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Posts Tagged ‘Ngiam Tong Dow’

Ngiam & Galileo Galilei & Gen Giap

In Political governance on 17/10/2013 at 5:11 am

The comments made against Ngiam (some by those who should better and by who all don’t have his balls or stature or achievements or intellect) reminded me of two scenes in the play “Life of Galileo” by Bertolt Brecht.

Andrea’s disappointment of Galileo, after the latter recanted (p. 84-5) [Andrea is one of Galileo's pupils]

Andrea : (loudly) Unhappy the land that has no heroes! (Galileo has come in, completely, almost unrecognizably, changed by the trial. He has heard Andrea’s exclamation. As none is forthcoming and his pupils shrink back from him, he goes slowly and because of his bad eyesight uncertainly to the front where he finds a footstool and sits down)

Andrea : I can’t look at him. I wish he’d go away.

Federzoni : Calm yourself.

Andrea : (screams at Galileo) Wine barrel! Snail eater! Have you saved your precious skin? (Sits down) I feel sick.

Galileo : (calmly) Get him a glass of water.

Andrea : I can walk now if you’ll help me. (They lead him to the door. When they reach it, Galileo begins to speak)

Galileo : No. Unhappy the land that needs a hero.

http://muse.tau.ac.il/museum/galileo/info_about_andrea.html

In the final scene of the play, Galileo, now an old man, living under house arrest, is visited Andrea. Galileo gives him a book (Two New Sciences) containing all his scientific discoveries, asking him to smuggle it out of Italy for dissemination abroad. Andrea now believes Galileo’s actions were heroic and that he just recanted to fool the ecclesiastical authorities. However, Galileo insists his actions had nothing to do with heroism but were merely the result of self-interest. Wikipedia

Ngiam became the the “people”‘s hero because he, a retired insider, criticised the govt. If they had bothered to read the details of his criticism, they would have found things that would have made them unhappy if implemented by the govt. Examples

– MRT fares should be relatively more expensive than bus fares to reflect their greater convenience to commuters, and higher costs to the system.

– His call for a weaker S$, isn’t going to be gd for inflation.

– Some govt spending on S’poreans has met his disaaproval. He considers these popularist measures.

– He doesn’t agree with Gilbert Goh and friends on their “S’poreans first” call.

Now the “people” have turned against him because of his perceived recantation. They now forget his bravery.

I don’t think the people’s adulation, then revulsion affects him personally, or his reputation among those who matter. He doesn’t do popularity. When once asked by our local media why he never aspired to become a minister, he said he didn’t do “kissing babies”.

He is right in eschewing popularity. Remember the people’s hero, who the “people” asked to stand in the 2011 presidential elections, Tan Kin Lian? He lost his deposit, the self-styled voice of the people. He was seduced and then deserted by the “people’.

I suspect Ngiam’s popularity with the mob rabble had more to do with his criticism of the govt, than because people understood what he was saying. It was also a gd way for KS S’poreans to “dog whistle”* that they were not pro-govt (a bit like why general Giap was mourned by the Vietnamese young.**.

Sadly, his fall from the people’s favour should help reinforce the Dark Side’s prejudices about the people: the mob, rabble doesn’t matter. The voters can be manipulated, tamed and fixed via bread, circuses, the security services and the right messages. Throw them enough of their own money, and spin that this shows the PAP cares, and come the next GE, Pritam and Auntie will be out of their cushy jobs.

And the Dark Side’s view is reasonable. Fortunately, the Dark side has no Dr Goebbels to spin the right messages effectively. Until it finds him, the PAP govt can continue to throw our money at ourselves, and still not succeed in winning over the 35% of S’poreans that voted for Dr Tan Cheng Bock. Unless, of course, I’m wrong, and this 35% are “daft” enough to think the govt really cares. Somehow, I doubt it.

Related post: http://atans1.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/ngiam-galileo-galilei/

*http://atans1.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/gg-crashes-new-indian-chief-needed/

** Criticism of the party over corruption and economic mismanagement has exploded recently on the internet … In vain, the authorities keep jailing bloggers, but they have in effect lost control of the internet.

