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Five letters from our readers this week - politics, elderly and investments.

Letter to TOC (Updated)

 

Two-party systemnot good?

I refer to the article on The Straits Times, Change must come to PAP (16 Nov 2008).

While the PAP should be commended for their pro-activeness in implementing and evolving their party to be relevant to the electorate, I would however like to point out several areas of concern.

1) It appears that PM Lee feels only the PAP can bring about change. This is however narrow-minded in political perspective. While the PAP continues to dominate in local politics that does not mean that it is the only agent for change in Singapore's political system. In fact, given its size and dominance their inertia to bring about change could be overwhelming.

2) With the deeply entrenched influence of the PAP in Singapore, should the PAP ever grow weak, corrupt and incapable of governing, where then is the adequate checks and balance on the government if a one-party system were to remain status quo in Singapore. Will the electorate be bereft of an alternative should the incumbent grow corrupt.

3) PM Lee's position seems to be partisan politics in nature with the suggestion that the opposition or non-PAP activists are incapable of bringing about change for the benefit of Singapore. This reflects poorly on Singapore's style of governance where partisanship politics has led to a polarization of the governance. While the opposition may differ on ideology they nevertheless are sincere and are just as concern about Singapore, by PM Lee's sweeping statement, he has totally disregarded any groups that are not aligned with PAP as incapable and unfit to bring about change.

4) I do not think that many Singaporeans desire to have the Taiwan's style of parliament but certainly Singaporeans desire to see more meaningful and thought provoking debate. While the current batch of PAP MPs had spoken out on many issues, our system of governance modeled on the Westminster style does not allow for the PAP MPs to vote outside of their party line unless the Whip is lifted. Can the PAP then provide meaningful debate within their party?

5) Barack Obama's current style of governance seems to indicate that he is keen to work with anyone who has the best interest of the country regardless of their political affiliation. Why then does the PAP seem to regress in the shell of partisanship politics, believing that they own the monopoly of people who care for Singapore?

Lim Chih Yang

 

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The PAP rode high to power on the shoulders of the workers in 1959. Its well-known slogan, which it proudly trumpeted from the 1950's to the end of the 1970's, was that it was a pro-labour government that subscribed to the principles of democratic socialism and abided by the pricinciple of "A Government OF the People, BY the People and FOR the People".

For the PM now to say that Singapore will not do as well with a two-party system as it would with a one party-system, goes against the very spirit of the pioneering fathers of the PAP. Incidentally, it's a shame though, that the First Chief Minister of Singapore, Mr. David Marshall, was too egalitarian perhaps to see things from PM Lee's perspective.

A single-party system at its best might well mean power being distributed among the few most capable members of the same party. At its worst, it may well lead to an Autocracy where absolute power is concentrated in the hands of a Dictator.

Meanwhile before 'journey's end', we have to make the most of the situation. And if I had to err, I would err in favour of caution. I would choose that a system be protected by the people it governs than that system solely resides with a small group of elites. Even worse is it for 'the system' to reside with one man.

Ho Cheow Seng

(This letter was edited for length.)

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"Change has to take place in Singapore, but change must take place not (between parties) but within the PAP."

According to TODAY, PM Lee argues that change can happen without the opposition. Is PM Lee still worried about spending time to "fix" the likes of Low Thia Kiang and Chiam See Tong?

In fact, a two-party system can urge the government to push for faster change in policies and better decisions that better suit the citizens' needs. PM Lee's wish to "fix" the opposition only suggests how the PAP recognizes that a dominant second party could potentially challenge them in terms of reaching out to the people - if only they were given equal say in Parliament.

The structured products issue was a display of complacency by the government. Being the dominant party having to face only a small number of opposition voices - which are sadly weak as well - the government has absolutely no urge for change. In a government dominated by one political party, what truly significant and decisive change can we hope to see?

One example would be the government's neutral stand on the structured products issue. Investors who claimed to have been misled by the banks met with lip servicing from Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. They were then simply redirected to the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Do the investors really deserve such treatment? Why do Ministers only appeal to the people so often during the election period? As Andrew Loh - deputy Editor of TOC - mentioned: Where were our politicians?

It is the pressure and criticism brought up by the opposition towards the current party that can truly bring about change into our lives. As citizens, we would want to be able to make a choice between two parties in the upcoming elections.

Lim

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Treat our vulnerable ones better

I read with interest the article "Don't chuck elderly away to old folks home". I have some comments about it but first, do let me introduce myself. I am an occupational therapist working currently in Singapore. An occupational therapist is one who teaches people how to get back to their lives after an incapacitating event in their lives. It can be a stroke, a mental illness etc. We teach them strategies to cope with the daily demands of life and we also assist in training their caregivers in taking care of them.

I have worked in many places within the Singapore healthcare system. From nursing homes, acute hospitals, community hospitals, acute mental hospital, community mental health settings, community paediatric settings.

I would like to make a few points about the nursing homes in Singapore.

  1. Much of the VNH (voluntary nursing homes) in Singapore have a less than ideal staffing ratio. The needs of these elderly can be demanding at times and with a poor staffing ratio, it's very very difficult to meet them.
  2. Much if the workers in these homes are foreign worker who speak little local dialect. This poses a huge barrier as the elderly would have no means of expressing their needs to the staff. It is unrealistic to rely on a couple of translators within the home to know what the residents want.

One of the biggest problems is the unwillingness of the government in closely monitoring the way these VNH or the many care facilities run by the VWOs in Singapore. On paper, there are a series of checks and balances but in reality, much of these organisations have developed strategies to make sure that the paper looks good.

Why should we put the care of our most vulnerable, of people who helped built Singapore up in the hands of a voluntary organisation? In my experience, a majority of the staff have severely inadequate knowledge in the care of these people. Take a visit to the only place where destitutes and people who have mental illnesses get locked up and you will start to understand what our government is actually doing.

Ruijie

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Buyer beware

(This letter was denied publication by the Straits Times)

Much has been said and written about “Buyer beware”, investing “with their eyes open” and “I think the prospectus says 'you could lose all or a substantial part of your investment in the Notes' in bold print, on page 1 or 2”.

But what if the prospectus did not disclose material facts?

The New Paper's Doctor Money ( Larry Haverkamp) wrote on 4 November 2008 that

“A feature common to ALL linked notes is that investors never see the charges. They include:

> costs embedded in the initial pricing;

> counter-party returns in the product's risk/return structure;

> commissions from buying and selling the options, swaps and underlying bonds;

> market-making and surrender fees; and

> annual management fees, including trailer fees kicked back to distributors.

They are deducted directly from the yield. Investors are likely to attribute the low return to market conditions rather than unseen costs.

Most importantly, unit trusts and investment-linked products (ILPs) routinely publish their charges. Linked notes never do.”

Investors in Minibonds and HN5, Jubilee and Pinnacle Notes should be asking lawyers whether the failures to disclose the above amounts to a breach of section 243 (1)(a) of the Securities & Futures Act which reads, “A prospectus for an offer of securities shall contain all the information that investors and their professional advisers would reasonably require to make an informed assessment of the matters specified in subsection (3).

And if they are, what are the remedies and against whom. As Doctor Money wrote, “The question of the day is: 'Should non-disclosure of embedded charges invalidate linked-note sales contracts and require a refund from issuers and distributors?'”

Breaches of section 243(1)(a) are something MAS is surely investigating because we have been assured, MAS is looking, “thoroughly into every possible breach of regulation, poor internal regulation or sales practices. And it will take action where necessary”.

Adrian Tan

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