My neighborhood …

The other day I was walking towards Elias Mall for my usual coffee break with those taxi drivers gathering there. It’s about 10 mins walk to EM cuz I stay quite far away near to Pasir Ris Dr 1 opposite the ESSO petrol kiosk. Since I shifted here about 20 yrs ago, there is still one EM – where we get all our provisions and cooked food. This is despite the fact that the neighborhood is getting more and more crowded with more and more condominiums springing up like mushrooms along Pasir Ris Dr 1 and also Dr 3. The International School at Dr 3 is also taking shape. No wonder the Sunday morning crowd at the coffee shops in EM is getting worse with longer queues. We could even beat the crowd talking the peak hour trains. I’ll talk about that other time. Anyway, I was stopped by a young handsome couple. I thought they were asking for road direction. But they told me to spare them 5 mins cuz they wanted my opinion about the neighborhood.

Obviously, the Chinese couple were not locals when they started speaking to me in impeccable American English. I asked them if they were from that country. I then told them that I could also speak Mandarin. To their delight, they started rattling away in their native language like a GPMG – General Purpose Machine Gun. Alamak, I got a hard time following them with my limited Mandarin!

After paying attention to their incessant rambling, I managed to establish that actually they came to view a nearby mansionate which happens to be Douglas’ unit when they pointed at the block and mentioned that it’s on the 10th floor. Yup, I heard from Douglas his intention to sell his mansionate flat bought about 20 yrs ago at only $199K. He is approaching 70 yrs and it’s time to downgrade to a 4-room flat to cash-out for his retirement even though he is still working as a security supervisor. He’s now thinking of retirement and spending more time to look after his grandchildren. He’s in no hurrry to sell off his mansionate. He will only sell it at $850K. Few yrs back, his mansionate could easily fetch $900K but not anymore cuz the property market is quite bad now.

In fact, someone made an offer of $800K but he still refuses to let go. Even though his mansionate is now worth 4 times its original value, he’ll still need to pay for a 4-room BTO in Yishun at about $240K. Minus the levy and other miscellaneous costs, he could make a tidy profit of almost $500K. Split that with his wife, he could only get about $250K. Furthermore, I told him he better check with CPF just in case the latter will “hijack” part of his windfall for his minimum sum and also medisave account! When Douglas heard that, he KNN non-stop. “Brother, next March, I’ll be 70 yrs old already. I’m about to die and they still want what fxxxxking minimum sum or medisave account? Moreover, I’m a pensioner with free life-time medical benefit drawing a monthly pension until I die!” As such, Douglas is different from us. He belongs to that special group of pensioners when natives like them spent all their lives building up this country! We owe them a debt of gratitude – the early pioneer generation who are now enjoying their pension in their twilight years.

Back to that young FT couple procrastinating whether to buy Douglas’ flat. They told me that it’s very expensive at $850K. They could easily buy a relatively new and an exclusive condominium with a little top-up. They sought my opinion about the neighborhood here. That is why they stopped me for a chat to enquire about the nearby facilities such as schools, eatery or any other facilities. Immediately, I launched into a salesman pitch telling them why they should seriously consider Douglas’ mansionate instead.

I told them that HDB does not build such flats anymore. The size of the flat is definitely much bigger than any other other apartment unless they get a penthouse. No doubt condominiums come with security guards, swimming pool and other facilities. But they need to pay for these facilities even though they may not use them. I told them to take a good look at the neighbourhood. They should also go to other neighbourhoods to take a good look and compare with this particular neighbourhood. I told them I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for about 20 yrs. As a taxi driver, I have been to almost all the HDB estates all over the island. I feel that my neighbourhood with Sungei Api Api running across the heart of the estate to be the best well run housing estate.

The fact that Douglas’ mansionate is a corner unit with extra space on the 10th floor facing the river is priceless. Even a condominium unit does not offer a natural view with its natural untouched mangrove swamp at the banks of the river. Where else could you find care free coconut trees swaying to the motion of the breezes with so many pine trees and even royal palms with some reaching to the height of over ten storeys? No condominiums or HDB estates except here in this neighborhood as far as I know. Even the other river known as Sungei Tampines near to Dr 6 has man-made concrete banks.

If you are a nature lover and like the beach it’s only a mere 15 mins away if you walk via the under pass at Dr 3 towards car park C. There is Gallop Stable with some horses to tempt your kids and few pubs along the beach. Relax in the evening after the horse ride over few drinks in a pub whilst you enjoy the beach sunset and ooze under the twinkling night stars. The beautiful park is open 24/7 with free parking and admission.