It is in this context that the adulation of Gen Giap should be seen. He was in fact unwaveringly loyal to the party, and only occasionally said anything that could threaten its authority.

But in death he is being seen as a symbol of everything that today’s Communist leaders are not; charismatic, heroic, clean-living, a true patriot. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24516186

Ngiam & Galileo Galilei

In Political governance on 14/10/2013 at 5:15 am

(Updated on 17th October 2013 at 1.35pm to include text of Njiam’s letter)

(Or “And yet it moves”)

The above phrase, said to be uttered by Galileo Galilei, came to mind when I read his clarification on comments he made about ministers and civil servants http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/ngiam-tong-dow-clarifies/844654.html*. Transcript of offending interview: http://www.sma.org.sg/UploadedImg/files/Publications%20-%20SMA%20News/4509/Interview%20NTD%20full%20transcript.pdf

Explanation for those who don’t know their history of ideas and science: “And yet it moves” (Italian: Eppur si muove; [epˈpur si ˈmwɔːve]) is a phrase said to have been uttered before the Inquisition by the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in 1633 after being forced to recant that the earth moves around the sun. (Wikipedia)

Update (9.44am): In response to those who don’t know and who can’t be bothered to look it up, the Inquisition was athe department of the Catholic Church that regularly physically tortured people for not having the “right” views.  Torture stopped once they had the “right” views.  Historians say that Galileo Galilei was never tortured, he was merely shown the instruments of torture.

Related posts:

http://atans1.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/mandarin-ngiam-on-elitism-social-divide-education-etc/

http://atans1.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/analysing-ngiam-tong-dows-march-2012-speech-part-i/

http://atans1.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/lky-answered-ngiam-tong-dows-f1-question/

—-

*Mr Ngiam’s letter in full:

From the feedback from friends and colleagues who read my interview published in SMA news, September 2013 Issue, it has come to my attention that I had given the wrong impression in several ways.

I had described my discussions with Mr Lee Kuan yew about the COE scheme as an example of Mr Lee’s openness in discussing policies, even with officials. I realise that my comments might suggest that the COE scheme was implemented to raise funds. That was not the case. The fundamental purpose of the COE scheme was to limit Singapore’s car population. If the intent had been to raise revenue, I would not have supported the policy as Permanent Secretary at the Finance ministry.

I also realise on re-reading the interview that I had not been fair in what I had said about Ministers and discussions in Cabinet. I retired from the civil service in 1999. Since then I have not attended any cabinet meetings, and have never seen one chaired by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Thus my statement that Ministers will not speak their minds before PM Lee is unfair as it was made without knowing what actually happens at Cabinet meetings today. I have been told by civil servant colleagues that Cabinet discussions are robust – as robust as they were when I attended cabinet meetings as PS (PMO), when Mr Goh Chok Tong was PM and Mr Lee Hsien Loong DPM.

I also realise that my claim that Ministers may not speak up because they earn high salaries is illogical. I know that some Ministers have given up high-flying and well-paid careers in the private sector in order to serve the public at a fraction of their original or potential income. Others could have gone to the private sector to make more money but have chosen to be in the public service. They have no reason not to speak their minds when they are convinced that they are doing right by Singaporeans.

I had also said that the current crop of leaders is elitist. I had spoken without realising that many had in fact come from humble backgrounds.

I had the privilege and honour of working with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San. I have said many times that Mr Lee is my hero and that Singapore was lucky to have had such a team to steer it from third world to first. The Cabinet today faces different and less straightforward challenges, having to deal with globalisation and more intense international competition. However, as I had mentioned in my interview, we are starting from a good position – for example, in healthcare, one of the main subjects of the interview.

