Friday, November 20, 2015

First note to myself from contesting GE2015

1. The Workers' Party may say that they walk their own path, but the majority of the voting population look at the Opposition as one big bloc.

2. True! Pitches of some affected the entire bloc.

3. The PAP created a perception of being invigorated, while the Opposition came across as tired.

4. The opposition did not do themselves any favours.

5. The Opposition did not properly articulate why it was still relevant.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My Promise to the Voters of Hong Kah North SMC

Dear Voters of Hong Kah North

In my walkabouts in your constituency, you had raised some questions with my team and me. I address a couple of more important ones here.

Why were you not here earlier?
I have worked with the less-privileged in the community for a fairly long time. The homeless families I work with come from all constituencies. When I blog about various issues, it concerns a good number of Singaporeans from various constituencies. For example, you were just as affected by the recent massive MRT breakdown as someone living in Aljunied. So, when I was making myself counted on such issues, I was doing so also on your behalf.

I have a family and held a full-time job. As the main breadwinner, my priority like most of you, is my family and my job. As such, time, resources and money for my activism for the society and speaking up on the various issues are very limited. Whatever activism I did, whatever issues I speak up on are done on a voluntary basis. I do not earn almost a million dollars a year, like the Senior Minister of State does for serving you.

Although I have lived a good part of my adult life here, and so am very familiar with the western parts of our country (the first flat that I bought after marriage was in Bukit Gombak), I have since come to realise that there are some problems that are unique to Hong Kah North smc.

I apologies to you, voters of Hong Kah North, for not walking about in your constituency earlier.

Regardless of if I am elected or not, I promise to work in your constituency and get to know you better. My commitment to you will only be limited by the time and resources I have at my disposal.

You are not Chinese, how will you understand me?
I am a 4th Generation Singaporean and have friends of all races in Singapore. I speak English, Tamil, pasar Malay and a smattering of Mandarin and Hokkien. Residents were pleasantly surprised when I go for home visits and introduce myself in Mandarin, "Wan shang hou. Wo men shi cong xinjiapo renming tang. wo the ming la wei..."

I may not be able to hold a full conversation in Chinese, but I can make out what you are saying and understand you. More importantly, I have capable and dedicated workers in my team who can hold proper dialogues in Chinese and Malay. I promise that I will cross the language barrier to understand and serve you to the best of my abilities.

I hope you will accept me, a 4th generation Singaporean, as one of your own. 

Some concerns that you had raised with me in my walkabouts were:

The bus-stop for Westwood Secondary School is located a good distance away from the school and students from this school have to walk along the road to reach their school. That area is also surrounded by an industrial estate. Considering the heavy vehicles that ply the road and the safety of the students, can the bus-stop be moved nearer to the school?

(Several spoke to us on the issue of transport. One related how she finished work at 6pm, but reached home only past 11pm during the massive MRT breakdown in July.)
There are limited buses in Hong Kah North smc - both in the Bukit Batok area and Jurong West part. A new peak-period bus (no. 651) recently started serving the residents in the Jurong West area, but this is insufficient. The transport plan for this area seem to be one of feeder-bus services to connect to the nearby MRT stations. With the frequent delays and breakdowns of the trains, you would like more buses in your area to serve you.

A good number of you spoke to us about the escalating cost of living, about how a plate of chap chye png is at least $4/plate now. One family shared that they were not better off despite Dr Amy Khor spending $160 million for your constituency in the past 5-years.

A number of you had expressed that when you needed to see your MP on pressing urgent matters, she is not available because she rotates her MPS between the 2 areas in your constituency.

Some of you were concerned that your HDB flats were older, as they were built in the 1980s; if you will be able to sell your flats to monetise it (for retirement or emergencies) in a few years time.

Some residents in Blks. 301, 302, 303, 304...Bukit Batok area are concerned about the rats problem which is still persistent in that area. "Even my dog is afraid of them. They are as big as my dog", exclaimed one resident.

Some residents expressed how the town council is relatively slow in responding to some of their queries and concerns. "Is it because we are in Choa Chu Kang town council? So they give first preference to Choa Chu Kang residents?" asked one Hong Kah North resident.

