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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World Cup euphoria at Elias CC

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For the past few weeks, the soccer mania fever is sweeping across the land like nobody’s business. This once in 4 years World Cup Soccer is getting on every one’s nerves. They say that this is the most watched sporting game in planet earth with billions glued to the box or keeping track via newspapers, radio and internet. Even the Olympic Games do not garner such an immense interest. It is the time where nations pit against each other in the field for glory and honor in a fair game witnessed by billions across the globe. It is the time where glory is scored and history is made. The sweet victory of the winners and the despair of the vanquished clearly demonstrated on the expressions of the players and their supporters as the exhilarating World Cup drama unfolds before our eyes. It’s the only single sporting event that cuts across all barriers of race, color, creed or boundaries where sportsmen compete ruthlessly for fame and immortality. As it is, so many surprises and unexpected hiccups already happened in this historic event.

Back to home ground, there is a legion of faithful die-hard soccer fans losing sleep over the game. The time difference between the place of action and us when watching the live telecast upsets our routine clock work. Needless to say, some take leave or even call in sick when they are too tired to work the next day. Whatever it is, I don’t watch any of the games at all. In fact, I don’t watch television or read the print newspapers. I only keep track of news on the internet and just read books when I’m free. According to friends, I’m quite a boring person really. I only watch the final when the best two teams slug it out for the World Cup. That will be the only game I’ll watch. It seems that my prediction is coming true. I bet with my buddy James that Argentina will take the World Cup. Let’s hope I’ll win a couple of beer from James. He’s placing his hope on Brazil.

Knowing that I don’t watch those games until the last game, my mentor and neighbor Alan Taxi – AT, keep asking me to drive for him especially when his favorite teams are playing. I’ve not got any driving assignment recently except for the occasional relief whenever one of the taxi drivers at EM decides to take off. I usually oblige AT whenever he requested me to relief him on the night shift.

Together with some of the kakis at EM, they would watch the games at Elias Community Centre badminton hall. He would be so excited that he would keep whatsapping me which team was leading and the crowd size at the CC. Initially, the CC welcomed everyone. But lately due to overwhelming demand, the CC started to restrict soccer fans to about 650 persons. At one time, there were more than a thousand fans inside the air-conditioned hall in the CC. Due to safety reasons, the CC decided to cap the viewers at about 650.

I came to know about the restriction only on Sat early morning when I saw AT and few others walking restlessly outside the CC at EM. I was taking a short driving break then about to ferry Smelly back from EM when I saw AT. I asked him why was he not inside the CC watching the exciting match between Germany and France. He sheepishly told me that he could not enter the hall to watch the game due to “full house”. He was late to get a ticket for the game. It’s so cruel to him. He could only sit around aimlessly outside the CC fantasying his favorite German team in action.

Most of the residents including myself who don’t bother to watch the games feel that the CC is doing a great job by screening the World Cup soccer games to residents in the air-conditioned hall with free bottles of mineral water sponsored by Singapore Pools. In fact, the costs of the screening also sponsored by Singapore Pools. Unlike four years ago, many places now do not screen the soccer games due to exorbitant costs. Not even one coffee shop in Pasir Ris estate is screening the games. I heard that it is also quite expensive to subscribe to the package of games. As such, many die-hard soccer fans in the neighborhood flock to the CC to watch the free games.

Now my question is whether the CC is catering to all soccer fans or residents only? According to AT, foreign workers from the faraway dormitories at Tampines Link near to Ikea even walk all the way to the CC to watch the games. After all, it’s cosy with air-condition plus free mineral bottles of water. Since it is Pasir Ris Community Centre, shouldn’t it cater primarily to Pasir Ris residents only? We feel that residents should be given priority first. If there is not enough places for residents or locals, why should we extend the hospitality to foreigners? Do we owe it to them this favor? To admit viewers on a first come first serve basis is not quite practical in this instance. Look at some of the residents such as AT and his buddy Johnny Cash who could not get places in the “full house” hall at the CC ended up wandering listlessly with glum faces.

The other solution is to screen it in the open car park under a tent where everybody is able to watch the games like they used to do it for the EPL games before. I think that will be ideal where everyone gets a chance to watch whether you are a resident or a foreigner. Every one will be happy watching the games together. They could scream and openly cheer their favorite teams. The sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps is priceless. Imagine foreigners and locals enjoying themselves in the excitement of the games.

