Friday, 21 December 2012

Singaporeans least happy people in the world. Don't migrate here!

On December 20, 2012, Asian Scientist Magazine reported a telephone survey done by Gallup in 2011 that concluded that Singaporeans were the Least Positive Worldwide. Their survey shows that only 46% of Singaporeans reported positive emotions in the preceding day (the telephone survey asks if respondents experienced 5 positive emotions the preceding day.

Apparently, this is a follow-up to an earlier report on the most and least emotional countries in the world. In that survey, Singaporeans were found to be the least emotional, with only 36% reporting ANY emotions, positive or negative.

And here we have the first internal inconsistency.

If only 36% of Singaporeans reported ANY emotions (positive AND negative), how can there be 46% reporting Positive emotions?

How did Gallup do this?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Tempering the law with compassion

Nov 02, 2012


In a break from his intensely private persona, Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam opens up to Susan Long about the legal changes he wants to make, and why he prefers to let his work speak for itself.

IN THE four years since Mr K. Shanmugam took over the Law Ministry, he has wrought sweeping legal reforms. Not least of all is the easing of the mandatory death penalty regime for drug-trafficking and murder offenders.

The Criminal Procedure Code was also overhauled in 2010, providing new community sentencing options such as the mandatory treatment order and community service order, as alternatives to jail sentences.

If he has one goal in his lifetime, he lets on, it is to make Singapore a more compassionate society "with greater communitarian spirit and which looks after those who can't look after themselves".

To lead the way, the 53-year- old conscientiously looks for the exceptions, outliers or those who fall through the cracks. His legal training helps him to "first step back and look at things in perspective in terms of overall systems, structures, what's legally possible" and to that, he adds "kindness and compassion" to see what he can do in each individual case.

More changes are afoot.

National University of Singapore law professor Michael Hor, who was his university classmate, expects the minister to continue to "inspire quiet and incremental change in favour of moderation and balance". The changes so far stem from a humble and humane approach to law: "humble because of the awareness that when rules are crafted, we can never foresee (their) consequences with absolute certainty, humane because of the unwillingness to sacrifice individuals unfortunately caught by overbroad rules".

Mr Shanmugam himself says he is trying to make the legal framework relevant to the times.

What lies ahead?

Liberal hopefuls have wondered: Will the Internal Security Act (ISA), which confers on the Government the right to arrest and detain individuals without trial for up to two years, be reviewed or repealed?

To this, the Law Minister says that nothing is written in stone, although he adds that the ISA is not under his purview but that of the Home Affairs Ministry. "Everything has to be looked at as society changes and the environment changes. Any law has to have public support."

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Revolt of the single taxpayer

Oct 28, 2012

Even as my tax dollars help support today's poor, I'm not assured of help when I'm old

By Chua Mui Hoong Opinion Editor

Like others seized by the ongoing conversation on Singapore's future, I've been ruminating on the kind of society I want to live in.

But rather than think of ideals and values, an exercise I consider unproductive (would anyone not want a kinder, gentler, happier, more gracious, more equal Singapore?), I prefer to contemplate the kind of political system I want, and the tax and benefits system I desire. I'll leave politics for a later date and focus on taxes today.

Many of us project our wants and desires of today into the future. We forget one thing: In 2032, we will be 20 years older. And as we age, our needs and desires change.

At 44, I favour a society with sufficient buzz with pockets of serenity. I want the economy to go for growth now while we can. I like Singapore's pro-business, open, competitive stance, because these translate into a good job with good pay, and a relatively low tax regime.

If you ask me today, whether I would support higher income tax rates, I would say "no", because I am a taxpayer and because the country's fiscal position remains strong.

In 2032, when I'm 64, I would want a quieter city, of slower growth, with low cost of living. I would likely support higher taxes, because I won't be paying taxes, but want high taxes to fund benefits I can draw from.

The distinction between what you want today and what you want in 20 years' time is too often overlooked in the national conversation.

And yet it can make all the difference in policy.

If you asked me: "Are you in favour of paying higher taxes?" I would say "no".

If you reframed the question: "It is Singapore in 2032. Are you in favour of paying high taxes?" I would say "yes", in secret hopes that I would be retired by then.

Also overlooked is the potential rift between the generations.

Those born in the 1980s are growing up in an era of very low personal income tax rates, and rising social benefits like Workfare and housing grants. Corporate tax is now 17 per cent; and the top personal income tax rate is 20 per cent. They used to be around 40 per cent in the 1980s.

If we mend the social safety net well, they are likely to retire in 2040 with better pension and health-care benefits than today's old.

Friday, 19 October 2012


Oct 18, 2012

Top wish: Being free from pain

People also prefer to die at home than to prolong life for another year

By salma khalik health correspondent

A SURVEY of more than 500 people here has found that they value being able to die at home more than an extra year of life.

But right at the top of their list is being free from pain, the findings of a survey by the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Lien Centre for Palliative Care showed.

They were willing to pay $24,000 a year to relieve severe pain, but only $9,100 to prolong life for another 12 months.

In presenting the findings at a Lien Centre for Palliative Care conference yesterday, Dr Chetna Malhotra, an assistant professor at the centre, said what people value has implications on where government subsidies should go.

She asked: "Does it make sense for the Government to pay for expensive therapies to extend life?"

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What Bhutan can Teach Singapore

Oct 05, 2012

Let's talk about identity and values

By ang peng hwa for the straits times

I FIRST read in the news - when I was in Bhutan - that Singapore was going to have a "National Conversation" among ourselves to chart the future of our country.

I had been in Bhutan for a few days on a media policy project and had been given readings and briefings about the meaning of its Gross National Happiness (GNH). I had two immediate reactions: "Now we're talking" and "about time".

You see, in the course of uncovering the dimensions of Gross National Happiness, I learnt that GNH was not about replacing GNP and, despite its title, was not about happiness.

Instead, GNH is intended as a concept or philosophy to distinguish the Bhutanese from the Indians to their west and south and from the Chinese to the east and north.

As a small country of about 700,000 people - the size of three of our largest HDB estates - Bhutan can be easily subsumed by one of its two giant neighbours. It therefore needed an identity distinct from them. Hence Gross National Happiness.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

New flat prices: Getting it right

Oct 2, 2012

By Colin Tan

The fuss over public housing just cannot seem to go away.

For one, people have been alarmed at the dramatic rise in the cost of public housing in recent years. Since HDB resale prices hit the trough in 3Q 2005, the resale price index has risen by 95.5% over the past seven years.

While statistics are not available on new flat prices, it is safe to say new flat prices have also risen significantly - if not by the same quantum - as they were closely pegged to resale flat prices until about a year and a half ago.

Rapid and sharp increases in prices are not just obstacles to new households but to all potential upgraders and future households.

Hence, we can understand the deep concerns held by many over the high prices for public housing flats.

More recently, the sector has drawn a lot of publicity from the sale of the first public housing flat for a million dollars.

If you have been monitoring the HDB resale market, you will know that for several months now, the market has been continually testing this benchmark but has not been able to breach this one million dollar mark until recently.

As rightly pointed by some, these high prices are the exceptions for “special” flats rather than the norm.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Singapore: the hyphen connecting the world and Asia

Sep 29, 2012

Singapore must continue to be diplomatically neutral and economically opportunistic to thrive

By PARAG KHANNA For the straits times

WITH the convening of the recent Singapore Summit, the "Little Red Dot" has proven its outsized role and importance on the world stage.

As one participant remarked, never has such a large market capitalisation been assembled in one room. I participated in the full summit, and came away with the view that Singapore's unique position and potential contributions to the world in the decade ahead were capably demonstrated.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the kind of confidently tech-savvy speech unimaginable from any other head of state, even the BlackBerry-wielding United States leader Barack Obama. He didn't just name drop robotics companies, the online learning portal Coursera and our increasingly social relationships with digital avatars, but used these to highlight the "ruthless competition" Singapore's workers will face as technologies accelerate, rise up the value chain and displace even white-collar labour.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A newsman's take on Singapore journalism and shifting OB markers

Sep 02, 2012

Cheong Yip Seng, former editor of The Straits Times and editor-in-chief of the English and Malay Newspaper Division of Singapore Press Holdings, has a book due out later this year called OB Markers: My Straits Times Story. In an interview with Stephanie Garcia of The New Asia Media, he tells how the space for doing journalism in Singapore has changed, keeping pace with the political environment.

Stephanie Garcia: What are "OB markers" and how did they affect your work during your 43 years at The Straits Times?

Cheong Yip Seng: OB markers, or out-of-bounds markers, is a term used in golf to indicate boundaries on the golf course your ball must not stray beyond without incurring a penalty. In Singapore, it is also commonly used to lay out the limits to the freedom of expression, some of them mandated by law. Singapore's political leaders are convinced that OB markers are necessary for effective governance. Hence, they have strong regulatory powers over the media. Newspapers, for instance, have to apply annually to renew their publishing licence, a law introduced during British colonial days.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A future of our own making

by Devadas Krishnadas

Todayonline  Aug 30, 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech not only hit notes of humility and sincerity, its positive reception was reinforced by his indications that some long sought-after policy adjustments, such as paternity leave, would be finally forthcoming.