 

Mandarin Ngiam on “elitism”, “social divide”, education etc

In Political economy, Political governance on 19/04/2012 at 6:58 pm

(or “Analysing Ngiam Tong Dow’s March 2012 speech (Part II)”)

As I wrote in Part I, because Professor Lim Chong Yah’s “shock therapy” proposal is a variation of what was implemented the early 1980s (until the 1985 recession: neutral article on the recession and one blaming it on the original “shock therapy”), when one Ngiam Tong Dow* was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I thought it would be interesting to reread a speech Ngiam made in March because MTI had once upon a time analysed the problem of severe manpower shortages and the economy’s increasing reliance on lowly paid foreign workers. Its solution was to restructure the economy by raising wages substantially to dampen employers’ demand for lowly paid workers, what Professor Lim is recommending.)

The speech is long and can be broken down into a sociopolitical analysis of S’pore, and an economic analysis of S’pore.

 This post reports and comments on the sociopolitical aspect of his speech**. In Part I, I did the same on the economic part of the speech.

—————————

Colonial system

Although this appears in mid-speech, it’s a good introduction to his sociopolitical thoughts.

“When Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, his town planner demarcated the town into several ethnic enclaves. Kampong Glam (Malays/Arabs), Chinatown (Hokkiens, Cantonese, Teochews), Little India (Tamils), and Tanglin (Europeans). Empress Place on the left bank at the mouth of Singapore River was the administrative and civic centre. The British governor presided from the Istana … Each racial group was free to conduct their own trades, practice their own religions, set up their own schools, and largely married within their own race and ethnic group. The colonial government provided the overarching framework of law and order and schooling in the English medium.

‘Being a British colony, the language of administration was English. Access to English medium schools was open to all races. English became the lingua franca acceptable to all the races as none has any
in-built advantage over the other.”

Differences in the body politic

He talked of the difference between his generation of undergraduates at the then University of Malaya (NUS today) and those of today, “Except for the few activists of the University Socialist Club, my contemporaries at university were politically passive but not naive. In the political environment … we thought it prudent to keep our thoughts to ourselves.”

(So they were not sheep, just cautious, crafty mouse-deer of Malayan folklore?)

But “NUS undergraduates today are more articulate. They have courage of their own convictions,expressing their views vigorously at tutorials or the cafeteria.” (But are they wiser than Ngiam and his contemporaries, or just more noisy? “Remember “Still waters run deep” and “Empty vessels make the most noise”.)

He pointed out that the PM “has to deal with an electorate that is vastly different from … his father’s generation”. “The command politics of his father no longer works … PM has … to appeal to reason”. What surprised me was his comment that Lee Kuan Yew “appealed to emotions”. What I respect abt LKY’s speeches from that era are their simplicity and internal logic.

Uniquely S’porean

“[C]an Singapore be considered a democratic state?”. His answer was it can’t. “We are not a theocratic state like the Vatican or present day Iran. We are … not ideological states like North Korea, Cuba or China.”

He compared the western concept of democracy (“government of the people, by the people, for the people”) with that of the Chinese imperial system, “China’s emperors had to gain the consent of the people to earn the mandate of heaven to rule.” He seems to imply they are somewhat similar.

A difference is that losing heaven’s mandate often involved some form of violence. Mind you, in places like Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh and India, democracy often involves violence.

He went on to say, “In my view the core purpose of government is to raise the livelihood of the people.” and says, “The PAP won the mandate to govern because it delivered jobs and housing”, pointing out that the PAP has “won every one of the seven general elections since independence in 1965.” Can’t argue with these points.

“There are two competing strands in our body politic.”

“ The first strand is meritocracy. It is modelled on the Chinese imperial scholar system where the best minds compete in nationwide examinations presided over by the emperor himself. The Singapore President Scholar is akin to the Chinese Imperial Scholar.

‘Both systems aim at identifying the best talent to serve the country.” What he missed out is that the Chinese intellectuals and activists (admittedly they usually had some form of Western education often via Christian missionaries) who wanted to reform and modernise the Chinese system in the late 19th and early 20th century criticised the imperial examination system for producing people who were only good in memorising the set examination texts (Classics like the Analects of Confucius). These “modernisers” argued that rule by these scholars under the Manchus led to the decline of China as a military, economic and scientific superpower, repeatedly being bullied and humiliated by the Western powers and Japan. The facts seem to support this analysis.

