Tag Archive | "ho kwon ping"

Singapore’s domestic economy is unsustainable, has low efficiency

Singapore’s domestic economy is unsustainable, has low efficiency

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Ho Kwon Ping, SMU’s board of trustees’ chairman, says liberal import of unskilled workers led to low wages and productivity.

The domestic economy cannot be sustained with cheap labour as more and more of them are needed just to keep pace with growth. Infrastructure such as our transport system simply cannot cope.

Singapore has a peculiar problem: We have a two-tiered economy that is not sustainable.

There is the high-productivity and skills-competitive economy, which includes manufacturing and financial services.

And then there is the low-efficiency, unsustainable domestic economy, which is defined as all the businesses catering to customers in Singapore. These include small and medium-sized enterprises dealing in retail, hospitality, construction and cleaning industries, and so on and so forth.

This sector’s low wages and low productivity is due to the liberal import of unskilled workers.

As a result, this relentless increase of such workers to satisfy the growing domestic economy has already outstripped the ability of transport and housing infrastructures to keep pace.

Ho Kwon Ping.

Look at what is happening to our public transport system now. Rough ride, you know.

Moreover, it is this low-efficiency domestic sector that requires restructuring the most: Wage increase coupled with rapid productivity will be game changers.

And this is where Professor Lim Chong Yah’s much talked about “Shock Therapy” can be applied, provided specific sectors are first identified.

Industry-specific measures and a high level of coordination are necessary for therapeutic effects to kick in, and wage increase must go hand-in-hand with rapid productivity without delays.

It shouldn’t become a chicken-and-egg issue to see whether productivity or increased wages come first to drive the other. They should work in tandem.

It is also disingenuous of Prof Lim’s critics to use scare tactics such as “scaring investors away” and “drastic economic decline” to reject his “Shock Therapy” proposals.

Critics of the plan should run their economic models and make their findings available.

The merits of the proposals can then be debated with coherent arguments that are grounded in data and reason.

This is a 60-second reduction of the original article published in The Straits Times on April 25, 2012.

Politics compromises dignity of presidency, allows furthering of political agenda

Politics compromises dignity of presidency, allows furthering of political agenda

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The solution is to let electoral college throw up eligible presidential hopefuls, says Janadas Devan and Ho Kwon Ping. This commentary is a 60-second reduction of the original published in The Straits Times on Sept. 3.

Janadas Devan (left) and Ho Kwon Ping (right).

If the desired end is an apolitical presidency, then the means employed in choosing the president must also be apolitical too.

However, this year’s presidential elections was a divisive and highly politicised affair. It was also confused and unfortunate.

Why was it confused? Because the victor is accepted by the majority of Singaporeans as qualified to hold office, but he does not have a clear mandate.

And there was the suggestion that he would not have won if Tan Jee Say or Tan Kin Lian had not contested. Then Tan Cheng Bock would have been the winner.

Moreover, at least a quarter of voters saw this presidential elections as a rehash of the general election. They voted for Tan Jee Say who felt that the president need not be “restricted” by the constitution, and should act as a “check and balance” on the government and parliament.

Plus, a sizeable number voted out of frustration with the first-past-the-post system, and they saw this presidential election as a correction of an anomaly in the general election where the opposition won 40 percent of votes but only received 7 percent of parliamentary seats.

This presidential election is also unfortunate as it ended up diminishing Tan Cheng Bock and Tony Tan. The victory of one Dr Tan has been diminished by the tiniest of margin, while the near-victory of the other Dr Tan has been overshadowed by his failure to achieve his long-held dream.

It is also unfortunate that the only winner is Tan Jee Say. Jee Say recognised that the apolitical office for president can be politicised and an opportunity to extend the campaign he launched during the general election in May.

He has now made himself into a household name, more well-known than Low Thia Khiang, who is considered the de facto leader of the opposition. This presidential election has produced one winner in the form of Tan Jee Say, who now has the wherewithal to form his own political party if he so wishes and to further his political ambition in the next general election.

This fact will not be lost on other politically ambitious persons among those currently eligible to run for president. In this class of individuals, Jee Say would be included.

