Monday, February 23, 2009

Reason 0034 : Expensive Nursing Homes

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan had suggested that elderly Singaporeans might want to consider staying at nursing homes across the Causeway in Johor, Malaysia where it is much cheaper.

It cannot be denied what he had said makes sense in light of the fact that healthcare in Singapore is expensive and costs are likely to increase in the future and also that healthcare is cheaper in our neighbouring countries.

However, if you look at the issue in another way, it is heartbreaking to see that the people who have toiled and shed blood, tears, and sweat to build Singapore, from a swampy jungle to a bustling city today, have difficulty getting elderly healthcare in their very own country in their golden years.

It simply boggles the mind to think that we are able to set aside huge amounts of money for events such as the Youth Olympics, Integrated Resort, and the F1 Race and also come up with the manpower and expertise to conceptualise, plan, and execute these projects but yet we have difficulty finding a solution that allows our elderly to be cared for here?

Mr Khaw said that the suggestion was aimed at middle-income families who need to pay for the care themselves and that for most Singaporeans, visiting a relative in a Johor Baru nursing home would not pose significant difficulties. It gives them choice, he said.

However, what kind of a choice is this when for instance the middle-income class, who are already sandwiched between providing for their children and elderly parents, cannot afford nursing homes in Singapore but yet require the services of one?

They do not have much of a choice here as it has effectively already been made for them. It is either one spouse quits his/her job to take care of the parents (not likely due to high household expenses), or do without the services of a nursing home (not likely as they need to work and the elderly need care). Hence, the only solution here are cheaper nursing homes.

This said, given a choice, who wants to travel to Johor every weekend to the nursing home? You have to brave the long drive as well as the long traffic jams at the Causeway, both to and from Johor, week after week.

Have we really exhausted all the possible avenues of caring for our elderly in Singapore? I do not think so. With our strong Singapore work ethic, resourcefulness, and reserves, there is nothing we cannot do if we put our mind to it.

Reason 0033 : Service Charge in F&B Outlets

Many people find the service standards of staff in the food and beverage industry in Singapore lacking. Various reasons have been thrown up to explain why this is so including long working hours, no ownership or pride in their jobs, lack of training etc.

However, I think the issue that has the biggest impact on this is the fact that the staff do not get any tips. Many restaurants in Singapore charge a 10% service fee but more often than not, this amount is pocketed by the restaurant as extra income and the staff do not get a single cent of this money. In addition, many restaurants have a policy of a 'common tips pool', where all tips earned by all staff are to be shared equally among everybody. Hence, the laziest worker who skives off work all the time will receive the same amount in tips as the worker who provides tip-top service.

Think about it, these workers are paid just SGD 5 to SGD 7/hr to serve sullen-faced, rude, and demanding Singaporeans. With this source of potential extra income absent, which worker will have the motivation to go the extra mile for customers?

Reason 0032 : Singaporean Drivers Do Not Give Way

To all foreigners who are new to Singapore and are starting to drive here: "DO NOT SIGNAL WHEN CHANGING LANES!" Why, you might ask? The reason is because when you signal, Singapore drivers take it as a sign for them to speed up so as to prevent you from cutting into their lane.

I admit, I exaggerated the above a little as not every driver is like that. However, the truth is not far from what I had described. Any psychologist or student in psychology with extra time on their hands should do a dissertation of thesis on what goes through the minds of these drivers. This should prove to be a fascinating study in psychosis.

What is wrong with these people? Are they so small and repressed at work or home that they have to indulge in anti-social acts like this to win? To prove themselves superior to others? To vindicate themselves?

Reason 0031 : Singaporean Drivers Do Not Appreciate You Giving Way on the Roads

I have given up on giving way to others on the roads. Five or ten years ago, when you gave way to another motorist even though you had the right of way, more often than not, you would be given a thank you wave from the other motorist.

Today, do not even think about getting such a thank you. You would be lucky if the other motorist gave you a look before moving on. They seem to be totally obtuse to the fact that someone is showing them an act of courtesy and they take it as a God-given that they should have the right of way.

Some people choose not to let ourselves get affected and continue with their acts of kindness. That is admirable but then again, why should we waste our time and energy on acts of kindness for cows who do not know any better?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Reason 0030 : Unethical Real Estate Agents (ERA Realty Network)

A real estate agent from ERA Realty Network, Jeremy Ang, helped sell his clients' flat in Riverside Piazza (above) to his boss' wife.

The boss of the agent, ERA Senior agent Mike Parikh, had got his wife Madam Sadiq to buy a flat sold by his subordinate and Madam Sadiq had re-sold it almost immediately for $945,000, making a hefty profit of $257,000 in the process.

The two ERA agents were slammed by High Court Judge Choo Han Teck for their unethical behaviour in the transaction of a two-bedroom downtown flat. He found that the conduct of agent Jeremy Ang and his boss, Mr Mike Parikh, senior group division director at ERA, amounted to breach of duty and fraud.