This willingness to shift was underscored by the announcement of a national conversation. This is intended to feed input to the general review of policies to be headed by Minister Heng Swee Kiat. Such a step signals a new "co-creative" model of policy making.

For such a model to work, Singaporeans must play their part. It begins with participation. As one cliche goes, "decisions are made by those who show up". Today, "showing up" can be done virtually as well as physically. However, participation alone is an insufficient threshold to ensure that this experiment succeeds.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Section 377A of the Penal Code

Aug 25, 2012


Constitutional cases 'rare'

A Court of Appeal decision this week to allow a claim challenging the constitutionality of the law criminalising sex between men to be heard in court has sparked much debate on the issue. Two legal experts give their views.

By goh chin lian

SENIOR Counsel Alvin Yeo is an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC and a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law.

What do you think of the case being heard in court, and what are the key issues?

The key issue before the court was whether the plaintiff's contention - that Section 377A of the Penal Code is unconstitutional - is so unarguable that the case should be struck out even without a full hearing on the merits.

Within that key issue are a number of sub-issues, including whether the plaintiff had locus standi (or the legal standing) to bring this claim.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Singapore's changing political landscape

Aug 17, 2012


This primer is the final instalment of a 12-part series in the Opinion pages, in the lead-up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

By Lydia Lim Deputy Political Editor

  • PEOPLE describe General Election 2011 as a watershed election. In what way did it mark a new phase in Singapore politics?

SINGAPORE will hold its next General Election in about four years' time.

By then, 2016, most of you who are taking part in this year's current affairs quiz will be of voting age, that is 21. More likely than not, you will have a chance to cast your vote, and elect your Member of Parliament. You could say voting in elections is a new norm in the so-called "new normal".

How so?

In the decade from 1991 to 2001, the number of seats contested by the opposition in each election fell, from 40 out of 81 in 1991, to 36 out of 83 in 1997 and finally to just 29 out of 84 in 2001.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Why Chinese Officials Are In Love With The Singapore Model

In this article, Kyle Spencer explains why China is enamored with SG's economic and political model, but how the Chinese underestimate the task ahead of them of emulating SG (in part if not in whole, and if this is indeed their intent).

However, the reasons for China's interest in the Singapore Model makes for a compelling argument for Singapore as an investment interest, and Spencer makes this argument well.

Inevitably, there will be conspiracy theorists and Singapore bashers who seem to crawl out of the woodwork and trot out their pet conspiracy theories as to how Singapore succeeded (they need to justify to themselves why their own country is in the shits pits, despite having more natural resources, despite having more people, despite having more land, despite having history on their side).

Friday, 20 July 2012

Why the dung beetle is his hero

Jul 20, 2012


A man given to startling pronouncements, Alexandra Health group chief executive Liak Teng Lit gives Susan Long the lowdown on what ails the health-care system today: over-treatment, over-specialisation and over-generous subsidies.

A 78-YEAR-OLD nursing home resident was wheeled into hospital in a comatose state. He suffered from dementia, had one leg amputated and the other was gangrenous due to poorly controlled diabetes. He had no known family members.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, then chief executive of Alexandra Hospital, was discussing with over 200 doctors and health-care professionals whether they should proceed to amputate his remaining leg.

Two-thirds voted 'yes'. Doctors, after all, are under oath to save lives. When he asked how many would want to be operated on if they were the patient, two said 'yes'. The rest said 'no'.

It was a moment of epiphany, he says. 'We discussed why we do things for our patients that we wouldn't want done to ourselves. The answer that came back was, 'I don't know what he wants, so I do my best. My best is to prolong his life.' But if we were the patient, we wouldn't want those kinds of extra days.'

Saturday, 14 July 2012

What to expect when you wait to have kids

Jul 14, 2012

They will have old parents whom they'll be taking care of earlier

By Nona Willis Aronowitz

WHEN my 79-year-old father had two back surgical operations a couple of years ago, I saw him in a hospital gown for the first time. As his closest family member - my mother died of cancer in 2006 - I gave my dad rides to the doctor and the grocery store. I helped him clean out his house and move into a smaller, stairless apartment. I watched him struggle at physical therapy.

He has fully recovered, but the process aged him. Now I move a little slower when we walk down the street together. When he runs 20 minutes late, my imagination runs wild: Has he fallen or got into a car accident? Has he forgotten about our appointment? Oh, God, does he have Alzheimer's?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Environmental Alarmism, Then and Now

The Club of Rome’s Problem -- and Ours

Bjørn Lomborg

Bjørn Lomborg is an Adjunct Professor at the Copenhagen Business School and head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It.

Forty years ago, humanity was warned: by chasing ever-greater economic growth, it was sentencing itself to catastrophe. The Club of Rome, a blue-ribbon multinational collection of business leaders, scholars, and government officials brought together by the Italian tycoon Aurelio Peccei, made the case in a slim 1972 volume called The Limits to Growth. Based on forecasts from an intricate series of computer models developed by professors at MIT, the book caused a sensation and captured the zeitgeist of the era: the belief that mankind's escalating wants were on a collision course with the world's finite resources and that the crash would be coming soon.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Outgoing Singapore Envoy to US - Professor Chan Heng Chee

Jul 1, 2012

When US noticed the 'little country that could'
Outgoing envoy to the US Chan Heng Chee recounts her 16 years in Washington

By Tracy Quek

In a town where politics and policy are the raison d'etre for many of its residents and networking is an art form, Singapore's outgoing Ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee is a diplomat who appears to be very much in her element.

In her 16 years in Washington, Professor Chan, 70, has come to be noted for her 'salon dinners' at the Singapore Embassy, gatherings that bring together Washington's strategic thinkers, media personalities and policymakers to discuss hot- button issues of the day over a good - often Singaporean - meal.

Frequently sought for her views on Asian affairs, she is also known for her rapport with high-level US officials and diplomats, her support of charitable and cultural causes, as well as the elegant qipao she dons to the many formal events she hosts and is invited to.

Her reputation today as a distinguished figure in Washington's diplomatic circles, however, belies a difficult start to her job when she arrived in 1996 against the backdrop of tense Singapore-US ties following the caning of American teenager Michael Fay in 1994 for vandalism.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

In love with the little red dot

Jun 29, 2012


Ten years after giving up Belgian citizenship to become a Singaporean, Singapore Diamond Exchange chairman and Singapore FreePort co-founder Alain Vandenborre tells Susan Long why he is more smitten than ever with Singapore.

AS THE euro crisis deepens, Mr Alain Vandenborre's European friends, who once asked why in the world he would renounce his Belgian citizenship to become a Singaporean, are now seeking his help to relocate here too.

At least half a dozen have called him this past year and these include top-brass finance professionals who sit on global boards.

'Nobody questions any more, 'Why are you doing this?' Instead, they are all asking, 'How can I become a citizen?'' says the 51-year-old venture capitalist and entrepreneur, who has lived and worked in six countries, including Germany, Holland, France and China.

Each time, he hangs up the phone and 'smiles a little smile' to himself.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Growth for Singapore - Concerns and Considerations

Jun 16, 2012

Growth Potion No. 4?
The Prime Minister's defence of the pursuit of growth has stirred fresh debate on the right mix of economic gain and social welfare. In the first of a two-part series on economic growth, Political Correspondent Robin Chan delves into the issue.

SINGAPORE'S seeming ability to grow against the odds has been a hallmark of its economic development.

To spur growth, the Government has consciously driven change, in the 1960s through industrialisation, in 1985 - post recession - by making wages more flexible and cutting direct taxes, and then again in 2003, when it launched its third economic 'paradigm shift'.

From 1997 to 2003, the economy suffered a series of setbacks that included a debilitating Asian financial crisis, the post-Sept 11 gloom, a bust and the Sars public health crisis.

By 2003, the city state's economy was at a turning point, triggering a third paradigm shift centred on innovation and entrepreneurship as well as deregulation and liberalisation.

In a speech at the Economic Society in 2003, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked for support for the latest round of restructuring, saying 'no system works forever'.

As National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan explained recently, post-Sars, Singapore's economy was down in the doldrums. Unemployment hit 5.5 per cent in September 2003, which meant close to 100,000 people out of work, many of them for more than six months.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Architect of tomorrow's homes

Jun 16, 2012

HDB chief wants to improve living standards in sustainable ways

ON ANY given weekend, all along the river park that runs through the youngest Housing Board town of Punggol, runners train for marathons, shutterbugs snap away at flora and fauna, and families live it up at carnivals and picnics.

They have Dr Cheong Koon Hean to thank for the idyllic 4.2km waterway that is their hot spot. Government engineers had initially wanted to run a giant pipe between the Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs that make up the waterway, but Dr Cheong recalls: 'I said, 'Why a pipe? Why not make a river out of it so we can build a river park that everyone can enjoy?''

Now, she exults, there is a thriving community of young and old there, buoyed by their own special corner of Singapore.

Dr Cheong, 55, who has been HDB's chief executive since 2010 after six years as chief of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, is bent on building HDB towns for the future where residents can truly call their houses 'homes'.

