have happened to you before. It happened to me several days ago (and it wasn't the first time either).

A person calls up on my handphone. I have no idea how she got my number. She says, "Congratulations! You are very lucky to have won $100 of NTUC Income vouchers!".

Of course, there is a catch to it. The catch is that in order to collect the vouchers, I have to go to a certain place and listen to a 75-minute presentation. I get to collect the vouchers only if I stay to the end of the presentation. Also, I need to bring my wife. If she doesn't come along, I get only $50.

So at the appointed date and time, Mrs Wang and I go to this place. We fill up some form which asks some questions about where we live, how much we earn and so on. We are asked to show a credit card - no details are taken, they just want to see that we actually have credit cards.

Then we are whisked away to a small meeting room. There a salesperson goes through a detailed questionaire with us. There are questions about how often we travel; what kind of hotels we like to stay in; which countries we have visited in the past few years; how much we spend on our airfare, and so on.

Then the salesperson starts talking about his product. Some kind of holiday club. Pay an upfront fee (which is quite hefty), get a 15-year membership, and for the next 15 years, you will be able to enjoy big discounts on hotel accommodation, airfares and land tours all over the world. At the end of 15 years, get your entire membership fee back.

I won't bore you with the details, because the specific details are not that important. Many different kinds of companies use such a marketing strategy nowadays. They sell different things - land banking; timeshares in holiday houses; spa services; golf club holidays; travel services, and so on.

The point is - they REALLY give you the $100 vouchers at the end of the presentation. Some even give you a choice of vouchers (Carrefour or Takashimaya?). Or they give you a free massage for two, if they are pitching a spa membership. You have no obligation to actually sign up as a member or to buy the product. What they want is a fair chance to thoroughly pitch their product to you, for 75 minutes.

I think that these are very good deals. All you have to do is listen. If the product/service meets your needs, then you could sign up. If it doesn't, then just firmly say "No" at the end of the 75 minutes, and ask for your vouchers. The main thing is that you must keep a clear mind and not allow yourself to be persuaded into  buying something that you later regret.

Mrs Wang and I firmly said "No", at the end of the presentation. For us, it was a rather interesting presentation and we asked many questions (Mrs Wang and I often like to study how different types of business models and figure out how they try to make money).

But in the end, we simply said, "No". We collected our vouchers. We left. The salesman was courteous and friendly throughout the time. And now I have $100 of NTUC vouchers to buy groceries, yay.

Jan 4, 2012

Onwards with the Plan

Three working days have passed since I began my project. And on all three working days, I was able to leave at 6 pm sharp. So that is a success.

Of course it is early days yet. The new year has just begun and the pace of work is still slow as some people are still away on leave. The challenge will be to increase my productivity so much that even when business is in full swing, I am still able to leave at 6 pm.

I have already implemented all the seven productivity ideas mentioned in my earlier post. Here are three additional ideas that I will be implementing.
  • Using the Blackberry while commuting. On most days, I use public transport to go to work and to return home. So I will use this time on the MRT or bus to read my emails and draft replies. For example, if I leave office at 6 pm and the bus or train ride takes 40 minutes, I can use those 40 minutes to check my emails.
  •  Having lunch early or late. I can beat the lunchtime crowd either by going for lunch early, or very late. This means saving the time that would otherwise be spent queueing to buy for food and waiting for a place to sit. I can then use the regular lunch (12:30 to 1:30 pm) to do more work in the office.
  • Using a to-do list. I have often used some sort of to-do list, but now I am trying to be more consistent about it - in other words, to use it every day. Using a to-do list helps to track my work and also prioritise the different matters. There is an art and skill to using to-do lists effectively. This merits a separate blog post for the future.  
Anyway as I am typing this, it is 10:45 pm. I am at home and I am waiting for the clock to show 11:00 pm. The reason is that at 11 pm, I need to dial in for a conference call with some colleagues in New York and Frankfurt.

These are the perils of working in an extremely international organisation. I estimate that in a year, I might do about 16 conference calls at night (after 8 pm Singapore time). I don't think that it is really possible or desirable to avoid these calls - in fact, they tend to be quite important - even though they are not in line with the spirit of my 6 pm project.

On the plus side, I am usually able to take these calls from my home. So they do not technically interfere with the 6 pm target.