A number of you we had spoken to expressed concerns of job security. One resident is his late 40s expressed how he found another job soon after losing his previous one, but that he had to take a 30% pay cut. "Can you imagine our quality of life now?" he asked.

Another, a taxi-driver was concerned that now anyone with a private car can compete with taxi drivers who have to be Singaporeans and have to have a vocational license. "Why must we pay hundred over dollars for taxi rentl?" he asked.

One couple whose only son is in Sec 2 in the Normal stream was concerned about the opportunities for her son in the future. "He is already branded as normal. Means not good enough," she sighed.

Some residents are older - in their 50s and 60s - and live separate from their children. They are working now but have concerns about not being able to work and not having enough money as they grow much older.

It is also important for me to share about my strengths to the voters of Hong Kah North smc.

1. I am a good campaigner. For example, in the 2009/2010 period I campaigned with some others from the disabled community for concessions for them on public transports. The Transport Minister then said that he will be very slow in recommending such a concession to the transport operators. I did not give up, but lobbied hard for a favourable outcome. Today there are concessions for persons with disability on public transports. I was nominated for the Singapore Advocacy Award by this group, in recognition of my work in the campaign.

2. I am a hardworker. The residents of Hong Kah North would have seen how hardworking my team and I have been in your constituency in the past months.

3. Having worked in the social welfare sector I can relate to and empathise with ordinary people. 

4. By working in senior management positions in Non-Government Organisations I have acquired the skills of Fundraising.

5. I am efficient and cost-effective. If you notice the collateral that I have put in the hands of Hong Kah Noth smc voters so far, you would have noticed that it is printed without colour in normal grade paper. I believe that substance is more important than sleekness. That the message is more important than how it is packaged.

I have read Dr Khor's manifesto and I appreciate and welcome the various upgrading projects in Hong Kah North.  A good number of flats in Hong Kah North smc are more than 30 years old and could use the upgrading.

Dr Khor can bring this upgrading to you as a grassroots Advisor even if she is not elected by you. There is precedence for this. In 2012, Hougang smc got various upgrading and the Grassroots Advisor of that area, not the elected MP, unveiled the projects and was in-charge of it.

By electing me, you will have me working diligently for you to keep the promises I made to you; while Dr Khor will have the Government's resources and funds to serve you as the Grassroots Advisor. Both of us will compete to earn your favour and votes in the next General Election. This can only be good for for you, the voters of Hong Kah North smc.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Khaw should know better than to hold political activity in a VWO

According to news reports, the People’s Action Party (PAP) said that it went ahead with the introduction at the Home because the Party had chosen the venue previously for its ‘Kopi Talk’ with the residents there. SWAMI Home is a Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO).

I have several years of senior management working experience in VWOs, and so I know that most VWOs’ Constitutions specify that such organisations shall not indulge in any political activity or allow its funds and/or premises to be used for political purposes.

Is this clause also specified in SWAMI Home’s Constitution? If so, did SWAMI Home contravene its own Constitution by allowing its premises to be used for political purposes?

The introduction of PAP candidates who will contest in Sembawang GRC in the next General Election is clearly a political activity.

When the Grassroots Organisations organise such ‘Kopi Talks’ in VWOs, it is usually to better explain Government initiatives like the Pioneer Generation Package to the clients of the VWO. Such events are sometimes graced by Members of Parliament (MP) from the PAP acting in their capacities as Grassroots Advisers.

Such meetings by Grassroots Advisers with VWO clients are supposed to be apolitical, to interact with and better explain certain Government policies.

What was the purpose of the ‘Kopi Talk’? If the purpose of the Talk had changed from its original intention, did the Grassroots Adviser explain that the nature of the ‘Kopi Talk’ will now be political to the management of SWAMI Home?

Grassroots Advisers should not conflate this apolitical role with the role expected of them as members of the PAP.