She shared all this with The Straits Times last Friday, ahead of this year's World Cities Summit, which will run from July 1 to July 4.

'In the end,' she says, 'what really makes a town is how its residents respond to it. I can design a green town but if no one in it switches off the lights, we can't do anything.'

In a world where people are increasingly harried and distant from one another, she knows only too well how tall an order it is for HDB dwellers to think and act in ways that are considerate of others and the environment.

Certainly, she notes, HDB can help shape better behaviour by designing towns that are calming and chock-full of conveniences, but it is really up to those who live in them to reach out to their neighbours to foster a greater sense of community.

Likening the relationship between a city and its dwellers to a love story, she says: 'The city needs to love its people by giving us spaces to build up memories, and build homes for us and places for work. And the people need to love it back - even with all its imperfections - because a city is about its people too.'

It does not even take that much to give back to one's community, she adds. 'It's simple things like 'Do we litter?' and 'Can we smile when we meet our neighbours in the corridor?''

Says Dr Cheong, who has a PhD in architecture from Australia's University of Newcastle: 'It's not about building buildings; it's about creating homes - and environmentally friendly ones at that.'

To do this, she now has HDB focusing on designing towns with distinctive identities so that their residents can have pride of place, harnessing the latest innovations so that residents find it almost effortless to recycle and reduce their use of water and electricity, and carving out more pavilions, plazas and promenades to encourage everyone to mingle more meaningfully.

She and her team are trying to do all this over the next five to 10 years, even as HDB is on its biggest building drive in the past 20 years, churning out 25,000 public flats a year to satisfy snaking queues of aspiring home owners at a pace that is rattling the labour-strapped construction industry here to its foundations.

'The exciting thing about HDB,' she says, 'is that it is not only a master planner, but also a master developer. This means we can make what we plan happen.'

So she is pushing ahead with the hardware needed to improve the quality of life for HDB dwellers in a sustainable way.

Noting that the 52-year-old HDB has expanded well beyond its original brief to provide affordable housing for all Singaporeans, she says it is now working even more closely with private developers and innovators to match the accelerating aspirations of largely middle-class Singaporeans.

In all this, she is firm on the need for the HDB to continue partnering the private sector for even higher quality designs and construction, but she is equally firm that the HDB must have the last word on suitable design. 'We still have to set and drive the vision because developers will build only what you ask them to build for you.'

Amid all this, she is trying to 'weave the green' into the concrete jungle by incorporating hanging gardens, eco-decks and rooftop terraces a la the skyparks of HDB's signal development, Pinnacle@Duxton. She hopes these will encourage the return of birds and plants to HDB neighbourhoods.

Suggest to her that many urban dwellers today consider living close to nature a nuisance and she says: 'It's true. A gentleman once said to me, 'Can you make sure there are no snakes, squirrels or monkeys around here?' And my point to him was, 'They were here first.''

All this is in keeping with her dreams since her days as a planner in the early 1980s that Singapore should capitalise on its chief assets or, as she puts it, make the most of 'the blue of the sea and the green of the tropics'.

That milieu is certainly palpable in Punggol - where the first waterfront HDB flats have been built, keeping alive the memory of the former fishing village. Indeed, HDB has designated this budding north-eastern precinct as Singapore's first eco-town.

Besides installing solar panels on the rooftops of HDB blocks to absorb the sun's energy to light their corridors, there are also ongoing experiments there to store kinetic energy from the up-down motion of lifts - also to light corridors - and save the water used in hand-washing to flush toilets.

Come September, 10 families at Block 109C, Edgedale Plains, will use a smartphone app developed by Panasonic to monitor in real time how much energy their air-conditioners are guzzling.

If all these innovations are a hit with residents, Dr Cheong says the HDB will roll them out to future towns, including Bidadari and Tengah.

The HDB has not forgotten its older estates; indeed, the first HDB estate, Dawson in Queenstown, is undergoing a swish makeover (see box). By 2015, it will have two 40-storey blocks called Skyville@Dawson and SkyTerrace @Dawson, which will have a total of 1,718 flats.

And over at Jurong East, the HDB is now trying out a pneumatic waste management system to suck all household waste to a single collection point to rid the estate of smelly mornings. If it is a hit there, the board will roll the system out to other estates too.

Then, for the second time during the interview, Dr Cheong says with relish: 'It's all very exciting. It's just that I can't do it tomorrow. But we're beginning to see all of it shape up and I'm a lot more positive and encouraged because I'm seeing people responding to some of our plans.'

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Leaders who pander

May 19, 2012
By David Brooks

THE people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn't be ruined by their own frailties.

The American founders did this by decentralising power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.

In Europe, by contrast, authority was centralised. Power was held by small coteries of administrators and statesmen, many of whom had attended the same elite academies where they were supposed to learn the art and responsibilities of stewardship.

Under the parliamentary system, voters didn't even get to elect their leaders directly. They voted for parties, and party elders selected the ones who would actually form the government, often through secret means.

Although the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the US were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we're smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.

James Madison put it well: 'As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.'

But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mindset of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.

Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.

The consequences of this shift are now obvious. In Europe and America, governments have made promises they can't afford to fulfil. At the same time, the decision-making machinery is breaking down. US and European capitals still have the structures inherited from the past but without the self-restraining ethos that made them function.

The US decentralised system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self- restraint.

The Obama campaign issues its famous 'Julia' ad, which perfectly embodies the vision of government as a national Sugar Daddy, delivering free money and goodies up and down the life cycle. The Citizens United case gives well-financed interests tremendous power to preserve or acquire tax breaks and regulatory deals. US senior citizens receive health benefits that cost many times more than the contributions they put into the system.

In Europe, workers want great lifestyles without long work hours. They want dynamic capitalism but also personal security. European welfare states go broke trying to deliver these impossibilities. The European ruling classes once had their power checked through daily contact with the tumble of national politics.

But now those ruling classes have built a technocratic apparatus, the European Union, operating far above popular scrutiny. Decisions that reshape the destinies of families and nations are being made at some mysterious, transnational level. Few Europeans can tell who is making decisions or who is to blame if they go wrong, so, of course, they feel powerless and distrustful.

Western democratic systems were based on a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence. They worked because there were structures that protected the voters from themselves and the rulers from themselves. Once people lost a sense of their own weakness, the self-doubt went away and the chastening structures were overwhelmed. It became madness to restrain your own desires because surely your rivals over yonder would not be restraining theirs.

This is one of the reasons why Europe and the US are facing debt crises and political dysfunction at the same time. People used to believe that human depravity was self-evident and democratic self-government was fragile. Now they think depravity is nonexistent and they take self-government for granted.

Neither the US nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionise our impulses.


Monday, 14 May 2012

The best place in the world to be creative


Why would an international best-selling writer on creativity live here? Because while New York may call itself 'the capital of the world', Singapore is the world

by Fredrik Haren

May 14, 2012

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked: "As an author of creativity books, how on earth can you live in Singapore?"

And when I reply, "Because I think it is the best place in the world to live for a creative person", most people think I am kidding and everyone asks me to explain.

But no, I am not kidding. And yes, let me explain.

I moved to Beijing from my native Sweden in 2005 because I wanted to be in Asia when Asian countries truly started to embrace creativity.

The defining moment for me was when Hu Jintao gave a speech to the Chinese people in which he said that "China should be an innovative country 15 years from now".

Since I write books on business creativity, I just had to move to Asia and see this shift happen.

After two years in Beijing, I learnt two things: Firstly, I wanted to leave Beijing, which is a fascinating city, but has too much traffic, too much pollution and too little water for a Swede brought up in the Stockholm archipelago; and secondly, I wanted to remain in Asia.

So I went on a grand journey. While doing research for my book The Developing World, I constantly travelled over a period of more than 10 months.

I went to 20 developing countries and when I came to each new city that I thought had potential to become my new home, I made sure my schedule allowed me to stay a few extra days to get a feel of life there.

I spent two weeks each in Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Mumbai, New Delhi, Istanbul and Singapore.

Then I made a list of positives and negatives about each city. Obviously, Singapore won in the end.


Why? Well, for many reasons.

Such as quality of life - I now drink as much fresh mango juices in Singapore as I did beers in Beijing, weather (no, I do not mind the heat; I love it), security (I love countries where there is a good chance you will get your iPhone back if you left it behind in a restaurant) and convenience (like the fact that Changi Airport has extensive connections to the world, since my work involves a lot of travelling to different countries on a frequent basis).

Those are the usual reasons that attract most people to Singapore.

But the main reason I live in Singapore is because this city-state, to me, is the one place on earth where it is the easiest to have a globally-creative mindset.

Some people say Singapore is "Asia for beginners". I do not agree. I think Singapore is "globalisation for beginners", or rather, "globalisation for early adopters".

With a diverse mix of races, religions and nationalities, Singapore not only represents the cross-section of the world, it is also a time capsule of what the world will look like in the future.

And I love that.

New York may call itself 'the capital of the world' but Singapore is the world. Unlike New York, which is a global city in the United States, Singapore is a global city - a global city-state. Singapore is a city in the world, not a city in a country in the world.