Jan 1, 2012

Flooding in Singapore - We Need Solutions, Not Excuses

It rained heavily on 23 December and there was flooding in several parts of Singapore. However, the PUB claimed that there was no flooding at Orchard Road. I quote the exact words from their press release: "There was no flooding at Orchard Road."

I don't understand how government authorities in Singapore can tell such blatant lies. It is shocking and it makes me worry about what this country is coming to. It is normal for a country to have problems, and I think it is ok to say, "We have a problem, and we will be taking action to solve it." But to tell an outright lie, such as "There was no flooding at Orchard Road" ... What does that tell you about our government?

It indicates dishonesty. That's bad enough. But it also shows stupidity. This is also very worrying, for we are in serious trouble if we have a stupid government. Why do I say that the Orchard Road incident reflects the government's stupidity?

I say so, because the lie was so stupid. This is the Internet era. Anyone in Orchard Road at that time could easily have pulled out his or her handphone, and taken a photo of the floods and posted it on blogs, forums, Facebook, Stomp etc.

And the lie would be completely exposed. If you were dishonest and you also actually had some brains, you should be telling your lies with a little more skill, surely.

Indeed, at Orchard Road, buildings such as Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza were flooded, and people did take photos and post them on the Internet.

Not a flood ... Then what is this?
A new water catchment area in Orchard Road?

Lucky Plaza's new design for a water fountain.
Works only on rainy days.
It took a full week, but later the PUB decided that it had better admit that there were floods at Orchard Road. Their new press release on 30 December stated: "The sustained heavy downpour resulted in the flooding of several roads including the Thomson/Cambridge areas as well as the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza."

Oooh, the magic word has suddenly appeared in their statement. There was "flooding", after all, and at Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza, which are in the heart of the Orchard Road area.

But you can still smell the stubborn PUB attempt at obfuscation - they won't say the words "Orchard Road" and they insist on inserting the word "basements".

Well, of course, it is the BASEMENTS that are flooded. Basements are the lowest floors of any building. Isn't it bad enough that the basements are flooded? What does the PUB want - does it expect the 2nd floor or 4th floor to be flooded? Bah.

In the aftermath of the event, it's also distressing to see how the Straits Times reported the event. To me, it felt like the top ST priority was to defend the reputation of the PUB and the government. Look at the way the Straits Times chose to entitle its article - "Half a Typical December's Rain Fell in Three Hours". The first two paragraphs of the article read as follows:

"In three hours last Friday, the rain that pelted down on Orchard Road was half of what December typically gets in the entire month.

Between 2.20pm and 5.20pm, 152.8mm of rain fell in the area. The long-term average for December - the wettest month in the entire year - is 287.4mm."
Okay, let me deconstruct that for you. In the context of all the flooding events that occurred in the past year, the underlying message from the Straits Times is:

1. The rain on 23 December was really, really extraordinary.
2. Don't blame the government for the floods at Orchard.

But was the rain on 23 December really that extraordinary? Was the flood at Orchard all that different from all those many floods that we have seen in the past few years, in different parts of Singapore? Including Orchard Road itself?

To understand what a "typical" December rainfall is really like, we can investigate the source of the ST's claim. It comes from the PUB press release on 30 December. The PUB states:
"On the afternoon of 23 Dec 2011, a total of 152.8mm of rain fell from 2.20pm to 5.20pm at the Orchard Road area. This is equivalent to about half the average monthly total (287.4mm) of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years (1869 to 2010)."
So their idea of typical December rainfall is based on the average December rainfall over the past 142 years. Dating back to the time when Lee Kuan Yew's father's father's father had just emigrated to Singapore.

Rainfall levels over the past 142 years may be of some meteorological interest to the meterologists. To the general public, it can't be. Singapore has been suffering from floods for the past few years now, and even prime shopping areas and tourist attractions like Orchard Road are getting hit. This is NOT the first time in recent memory that Orchard Road is getting hit.

To the PUB:

We don't care what happened 142 years ago. We don't even care what happened 50 or 30 years ago. Singapore has a flood problem TODAY. And it is your responsibility to fix it. Even if global warming is causing climate change and heavier rains nowadays, it is STILL your responsibility to fix the flood problem.

You should spend less time worrying about how to protect your public image. And more time actually working to solve the flood problem. You'll probably make more progress that way. And the people of Singapore will appreciate it. So please stop being stupid, and go and do the right thing.