Not convinced of the well-run neighbourhood? From where we are standing, you could see the new covered link-way to EM and the old folks’ corner at the void decks of two blocks of flats taking shape. Every two or three blocks of flats, there is a playground for children beautifully themed. The Residents’ Corner is at the other side and the Students’ Study corner is right in front of them. Look at the basketball court that is nicely paved with high fencing. No need to register. Just walk thru the unlock gate and you could play basketball there with the fitness corner next to it. All these facilities just mentioned are on this side of the river. What about the other side of the river? More playgrounds and more pavilion spots along the river still under construction. As it is, I could name you at least ten projects under construction and progressing at a break-neck pace. By end of next year, most of these projects will be completed – not forgetting the upgrading and cleansing of Sungei Api Api undertaken by PUB.

Even with my broken Mandarin pronunciation mixed with some English phrases, the young Chinese couple were impressed! In their words, it is as if I have lifted the imagery veil to expose a clear sunny view of our neighborhood. Oh pls just don’t take my words on face value. Go and explore the neighborhood yourself. Experience for yourself the idyllic natural settings of our neighborhood. Do you have wheel chair bound aged parents living with you? The whole area is wheel chair friendly right from your flat to EM. Just across the road next to the ESSO, there is a special school for children on wheel chairs. They are able to move about in the entire neighborhood.

I explained to the couple that they are not only paying for the flat but the entire infrastructure in the neighborhood I briefly sketched above. If you buy a house or an apartment just across the causeway at dirt cheap price – some say less than $300K for a freehold landed property but do you get the package I just described to you? One simple experiment is to sit on a wheelchair and try to maneuver around in the overseas property you intend to acquire. I know what I’m talking about cuz I’ve been there often. They sell you a piece of property but without the package of solid infrastructure, facilities and security. In other words, you not only pay $850K for such a big apartment but with all benefits and pluses thrown in a package.

I highlighted to the couple that when I first shifted to this neighborhood about 20 years ago, there was nothing at all. EM was still under construction. Over the years, more and more improvements were added. The bridge across the river was first added about 15 years ago. Slowly, more and more facilities rolled out. Especially over the past few years, I notice that everyday, yup everyday over the past few years, there is endless construction activity. Either they changed the centralized rubbish bin, construct covered drains to prevent floods, changed the damaged flooring to concrete near to the blocks, put up chrome railings along the river and pavements and all over the place etc. The list is never ending yet I pay only $55 per month for conservancy charges. Many take it for granted but there are residents here who really appreciate the endless upgrading going on.

Like I used to say. I report accordingly what I see. I’m a fair person. Not every HDB neighborhood or condominium estates are run in such efficient manner. It mirrors the whole island where everywhere and every corner of the island is having construction activity. One tourist even commented when I fetched him in my taxi that this place is a construction country! My fren Station Manager Chia ever mentioned to me that by looking at the construction activity in a country, one could tell if it’s economy is vibrant. Every building construction project creates a huge demand in a multiplier effect right down to a pencil! In other words, much demand in goods and services are generated due to the construction boom. If you multiply one construction project to hundreds and thousands, you could imagine the tons of extras generated in the economy. I need not elaborate on the benefits. It’s quite obvious to people with common sense. No need an economics professor to explain and give statistics on the positive multiplier effects on the economy.

The young couple looking for their dream home wanted 5 mins of my time. I gave them half an hour of my lifespan convincing them of the obvious choice. They thanked me profoundly for the enlightenment. I did it partly for my fren Douglas hoping that they would purchase the flat. It looks promising cuz they came from that place lacking the obsession shown by our town council in their relentless drive to perfection.

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Posted in Langgar | 1 Comment

Rambling thoughts on my job and foreign workers …

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It’s coming to 6 months since I started driving taxi as a relief driver. I would take over any of the taxi in the neighborhood whenever those taxi drivers go on holiday trips or just want to take a break. On and off, I have driven no fewer than 10 taxi so far. I notice that every taxi has different characteristics in terms of the taxi set-up (decorations) or the idiosyncrasies of the hirer. I’ll blog about it another time. I just wish to say that my orientation under-study or rather my induction into this taxi trade not forgetting my mentor A.T. and others in EM is more or less complete – of course there is still much to learn as the learning process will not stop. I’ll be getting my own taxi soon upgrading from a relief to a hirer.