And this makes it easier to have a global outlook here since nationalistic barriers do not block the view as much.

[Interesting perspective of a City in the World, as opposed to a City in a Country in the World. At the same time, it would seem to present a vulnerability of Singapore to the World, as it meshes directly with the world, with no intermediating "country" or hinterland to act as a shock absorber. The world impacts us directly.]


A positive side-effect of this is that Singapore is one of the least racist countries in the world.

Now, that does not mean that there is no racism in Singapore, but I have worked in more than 40 countries, and I have never experienced less racism than I do in Singapore.

That is important to me. Not only because we are a mixed-race family - I am from Sweden, my wife from the Philippines and my son a happy mix of Stockholm, Manila and Singapore.

As an European, I am ashamed and disappointed when European leaders recently proclaim that "the multi-cultural society does not work". I just wish they would come to Singapore.

To live in a place that is celebrating "Western New Year" and "Chinese New Year" is not only twice as fun, it also gives you the feeling that there is more than one way of doing things.

On a recent New Year's Eve party, we realised our group consisted of 10 people with 10 different passports.

A friend told me how they had had an after-work beer at his company and 14 people - from 14 different countries - showed up.

At our wedding, we had 40 guests from eight countries, comprising at least four religions and four races, and, at the time, no one was counting.

It all just felt as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The point, of course, is that it is not the most natural thing in the world. Unfortunately, in most places in the world, it would be rare, strange and exotic to have such a natural mix of backgrounds.

For people living in Singapore, it is so natural you do not grasp how unnaturally natural it is, and how valuable.


Now, do not get me wrong. I am not saying that knowledge of your own culture and background is not important. It is.

It is often said that a person without roots is fickle, doesn't know how to connect to who he is and can be easily manipulated, because there are no basic values keeping him grounded. Roots are important.

But if one is going to use a metaphor (in this case, of likening a human being to a tree), one has to use the whole metaphor. Because it is equally true that a tree without branches also perishes.

A tree that does not spread its branches out in all directions to gather as much sunlight and energy as possible might have deep and strong roots, but it will eventually still wither and die.

In other words, to be rootless is dangerous, but so is being branchless.

And if your own culture is the roots, the cultures of the rest of the world is the energy that your branches need to reach out to, so that you can get new ideas and ways of doing things by learning from others, be inspired to try new foods, acquire new habits and try new customs.

It will make you curious of other ways of doing things, be inspired by different ideas and energised by alternate points of views. And that is what creates creativity.

And nowhere in the world is it easier to let your branches spread out than in Singapore.

Want some exposure to American influence? Watch American Idol the day after it airs in the US.

What about a dose of Indian culture? Join in the Deepavali celebrations together with thousands of Indians in Little India.

Want to practice your Chinese language? Go and order frog in Geylang.


The Icelandic Vikings, who lived a thousand years ago, had a word for people who never left their farms on Iceland and never ventured outside. The word was heimskur. It means moron.

As they saw it, a person who did not open up to the world to find new ideas from other cultures was a moron. I think the Vikings would have loved Singapore. I sure know that I do. It is the one place with the fewest heimskurs that I have found .

Too many people limit their potential, their creativity - and in the end - their lives, because they are not embracing the whole human spectrum of creativity.

They are not taking full advantage of the potential of the world, because they are not living in the world. They are stuck in their own corner, looking inwards, seeing whatever that is different as "foreign".

And I think that answers the question of why I am living in Singapore - because Singapore makes me more human by making me more a part of the world, a part of humanity. And by being part of the world, I have a bigger chance to be inspired and have new ideas.

Ideas that will benefit us all.

Fredrik Haren, an author and speaker on business creativity, has lived in Asia since 2005, and has been in Singapore since 2008. His work The Idea Book has been included in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. This article appears in the Singapore International Foundation's book aimed at bridging communities, Singapore Insights from the Inside.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Why a US columnist is rooting for Singapore

May 12, 2012

Can Singapore's one-party governance system adapt to the stresses of globalisation and rising electoral pressures?

By Matt Miller

SINGAPOREANS couldn't believe their ears.

'I'm sorry,' said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just days before the elections a year ago this week that dealt the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) its worst setback in the five decades since the island city-state became independent.

'If we didn't get it right, I'm sorry,' Mr Lee said. 'But we will try better the next time.'

The unprecedented public apology may well have saved the PAP from a debacle. But the 'new normal' ushered in by that vote (as well as a later vote for the more symbolic presidency, in which the PAP's choice won by just a few thousand votes) has upended politics in Singapore.

While the PAP lost just six of 87 seats in its unicameral Parliament, the party won only 60 per cent of the vote and some key ministers were sent packing.

One year on, it's clear that public discontent has opened a new chapter in Singapore's development that deserves the world's attention.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mind the baby gap

May 7, 2012

By Steven Philip Kramer

FOR most of human history, high birth rates and high mortality rates have tended to balance each other out.

That began to change in the 19th century, when better sanitation and nutrition extended life spans. The world's population surged from about one billion in 1800 to seven billion today.

Although overpopulation plagues much of the developing world, many developed societies now suffer from the opposite problem: Birth rates have become so low that each generation is smaller than the previous one.

Much of southern and eastern Europe, as well as Austria, Germany, Russia and the developed nations of South-east Asia, have alarmingly low fertility rates, with women having, on average, fewer than 1.5 children each.

For example, the total fertility rate (TFR) is 1.6 in Russia, 1.4 in Poland and 1.2 in South Korea. In the United States, it is 2.05, which is about the replacement level.

At the same time as women are having fewer children in developed countries, life expectancies there have reached record highs. As a result, the dependency ratio - the ratio of the working population to the non-working population - has become increasingly unfavourable, and it is projected to get even worse.

In many countries, the age distribution will someday resemble that of an inverted pyramid, with a bulge of the elderly perched precariously on a narrow base of the young.

With fewer working-age people to tax, governments will have to choose from among several unpleasant options: cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, or hiking taxes. To make matters worse, economic growth will get harder to achieve as workers age and their ranks dwindle; ageing societies will have a tough time succeeding in an era of rapid technological change, which requires flexible employees.

Low birth rates threaten not only the viability of the developed world's welfare states but also developed countries' very survival. In many parts of Europe and Asia, depopulation is a real possibility.

Countries there are at risk of falling into what demographers call 'the low fertility trap', a vicious circle whereby fewer and fewer women have fewer and fewer children, leading to an accelerating spiral of depopulation.

In some countries, such as Austria and Germany, it may already be too late: Surveys show that women there desire an average of only 1.7 children, well below the level needed to keep these countries' populations from shrinking, and they actually have an average of about 1.3 children.

A subculture of childlessness has already developed in these countries; many people choose to have no children at all.

Low birth rates are also changing the world's population balance, with poorer countries dwarfing richer ones.

The population of Pakistan, to name just one developing country, rose from around 50 million in 1960 to about 190 million today, whereas the French population grew from about 45 million to 65 million in the same period.

It is not hard to imagine a future in which advanced countries resemble small islands in a Third World sea. At some point, the population gap between the rich and the poor could grow so large that some developed countries will have to accept massive inflows of immigrants to meet their economies' labour needs. But that much immigration would likely prove politically unpalatable.

Population decline poses a grave danger to the developed world. Yet there is nothing inevitable about it.

History shows that governments can raise birth rates close to replacement levels - if only they adopt the right pronatalist policies. This means making available high-quality and affordable child care, offering families financial support and supporting mothers who pursue careers.

Making motherhood work

IF DEVELOPED countries with low birth rates want to raise them, they should look at what has worked for others in the past. Countries that have not addressed gender inequality or provided adequate social services, such as Italy and Japan, have failed to nudge up their birth rates.

But other countries, such as France and Sweden, have crafted thoughtful, comprehensive and consistent policy responses that have largely reversed their declining birth rates over the long run.

France was the first country to experience a declining birth rate in the 19th century. Small landowners there chose to have fewer children so as to avoid dividing their farms among too many of them, and people in the middle class wanted to encourage social mobility by investing their resources in just a few children.

As the country's population growth slowed, the French became concerned about the national security implications.

France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 transformed the country's low birth rate into a political issue, since its arch-enemy, Germany, was experiencing rapid population expansion.

The French and German populations were about equal in 1871; by 1914, the German figure was about 50 per cent larger. Yet because it espoused limited government, then-France did not take meaningful steps towards a pronatalist policy until the very eve of World War II.

In 1939, Paris passed the Code de la Famille which provided financial support to parents.

After World War II, French leaders blamed the country's defeat in 1940 on its stagnating demographic, economic and social development. If France was to regain the status to which President Charles de Gaulle and other leaders aspired, it needed a new dynamism: more social justice, a stronger economy and faster population growth.

So France tried to plan itself out of industrial underdevelopment and demographic decay and it did so through, above all, a generous programme of financial support for families with children.

Birth rates there rose to well over the replacement level.

These postwar policies were aimed at strengthening the 'traditional' family. But by the late 1960s, that model was falling out of favour. The baby boom was ending. Women were joining the workforce in increasing numbers, and French economic development required their participation. Instead of viewing women's careers as a threat to birth rates, pronatalists began to advocate reconciling work and family.