If the Chinese system was meritocracy at work, give me something else, please. Enlightened nepotism or Plato’s philosopher king, anyone?

Also selection by examinations should not be the only criteria of identifying “the best talent to serve the country”. What abt execution of duties? Or courage or integrity? Or manners? Or even sexual restraint?

“The second strand relates to the system of selecting leaders. It is modelled on Plato’s Republic [where] peers select their own leaders until the philosopher king emerges. As the first among equals, he is accountable to no one but himself. Over time, peer selection breeds a leadership that becomes complacent. Though our state is rooted in meritocracy, we must beware of the dead hand of peer selection. Elitism creeps in imperceptibly.”

He gave an example,“The recommendation by the ministerial salaries review committee to peg ministerial salaries to the median income of the top 1,000 income earners reflects an elitist mindset which is troubling. If the primary purpose of government is to raise the livelihood of the people, a better statistical measure of livelihood would be the median income of all workers, not just the top 1,000 income earners or the MX9 salary scale of the Civil Service.”

He pointed out the WP shares this elitism, “Curiously, both the government and the Workers Party accept that ministerial salaries be pegged to high income earners rather than the median of the work force, which is [US]$3,070 a month as at June 2011.” (WP is close clone of the PAP?)

He said that bonuses for the Cabinet should be pegged to increases in the median income of the work force, rather than the GDP.

Social divide

Much later in the speech, after talking about the economic situation here (covered in Part I), he returned to the theme of the social divide caused by the “widening income gap”.

“In 2012, what will be the threat to social stability? …Future social unrest will arise not from racial or religious differences [He had reminded that even though from its founding 1819 to when Singapore was granted self-government in 1959), S'pore's races lived lives of passive co-existence, S'poreans witnessed the three racial riots in the 1950s-60s] but from the growing class divide caused by widening income gaps.”

‘The top 1,000 earn million-dollar annual salaries while the rest a monthly median income of US$3,070. The gap is untenable. In the past, equal opportunities in education have provided the social mobility to enable the bright boy from a poor family to make good … The spread of private tuition has changed the [level] educational playingfield.”

He said that during his school days in the 1950s (and mine too in the early 1970s), “only the academically weak students of rich parents take remedial tuition … Today, any parent who can afford the fees will send their children not for remedial but enhancement classes to give their children a head-start”.

This means that, “Though there will still be the exceptional individual who triumphs against all odds, more and more of our state scholars will come from upper, middle income families with professional parents.”

“There is no easy answer to the problem of an uneven playing field in our schools.”

His solution? “The challenge is to level up, not to level down. One suggestion I have is to make classes for academically weaker children smaller. The student-teacher ratio should be more favourable than in brighter classes so that the teacher can give more personal attention to each student, which is what private tuition is all about.”

He acknowledged that the government is doing something about the income gap, “The 2012 budget is politically adroit, replete with spending proposals which basically are income transfers from the taxpayer to the poorly paid, the disadvantaged and the aged.” But there is a hint of criticism, “Income transfers are palliatives, temporary reliefs to abate rising social discontent.”

Fostering entrepreneurs

He said that spending money to expand the then industrial training centres fostered entrepreneurs,

“[O]ur ITC [Industrial Training Centres, the precursor of today's Institutes of Technical Education] trainees with barely O levels went on to start their own factories producing parts and components for MNCs.” (Bit of an exaggeration this. These entrepreneurs included teachers who were recruited to be managers, then moving on. In the 1960s and 1970s, MNCs recruited teachers because the workers were young and inexperienced, and teachers were experienced supervisors of the young. But the teacher-managers who moved on were often the non-graduates.)