There is one particular taxi which I drive on every Sat from 4.30pm to 12.30am opposite my place across Sungei Api Api. I do not need to wash the vehicle or top-up diesel with rental at only $35. Pay $12 for every 100 km.. Usually I clock around 250km per shift. As such, my driving skills improve tremendously with that kind of mileage zipping around the whole island. Here to KL is about 300km.

One pax ever told me that driving a taxi is akin to operating a food stall. You rent a stall and sell your food. It depends on you how hard working operating the stall. However, I think operating a taxi is so much better than running a food stall in a coffee shop. The whole island is my playground. I could bring my mobile “stall” all over the island. Whereas, food stall is stuck at one location. If there is no crowd then it’s dead duck for the stall owner.

In my case, there are kelongs everywhere to hunt for fishes. Different places and different timings give rise to different types of kelongs with different variety of fishes. Just avoid those kelongs operated by LTA with cameras to avoid getting into trouble and you will be safe! I’ll talk about this another time.

As in all professions, integrity is of utmost importance. Never touch anything in the taxi that does not belong to you. Always follow the hirer’s instructions when taking over the taxi. Maintaining the taxi in clean condition, topping up diesel to the rim at the end of the day or pay for the diesel correctly are pre-requisites. Lastly, always be punctual when handing over the vehicle. I am very particular of all these minor points. That is why my reputation is well known in the neighborhood. Frens will recommend me to others and others will cont’d to bring in more driving assignments for me. That’s how I survive over the past 6 months.

Back to the every Saturday driving assignment. I usually arrive well before 12.30am at the hirer’s block to hand over the taxi. I have to wait for the hirer cuz he doesn’t buy car park at all. I can’t just park in the car park but have to wait for him. It’s during the waiting time that I usually meet Ah Lai who also lives in the same block. Ah Lai, aged 62 yrs is working as a counter assistant from 3pm to 11pm in a coffee shop at EM. Around midnight after his work, Ah Lai usually sits at the void deck of his block to read his usual “mosquito” paper. Whilst waiting for my hirer, I would chit chat with him to kill the time.

I recall at one time at EM, Douglas ever pointed to Ah Lai why he was employed by the said coffee shop. You see Ah Lai aged 62 yrs works from 3pm to 11pm with one day off drawing a basic salary of $1,400. It’s an air-conditioned food court. He just need to take orders from customers and serve them drinks. As simple as that. No need to wash or collect empty cups or glasses. There are cleaners doing that. The boss also doesn’t bother as long as he reports for work everyday except his off day. He rides his bicycle to the coffee shop from his place which is just across the river. (Sungei Api Api).

When Douglas heard that, he said, “Brother,” in English followed by Hokkien, “if you don’t hold the fxxxking pink IC, you think your boss would want to employ you at $1,400? They could get a much younger and highly educated foreign worker than you lah! Just becuz of the quota, that is why you are employed!”

Senior citizens like Ah Lai who are still fit to work don’t mind doing easy job. Ah Lai told me that his children are all grown up and they got their families to look after. He is still fit and able to work at an easy pace. No stress and working within his ability. He is also paid CPF with quarterly workfare from the government. He is very satisfied with his current status quo. He used to comment that people wish to work but no work. That is why they come all the way here to seek employment. We should be grateful that we could still work with our hands says Ah Lai.

If you look at the air conditioned food court he is working, there are all young Filipino and PRC workers. When I sit down at the table, the Filipino lady promptly calls you “Sir, what would you like to drink?” Very efficient and courteous customer service. I’m also quite surprised that they employ Filipinos in a coffee shop. Usually, they are all PRCs.

My 72 yrs old mother is also working in a kitchen factory. It supplies food such as salad, chilli paste, french fries, deep fried onions, chicken wings etc readily prepared to all the food stalls all over the island. Her job is just to cut potatoes to be deep fried. She insisted to work even though there is no need for her cuz we give her monthly allowances. She is one of the few senior citizens working in the company amidst a group of young energetic Malaysians. The latter do most of the hard labour job whilst older workers like her doing the easy jobs.

When she complained to her boss that she could not stand for too long doing the job due to her weak knees, they straightaway arranged for her to be seated. Next, she says that it’s very hot and stuffy. The management immediately bought a huge fan specially for her! Who need the union when the management listen to her every valid complaint? If it is not due to her pink IC, then what? The pink IC carries weight here. It’s very powerful in that sense. They need it for the foreign worker quota. It is as simple as that.