That approach had worked in Sweden, another country that suffered from extremely low birth rates in the 1930s.

When the Swedish Social Democrats came to power at the height of the Great Depression, one of their economic strategists was Mr Gunnar Myrdal, who in 1934 wrote a best-selling book with his wife, Alva, on the population crisis.

The Myrdals argued that if Sweden was to boost its low birth rate, women had to be able to raise children and have careers, a revolutionary idea at the time.

Because children were a crucial investment for society but an economic burden for individual families, the argument ran, the government needed to redistribute wealth from households with few or no children to those with many.

It had to eliminate the obstacles - such as the sheer cost of raising children - that prevented ordinary people from following their wishes to marry and procreate. Unlike conservative pronatalists, the Myrdals supported the right to contraception. It was good that families should want children, but they should have only the children they wanted.

Today, France and Sweden both devote approximately 4 per cent of their gross domestic products to supporting families.

The Swedish model provides new parents with over one year of paid leave based on their salaries, which can be divided between the father and the mother.

Most Swedes send their children to the renowned public preschool system. Women have the right to return to their jobs after maternity leave on a full-time or part-time basis.

The French system, for its part, offers mothers more financial incentives and focuses less on early child care. But France does provide an outstanding free preschool (ecole maternelle), which most children attend after age three and which is run by the Ministry of Education.

Both the French and the Swedish systems eliminate much of the financial burden on parents and, above all, the stress of struggling to balance work and family. As a result, both countries enjoy healthy birth rates: near replacement level in France and slightly below replacement level in Sweden.

Gone babies gone

UNLIKE France and Sweden, other countries trying to promote childbirth have adopted ineffective policies, have instituted no policies at all, or have succumbed to cultural impediments.

In Italy, the problem was a sluggish state that did not even try to challenge norms about childbearing. The Italian birth rate fell below the replacement level in the 1970s, but only in the 1990s did Rome recognise the extent of the problem, when the underdeveloped welfare state was already stretched to capacity. So the country essentially did nothing.

Many other factors have kept Italy from adopting effective policies. The powerful Catholic Church, which supports the traditional model of stay-at-home motherhood, looks askance at increasing social services that enable women to reconcile work and family.

Young people, who have a hard time finding jobs and rental housing, tend to live with their parents into their 30s, and so they put off starting families.

The legacy of fascist Italy's heavy-handed pronatalist policies - Benito Mussolini even instituted a tax on celibate men in 1926 - has created a taboo against state involvement in family affairs (or at least an excuse for inaction). Italy's broken bureaucracies, stalemated political system and chronic financial problems have all got in the way too.

The results are ominous. By last year, Italy's TFR had dropped to 1.42. As the demographer Massimo Livi-Bacci predicted in 2001, 'the current fertility rate implies the halving of the Italian population every 40 years. Thirty years from now, women over 80 would be more numerous than girls under puberty, and those over 70 would exceed those below 30'.

Like Italy, Japan faces a population implosion, with its TFR at 1.21. The Japanese are ageing at an alarming rate.

Demographers predict that by 2014, 25 per cent of the population will be older than 65, and by 2050, that proportion will have jumped to nearly 38 per cent. Since 2005, when the country counted 128 million inhabitants, Japan's absolute population has been declining; by 2050, it could fall to about 100 million.

And unlike in Italy, there is almost no immigration to speak of.

The Japanese government has pursued policies aimed at increasing the birth rate, but these have been too half-hearted. Employers are part of the problem, forcing women to choose between family and career. Women who have children are often unable to return to professional-level jobs, and businesses resist reducing long working hours.

Although there are many laws on the books that purport to remedy this situation - for example, the 1994 Angel Plan, the 1995 Child Care and Family Care Leave Act and the 1999 New Angel Plan - they often go unenforced. And so more women marry later (or never) and the married ones are having fewer children.

Demographics and destiny

IN ITALY and Japan, politicians evince a kind of pervasive fatalism about their population declines. Part of the reason is that these are still wealthy societies and the effects of their falling birth rates have yet to be really felt.

By its very nature, population decline is incremental, so there never really is a population crisis.

And without a crisis, politicians relegate the issue to the back burner.

Policymakers in these countries also fail to act because they hold misguided views about population. Some still fear overpopulation or argue that lower population numbers will help preserve the environment. (That they would admittedly do, but environmental degradation is a lesser threat than depopulation.)

Others insist that the government cannot and should not intervene in a domain regarded as private. Still others incorrectly assume that the problem will take care of itself; many of the countries affected by falling birth rates, such as Spain, enjoyed high birth rates until recently (in some cases, they had instituted programmes to reduce fertility) and do not recognise that their birth rates will probably not rebound from their current low levels without help.

But demographics are not self-regulating, and successful population policies require governments to make long-term investments in encouraging childbirth.

This means a great deal of financial support, even in times of austerity; when it comes to population policies, there is no such thing as short-term success. In order to bear fruit, the policies must be consistent and predictable, so they have to be based on broad national consensus.

Gender equality is also an important ingredient, as are carefully managed immigration and the acceptance of non-traditional family structures, such as unmarried cohabitation. After all, the countries most committed to the traditional family, such as Germany, Italy and Japan, have the lowest birth rates.

Countries with high birth rates, in contrast, usually also have large numbers of children born out of wedlock.

These babies are born not primarily to teenagers but largely to women in their late 20s and 30s, many of whom are in committed relationships.

Governments trying to institute pro-natalist policies will face an uphill battle. In the past, such policies were closely related to the rise of the welfare state, which came into being at a time of sustained economic growth in the developed world.

But the welfare state in the West has been embattled for a long time, threatened by neoliberal economic thinking, the rise of cheap foreign labour, growing inequality and the recent global economic crisis. Meanwhile, young people are having a harder time finding steady, well-paying jobs. They are likely to postpone beginning families, or never have any children.

Public policy can narrow the gap between the number of children women say they want and the number they actually have. But the right kind of programmes, such as those in France and Sweden, are expensive, and they may clash with vested interests and anger supporters of the traditional family - which is why many developed societies have done nothing or have employed useless half-measures.

Countries that fail to take low birth rates seriously do so at their own peril.

Time matters. If they wait too long and get caught in the low fertility trap, they could find themselves in an uncharted era of depopulation that will be eerily different from anything before.

And escaping that scenario will be difficult, if not impossible.

The writer is professor of grand strategy at the United States' National Defence University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

This article first appeared in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Monday, 7 May 2012

One Year On... Two views

[One year on... an assessment.]

GE 2011: One year later
Yahoo News,
7 May 2012

By P N Balji

The quick backstory of what Singaporeans have seen since the results of the 7 May 2011 general elections shows a People's Action Party government correcting policy mistakes that got voters so worked up that they brought the ruling party's share of vote to a historic low of  60.1 per cent and threw out two ministers and a senior minister of state from a group representation constituency (GRC).

Some unpopular ministers left the Cabinet, and hot-button issues like transport, immigration and housing are now being tackled with some urgency and eagerness.The phrase  "inclusive growth" keeps cropping up in politicians' speeches and interviews.

The S'pore takeaway for Uncle Sam

May 5, 2012

By Matt Miller

IF YOU'VE spent much time enduring the hassles, filth and indignities of Los Angeles International Airport, Dulles International Airport in Washington and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Singapore's Changi Airport is a revelation. As former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew decreed, you get from the gate to a taxi in 15 minutes. The men's room is sleek and immaculate, and even asks you to rate your experience (and thus the attendant) via a handy touchscreen ranking as you leave.

As close readers of this column will have noticed, I've been a gushing fan of Singapore's public policy achievements since I began looking at them a few years back. Singapore spends 4 per cent of gross domestic product on health care versus America's 17 per cent, yet it delivers equal or better health outcomes. It's at the top of global school rankings because (unlike us) it routinely recruits exemplary students into the teaching profession. Yes, I know, Singapore still denies press and assembly freedoms we take for granted, and has awful anti-gay laws on the books (which I'm told go unenforced). But a few days spent talking with officials, business people, students and government critics in the city-state that now boasts one of the world's highest per capita incomes have deepened my admiration for Singapore's accomplishments.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Staying open has served S'pore well

May 4, 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about Europe's troubled economies in his May Day Rally address on Tuesday, and stressed the need for Singapore to remain open to talent
IN EUROPE, many countries are in trouble. Why? Because welfarism has failed. The idea that the government will provide everything has not worked. Workers have too little incentive to make the effort. Their jobs are protected - which means it's very hard to discipline the workers, very hard to let the workers go when conditions change, very hard to drop the workers when they are not putting in the effort.

So the employers think: 'It's so hard to let the workers go, I'd better be very careful before I take the workers on.'

So the employers are reluctant to hire, fewer jobs are created. The population is ageing. Their pensions are paid by the state. It's a very heavy burden on the state, becoming unaffordable.

You take just one example: In Italy, the amount which the Italian government spends on pensions in one year is almost equal in percentage of gross domestic product to the amount the Singapore Government spends in the Budget every year for everything: education, health care, defence, housing, transport. Add them all up together, it's 58 per cent of GDP, same as what is spent on pensions in Italy.