Even better if they could screen indoor in the hall and simultaneously screen it outside in the open car park within the CC compound. No one will be deprived of watching this world wide phenomenon. The screening at Robertson Quay and Hong Lim CC are good examples to emulate in future World Cup telecast.

In appreciation of what those foreign workers have been contributing to our economy, we do not mind them watching the games with us together but definitely NOT at the expense of us residents being lock-out in the games due to their overwhelming numbers. Surprising, we did not notice any PRCs amongst them.

Let me make it clear that I’m not xenophobia. I’m merely reporting the facts. I’m stating what I observed. Again, I feel that the CC is doing a great job organizing free live screening of the once in four-year mother of all sporting events – the World Cup soccer games. Many really appreciate the generous gesture but they (residents) – like in so many other things in our own country will have to compete with the foreigners, even in this instance watching soccer games in our own community centre. I guess that’s life here and we better get used to this reality.

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That’s the Germany vs France game where AT and some residents could not get in to watch how the mighty Germans booted out the French.

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Alec Ee forwarded the joke to me. World Cup fallout … 20140707-002349-1429920.jpg
Read related article here.

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Per-min parking charges is good news for m/cyclists

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WEF : 1st July 2014, all motorcycles will be charged on a per-minute basis for all Housing and Development Board (HDB) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) car parks which have the Electronic Parking System (EPS). The new rate will be S$0.20 per hour, charged on a per-minute basis, and will be capped at S$0.65 per day or night parking session. There are more than 500 car parks installed with EPS. The 10-minute free parking still remains.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan commented on the parking rate changes in a blogpost on Monday, saying the move will “particularly benefit the delivery riders” as they will pay less than before.

This is welcome news! I wonder why it took them so long to realize the unfairness suffered by this group of despatch riders. $0.65 cents per entry for a m/cycle to an EPS car park is really too much. Imagine if the despatch biker enters 10 different car parks with EPS for only 15 mins, he ends up paying $6.50! EPS car park system has been around for quite some time, now only they realize this injustice?

Currently, there are 2 parking systems in Singapore. The traditional $0.65 cents coupon and the newer EPS systems. Here, we are talking about the EPS system (not coupon system) where the group of despatch riders suffer the most. I ever blog about this issue some time ago.

Click here to read.

Alas, there is some relief for those bikers entering an EPS car park for only a short while. Instead of a flat rate of $0.65 cents, now it’s only $0.20 cents per hour or $0.10 cents for 30 mins. And only 5 cents for 15 mins. If it is within 10 mins, then it’s free parking! Isn’t it good news? Why people are still complaining so much especially in cyberspace? It’s quite perplexing really.

When I look at some of the on-line postings, there is so much anti-feelings, negative comments and curses against the new ruling. I believe most of them don’t read the details. When they saw the headline that says bikers need to pay per min charges, they go berserk! They assume need to pay more. But then, it is still the same as before cuz it is still capped at $1.30 for 24 hrs or $0.65 cents for 12 hrs. No change at all.

I think the so many complaints arise from the fact that they compare whole day(7am-7pm) $0.65 cents coupon which they could park in all HDB and URA traditional car parks vs the EPS modern car park system where it used to be charged at $0.65 cents per entry once the biker passes the gantry barrier.

As far as I’m concerned, I look at the status quo of the case – the reality of the current situation. As it is now, the new measure implemented for m/cyclists on a per minute basis certainly is a plus point. It is so much fairer than the previous EPS system. For short term parking in the new EPS system, the m/cyclist saves much more. If I go for a meal at a hawker center, I need to pay only $0.20 cents per hour instead of the standard flat rate of $0.65 cents. It’s sensible and more equitable now.

Most bikers will appreciate the new ruling. I’m grateful for the long overdue change in the EPS system for m/cyclists. I’ve been riding m/cycle for more than 30 yrs. I understand the issue and I know what I am talking here.

Source

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CPF is really a big headache!

The controversy over this CPF issue is hogging main stream media and alternative news sites in cyberspace. The debates for or against CPF is still raging unabated and sweeping across the heart landers as MPs and Ministers keep coming out to explain their official position. But it seems that the more they try the worst it gets. Even the PM had to circulate an article from The Irish Times which berated Apple for using business jargon in one of its ads, the PM said that he had circulated the article to remind his colleagues to be “simple and direct when we communicate with the public.Link

Whether it is an informal conversation, a speech, or a press statement, say what you mean. Avoid management speak or big words which will not impress anyone. Use simple language which people can understand.