Like I used to say, I report what I see. What I say are the things happening around us. I feel that if the government tightens foreign labour too much, many F&B and small businesses will close shop.

To quote an example; well known local food establishment Soon Heng Fish Head Curry was in business for more than 30 yrs. It was forced to close shop due to lack of workers. If many such businesses are shut down, I’m afraid locals especially senior citizens like Ah Lai will not have a job. To let in too many foreign workers without any cap or quota will prize out locals. As such, the government need to calibrate the needs and requirements based on the industry every now and then. It’s a delicate balance that requires much skill and sensitivity. Not easy task indeed!

Click here to read about Soon Heng Fish Head Curry closure.

I ever blogged about Soon Heng Fish Head Curry.

Soon Heng Restaurant closes, no S’porean wanted job One of S’pore’s oldest curry fish head places closed last week as it can’t get enough Singaporean workers to fill MOM quota.
Singapore, November 5, 2012

The last curry fish head had been served and the last customer had paid and left.

At 1.45pm on Wednesday, Soon Heng Restaurant at Kinta Road – one of the oldest curry fish head restaurants in Singapore – pulled down its shutters for good, after 36 years.

Its owners, Mr Hoong Khai Chew, 49, and his wife, Madam Ong, said they can no longer find the manpower to serve their trademark curry fish head.

Madam Ong told The New Paper that the restaurant had a problem finding enough Singaporeans to fill the required Singaporean-to-foreigner quota: “Singaporeans tend to stay away from the F&B industry.

They don’t like to work on Sundays and public holidays, and do not like to be put on probation.

“We have placed advertisements as well as contacted job fairs, and the Yellow Ribbon Project, but few would approach us directly.”

When SMU professor Augustine Tan expressed concern that wages were too high in Singapore and it’s eroding Singapore’s economic edge, he was attacked by netizens. It’s quite disturbing that many do not see the points raised by an expert.

Without strong economic growth, the government will not be able to pump in so much money in our infra structure and other areas. For example digging tunnels all over the island for motor vehicles and trains is not cheap! It’s hell of expensive. If we clamor for more government spending on social welfare, then all the more we need even more economic growth to spend and throw money. We can’t simply print more money but need to earn it the hard way.

Link

Click the link here for related story.

Click here to read another related article.

20140726-012941-5381401.jpg Profile of Ah Lai sitting at void deck of his block reading his paper with my taxi nearby.

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My buddy James Lim – the cabby blogger

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Yesterday I met up with my taxi buddy James Lim for some drinks and a chat.

Click here to read James Lim’s blog.

Somewhere in Bugis area, from about 5.30pm to 9pm, we catch-up over four bottles of beer and had a simple dinner together. Since he lives in the wild wild West and I’m from the carefree laid-back East, we decided to meet half-way in town. I had to buy him drinks cuz I lost to him in the recent World Cup soccer bet. James followed Andy’s father by betting on Germany whilst I on Argentina. Even though I’ve known him for about 3 years, we only met on few occasions. Yesterday was the 4th time we met over the 3-year period. We got to know each other in the blogosphere thru blogging and keep in touch over the internet via Facebook or email. Sometimes we exchange comments on our own respective blogs. We follow each other’s blog.

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Each time we met, we got to know each other better. Maybe with more drinks, he became more open and loosen up. He started to relate some of his personal past stories. He’s about 67 yrs and he’s been driving taxi for more than 7 yrs. He took up full time taxi driving when he was nearly 60 yrs. He related how he had to struggle in the beginning when he started driving due to his lack of familiarity of local roads. James lives in Singapore all his life, yet he’s still not so familiar with all our roads when he started driving taxi. I just can’t imagine those new citizens driving taxi on our public roads not facing any problem at all?

Anyway, he also related how he ever worked in Saudi Arabia’s 2nd largest city in the 1990s after his retrenchment before taking up taxi driving as a career. He left his family with young children to work there. Even though the pay was about 4 to 5 times of an average worker here, he really missed his family and the lifestyle here. Everything was paid for by the huge international oil company where he was attached as a procurement manager. He was given free lodging, company car and even a local cook was deployed there for them. James was part of a group of locals working for the MNC in Saudi Arabia.