You can't afford this. The countries have too much debt, investors no longer are willing to lend them their money and so they are in crisis. The stagnation is going to last, unemployment is well above 10 per cent - for young people, much worse. In Spain, 24 per cent unemployment - one-quarter of their adults are not working, and among the youth, 52 per cent are not working - more than half.

So you can imagine somebody who has no work leaving school and for 10 years, you have no work; by the time he's 30, how does he start finding a job, looking for a job, learning how to be in a job and starting his working career?

So it's a crisis. People are very upset, upset with the world, upset with the government. So many governments have fallen. All along southern Europe, they've changed governments: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece - all gone; Holland, recently, coalition collapsed; Romania - as I was writing this speech, I had to add it to the list because the government fell down. France, last weekend, first round of elections, (President) Nicolas Sarkozy is trailing. Second round, this weekend, he may lose. So the continent is in crisis.

In America, the situation is not so bad but there are many concerns over social safety nets too. Health care, which we worry about, they also worry about: It's extremely expensive, expensive to the individual who buys state insurance, expensive to the state that must stay on the federal budget for Medicaid, Medicare. Their social security system, which is pensions, is also bankrupt, but they can't reform it - politically it's impossible - so the budget is in chronic deficit and they have no money left to invest in education and infrastructure, in growth, in their people.

If you look at the emerging economies - China, India, Vietnam - they are still growing and creating jobs, but they are not without their own worries and headaches. In China, there's worry about income inequality, especially between the coastal cities, which are prosperous, and inland areas, which are not doing so well. They are worried about economic restructuring because they know they have to do better every year, but they can't keep on doing better without changing the way the economy works. They are also worried about the ageing population and the shrinking workforce, because there's not enough babies, and they worry they may grow old before they grow rich.

The moral is, every country has its own problems. Many of these problems are similar to ours. It's inevitable because of globalisation, because of technological progress affecting us all over the world.

We are not in an ideal position, certainly not perfect, but I think we should see our progress and our problems in perspective. On balance, I think we are in good shape to tackle the problems, but we must get our strategies right.

The first strategy is to keep Singapore open and embrace the world; be open in our mindset, be an outward-looking confident society, willing to change, welcoming competition, willing to consider new ideas and explore new opportunities. That's how we've become a successful and cosmopolitan city. That's how we've competed against bigger countries and held our own. That's how we can stay abreast with the changes, improve our lives and secure a bright future for our children here in Singapore.

So when it comes to trade, we're prepared to do business with anybody - Trans-Pacific Partnership with America, Australia and so on, we've joined in. FTA (free trade agreement) with the European Union, with all their problems, we still want to do business with them. Let's see how we can get a win-win relationship going. We open ourselves to the world, to business.

We also welcome talent, an attitude which has served us well. The Hong Kong TV channel TVB spoke about our policies here and admired us for it. Many people come to Singapore to live, work or play. They are impressed by Singapore, they go back home, they promote Singapore as a place with opportunities to prosper. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was here recently. He lived and worked in Singapore in the mid-1990s for Merrill Lynch. His son was born here and he remembers Singapore fondly, especially East Coast Park and the chilli crabs and pepper crabs, which he still goes back for every time he's here. Now he's PM of New Zealand, pursuing more cooperation with Singapore, which will benefit us, in food imports and for the education opportunities in New Zealand.

An open attitude served us well, and we need not just small numbers of top talent, but a wide range of foreign professionals and skilled workers. This remains a hot issue for Singaporeans because they worry about overcrowding, competition for themselves and their children, about different social norms, language and so on.

I posted an article on my Facebook page about Germany facing this problem of foreign talent. They don't have enough workers, their economy is prospering, they need engineers, they need IT people, they are importing some from southern Europe, where there are no jobs.

In the long term, this is going to be a great help to Germany to strengthen their industries and build them up as an economic power. But it's going to weaken the countries who lose these talent. And the Spanish are worried that one day they will end up doing nothing except tourism and agriculture. But the Germans also face problems because the foreigners come in with their different language and culture, and they can't fit in with the Germans.

The Germans say 'Herr' to one another, Mr so-and-so, very formal in their engagements. The southern Europeans are very informal in their engagements. So there's that clash.

I posted this to trigger some thought among Singaporeans that, hey, we're not alone in our problems. It attracted hundreds of comments, many heartfelt and thoughtful ones from readers. People are clearly seized with the issue, trying to see how we are different from Germany, what problems we're facing in Singapore.

So it's an issue, but it's a strategic issue for Singapore which is important for us to get right.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Killing with Kindness

[Drafted April 20, 2011]

Sometime in Oct 2006, a man gave his last few dollars to his children and told them to buy themselves some lunch.

Then he walked to the Chinese Garden MRT station, waited for the train, and threw himself on the tracks as the train was pulling in.

He died.

The media reported the story and they went for the human interest story.

They reported his hard luck story - unemployed. Unemployable. Children with barely enough to eat. Utilities in arrears. Wife trying to make ends meet.

The public were moved by his plight, and the media built upon the human interest story, and the donations to the family poured in. It was estimated that the family received about half a million dollars in donations.

Two weeks later, another man in practically the same situation killed himself in the same manner at Clementi MRT station.

This time, the media learnt its lesson and did not play up the hard luck story. The family of this second suicide did not received much donations from the public. If any.

The public too, may have also learnt its lesson.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Events show power of individuals to make history

Mar 25, 2012

STOCKHOLM (AP) - In France a motorcycle gunman throws a presidential campaign into turmoil. In Afghanistan, one United States (US) soldier's slaughter of civilians shifts the narrative of the Afghan war more than any policy conceived by the Obama administration.

The past month exposes the limits of leaders who try to shape the world - and how unexpected actions by individuals can influence the course of history.

'The drama of a singular event can supersede years of policymaking,' says Mr Philip Seib, director of the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy.

And in the information age, there is more space for individuals who are not in positions of power to make a footprint in history, by design or by accident. Consider how the Arab awakening started: a Tunisian fruit seller's self-immolation following a public humiliation by police triggered protests that spread across the Arab World, fueled in part by social media.

And how many people knew of African warlord Joseph Kony before an online video about him went viral this month? Or Pastor Terry Jones of a tiny church in Florida, who stole the global spotlight in 2010 by threatening to burn Muslim holy books?

'If you talk about burning a Quran, and you have access to the Internet, all of a sudden you can inflate your importance in a way that would have been much harder in the age of broadcast and print media,' says Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, a former head of the National Intelligence Council.

The biggest of all such wildcard events, however, happened long before Facebook or YouTube.

Mr Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Serb nationalist, was a nobody until June 28, 1914, when he shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, triggering the clash of alliances that became World War I.

Historians still argue over whether history would have been different had the archduke's car turned a different corner. Some say there's a tendency to exaggerate the importance of individuals. Who lit the match, the argument goes, may be less important than who placed the firewood.

The underlying pressures that can foment major changes in society are typically building up long before an unpredictable event provides the trigger, says Professor Michael Oppenheimer of New York University's Center for Global Affairs.

'It's a surprise because people haven't really been paying attention. Then suddenly a spark sets off these forces that have been gathering below the surface of reality, and there's a sea change,' he says.

Sometimes that sea change is catastrophic, like in World War I, and other times it spins the world in a more positive direction.

Ms Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama, and set in motion a chain of events that ended racial segregation in the American South.

Individuals who stood up to oppression have a special place in history: The unknown Chinese man who stood before a tank at Tiananmen Square in 1989 or Nobel Peace Prize winners like Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar or Lech Walesa in Cold War-era Poland.

Mr Geir Lundestad, a Norwegian historian and the non-voting secretary of the peace prize committee, says that when individuals tap into 'deeper forces' in society they can have major impact on the world. Major changes are almost always driven by local events, he says, and people tend to 'overestimate' the ability of policymakers - especially in Washington - to chart the world's direction.

'There is an assumption, particularly in America but also other countries, that because the US is clearly the most powerful country in the world it can in a major way influence developments everywhere,' Mr Lundestad says.

No doubt, political leaders of major countries still play a huge role in world affairs; wars were started in Afghanistan and Iraq because of policy decisions in Washington, reacting to the terror attacks of 9/11. But the 19th century 'Great Man' theory, stipulating that history is written by kings and generals, no longer holds true in today's inter-connected world.

Since 9/11, the relationship between the West and the Muslim world has been fraught by wild cards that forced policymakers on both sides to react to random acts by individuals.

Before Muslim holy books were burned in a trash pit at a US base in Afghanistan this year, and before Pastor Jones threatened to light his own Quran bonfire, there was Europe's cartoon crisis.

Twelve Danish newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad went largely unnoticed for nearly half a year. Then in early 2006, after the drawings filtered to Muslim countries, Danish and other Western embassies and consulates were torched and scores of people were killed in riots from Libya to Indonesia.

Denmark - the country that gave the world fairy tales about mermaids and ugly ducklings - was thrust into the cross-hairs of Al-Qaeda. It took months of diplomacy to soothe the crisis, but Denmark's relations with the Muslim world have not fully recovered.