Of all persons, Mr Khaw – being the Chairman of PAP – should know why it is important to keep both roles separate. SWAMI Home is registered as a society under the Registry of Societies (ROS). ROS too should explain if the Society had contravened its Constitution and, if it had, what actions ROS will take against it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

PAP will form the next Government, Vote Opposition without fear

There is an article on TOC titled 'PAP in panic mode, loss of power inevitable'. The title is only half correct.

Yes, it is true that PAP is in panic mode. If it is not, why should it convene the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee just two months after Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away?

Surely it shows that they want to ride on the depth of emotion shown by Singaporeans following the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. But it also shows that they are afraid that the longer they delay, the more fiascoes there are going to be, and that the sentiment of the voters are going to be turned against them because of these.

Some say that GE 2011 was a watershed election. But what were the major fiascoes before that GE? Well, I can remember Mat Selamat's escape from detention, the escalating property prices, influx of foreigners... These were the issues.

The mess of the last election looks trivial when you compare it with what has happened since then:

There was the SMRT drivers protest, there was the Little India riot, there was the AIM saga, there was the 6.9 million population paper, there were 2 major MRT breakdowns in 2011 and 1 really, really big one this month...

These makes me shudder! Why are we having a snap election? What about the future is the PAP so afraid of? What's going to be the magnitude of such failures?

That said, I do not think that the PAP will lose power in this election. A more realistic expectation is for the opposition to win just 15 seats in the next election.

So, the PAP is not going to lose power any time soon. Although I will be happy to be proven wrong, I predict that they will return to form the next Government.

Why is it important to know that? So that you can cast your vote for the opposition without fearing if there will be a change of Government.

In fact, with the massive outpouring of grief after Mr Lee's death, and the euphoria over the Jubilee Year celebrations, there are chances that some people who voted for the opposition in the last election may vote for the PAP this time round.

But is it to our advantage for the PAP to have a larger percentage of votes than what they had in the last GE? Perhaps not!

Even if there may not be a reversal of some of the more populist policies they had implemented as a result of how we voted in the last election, they may increase the pace of foreigners who come here to live and work; and without exploring other options to pay for social spending, they may just increase the GST to 10%.

There is one way you can prevent this from happening. Vote for the opposition!

Vote for them without fear because there's not going to be a change of Government any time soon. And also because voting for the opposition will mean that you will keep the Government on its toes to serve you diligently for the next 5 years.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Natural aristocracy and the detriment of our society

See entire cartoon here:

Lamenting the lack of concentration of brilliance in Singapore, PM Lee Hsien Loong in a IPS dialogue held recently said that he believed in having a certain natural aristocracy in the system (a form of elitism where people are respected because they have earned that) for without that society will lose out. (Transcript of Speech here:

His views are of course not new and he had articulated them in another Speech in the year 2007, expressing why he believed that Singapore does not have enough talent for two A-Teams (link:

I am not sure if this view is healthy for Singapore. Why I say that? Let me quote a few persons and articles before I make my point.

An academic speaking at a forum focused on Singapore's middle-class in November last year said, "when we think about the middle class, we think of security, comfort and social mobility. But all these are sort of in decline".

2 years ago, a secondary school's Vice-Principal had this to say:
"How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it)." (
An Economist article discussing America's New Aristocracy has this to say about the culture of tolerance for dynasties in the USA:
"today’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains."
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam replying to a question if 'Lee Kuan Yew's family will always be in-charge' while acknowledging that it would be the most unusual if it were so and that most Singaporeans would not expect it, also said:
"I mean to be frank, if you look at parliamentarians below the age of 30 in India, every single one of them is a member of a political dynasty. Every single one of them. So, we believe in meritocracy, it’s hard work, sometimes it’s imperfect. There’s always advantage in family connections and wealth but we got to keep working against that.” (
Every parent would want to ensure that his or her child has a good shot at life, a better one than he or she has had. And in trying to ensure that they have the best of opportunities in life, they will not hesitate to use their wealth and connections to give them a leg-up in education and career.

In the case of natural aristocrats, it is in their interest to ensure that the talent pool remains small so that their own children will have the best opportunity in taking a bite of the cherry.