After our story was published in The New Paper, one of the group of Singaporeans working then with him in Saudi Arabia contacted him on his blog. Soon, they will have a gathering of all his ex-colleagues to reminisce those good old days spent working in a foreign land. James is so much older than me – more than 15 yrs my senior. Naturally, I got a lot to learn from him as he related his life experiences to me. He was in jovial mood cuz he just came back from a short holiday trip in Bangkok.

All of a sudden, James insisted that one of us should blog about our recent story in the paper. I told him no thanks. He could blog about it if he wanted to. He then told me that he’s in fact waiting for me to blog about it. I replied that there is nothing to blog about. “Come on, we need to capture that memorable moment on our blogs just to keep a record lah!” No, I’m still not keen I told him. He then flipped out a 50 cents coin and suggested that we toss the coin to decide who is doing the blogging. Again, I lost in the flip of the coin. I thought to myself I’m always a hopeless born loser with no luck and he’s a compulsive lucky gambler. Indeed it’s a fact that he gambled on shares, soccer, 4-D, casino etc losing to the tune of hundreds of thousands of hard cash at one time in his younger days! He’s gone to all the casinos from Oz to Macau and Genting!

Next question is how to go about blogging on that story where we appeared together in The New Paper story published on 13th July 14 – about 10 days ago? James told me to blog whatever angle or style I fancy so long as I blog about it.

Well, actually I was ever approached by few reporters for interview before The New Paper approached me. I did not bother to accede to their requests. I was ever invited by think tanks and other organizations via email to participate but I didn’t want to. If not for James, I would not have agreed to that New Paper interview. James was approached by the lady reporter from The New Paper. He was excited over it and suggested that I should also be interviewed together with him. I reluctantly agreed to James’ idea as I didn’t want to disappoint him.

Finally, we met somewhere in Bugis area and Arab street near to the Sultan Gate for the interview and photo shoot. We spent about two and half hours over the session. The reporter was a nice little lady pursuing a degree in a local university. The Malay photographer was also very professional and friendly taking so many shots of us in different locations with many poses. The interview was conducted in the middle of June but only got published on 13th July 14.

Of course, James was most delighted when the story got published. He was glad that we appeared together – that’s the main reason. As taxi drivers and bloggers, we have got lots of things in common to share. We admire each other’s strengths and limitations as fellow bloggers. In a way, we synergise each other in our different life perspectives as we observe and comment on things happening around us.

In a way, I was compelled by James to blog about The New Paper write-up on us. Maybe, he felt that the photograph of us appearing together in The New Paper cemented our friendship blossomed in the cyber world. It had to be archived here for eternity.

Thank you James Lim for being a friend. It’s my honor and privilege to have you as a friend. May The Force Be With You!

Source

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Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) – Tit for Tac

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Our closest neighbor West Malaysia has decided to impose a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fee for foreign registered vehicles entering their country. The amount and date of implementation have yet to be decided. They are still not undecided but public announcement to that effect has already been made. This follows Singapore Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) decision to increase VEP fee for foreign registered vehicles from S$20 to S$35 a day WEF Aug 1. The Goods Vehicle Permit fee for foreign registered goods vehicles will also be raised from S$10 to S$40 a month.

VEP fees for all foreign registered vehicles have been in existence here for a long time. LTA has decided to increase those fees for foreign registered vehicles – mainly referring to West M/sian vehicles entering via the 2 landed causeways. All the while Singapore registered vehicles – mainly refer to cars, do not have to pay for the VEP. Why then KL decided to act swiftly in response to LTA’s latest move? Are they acting on impulse?

It reminds me of the toll imposed on vehicles using the 2nd link causeway at Tuas when it first started operation. The amount of toll imposed by them reflected the amount set by us. They followed swiftly what we did then. Are they copy cat or what? You can do that, I also can. Adek boleh, Abang also boleh lah! Knee jerk reaction or tit for tat? Welcome to Boleh Land!

Is this tit for tat response healthy for them? Does it bring benefits to them? I believe it will bring more woes than benefits to them. Let’s look at LTA’s decision to increase the VEP which has been in place all along. This is to discourage vehicles especially private cars coming into our country from across the causeway – mainly from JB to choke up our roads. After all, local car owners are paying sky high COE premiums for the right to own a car that occupies space (and jam) on public roads. How could they be exempted from the high costs of driving in our jammed public roads? The costs of owning a car over there are so much lower than us. They don’t have COE or ERP at all. So it’s a totally different sets of comparison really. What’s the rationale for them to implement VEP?