This month, Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales allegedly slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in a night-time shooting rampage outside Kandahar.

Military officials say he crept from his base to two villages, shooting his victims and setting some of them on fire. The killings sparked outrage in Afghanistan, and could ultimately do more to hasten the return of other US troops than any negotiation.

In France, the fallout of the attacks on French soldiers and a Jewish school by a suspected Islamist extremist is still unclear. But they have given an unexpected bounce to tough-talking President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been trailing badly in polls and widely expected to be heading into defeat.

A Norwegian's rampage last July, massacring 77 people - mostly teenagers - in the name of an anti-Muslim revolution, underscored that the threat of solo raids by individuals can come from any direction.

Many say Norway's response to that event deserves recognition.

Instead of a knee-jerk response - tightening laws or clamping down on civil liberties - Norwegian policymakers decided that the best way to defy individuals bent on changing society by deadly force is to change as little as possible.

Says Mr Lundestad of the peace prize panel: 'I do think there's something the world can learn.'


Friday, 23 March 2012

Staying at the top in a global economy

Mar 23, 2012
Singapore recently emerged as Asia's most competitive city and the third-most competitive worldwide in a ranking of 120 cities. But for how long more can the city-state sustain its standing, even as it unfurls policies for its people that blunt its competitive edge, and with other young cities in the developing world snapping at its heels?
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior Correspondent & Phua Mei Pin, Senior Correspondent

THERE are two views on where Singapore is headed in global city rankings.

The first is that it is likely to slip, in the face of super-charged competition from emerging Asian cities.

The second is that it has a good chance to stay among the front runners, along with established players like New York and London.

One thing Singapore has going for it is that it never stands still, so observes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a visit here this week.

'Every time I visit it, it has new land, new buildings and new industries,' he says. Mr Bloomberg and his city officials are the winners of this year's Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize.

The prize was announced just a week after the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released its ranking of 120 global cities, in which the Big Apple also emerged tops.

Singapore was not far behind, emerging third overall, just a spot behind London. Its final score was a mere 1.4 points behind New York's.

But going forward, two big questions hang over Singapore's prospects.

The first is whether its economic growth can keep pace with that of developing cities that are galloping along with growth rates in the double digits.

The second is whether it can improve its scores for the less tangible aspects of city living, which include cultural character and entrepreneurial verve.

The answers to those questions could influence the extent to which Singapore remains attractive to capital, business, talent and visitors - the prize catches that all cities worldwide are wooing.

The odds against Singapore

MR MANOJ Vohra, the EIU's director for Asia-Pacific, says Singapore's ranking might well have been lower if the survey had not been based on growth rates for 2010 - the year its economy grew by an astounding 15 per cent.

'Singapore got lucky with 15 per cent growth in 2010,' Mr Vohra says. 'If not for that, it would likely have dropped a couple of notches.'

The EIU's ranking is based on a Global City Competitiveness Index it developed. The index measures cities across eight distinct categories of competitiveness: economic strength, human capital, institutional effectiveness, financial maturity, global appeal, physical capital, social and cultural character, and environment and natural hazards.

The EIU, the business analysis offshoot of The Economist news magazine, gave the most weight to a city's gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

It accounts for 45 per cent of the score in the economic strength category, which in turn accounts for a third of the final score.

Mr Vohra believes 'the odds are against Singapore in the future'. The EIU's assessment is that developed cities like Singapore will enjoy modest growth yearly at best.

That is consistent with the Singapore Government's own forecast of GDP growth of 3 per cent to 5 per cent a year over the medium term.

Mr Sudhir Vadaketh, EIU's senior editor for Asia, notes that a 'middle tier' of mid-sized cities is emerging as a key driver of global growth.

The EIU survey found that the fastest overall growth came from cities with populations of two to five million. These include Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Bandung and Surabaya in Indonesia, Pune in India, Hanoi in Vietnam, and three second-tier cities in China, namely Dalian, Hangzhou and Qingdao.

The EIU forecasts that these mid-tier cities will grow at 8.7 per cent a year overall, from 2010 to 2016. Double-digit growth rates are likely in many Chinese cities during this period.

Of course, the EIU index, though more comprehensive than most, is but one of several indices that have been drawn up to measure cities.

Singapore's own Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) has its own index, for which Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap is the lead investigator.

The CLC's Global Liveable Cities Index uses five equally weighted measures: economic vibrancy and competitiveness; domestic security and stability; good governance and effective leadership; quality of life and diversity; and environmental friendliness and sustainability.

A more important difference is in approach. Prof Tan, an economist at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, says his focus is not ranking per se but finding ways to help poorer performers improve.

As he puts it: 'Rankings are like beauty contests and I'm here to give the uglier contestants some make-up so they can improve enough to attract investors.'

Mr Khoo Teng Chye, the CLC's executive director, also stressed that while economic strength is important, what makes Singapore stand out is its 'balanced approach to development'.

'The physical environment (clean air, water, greenery) and quality of life (including quality of education, housing, transport, safety and security) play equally important roles in determining a city's competitiveness, and that has always been Singapore's comparative advantage,' Mr Khoo tells Insight via e-mail.

Beyond balanced development, Singapore has to grapple with how best to achieve balanced or inclusive growth. That is a huge challenge in a globalised world where a disproportionate share of the benefits of growth accrues to those who are skilled and rich, while wages of the low-skilled lag behind.

The stakes are far higher for a city like Singapore, which is also a country.

As Mr Vadaketh notes, many of the highest-ranking cities, including Hong Kong, London, New York and Singapore, have high levels of income inequality that could threaten social stability, and thus hurt different aspects of competitiveness.

'Singapore's situation is arguably more precarious because it is a city-state, and hence has no natural hinterland to which people can choose to move,' he says.

Singapore is now in the midst of limiting the inflow of foreign workers to its shores, a move aimed at alleviating pressures on its citizens but which could compromise its attractiveness in the eyes of some foreign investors and talent.

Dr Chua Hak Bin, director of global research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says these are trade-offs that need to be managed.

'Singapore has to balance the needs of those who can plug into a globalised world and those who can't. Those who can't, cannot go anywhere else because we have no hinterland, and yet they have to make a living,' he says.

It is Singapore's fate, as a small, resource-constrained city-state, to be always confronted with new challenges, be these economic, social or environmental, says Mr Khoo.

But he, for one, is confident that 'as long as we remain open to new ideas, to talent, to capital and continue to innovate our urban systems, we will be able to maintain our competitiveness and ranking' among cities.

Doing even better?

WITH emerging cities snapping at its heels, Singapore cannot afford to stand still.

In the EIU survey, Singapore did extremely well in six of the eight categories of competitiveness.

The six were economic strength, institutional effectiveness, financial maturity, global appeal, physical capital, and environment and natural hazards.

The two categories it fared least well in were human capital and social and cultural character.

In the human capital category, Singapore excelled when it came to the quality of its education and health-care systems, but fell flat on population growth and fostering an entrepreneurial and risk-taking mindset.

Overall, Singapore ranked No. 36 for human capital, behind even Chile's capital, Santiago.

The rub is, Singapore has been working on improving itself in these areas for years, with no solution in sight.

One worrying possibility is that Singapore has picked the low-hanging fruit in its push to be a leading global city.

If it wants to move further up the rankings, it needs to find new ways to tackle problems that it has so far found intractable.

With Singapore's total fertility rate now among the lowest in the world, the Government has population as a top item on its agenda this year.

The challenge is both to find ways to encourage its citizens to have more children, and to spur acceptance of significant inflows of new arrivals to top up the local population.

These are issues that the Government plans to deal with in its White Paper on a sustainable population strategy, which is likely to be debated in Parliament and could form the basis for legislation.

As for entrepreneurial verve, it is not yet part of the Singapore DNA but hopefully can be cultivated over time.

Professor Gerhard Schmitt is the director of the research laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability.

He is a professor at ETH, a Swiss science and technology university with an outstanding research record.

When it launched a technopark 10 years ago to encourage risk-taking, its students were risk-averse and would launch only two to four spin-off businesses a year, Prof Schmitt recalls.

Now, they launch two to four such spin-offs a month.

'Singapore is wonderfully wired as well as wireless so it's in a good position to make such an impact,' he says.

The category that Singapore fared least well in was social and cultural character, in which it ranked 42nd.

The category encompasses a wide range of indicators, from freedom of expression, human rights and ethnic diversity to quality of restaurants and the presence of international book fairs. But the category counts for just 5 per cent of the final competitiveness score for cities, since the EIU itself acknowledges that these factors probably matter less to investors than business opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, Singapore's weak link is freedom of expression and human rights. Any improvement on this score is likely to be gradual as it concerns social and political norms which evolve over time.

Still, Mr Vadaketh points out that 'there are ancillary benefits to the economy of having more freedom of expression'.

'It could foster more entrepreneurship and a risk-taking mindset,' he says.

Looking ahead

SINGAPORE'S ambition is not just to remain a leading global city but to position itself as a thought leader in the field.

That is why it set up the Centre for Liveable Cities and launched the biennial World Cities Summit. The latter is a platform for debate and exchange of solutions on the challenges cities face.