In that sense the view that Singapore needs natural aristocrats and that our country does not have enough talent for 2 or more A-Teams is unhealthy because it is circular reasoning.

It is extremely hard to work against wealth and connections. Even if we keep working against it, after the passage of a generation or two, natural aristocracy may become the basis for a prescriptive one - much to the detriment of our society, where ordinary citizens may have to scrape and bow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Letter of condolence to PM Lee Hsien Loong

I sent the following message of condolence to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong:

Mr Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister of Singapore

Dear Mr Prime Minister

I write to express my heartfelt condolences to you and your family on the passing of your father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

I come from a disadvantaged family where I had to leave school at 16 after completing my O Levels, not because I did not qualify to pursue education further, but because I wanted to support my mother, who as a single-parent was holding down 3 jobs just so that she could send her children to school and put food on the table for us. My mother had always expressed the deepest respect for the late Mr Lee and credits him for putting in place a good system which rewarded those that worked hard. 

I am a product of his vision of a people who are self-reliant and had also half-jokingly remarked to some of my friends that I was a 'son of Lee Kuan Yew', because regardless of whoever was the actual Prime Minister (no offence intended), psychologically I saw only Mr Lee Kuan Yew to be the man in-charge of the country. My worldviews and opinions were shaped by the policies of his Government. I believe many people of my generation will feel the same way about Mr Lee.

With the passing away of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a part of us is also gone. My family and I grieve deeply with you at the passing of this giant. But he will live on in our memories!

Yours sincerely

Ravi Philemon

Sunday, August 17, 2014

ஈழம் முதல் காசா வரை (From Eelam to Gaza)

I wrote and recited the poem 'ஈழம் முதல் காசா வரை' at the 'Speak Love Not Hurt, Speak Words Not Heard' event which was a poetry reading, music performance and candlelight vigil held in solidarity with Gaza.

ஈழம் முதல் காசா வரை
போரை அறிந்திடாத எங்கள் நாட்டில்
போரை அறிந்திடாத எங்கள் நாட்டில்
சுடுவதெல்லாம் வெறும் சப்பாத்தி பூரிதான் எங்கள் வீட்டில்.
மாரடித்து அழும் ஓசை கேட்குமோ இடுகாட்டில்?
ஓர் இனம் மாரடித்து அழும் ஓசை கேட்குமோ இடுகாட்டில்?
எனக்கும் கூட கேட்கவில்லை channel 4வின் கொலை நிலம்
அறை செவிட்டில்.

விளையாட்டுத் திடலில் பிள்ளைகள் இல்லை
மருத்துவமனையில் மருந்துகள் இல்லை
வானொலியில் இன்னிசைப் பாடல்களில்லை
எல்லா மகிழ்ச்சியும் எங்கே போனது

விடுவிப்பென் என்று சொன்னவர்களும் குற்றமற்றவர்கலில்லை
அமைதி தேவை என்று சொன்னவர்களும் அரசு படையினரில்லை
மனித உரிமை என்று கூவினவரும் கைகோடுக்கவில்லை
ஆள் ஆளாய் துவண்டு விழுந்தனர்

கண்டும் காணவில்லை
அழிந்தனர்  ஈழத்தமிழர்கள்
கண்டும் காணவில்லை
அழிந்தனர்  ஈழத்தமிழர்கள்
இது இனப்படுகொலை part 2 சந்தேகமில்லை
காசா பாலஸ்தினர்கள்.
நீ Like செய்தால் மட்டும் போதுமா

Translation in English:

From Eelam to Gaza
In a country where we have not known war
All we fry are chappatis and puris in our houses.
Can we hear the beating of the chests and crying in the graveyard?
Can we hear a People crying, beating their chests in the graveyard?
I too didn't hear till I watched the Sri Lanka's Killing Fields in Channel 4.
A smack on my head.
There are no children on the playground
only dead bodies.
There are no medicine in the hospital
only mortar shells.
There is no music in the radio
only emergency siren.
Where has all the happiness gone overnight?
Those who said they will free are not free of guilt
just opportunists.
Those who said that peace is necessary are not Government forces
just oppressors.
Those who cried human rights did not give a hand
One by one they fell on the spot.
We saw and yet didn't see.
Died Tamilians in Eelam.
Have no doubts, this is genocide Part 2 -
People: Gaza Palestinians.
Would you just 'Like' this on a website?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Free my CPF

The CPF Minimum Sum (MS) will be raised to $155,000 from July this year. The CPF Board's intention for the MS is to provide members with a monthly income of about $1000 (for those who have the entire MS in their retirement account) for 20 years from the drawdown age.