Think the recent MP’s open dialogue on CPF with his residents turned into a PR disaster when one old lady begged for the return of her CPF. She was belittled and even highlighted the fact that she is staying in a landed property. What about the public verbal sparring between that MP and the Reform Party chief?

Now, we got a senior Cabinet Minister writing to the press to seek clarification of what he actually said about the CPF. He felt that he was misquoted by the main stream media.

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Isn’t it quite obvious that most citizens spend their CPF on housing, healthcare and education? I believe most don’t speculate on shares. Only a certain limited amount is allowed to speculate on shares provided you have extra in your CPF. The problem lies in the ever increasing housing, medical and education costs that are eating away your CPF savings when our wages are not rising as fast.

Since the CPF hornets’ nest was kicked, there has been much speculation and debate amongst the heart landers. To be fair, the CPF institution is an excellent system to cater for our retirement needs. It also caters to our housing and medical needs. Nobody is faulting these uses in the CPF system. They are only more concerned about the minimum sum which keeps increasing year after year until they feel that they will not get part of their CPF when they hit 55 yrs.

Let me illustrate by giving two examples. In the first case, if he has $100,000 in his Ordinary Account(OA) after having satisfied the Special Account(SA) of $148,000 and MediSave of $42,000 when he reaches 55 yrs, I’m sure he will have no issue at all. He could just withdraw all the $100,000 from his OA anytime. What is he going to do with that $100,000 cash? If he deposits in the bank, the interest is less than 1%. Will he spend all his life savings of $100K at one go? Maybe, he will spend a little like going for his Haj if he is a Muslim, renovate his house a bit or go for that dreamt vacation tour. Still he will have some left over. Isn’t it better to leave it in the CPF earning much more interest than the bank. After all, he could always withdraw some CPF money on his birthday every year.

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At the age of 55 yrs, I’m sure he will still continue working as per normal cuz the official retirement age is currently 62 yrs with option to continue till 65 yrs. If he is fit and healthy, I’m sure he would want to carry on working on his job to earn more CPF money. By the time he really retires at 65 yrs, he would have built up his nest egg in the Retirement Account far exceeding the minimum sum. Let’s not forget CPF pays 4% in the Retirement Account and 2.5% in the Ordinary Account. 4% of 150K is about $6,000. 2.5% of 100K is about $2,500. With total of $8,500 interest, it could easily cover the yearly increase in the minimum sum. It auto generates to cover the minimum sum. Whatever he earns as he continues to work will add extra to his RA.

There are many such Singaporeans of the above example. They usually work in the civil service or in statutory boards. From my conversation with them, they told me that they got no issue with the interests paid by CPF. They have complete faith in the CPF system. Some of them are past 55 yrs but still working accumulating more and more savings in their Retirement Account (OA+SA). They are satisfied with the current system. No need to explain to them about the CPF system.

But on another personal note, they did confide to me that they are worried that their savings could turn into worthless banana currency like the Zimbabwe currency. They keep printing money until they break the world’s record by a having a piece of Zimbabwe 100 Trillion dollars face value which is equivalent to only US$10! Link

Look at our neighboring countries’ currency. Their currency value keeps dropping whereas ours keeps increasing! If you think that this is the act of God, then I’m afraid you are making a big mistake! For a barren island without any natural resources where oil, gas and water – the essential ingredients in any modern economy – need to be imported, yet we are having the strongest currency in the world is by no accident. Many of us are so used to it that we take it for granted without realizing that our Sing dollar is much sought after by foreigners and the sheer amount of things we could buy when we cross over to neighboring countries! Most of those in the first quoted example do not want to “rock the boat!” They prefer the status quo and hope that our economy remains strong and robust maintaining it’s currency value. Link

The next group of people having issues with our CPF system are those not able to meet the minimum sum. Those are the people making such a ruckus and are extremely dissatisfied with the government.