Fact is that most Malaysians, especially from JB drive to Singapore to work. Fresh graduates earn about RM2,000 there. Convert that to Sing dollar, it’s about S$800 which is less than our cleaners’ pay. They are here to earn our strong Sing dollar. Sing dollar is 2.5 times of RM. If you look at the tons of m/cycles in the morning queuing at the causeways to enter Sg to work and in the evening returning back to JB you will see my point. Whereas, locals enter JB via the causeways are not there to work but to shop and throw money randomly. In other words, they come here to work whereas we go there to spend. It is as simple as that.

Imposing VEP fee on Sg cars entering JB will have a drastic impact on their economy. Spending power in their local economy will be reduced. Those entertainment nightspots and eatery areas will definitely be affected if fewer locals cross over for the cheap food and shopping. We boost up their economy with our strong currency. The amount collected which won’t amount to much goes to the state but the local businesses in JB will surely be impacted. JB may turn into a ghost town if fewer Singaporeans cross over.

I suspect our Singapore government is too pleased and laughing at their decision to impose VEP fee on SG cars entering their country. Our government can’t stop locals going there to spend lavishly. Our government would rather that Singaporeans spend in our own country instead. Why else did the Singapore government legislate into law all Singapore cars entering Malaysia must have three quarters of petrol or face prosecution? This is to deter local cars going there to spend on cheap petrol, food and entertainment. No government would want their money flowing out of the country. It would rather prefer the money to remain in the country to benefit local businesses. The Malaysian government is doing precisely that helping the Singapore government to discourage locals crossing over to JB.

Before a major policy is implemented, much study and analysis need to be conducted. The pros and cons of a certain policy. The imagined scenarios resulting from such a policy implementation etc need careful calibration. Those policy makers in KL – the capital & seat of power, claim that the state government made the request to charge a VEP fee on Sg cars. Is that so? Fact is that those political elites in KL don’t live in JB and they are simply too far away to realize the magnitude of the repercussions affecting local businesses in JB. After all, they are too remote to feel the pain of the locals. Clearly, they have not done a proper policy implementation impact before announcing to the world that they have decided to implement VEP. They announce it first. Decide on the amount & timing later! Let’s hope that they will not retract and U-turn. Doing so will be the butt of joke. Welcome again to Boleh Land.

Obviously, they fail to learn from the water lesson where they decided to charge many times over when the first water agreement expired. Once we found NeWater, we decided not to renew the first water agreement anymore. Millions of hard cash is lost as a result with all the excess water flowing into the sea. In the fresh water market where there is only one buyer and one seller. If the buyer is not willing to pay for the exorbitant price, the excess water will just have to flow to the sea instead! They get nothing in return. There goes the golden goose when greed overrides reason and logic. After all, we never owe them a single cent nor defaulted on payments for their water. Aren’t we a good customer with so much hard cash?

We shall just wait and see when the details of their VEP fee are announced. Right now, maybe they are still busy countering adverse feedback and objections from those JB businesses. After all, the current government depends immensely on Johor’s (JB) support which is considered a safe state. Do they want to risk their political support? In Boleh Land, everything also boleh including making a big U-turn on policy changes.

Source

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First World Parliament in “First Among Equals”

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One of my favorite novels is Jeffery Archer’s “First Among Equals” published in 1984. It’s a political novel based on the British Westminster model – multi-party parliamentary system similar to ours. I first read this novel nearly 30 yrs ago. I keep going back to read it from time to time especially if I could not recall some of the sequence of events as my memory fades. The last time I referred to it was many years ago. Anyway, I could still recall the intense and exciting political drama unfolding stretching over a period of 30 yrs when four ambitious young men entered parliament on their own merits through elections and eventually one of them rises to the coveted post of Prime Minister. Hence, the title of the novel – “First Among Equals”.

From the novel, I got to know much about politics and government in a democracy based on the Westminster model. Our system is quite similar to them but without the GRCs of course. Four aspiring politicians have to make their impact in local elections winning every single vote especially if they are contesting against established MPs of the constituencies. They really have to slog it out working their butt out canvassing for every vote often more than 15 hours a day in the heat of the elections. The battle for the heart and mind of the electorate started at grassroots level even before the MP-elect is sworn in to office. That’s how competitive the UK system is.