But there has been a lot of well-documented unhappiness about this MS scheme. For example, in December last year MP Lily Neo posted on her Facebook about how one of her resident was unhappy because Dr Neo "could not get CPF to allow him to withdraw his savings". During the "Free My Internet" protest at Speakers' Corner last year, I also observed a number of older men protesting with placards which read, "Free my CPF".

Prior to the introduction of this MS scheme in the year 1987, CPF members could withdraw all their savings in their ordinary account upon reaching the age of 55. The MS was $30,000 in that year. In the year 2000 the MS had risen to $65,000, or by 116 percent in 13 year. And Moneysmart pointed out in their article about how MS was further increased by 138 percent in the next 14 years, and is now at $155,000.

I am all for doing away with the MS scheme and allowing CPF members to withdraw the entire amount in their CPF ordinary account when the time comes, for the following reasons:

  1. The money in a member's CPF account is hard-earned by the member alone. Upon reaching the withdrawal age, the Member can buy an annuity with it, or invest it in whatever way he or she wants and the Government should have no business dictating how the member should spend it. 
  2. As Moneysmart pointed out in their article, wages in Singapore are unlikely to keep up with the annual CPF MS increase. 
  3. Not a lot members have MS in their CPF upon reaching the age of 55. If you only receive $200 or $300 monthly from the MS scheme because you don't have enough MS, how will that support the member in having a basic standard of living in their retirement? 
  4. Mr Lee Yock Suan, then-Minister for Labour, in introducing the MS scheme in 1987 said that the MS scheme is only a form of encouragement, and that it is the duty of children to look after their parents in their old age - which means that according to the PAP Government, with or without the MS scheme older people will be fine. 
  5. If the Government wants older Singaporeans to live with dignity in their retirement, it should help them better plan for retirement. For example, legislation could require CPF members to buy insurance for retirement, which will guarantee him/her an income of at least $1000 upon retirement. Where the CPF member does not have enough in contribution to CPF to purchase such an insurance because his/her income is low, the Government can think of a top-up mechanism where the difference in paying for the premiums is shared by the Government and the employer of the CPF member.
picture credit: Dr Lily Neo's Facebook

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dialogue between organisers and protesters of Philippine Independence Day celebration best way forward

Last week, I felt concerned enough about Philippine Independence Day celebration saga that I wrote to the Philippine Embassy saying that I am sorry for the harassment the organisers have gotten, but that I also believe that there is some level of miscommunication and cross-talk between the organisers of the event and those that protest (at least some).

I assured the Philippine embassy in Singapore that the protesters do not mean ill-will to the people of Philippines and that they appreciated the contributions of the Filipinos to our country. I expressed that the protesters' frustrations were more about the immigration and manpower policies in place.

In the email I said that I knew of some of these protesters and asked the Philippine embassy if I could facilitate a dialogue between these protesters, and the organisers of the celebration. I believe such a dialogue would be a win-win for both the organisers of the event as well as the protesters, as the organisers would be seen as engaging the protesters in a rational manner, and for the protesters to clear any misunderstandings and bring their concerns across.

I reiterated that it is very important that the people of our countries remain good friends, and for that I believe there has to be better communication. I expressed that I believe that this proposed dialogue could be one means to that.

The Consul from the Cultural Section of the Embassy of the Philippines replied to my email thanking me for my interest to be a bridge between the protesters and the Committee. They said that they will refer my offer to the Committee with a recommendation that they contact me directly.

Even if I don't end up facilitating this dialogue, I hope such a meeting will take place so that both parties can better understand each side’s position better and to explore how to accommodate each other.