Like I said in my earlier blog …

“To arbitrarily impose a minimum sum (currently is $148,000) across the board for all Singaporeans is illogical and unjust. Those earning $1,000 to those earning more than $10,000 also subject to the same minimum sum simply doesn’t make sense at all. It is not justifiable at all given the fact that it is our own money. If it belongs to us, then we should be given an option. But as it is, there is no option at all. The government decides and justifies it without even bothering to seek your consent. Is it your real money? If it is really your money and the money really belongs to you, then you should be able to decide for yourself. Not someone decides for you and still insists that it is your own money. What sort of logic is this?”

Link

Imagine when that person reaches 55 yrs and he only got $140,000 in his Retirement Account (OA+SA) and he is entitled to only $5,000 cash-out of his $140,000 in CPF. How would he feel? Will he be happy? Isn’t it cruel to him? After all, that is his money right? So we need to strike a balance and reconcile between his current urgent needs and future retirement monthly payout. Like what Encik Tan KL suggested maybe a third of whatever Retirement Account ought to be given back to him when he reaches 55 yrs. With the reduced amount in his RA, he will obviously get a smaller monthly payout when he retires. That will at least mitigate his sense of injustice if he is denied all his life savings in his CPF (except able to withdraw only a third of his CPF.)

According to statistics, there are many laypersons who could not manage large sum of windfall. Overnight they became rich with so many thousands of dollars, they started spending indiscriminately finishing their money fast. After all, they wanted back their CPF money so that they could spend. Definitely not to withdraw his CPF just put it in a bank earning interest below 1%? Once their money is gone, they will look for handouts. Whoever promises them the most handouts will get their votes without thinking where the money is going to come from? If money could just be printed 24/7, then the Zimbabweans would not be in such miserable situation.

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However, if some of their life savings are still with CPF (having taken a third out), they would think twice about their future and their children’s future. Do they want their savings to go the Zimbabwean way? If we as a country spend more than we could earn, then the “Zimbabwean Day” may come soon within their life time. Now you understand why someone ever said “they will vote against the government if they don’t have money!”

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Let us hope that the government could refine and tweak the CPF system to address this second group of disgruntled citizens fast. Let’s not drag it any more and allow it to fester cuz it’s getting more confused and divisive. It is in every one’s interest to resolve it once for all.

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13/6/2014(Fri) – Dinner at Old Lai Huat Seafood Restaurant

Last Friday – 13/6/14 some members of The Fellowship hosted a sumptuous dinner for our much respected elder Uncle Bodo at the famous Old Lai Huat Seafood Restaurant. More than 10 of us turned up. Some of them like Alec Ee and Rob could not come cuz they were overseas.

OLD LAI HUAT SEAFOOD
223 Rangoon Road
Singapore 218460 (just off the CTE Rangoon Road turn-off)
Tel: +65 6292 7375
Email: old.lai.huat@gmail.com

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The dinner started at about 7pm. It ended about two hours later after 9.15pm. Lohcifer hosted the dinner and Freddie bought along a bottle of Macallan single malt scotch whisky. Lohcifer also contributed a bottle of Glenlivet 18 year old single malt.

There were so many local dishes such as chilli crabs, mee goreng, fried black pepper crayfish, yam ring, drunken prawns and their famous crispy tofu, not forgeting their signature dish sambal belacan pomfret amongst other dishes. Obviously Uncle Bodo from Munich, Germany was in a state of euphoric mood over those yummy local delights!

With such good delicious food paired with that prized Macallan and Glenlivet single malt set the perfect ambience for the ideal mood in the evening where everyone was catching up with each other. For instance, our long time member Mauro is now back to Singapore for the long term instead. Canadian Edward is also setting up his base camp here. Uncle Bodo as usual kept us updated on the latest briar and pipes in the industry. He gave us much insight into what is happening in the China briar pipe market. He is here for about three weeks and leaving at the end of the month.

Another highlight for the evening is the announcement of Avril’s latest book she just published – “”Conversation with the Maestro””. The book was passed around. I quickly browsed through it. I was certainly glad to see my “idol” on the front cover!

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After Uncle Bodo’s visit, we are looking forward to Uncle Heinz and his lovely charming wife in Nov 2014. They are planning for a cruise in Asia with a brief stop in Singapore. It will be a pleasure to meet up and catch up with them again. In the meantime, we will just have to wait till that day.

Let us all come together again on 28/6/14 where Uncle Bodo will be smoking with us at our usual place before leaving for home.

PS: We miss Alec Ee who was not there to take photos. Photos from the related article below.

Related article.

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