Observing that today, many cities are grappling with a resource crunch that Singapore has had to tackle from Day 1 of its existence, Mr Khoo, the CLC chief, says: 'Singapore has developed a high-density and high-liveability model that is resource-efficient and supports sustained economic growth.'

Mayors of many cities are keen to learn from its experience, he adds.

Perhaps this push to be a hub for the best ideas and best practices in city leadership and management will be a factor in helping Singapore stay at the top of its game.

As for Mayor Bloomberg who led New York City to the No. 1 spot this year, he too gives his vote of confidence to Singapore.

'It's always had a desire to win, to change with the times, to be open,' he says.

As for competition from established players and emerging rivals, that is par for the course.

'Singapore will have to fight every single day with them and that's good,' says Mr Bloomberg.

'Competition is Singapore's ray of hope, which keeps it going.'

New York wins LKYWorld City Prize

Mar 22, 2012

In 10 years, officials lifted city from post-9/11 gloom and gave it new life
By Robin Chan

IN 10 YEARS, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his team of city officials raised New York City from post-9/11 gloom to new life as a vibrant global city.

Their efforts have won them this year's Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, awarded by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Centre for Liveable Cities.

In a lecture to mark the occasion, Mr Bloomberg recalled that on the day after the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001, the conventional wisdom was that no one would want to live in New York City, most businesses would want to move people out and that the city's economic future was not bright at all.

'In fact, the exact reverse has happened,' he told an audience of government and industry leaders yesterday at the Raffles Hotel.

'In the last 10 years, we have redone all the infrastructure downtown... We used this opportunity to dig up every street downtown... when companies did move, to convert the old office buildings into apartments.

'So today, downtown, double the number of people live in lower Manhattan than they did before 9/11. Today, you see baby carriages on the streets, at night and on weekends.'

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize honours outstanding contributions to the creation of vibrant, liveable and sustainable urban communities. This is the second time it has been given out. In 2010, the prize went to the Spanish city of Bilbao.

This year, the New York team beat competition from 62 other cities after two rounds of reviews by 12 high-profile panel members. They included Temasek Holdings chairman S. Dhanabalan and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dean Kishore Mahbubani.

The citation for Mr Bloomberg and New York City's Departments of Transportation, City Planning and Parks and Recreation, noted the remarkable transformation they led over 10 years.

Their achievements include the planting of more than half a million trees, the creation of 450km of bicycle lanes, the building of 283ha of parks and open spaces and a 35 per cent reduction in the crime rate.

Professor Mahbubani described New York, a city of 8.4 million people, as an 'inspiring story of rejuvenation' that came about through 'bold vision, strong leadership, sheer determination and excellent partnership between government and citizens'.

In his lecture, Mr Bloomberg highlighted three projects that showed how he and his team injected fresh zest into the city by reclaiming derelict infrastructure for new uses.

They redesigned roadways to reclaim space for pedestrians and cyclists. They built the Brooklyn Bridge Park at the site of six abandoned piers along the East River. They redeveloped the West Chelsea High Line - an abandoned, elevated railway line slated for demolition - into an aerial park that has attracted US$2 billion (S$2.5 billion) of private investment into the city's former meat packing district.

In the process, they experimented with ideas, including one that Mr Bloomberg himself initially found 'crazy'. That idea came from the city's commissioner for transportation Janette Sadik-Khan. She wanted to close 10 blocks of Broadway, the major roadway through Times Square, to cars. The idea worked and has helped Times Square emerge as one of the world's top 10 retail locations.

Mr Bloomberg has also drafted a blueprint to take the city up to 2030, well beyond his own mayorship. It addresses challenges such as accommodating another one million residents and preparing for climate change.

In accepting the prize, Mr Bloomberg, 70, said Singapore and New York are alike in many ways.

'Both are crossroads of commerce and homes to many cultures. Both are energetic, restless and forward-looking, constantly in motion, and constantly rebuilding themselves,' he said.

He also praised the man for whom the prize is named.

'There are people in the world that you're going to look back and say they were those transformative people that really changed not just their country, but changed society, and Lee Kuan Yew is one of those,' he said.

Mr Bloomberg said he had dinner with Mr Lee three or four months ago in the home of former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

The billionaire businessman, who was first elected mayor in 2001, said he would not try for a fourth term.

'I'll never have another job in government that will... be anywhere near as exciting as the one I have,' he said, but added that '12 years is enough in government'.

Before being mayor, he worked in Salomon Brothers and then founded Bloomberg LP, now a global media company.

'I've looked forward to going in to work every single day, in every job I've ever had. I'll find something else to do,' he added.

Air pockets ahead for Changi

Mar 22, 2012
Airport's future rests on how well regulator and operator fly together

By Karamjit Kaur

CHANGI'S quest to stay at the top of the world airports league is about to hit some air pockets. And just as a smooth touchdown depends on a match of skill and chemistry between the pilot and the control tower, the key to Changi's continued success will be how well Singapore's aviation regulator and the airport operator fly together.

The challenge for Changi is how to keep up with the rise in passenger numbers and expectations.

Earlier this month, the Transport Ministry set up an 11-member working group helmed by Minister of State Josephine Teo to assess Changi's infrastructure and other requirements in the coming decades. Recommendations will be made within a year.

Plans have meanwhile been unveiled to close down the Budget Terminal in September to make way for a newer, bigger facility slated for opening by 2017.

Until then, life is going to get busier at Terminal 2, which will absorb the budget traveller traffic. The terminal which handled 13 million passengers last year will see the traffic swell overnight to about 18 million.

Still, that is not as bad as it might seem. T2 can take up to 23 million passengers a year. In 2007 - the year before T3 opened - it handled 21.5 million passengers.

What this episode does highlight, though, are concerns about Changi's long-term capacity - the focus of the Transport Ministry's working group.

The Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation (Capa), an industry think-tank, said recently that if Changi continues to grow its traffic by 8 per cent a year - the average since 2004 - the airport will hit full capacity by the time the new terminal opens.

Singapore needs not one but two new terminals by the end of this decade, Capa said, and a third runway as well, to cope with increasing flights.

The team planning Changi's future has a tough job, for two reasons.

One is the sheer logistics. The next phase of Changi's expansion will go beyond the current airport boundary. There is no space for another terminal on existing airport land.

The next big terminal is likely to be erected next to Runway 3, more familiar as the venue for the biennial Singapore Airshow.

If cleared for take-off, the project will be massive and costly. Not only is there a main road - Changi Coast Road - separating the area from existing airport land, Runway 3 is not connected to the other two runways.

Planners will have to find a way to move aircraft, travellers, bags and cargo between the two locations. This is a formidable, but essentially a design, challenge. Options include flyovers as well as underground links.

The second issue, which might call for even more heavy lifting by the Transport Ministry's panel, is how to reconcile the divergence in the interests of the two stakeholders - the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG).

In 2009 when CAAS was split into two arms - one to regulate the industry and the other to run the airport - the rationale was to ensure Singapore remained a premier aviation hub.

As a corporate entity, the airport would be more independent and able to react nimbly to increasing competition, the Government said then.

But it would not be focused solely on the bottom line and the assurance to travellers was that the change would not affect the level of service they had come to associate with Changi.

Three years later, aviation insiders say the regulator and the operator do not always see eye to eye.

The ends remain the same - more airlines and flights, and happy travellers - but the means sometimes differ. And this is especially so when it comes to capacity issues.

For more than three decades, Changi's mantra - now that of the CAAS - has been to build ahead of capacity.

When T3 opened in 2008, some travellers described it as a 'ghost town' because it was so empty. Airport retailers were not happy either. Four years later, the terminal is utilising just 57 per cent of its annual passenger handling ability.

Overall, Changi's total traffic takes up 64 per cent of available capacity now.

Travellers don't like crowded terminals. They want room to move around and enough chairs to sit on while waiting for flights.

But even as it is important to please the customer, airport operators are also mindful of the need to ensure the efficient use of assets and resources so they can run viable - and more importantly, profitable - operations.

The question for Changi Airport Group then, is whether it is cost-effective to operate the airport at such low capacity levels, as is the present case, or whether it should pack more people into the terminals.

Other major airport hubs in Hong Kong, South Korea and London reportedly run at more than 80 per cent of total capacity, and are profitable.

The same goes for runways.

Even as calls are being made for Changi to operate a third runway - in line with the 'build ahead of capacity' mentality - an observer with CAG's hat on would point out that while Changi Airport handled 302,000 take-offs and landings last year, Heathrow, which also has two runways, did 476,197.

So instead of rushing to invest in a third runway, perhaps the focus could be on improving efficiency with the current two.

At the end of the day, even if there are some flight delays and terminals become more crowded, would it really hurt Changi's image that much?

The team planning Changi's future will have to tackle the differences between CAAS and CAG when deciding when to build the new terminal and who will pay for it and the related infrastructure works. All these issues will have to be considered carefully, with one eye on the need to ensure the airport's continued success and the other on Changi Airport Group's business interests.

Where the line is drawn will determine the Changi Airport that will greet travellers 10 to 15 years from now.