The four young men came from various backgrounds belonging to different political parties. They belong to different camps – the two biggest political parties – the Labour and the Conservatives. In the end, the butcher’s son Ray Gould, a commoner becomes the Prime Minister. I am impressed by the speech he delivers in his school speech day – where only the top student usually delivers the keynote speech – where he spells out what he will do when he becomes PM of UK. Yes, WHEN he becomes the PM not IF he becomes the PM. Another ambitious young man of the cohort, Simon Kerslake tries all means to get into Oxford University even though he’s denied a place initially. When the term opens, he goes around personally to every college in Oxford asking for a place. Incidentally, he takes over the place of a freshman tragically killed in an accident after meeting the 22nd College Don. He is overjoyed when History is the subject of his studies. He says that future PMs all come from Oxford and not the rival Cambridge or any other universities.

I note that the four of them study only humanities not some hard core sciences. They are never engineers or other professional degree courses except maybe law degree. The four of them got admitted to parliament based on personal merits even though some of them got some connection with political office holders. Most importantly, they are all full time MPs working very hard in their own constituencies and have to rush back to London to attend parliament sittings. They often rush back to their own constituencies over the weekends only to rush back again for week day parliamentary debates. We must remember that UK is a big country comprising Scotland, Wales and Ireland – unlike Singapore where it is so small. Yet, we have MPs here not able to attend parliament sessions resulting in two bills not able to pass. Click here to read.

When I was reading the novel, I could not resist comparing their attitudes with our own MPs. The UK MPs are serious in their work working tirelessly struggling through parliamentary debates and then rushing back to their faraway constituencies cuz they need to attend local events or attend to their constituents’ needs. Failing to do so risks getting voted out in the next election. UK MPs are also full time career politicians treating their MP job seriously. They treat their MP job with first priority and the other jobs such as own legal practice or business venture on part time basis. Whenever parliament is in session, they will put away all other private businesses or appointments with parliament session being the top priority. The dedication to public office is impressive. Some even rent a room near to the parliament so that they could rest and shuttle back for any emergency session or party meeting.

The four newly elected MPs have to really prove themselves in parliamentary debates to impress their party leadership so as to win for themselves political posts in the government. If the political party is the government, the novice MPs have to fight hard in parliamentary debates to win a political office. Once the party elders notice any potential office bearers amongst them, they will be head hunted and accorded a junior post. There is no short cut to a full fledged cabinet minister post until after few successful elections. In other words, the MP must keep winning every local election in order to get promoted within the party ranks to full ministerial rank. After every successful election, the seasoned MP is promoted to higher political office. For example, it takes nearly 30 yrs when a young MP Ray Gould first enters parliament to the time when he realizes his childhood dream of Prime Ministership – the day when he gives a speech in school on “When I become the Prime Minister of UK!”

Maybe in UK, there are many political parties with so many aspiring politicians. There is intense competition to enter parliament through the democratic process of elections. I could sense the tenseness and treachery as the political drama unfolds revolving around the four main characters from different backgrounds and different areas of the country. Luck also plays an important part besides political acumen, tenacity and commitment of the ambitious politicians in the UK multi-party system.

High pay or other forms of monetary rewards are never on their agenda. They are after pure glory, fame and power. They pursue their dreams single-mindedly with the intention of leaving their mark in their beloved country’s history as great statesmen in the likes of Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher. However, when they lose in an election, they accept their defeat with dignity and honor. When they win, they extend their humility to the defeated. They never resort to the court to sue even though the local newspapers may not side them or malicious allegations made publicly against them. The court of public opinion holds supreme there. The well informed electorate shall decide on their political destiny.

The UK system is truly a First World Parliament where people all over the world admire. After all, many other countries including us copy or emulate their Westminster system of parliament. But sadly, we have not matured and reached that level yet. It will never happen in our lifetime. Hopefully, it will happen in our children’s lifetime. The signs are there for all to see.

To those readers who like political drama novels, I recommend that you read this book. I think it is the best political novel based on the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy. Thirty years since “First Among Equals” was published in 1984, it is still getting rave reviews. It’s an instant hit when it’s adapted into a mini television series. Maybe, it is due to Jeffrey Archer himself being an MP at one time where he could really draw on his immense experience to write this all-time bestseller. I never grow tired of reading it.

Click to read related article.

Book review of “First Among Equals”.

First Among Equals – The Novel

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Another related article.

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