Justice Choo rejected the testimony of ERA's top brass - president Jack Chua and senior vice-president Marcus Chu - that the two men had done nothing wrong. The judge said it was clear why they thought so - Mr Chu admitted in court that he and others in the company, as well as agents in other companies, had done the same thing.

Justice Choo also rejected arguments by ERA that it was not liable for the actions of its agents, who are 'independent contractors'. The option form had ERA's logo printed on it; the commission agreement was between Madam Wong and ERA; and the newspaper advertisements sought to persuade the public that they would have the backing of the company and its network by engaging an ERA agent. It was also ERA - not Mr Ang - which took the couple to the Small Claims Tribunal when they refused to pay the commission on the sale.

However, less than 24 hours after the court's ruling against it, ERA swung full force into damage control mode.

ERA will now require all agents to sign an undertaking at the start of each sale transaction, assuring customers that all possible conflicts of interest will be 'properly disclosed to the best of the agent's knowledge', ERA said in a press release on Saturday.

ERA will also put implement an 'extended' code of ethics for agents and customers, ERA president Jack Chua said. This will be finalised within the next three months. The other measures will come into effect immediately, he added. ERA held a special meeting yesterday morning to brief all its agents on the new procedures.

What is most disturbing about this incident is that ERA's top brass - president Jack Chua and senior vice-president Marcus Chu - felt that nothing wrong has been done and also that Mr Chu admitted that he and others in ERA, as well as agents in other companies, had done the same thing.

The fact that many agents are doing it does not make this despicable act any less wrong. This is a clear case of fraud with premediated intention to deceive and the responsible parties should be jailed if possible.

What is even more telling that right after president Jack Chua said no wrong doing has occurred, ERA had implemented stricter ethics guidelines for all of its agents. This, coupled with Mr Chu's admission that he too had flipped properties in this way, serves to cement the impression much better than any court ruling could, how lacking ERA agents are in ethics.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reason 0029 : Rich Taxi Drivers

Rich taxi drivers? In Singapore? Yes, I think some taxi drivers in Singapore are really rich. How else can you explain the fact that many of them can afford to pick and choose their customers?

Think about it, how many times have you stood waiting beside the road for a taxi, and then watched in rage and frustration as unhired, empty cabs whizzed by? How about trying to get a cab between 11pm and 12am, just before the midnight surcharge kicks in?

If empty taxis ignoring passengers happened at only a particular time, such as meal times, or in the late afternoons or evenings, it would still have been understandable as the taxi drivers may be going for their meals or to for shift changes. However, this phenomenon can be seen everyday and at all times of the day.

It is no secret that rather than pick up a regular fare on the street, these taxi drivers prefer to cruise around and get a telephone booking or hopefully, pick up a passenger from the central business district to earn a extra few dollars.

Some might say these drivers are trying to maximise their earnings or that since they are self-employed, they are free to do as they wish. I agree, but I also say these taxi drivers must not forget they are providing an essential mode of public transport and as such, they are not the same as other self-employed people and cannot do as they please.

The bottomline is, these taxi drivers are not hungry enough. They are the people who whine the loudest when taxi rentals or when diesel prices increase and they always exclaim how difficult it is to make a living as a taxi driver. At the same time, they can afford to ignore a ready customer who is beckoning to them in search of more profitable ones who may or may not appear. Compare them to taxi drivers in Hong Kong or Bangkok where passengers have no problem getting a taxi at any time, even late at night, with no additional surcharges to boot.

These taxi drivers should really 'wake up their idea'.

Reason 0028 : Complicated Taxi Surcharges

I think the Singapore taxi system is one of a kind in the world and I do not mean that in a good way. Where else can you find a taxi system with so many different surcharges? What's more, these surcharges kick in depending on the time of day, location you boarded the taxi, road usage pricing etc. These charges are so many and complicated that you would need to complete a course in mind mapping and a Phd in mathematics before you could remember and decipher them.

Despite repeated calls from numerous members of the public to do away with these surcharges and introduce a higher meter based fee, the taxi companies have kept quiet on this issue. They are aware that this is a major problem and yet they are not doing anything about it.

In my opinion, any private investor with money to spare should start a new taxi company, strip the present taxi system down to its basics, and give commuters what they deserve; a simple, fuss free taxi system. Commuters should also show their support by choosing the new company's taxis over the rest.

This will give the other taxi companies a good wake up call and a good kick up their asses at the same time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reason 0027 : Stupid Singaporeans are Murdering Trees, Shortening Lives

Murdering trees, shortening lives? Yes, you read that correctly. There are some stupid people in our midst who are murdering trees and shortening the lives of the people around them by writing brainless, useless letters to the Forum pages in national newspapers and getting them published.

Think about it, the typical size of these articles is about 10 cm x 5 cm. Once selected for publication, this article will appear in every copy of the hundreds of thousands newspapers being printed everyday. This translates to a fantastic waste of paper and ink and not only that, there are millions of people who would have spent precious time reading this rubbish when they could have put that time to better use.