So what can Singaporeans expect from future presidential elections?

1. The presidential election will be a prelude to the general election or else a continuation of one. And when the apolitical presidency becomes the pursuit of politics, parliament will no longer be the primary arena of political debate. The dignity of the presidency will be tarnished.

2. Few or no minority candidates will be able to win a presidential race. With the presidential election as a giant single-seat competition, and with this presidential election a single-race affair, SR Nathan might well be our last minority president.

3. No candidate with the required calibre, with a reputation for personal integrity or fiscal prudence will want to run for presidency given the intense politicking that transpired from this recent contest.

4. Few or no candidates without prior political party affiliation will want to contest for the presidency so it will be politicians for now on.

Therefore, how can the system be reformed?

– We might need to return to parliament the right to elect the president. Plenty of Commonwealth countries are doing so. Before 1993, Singapore did that too.

However, this would be problematic as the government is choosing a person whose chief role is to act as a check on it, in particular, the use of past reserves and crucial public sector appointments.

– This is our favoured approach: Establish an electoral college to nominate the presidential candidates and elect one from among them.

The college must be large to be representative. Consisting of 50 to 100 persons, it will comprise of representatives from major stakeholder groups in society: Unions, combined university student groups, civil society organisations, political parties with parliamentary seats and so on.

From among those who offer themselves for presidency, the college can nominate three or four of them. This will be the first sieve that will produce a pool of candidates.

The eligibility criteria can either be liberalised or tightened further. We are currently agnostic on this topic of eligibility criteria.

As an additional safeguard, the Supreme Court or Public Service Commission can give the final approval to ensure only persons of integrity can run for presidency.

Shortlisted candidates cannot hold rallies. They can go on walkabouts and be interviewed by the media.

Electors should monitor what is being said in the media and social media about these candidates.

The electoral college can then exercise secret voting after in-depth interviews with the candidates. Three rounds of voting might be needed to weed out the weakest candidates, till only the winner being the candidate who has more than 50 percent of votes.

We admonish, politics is vital, but it must also be productive.

The politics in this presidential election that just past was unproductive and was for politics’ sake.

The non-executive nature of the presidency meant that a lot that was promised by the candidates cannot possibly be fulfilled.

Politics should be vested in parliament. If the aim is for an apolitical and impartial president, it is not possible in politics or ethics for bad means to produce good ends.

Ho Kwon Ping is the chairman of the board of trustees of Singapore Management University and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings.

Janadas Devan is associate editor of The Straits Times and director of the Institute of Policy Studies. His father, C.V. Devan Nair, was the third president of Singapore.

Keep parliamentary politics out of presidential election

Keep parliamentary politics out of presidential election

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Substitute the process of direct elections for the president with something less politically heated, says Ho Kwon Ping.

I have previously feared and forewarned that this could happen: Regardless of the constitutional definition of the president’s powers, the process of direct elections for Singapore’s president produces similar vibes as electoral politics.

It is filled with heated debates and overtly political issues that belong to parliamentary politics.

People have in fact talked about a “by-election effect” to this current presidential election.

How? If indeed the president’s role is largely custodial and ceremonial, there is no harm to using one’s vote to send a signal to the ruling party.

The presidential election will then threaten to become a referendum on the PAP’s governance, rather than a vote for the best person for the job.

Do Singaporeans want this election to make people more divided, a phenomenon that has occurred since the general election?

We need to remember that the battle for the minds of the electorate belongs to the realm of parliamentary elections.

If it spills over, it will demean Parliament’s role as the proper arena for political debate.

What is of greater importance now is the need to review the process of direct elections for the president, and to substitute it with a less politically heated but equally representative process.

We should start reviewing the alternatives, immediately after this election or else the political realm will only be more divided in the future.

Even when we need to make a rational decision during Cooling Off Day, the irony is that this term only serves to imply the cut and thrust of parliamentary elections.

This commentary is a 60-second reduction of the original article published in The Straits Times, Aug. 26.

The writer is Ho Kwon Ping, chairman of the board of trustees of Singapore Management University. He is also the executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings.