I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should the new finance minister of Malaysia reveal the extent of insolvency of 1MDB?
Here are the responses:
71% - He should be transparent about it 21% - The foreign investors already know about their problem. They will not be worried about the revelations. 8% - He should not reveal too much at this stage as it would frighten off the foreign investors.
I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - What will happen to Hyflux?
Here are the responses:
48% - It reflects another failure for Singapore. 28% - It will be bought over by new investors, to the detriment of the existing shareholders and bond holders. 16% - It will be able to survive the existing crisis and the share price will recover. 8% - It will disappear from the corporate scene in Singapore
Q - Kin Lian, I like to hear your suggestions about improving the birth rate in Singapore. The birth rate has been dropping over the past decades. We now have one of the lowest birth rate in the world.
TKL - Yes. This has been a troubling issue for the government and for the future of Singapore.
Q - Why is our birth rate so low?
TKL - the key factors are the high cost of living and the uncertainty of jobs. Many people find it difficult to get married and to start a family. They are not sure that they can afford to raise a child. In fact, they are not sure that they can afford to get married.
Q - But the government has been giving incentives to parents through the various baby packages over the years. Why are these packages not working? I understand that they are quite generous.
TKL - I think the packages are too complicated. Many people don’t know what they can get from the packages, or maybe they know and find that the packages are not attractive enough.
Q - What would you do?
TKL - I would make it simple for the parents. If I were in charge as the government, I would give each mother a monthly allowance of $500 for each child up to the maximum of 3 children, until the child reaches age of 16.
Q - Would this be attractive enough? I know of many working women who will find it not attractive to give up a career for this allowance.
TKL - I agree. I am targeting a different group of mothers - those who have not started work.
In the past, many women do not work. They accepted that their role is to look after the home and raised children. This was the traditional family.
Q - But women want to work now. They like to have career like men. They would not be content with being a homemaker.
TKL - I agree with your observation. Maybe half or two thirds of the women would opt for a career. But some girls might opt to be a homemaker and raise a family, provided that the financial position allows them to do so. If they can get a monthly allowance of $500 for each child, up to a maximum of 3 children, it may attract girls who prefer the traditional role.
Furthermore, this may attract young mothers to get married and start their family early. Women are more productive in their twenties. They can produce babies more easily compared to those in their thirties or forties.
Q - I think that this is a good idea. But will it be too costly?
TKL - I have done the calculation. If we produce 40,000 babies in a year, the cost in the first year will be $240 million. But this will be cumulative, as another 40,000 babies will be born each year. At the end of 16 years, the cost will be $3.8 billion. It will then remain in a steady stage.
Q - Yes. $3.8 billion is a lot of money. But we must offset it with the cost of the baby packages and other money that are being spend on the existing schemes that do not seem to work.
TKL - I agree. I make a guess that after offsetting the cost of the current incentives, the additional cost in 16 years time will be $2 billion a year. But this would be an acceptable sum, considering the future of our country.
Q - Is there a concern that the low income people will be the ones that will benefit from this scheme, and the higher income may not be interested?
TKL - This may be the outcome, but we should welcome it. If we can help the lower income families to get a steady source of income, they can look after their children better and raise them to be more productive citizens. It will be a good way to reduce the inequality in the country.
Q - Should this allowance be given for working mothers as well?
TKL - Yes. We should not try to save money by writing complicated rules. Every citizen mother should be given this allowance. Maybe, the father might want to stay at home to be the home maker.
Q - What should the women do when they children have to to school. Will they be able to get a job in the working world?
TKL - Yes. they will be many jobs available for women with experience in household chores and raising children. They can work in child care centers, in eating outlets and even in senior care facilities.
Some may choose to run an ecommerce business or do home based work. There are many opportunities available for people who want to work from home. They have the choice of woringin during their free hours. There are many flexible jobs that pay well.
They can also continue their education by attending part time course or online courses. The opportunities are plentiful.
Q - Do other countries have a similar scheme?
TKL - Many countries provide family allowance to help the mother to raise their children. Some may be more generous than others. We have a special problem in Singapore. With the lowest birth rate in the world, we need to address our challenges head on.
Q - Some people said that this problem is due to the urban lifestyle. Many cities have low birth rates as well. However, they have a rural population with a higher birth rate to balance out the cities.
TKL - That is right. Singapore does not have a rural population, so we face the challenge of the low birth rate in cities. But the underlying problem is the cost of living and the uncertainty of jobs. If we can address the cost of living by giving an allowance to the mother to raise the children, it might be a great help.
Q - What about other issues such as child care facilities, preschool facilities, and others?
TKL - We have to provide them. But if the mothers have an adequate allowance, they will be able to afford these additional cost better. As the mothers are likely to stay at home, the demand for child care facilities may be lower.
TKL - Let me make a summary of the key aspects of my proposal
a. Provide a monthly allowance of $500 for each child (up to a maximum of 3 children) to the mother, until the child reaches age 16.
b. This will attract some women to opt to be home makers, instead of pursuing a diploma or degree.
c. They will get experience in looking after children and house work; later, they can work in the care or food sectors.
I suggest that employee contribution to CPF should be optional. Currently, the employees are forced to contribute 20% of salary to the CPF.
They can use the saving to buy a new HDB flat or a resale flat with more than 60 years of lease. This can be too expensive for them.
If they are given the option to opt out of contributing to CPF, they can use the money to buy a resale flat of shorter lease, or to rent a flat.
I also suggest that the government should make more HDB flats available for rental. These flats can be partly subsidized, similar to the grant given to first time buyers of new flats. Maybe, the subsidy should be 20%.
If young people are allowed to rent partly subsided flats, they may be able to get married earlier and have children.
The minister for education Ong Ye Kung said that society can afford to loose up more with regard to the education system.
I have heard this comment for the past two decades. When Lee HL became prime minister, he said that we should "study less, learn more".
Slogans are good. But do they achieve the results?
We must understand the root cause of the problem - why are students studying so hard? Why are parents spending hundreds of dollars each month, which they can hardly afford to, to provide private tuition for their children?
The answer is - the competition in the school, to get to the top schools and win the scholarship that will ensure a bright future for the children.
If we want to remove the stress, we have to remove this unhealthy competition. Let the children enjoy education and their childhood.
How? Remove the competition for top grades. Remove the competition to win the scholarships.
The aim of the education system should be to educate the young in how to cope with life, how to learn, how to deal with other people. Of course, we still want them to be literate and numerate.
The examination should be just pass or fail. We can set the examination so that with a fair amount of effort and without private tuition, 90% will pass. Forget about award scholarships to the top students.
Let us identify our future leaders in the workplace and not in school.
I can explain the difference between these three figures. The percentage for Canada and America is based the population now, where the proportion of the very old is small. I will refer to this as the snapshot.
The figure for Singapore is calculated by looking at the current population and projecting them over the future years until all of them have passed away. I refer to this figure as the projected figure.
This method will show a higher percentage for the projected figure compared to the snapshot that is used in Canada and USA.
I have assumed that the definition of disability is the same. In Singapore, the definition is inability to perform at least three activities of daily living.
I suggest that long term care, which is covered under CareShield Life could be integrated into MediSheild Life, so that we only deal with one scheme, rather than two separate schemes.
The argument in favor of a separate scheme to cover long term care is that the cost is highest at an advanced age, and there is a need for pre-funding of the cost.
The same argument could be made for the hospital and outpatient care that is covered under Medishield. If you look at the premium rate for Medishield, it does increase sharply at the advanced age.
It should be possible to provide the benefit for long term care under Medishield Life. There is no need for a separate scheme.
There is already an element of pre-funding under Medishield Life. The premium paid at the younger ages are set to be higher than the actual cost. This would leave a surplus to reduce the premium rate at the older ages.
This mechanism could be used to cover the long term care as well.
There is already pre-funding under Eldershield. The value of the pre-funding scheme can be refunded into the policyholder's Medisave account.
Mr. Tan Why is there a low payout in claims compared to premiums received under Eldershield? The health minister said that a total of $2.6 billion was collected in premium and the claim paid out was $100 million since 2002.
Reply Under Eldershield, the premium is paid up to age 65 and cover is provided for the whole of life. Most of the claims are likely to occur after age 80. So, we should not compare the premium vs claim on a year to year basis. This is the same as whole life policy - the premiums are paid now, but the death occurs at a future date. If you compare the premium and claim under a whole life policy, you will also see a low payout rate each year, because most of the premium are for payment in the future. Although the claims will be paid in the future, it is quite likely that the premium paid for Eldershield is much higher than the expected future claim. The actuary who calculated the premium probably assumed claim rate that are quite conservative, and the actual claim are lower than assumed.
Under the current system, key appointments in the civil service are made on the recommendation of the prime minister and approved by the elected president acting on the advice of the presidential council.
Malaysia has decided that the key appointments be vetted by Parliament.
I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Who should decide on key appointments into the civil service?
Here are the responses:
77% - An independent commission. 11% - The elected president and the council of advisers 11% - Parliament 2% - The prime minister and his cabinet.
I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - How should the government award large contracts?
Here are the responses:
33% - Prepare a budget for the project based on expert advice and comparables. 29% - Award to pre-qualified contractors with a good track record 25% - Rely on open tender 13% - Pay more to get better quality and reliability
I asked this question in The Wisdom of the Crowd - Did the meeting between PM Lee and Dr. Mahathir on 19 May went well?
Here are the responses.
60% - It was a short meeting which did not produce much result. 24% - Dr. Mahathir did not show much respect for PM Lee 15% - It should set the direction for better relations between the two governments.
84% of the respondents are disappointed with the outcome; 15% are positive.
I am now in favor of cancelling the High Speed Rail (HSR) project.
It is a bad project.
It involves spending a of money to build the infrastructure within Singapore to link to Jurong East. There will also be a lot of disruption during the construction work. We are also allowing travellers to pass through a long stretch of Singapore before they reach the checkpoint.
The alternative is a better approach. We focus on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) linking Singapore to Johor Bahru. There is a common checkpoint clearance at both ends. Travellers need to clear through only one checkpoint.
After reaching the JB end, it is a short walk to the KTM station at Johor Bahru. The current train service is rather slow, but Malaysia can upgrade it to travel at a much higher speed. We can leave it to Malaysia to work on their end.
If the train speed can be increased from the current speed 60 kph to 100 kph, it will take only 3.5 hours to reach Kuala Lumpur. This is acceptable. It is about the same time to travel by air (including the security checks prior to boarding).
If Malaysia decide to implement a High Speed Rail at a future date, it will be their decision. Singaporeans can also join the train at Johor Bahru. They can travel by MRT to connect to the RTS and then move to the KTM station.
It is just as convenient as taking the HSR from Jurong East.
I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - How can the government help SME?
Here are the responses:
34% - Award more business to SMEs 25% - Reduce the burden of complying with government regulations. 23% - Help them to get financing at low cost 19% - Give subsidy to help them to cope with rental and wage cost.
I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - How can Singapore rebuild relations with the new government in Malaysia?
Here are the responses:
40% - Delay the High Speed Rail due to their financing problem. 38% - Speed up clearance at the checkpoint 13% - Reduce charges for Malaysian vehicles entering Singapore 9% - Build the crooked bridge between Singapore and Johor.
I wish to suggest an alternative to the High Speed Rail (HSR)
The HSR has two advantages:
a) Faster travelling time - i.e. 90 minutes between the two cities.
b) Joint checkpoint clearance.
An alternative is for Malaysia to upgrade the track for the existing rail to increase the speed. It can reduce the travel time by half - from 6 to 3 hours. That would be acceptable.
We can also introduce checkpoint clearance in Johor Bahru. A MRT line can go straight to this checkpoint without clearing Singapore checkpoint. The JB checkpoint will connect to both Singapore and Malaysia authorities.
The joint clearance at the new JB checkpoint can serve the train passengers as well as the other visitors to Malaysia. It will reduce the hassle of passing through two checkpoints.
This arrangement will avoid having the HSR coming all the way to Jurong East. We do not need to spend too much money on infrastructure and to ensure security within Singapore.
I hope that both governments have the vision to implement this new approach.
I suggest, as a gesture of goodwill to the new government in Malaysia, that Singapore agree to delay the implementation date of the HSR by up to 10 years. This will allow the Malaysia government to avoid a heavy expenditure at the current time, when their financial position is weak.
Are the PAP leaders really interested to listen to the people?
They like to hold a "conversation" with invited people conversing with a minister, and more probably a potential prime minister. How many people can this minister handle at a time? 30? 50? 100? How many people can speak at a time?
Who are the invited people? Are they willing to be frank and speak what they truly feel? Will they exercise self censorship in the glare of the limelight?
Can the minister truly listen? Does the minister know what is listening?
Are the ministers aware that we are in the era of the internet and social media? This era presents a more productive way to have a conversation. How can it be done?
The government can appoint a small staff to look for views expressed through the internet. There are many views expressed by thinking people who have some useful points to make. Some of them expressed the views using their own names, others do it anonymously.
The staff can contact these people through the social media and ask them to contact the staff at their email or telephone numbers.
Most of the contributor are likely to respond, as they wanted their views to be heard in the first place. During the ensuing conversation, the staff can write a fuller description of the issue. They can present the issue to the relevant minister.
It will be better if these issues can be posted in the internet, so that the public can read about them.
Using this approach, it is possible to cast the net to many thousand times of the people that participate in an invited conversation. it could reach out to 1 million people or more.
It may be possible to have 100 of these issues posted every day.
The relevant ministers can read these issues and give a telephone call to some contributors and an acknowledgementto the others. Each minister needs only to converse with a small handful each day.
After the conversation, the minister could give a reply in the same platform. This reply should reflect the minister's understanding of the issue. This is what "listening" is about. The minister does not need to "explain" the current policy or to make any decision to change the policy. He or she only needs to promise to "think about it".
If the minister truly understands the concern, and truly seeks a solution, a few of these concerns will be translated into real change in policy. This would make the next "Singapore Conversation" a success.