Some examples of these articles include:

'Stall owners are taking the opportunity to increase prices (of bak kwa) to match demand'
Almost all businesses owners operate businesses to make profit. If I see an opportunity to raise prices without hurting demand for my products, of course I will do it. For people who do not approve of this practice, just stop patronising the stall.

On creating jobs for senior citizens : 'Perhaps the government can build factories, as it did in the 1970s, to create simple jobs for the uneducated and those in their 60s and 70s.'
There are already many factories in Singapore. Furthermore, from a business point of view, it is more efficient to leave simple jobs to machines or to employ cheap foreign workers who are younger and faster.

A Singaporean coming back from abroad was 'greeted by grim-faced immigration officers on my arrival at Changi Airport.'
Big deal! So what if they smiled or not? Their job is to clear travellers as soon as possible and furthermore, I do not think they are paid well enough to do their job and to smile at the same time. Also, you would be grim faced too if you tried to be nice and your efforts were not reciprocated by grim faced Singaporeans.

Lastly, to Ms Lam Siew Woon, if SingTel says that your iPhone was damaged due to contact with water contact while another shop says otherwise, the correct thing to do is to go back and check with SingTel directly and not write to the papers to complain.

I wish to repeat again, writing to the papers about such frivolous issues cause destruction of trees and wastage of valuable time. It also shows our society's lack of maturity as a whole.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reason 0026 : Insensitive Civil Servants

Mr Tan Yong Soon, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, wrote an article detailing his extravagant family holiday to France which included lessons at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, in the Straits Times' Life! section on 06 Jan 2009. This article was roundly criticised by the minister in charge of the civil service, Mr Teo Chee Hean, as being 'ill-judged' and showing a 'lack of sensitivity'.

Speaking about the issue in Parliament, Mr Teo said that what Mr Tan does on his vacation is 'his private decision' but he was ‘disappointed with what he (Mr Tan) wrote in The Straits Times,’ said Mr Teo of Mr Tan in Parliament on Monday. ‘The article showed a lack of sensitivity and was ill-judged.’ Mr Teo also said that writing about such an ostentatious show of spending in these tough times in the national newspaper ‘was unnecessarily provocative and unimaginably insensitive’ and that the article 'struck a discordant note during the current difficult economic circumstances when it is especially important to show solidarity and empathy for Singaporeans who are facing uncertainties and hardship'.
According to the article, lessons for the entire 3 weeks cost S$15,500 per head and in total, S$46,500 for Mr Tan, his wife and son, not including air tickets and living expenses in France. In addition, Mr Tan had taken 5 weeks work leave for the trip.
The high salaries of Singapore’s top civil servants and ministers has always been a sore point for many ordinary Singaporeans and especially in these tough times, it is especially hard to swallow the fact that Mr Tan had spent the equivalent of 2 years wages for the average white-collar Singaporean on his hobby as well as sight-seeing within a few weeks.

True, the money is his and he is free to spend it in whatever way he wishes but to publish such a story of extravagance in a time when people are worrying about rising prices, losing their jobs, and are told by the Gahmen to tighten their belts and brace themselves for retrenchments (even those under 30 years of age) smacks of downright insensitiveness.

In addition, I think there is something seriously wrong when you are a top civil servant and are able to go away for 5 weeks or more without being missed. Assuming you are a business owner, your employees will not begrudge you if you choose to go on leave for months at a time and leave all company affairs to them, as they understand that you are ultimately the owner and boss of the company.

However, civil servants are generally viewed as being custodians of the nation and are paid using taxpayer money, so for a civil servant to be able to go on leave for 5 weeks or longer, whether he is backed by a strong team or not, suggests that this person is perhaps not needed and is dispensable since his team and subordinates can handle all the work and thus, the money paid to him can be put to better use.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reason 0025 : Ignorant Singaporeans

Nury Vittachi wrote the article "Rejecting Rejection" in this morning's edition of 'Today' newspaper. In the article, she mentioned that the mother of one of her readers, had advised the reader to read 'The Secret' for help and inspiration when the reader sent out 20 job application letters and all were unsuccessful.

A quote from the book read :" I would visualise a parking space exactly where I wanted it, and 95% of the time it would be there for me and I would just pull straight in."

In answer to this, Nury wrote :"this is one of the most eye-opening books I've ever read. When you put it down, you cannot help but think, Gosh, there is truly no limit to the awful rubbish people will buy."

I have not read the book but if the basic principle of this book is based on what is written above, I fully agree with what Nury has written.

My first thought when I read this article was that obviously, the author Rhonda Byrne had never tried finding a parking lot in Suntec City, Marine Square, or Tampines Mall during a weekend.

Further to that, seeing the number of weeks this book had remained on the Straits Times Bestselling Books list, it appears that Singaporeans had swallowed this load of crap hook, line, and sinker. Rhonda Byrne must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Why are Singaporeans so easily take in? Are they lacking in street-smarts, they do not read enough to be discerning enough, or is it they are just so stupid that they will fall for anything that is written by an ang moh and comes packaged prettily in glossy covers and crisp clean paper?