Higher education not compatible with entrepreneurship

“It is hard to find the university graduate who becomes a successful entrepreneur. The prevailing reward system drives our graduates to become bureaucrats/managers both in government and business. White collar jobs pay better than blue collar jobs”

Overeducating

I’ll end with this remark, “[W]hy our concentration on engineering and science-based education is not yielding dividends in productivity and innovation. Instead, the employment share of low-wage, low-skilled personal services is rising. Are we overeducating our children? This is a heretical thought contrary to all my basic EDB instincts. In EDB, our article of faith is that the higher the education level, the more rewarding will our jobs become.”

He tried to answer this issue when he talked of S’pore’s reliance on “low-wage, low-skilled foreign labour to drive economic growth” and why S’pore should be“raising total factor productivity” a priority. I covered these in Part I.

————–

*Ngiam was in the 1980s one of Lee Kuan Yew’s and Goh Keng Swee’s most trusted civil servants and if anyone, could be called a co-driver of S’pore’s drive from third world to first world, it would be he.

**The quotes are taken from a transcription published in BT.

Analysing Ngiam Tong Dow’s March 2012 speech (Part I)

In Economy, Political economy, Political governance on 15/04/2012 at 6:56 pm

Given that Professor Lim Chong Yah’s “shock therapy” proposal is a variation of what was implemented the early 1980s (until the 1985 recession: neutral article on the recession and one blaming it on the original “shock therapy”), when one Ngiam Tong Dow* was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I thought it would be interesting to reread a speech Ngiam made in March because MTI had once upon a time analysed the problem of severe manpower shortages and the economy’s increasing reliance on lowly paid foreign workers. Its solution was to restructure the economy by raising wages substantially to dampen employers’ demand for lowly paid workers, what Professor Lim is recommending.)  

Rereading Ngiam’s speech, I don’t think he would agree with Dr Lim’s proposal because Ngiam says, “Rising productivity enables workers to be paid more. Inflation sets in only when wages are raised without any increase in productivity.” So productivity comes first, then wages rise as a consequence. Dr Lim would go back to the 1980s plan of raising wages to force up productivity.

(BTW, the government, especially Tharman, keeps “talking the talk” of raising productivity, despite not walking the walk. I’m sceptical of its announced plans to cut the “FTs are betterest” policy until I see how it is being implemented.)

The speech is long and can be divided into an economic analysis of S’pore and a sociopolitical analysis of S’pore,

In this post (Part I), I report and comment on the economic part of the speech**. In Part II (later this week), I will report and comment on the sociopolitical aspects of his speech.

——————————————–

Evolution of the policy of importing cheap foreign labour

“Singaporeans of my generation remember vividly the slums, joblessness, dirt and disease of the 1950s. Through dint of hard work and discipline, we moved rapidly from a labour to a skill-intensive economy. By the early 1970s, we achieved full employment with an unemployment rate of 3 per cent.

‘In the early 1970s when we achieved full employment, some of us in the EDB began to ask the question about the critical size of populations. We did some desktop research and found that there were several industrialised European countries with population size of around 5-6 million. These were Israel, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Our town planners went to work and concluded that Singapore with a land area of 670 square kilometres can comfortably accommodate a population of 5-6 million … we allowed in one million foreigners in the last decade.”

He went on, to give another reason for the FT policy, “As our births fell below replacement levels, we resorted to immigration as an instrument to top up the babies that young Singaporean couples are not having. There are also elements of political re-engineering. Submerged in our immigration policies is the belief that to maintain racial harmony, we need to keep the current population balance constant.”

He challenged the premise that S’pore needs a bigger population pointing out that

– “Singapore is already straining at the seams with a current resident population of five million … The economic assumption is that we can increase our GDP if we can accommodate more people … even doubling our population to 10 million people will not make things better. More likely, a larger population can only make matters worse.”

– “[C]omputer technology has made many manual operations in production obsolete. The key is to produce more with less manpower.”

Knowledge-based economy

“The great challenge … is that we have reached the limits of our skill-based model of growth. Singapore has to move from a skill to a knowledge-based economy. The products and services … are characterised by high technological content. To position ourselves for such an economy, Singapore devotes the greater part of our national budget to education and training.”

“When I was in school in the 1950s, only three out my O level class of 40 went on to university. Today, 30 per cent of a primary school cohort enrol in tertiary education. Raising our average educational level from primary to post-secondary should make a world of difference for our international competitiveness.”

“Our higher education levels and superior infrastructure enable us to compete in knowledge-based industries and services.”

Productivity

“I observe with some dismay that the manufacturing share of our GDP dropped from a high of 30 per cent in the 1980s to 20 per cent currently.”

“Our total factor productivity should be rising not stagnating. In my view, productivity and real wages of the bottom 20 per cent of our work force have not risen because our labour policies allow employers easy access to low wage foreign labour.”

He explains that for S’pore as a whole, there are costs to this easy access to cheap foreign labour, “If we add the cost of housing, transportation, health and other social services which employers have to provide for their foreign work force, they may be better off training and equipping their Singaporean employees to raise their productivity. Rising productivity enables workers to be paid more. Inflation sets in only when wages are raised without any increase in productivity.”

“Productivity can only be raised when CEOs … take direct charge of the production process. They have to be hands on, not resorting to outsourcing. Productivity should be the key KPI (key performance indicator) for the award of bonuses to CEOs and management.”

“Like any other country in the world, Singapore now competes in a global economy. In such an economy, importing cheap foreign labour is no longer a viable strategy. It is a dead end.”

“We have to grow through raising productivity, not higher headcount. We need to be smart enough to produce more with less. Our higher education levels and superior infrastructure enable us to compete in knowledge-based industries and services. We transformed ourselves in the 1970s from a labour to a skill-intensive economy.”

But he accepted that “raising total factor productivity .. is not easy. A Japanese scholar pointed out … that the optimum rate of productivity increase achieved by [Japan] averaged 4 per cent annually … Japanese are one of the most diligent people in the world.”

Why importing cheap labour is not the solution – it’s a race to the bottom

“Singapore now competes in a global economy. In such an economy, importing cheap foreign labour is no longer a viable strategy.  It is a dead end.”

“In a global economy, you will be competing not only with friends and classmates but with the best and brightest of your generation in India, China, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe. University graduates in China and India are willing to work for a tenth of what our young engineers and scientists expect. If we fail to raise our total factor productivity, Singapore would just be an also-ran in the race to be a knowledge-based economy. The window to raise total factor productivity through application of knowledge and training is fast closing with the opening up of India, China and Indonesia. Singapore has lost two decades relying on low-wage, low-skilled foreign labour to drive economic growth.”

What can help

– “Our managers and administrators are among the best paid in the world. They will have to get off their high horse and personally lead the drive for higher productivity. Outsourcing is a bad word in my vocabulary. Companies and government ministries should figure out how to train their staff and redesign jobs and processes to achieve more with less.”

– “[I]nterest free loans should be given to enterprises with clear roadmaps to re-equip and raise the productivity of their workers.

What he is against

“Grants should not be given to management (consultants) to do a job they are already paid to do.”

‘I am against job credits in any form because they are simply wage subsidies which do not raise productivity in any way. My personal observation is that job credits simply add to the bottom line for payment of bonuses to management who do not have to lift a finger to raise the productivity of their enterprises.” Based on this, I suspect he would also be against having a minimum-wage.

“The 2012 budget is politically adroit, replete with spending proposals which basically are income transfers from the taxpayer to the poorly paid, the disadvantaged and the aged. Income transfers are palliatives, temporary reliefs to abate rising social discontent. They do not help to raise productivity.”

Final warning

“We failed to bite the bullet in the 1980s to restructure our economy. There may be no second chance the next time around.”

————————-

*Ngiam was in the 1980s one of Lee Kuan Yew’s and Goh Keng Swee’s most trusted civil servants and if anyone, could be called a co-driver of S’pore’s drive from third world to first world, it would be he.

**The quotes are taken from a transcription published in BT.

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