How Do I Lose Money? Let Me Count The Ways

So what’s new? Former President Nathan is in hospital in a critical condition, the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) revealed some eye-opening lapses in our statutory boards, student-organised orientation programmes at NUS are cancelled and the Rio Olympics are due to commence in a few days on 5th August 2016. However, sports fans in Singapore will not be able to witness any event “live” on television.

Joseph Schooling

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth MCCY spokesman said: “The government notes that prices for “live” sports content of major games like the Olympics have been escalating in recent years; it has reached the point where we have assessed to be neither prudent nor value-for-money to spend more and more on escalating rights fees.

“Hence, the acquisition of rights for live sports content will remain a commercial decision. Singaporeans will be able to catch highlights of Team Singapore and other international athletes in action at the Olympics through free-to-air television programming.”

It’s shamefully interesting to note that we are the only one of 17 Asian countries not to find this expenditure prudent nor being value for money. And less than 2 months ago, we were informed that parking rates at HDB car parks will also be escalating.

For public car parks outside of the restricted zone or outside designated areas close to the restricted zone, the parking charge will be raised by S$0.10 from S$0.50 to S$0.60 per half hour. For public car parks within the restricted zone or within designated areas close to the restricted zone, the parking charge will increase by S$0.20 from S$1 to S$1.20 per half hour.

Also rather interestingly, this comes after National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament that car park charges may have to be raised 1)to bring them in line with those in other cities, and 2) for Singapore to become a car-lite society. If 1) is a good reason for raising parking rates, how about raising subsidies in healthcare and education to be in line with other cities as well? As a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, the deposit insurance limit in the USA is US$250,000. In Singapore, it’s only S$50,000. That means that if your bank goes bust, our government will only pay you up to S$50,000. In the US, they get up to US$250,000. A world of difference there. Why not get in line? As for making Singapore car-lite, make public transport cheaper (in line with the probability of delays and breakdowns). Or make it more reliable. Wouldn’t that be far more effective than increasing parking rates for those who may need to deliver goods?

#mrt #breakdown

Now, let’s go back to “value for money”. The AGO’s audit of 16 ministries, 11 statutory boards and several government funds for financial year 2015/2016 revealed a bin centre for Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall cost the National Arts Council (NAC) an “exceptionally high” consultation fee of $410,000. The total construction fee of the bin centre was $470,000. MCCY Minister Grace Fu defended the NAC’s actions, insisting that it was a “complex” project requiring “significantly more design expertise”. I’ll touch on experts and expertise in a moment, but looking at the before and after pictures below, I’m really curious about where I can train to be a bin consultant. Can I use my SkillsFuture credits?

bin centre

That’s not all. AGO also found that NUS, NTU and MOE did not maintain adequate oversight over scholarship recipients who failed to serve their bonds. These are students who have studied at NUS and NTU. In essence, NUS, NTU and MOE have failed in their enforcement of the scholarship bonds.

“Without proper oversight of the monitoring and enforcement actions on fulfillment of the scholarship bonds, there was no assurance that the scholarship grants were used optimally for the intended purpose,” said AGO. “The Ministry of Education (MOE) did not do enough to ensure that foreign students who received scholarships but failed to serve their bonds were reminded of their obligations and paid up liquidated damages.”

In the financial year 2014/2015, some $40 million was disbursed to the scholarship schemes for foreign students, AGO noted. In 30 cases of foreign scholars who apparently absconded, the universities took no action for almost half or 14 cases. In other words, they gave these foreign students a free lunch, not even bothering to send letters to remind them of their obligations or impose liquidated damages in cases which warranted it.

Yao mo gao chor ah? Has anyone ever told you that you can’t even owe this government $1 and get away with it? And here we have foreigners who have virtually stolen from us and allowed to get away with it. Most of these students have already left Singapore and it’s not known if the universities or MOE would be able to contact them. One foreign scholar estimated that 50% of his fellow countrymen on scholarship did not return to serve their bonds. The amount that we have lost on these foreign scholars is believed to be about S$7.16 million. How’s that for value for money?

And meanwhile, there’s still no news of the Canadian bank robber who owes us $30,000.


Singapore’s Swiber Holdings wins $215M pipeline project contract in Qatar

The contract comes as crude oil prices are holding steady in the $50 per barrel range, after plummeting below $30 per barrel early this year. The contract comes as crude oil prices are holding steady in the $50 per barrel range, after plummeting below $30 per barrel early this year. Singapore-based oilfield services company Swiber Holdings said Friday it scored a win with its first offshore pipeline project contract in Qatar.

“Despite the ongoing oil market volatility and challenging conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry, Swiber continues to demonstrate our ability to successfully secure new projects,” Deputy CEO Darren Yeo said in a statement.

This piece of news came out just 20 days ago. My emphasis:

Deputy CEO Darren Yeo Chee Neng said: “Despite the ongoing oil market volatility and challenging conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry, Swiber continues to demonstrate our ability to successfully secure new projects”.

Little more than 2 weeks later, the company suddenly announced that it was filing for liquidation. They then changed their minds and opted for “judicial management”. A storm swept through the local market. Related stocks tumbled and DBS, to whom Swiber owes $700 million, may be hit as well.

It gets a lot more interesting when we note that Swiber was a CPF-approved investment in contrast with Specified Investments Products (SIPs) which are considered high risk. You must hold certain qualifications before you can trade SIPs. I had to take a test before I could even touch them.


But are SIPs really riskier compared to CPF-approved stocks? Why? Are they ETFs that track some highly volatile indicators? Are their CEOs more likely to tell lies and mislead the public? Well, we’ve seen that it’s all pretty subjective, isn’t it? Isn’t it about time the folks who have absolute trust in experts, the authorities and the news start doubting and stop taking the “safe” and approved path with their eyes closed? While it’s only fair to say that we are ultimately responsible for our own financial choices, a people who has been led by the nose and discouraged from raising objections for five decades can’t be expected to challenge expert opinion. When property prices were going crazy in early 2008, one of our leaders even said that he is not worried. The big crash was already looming.

And by the way, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings all maintained at least A ratings on AIG and Lehman Brothers way into September 2008. Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy just days after getting an A rating on 15th September. Some investment companies had the gall to go short on products which they recommended to clients. Yep, you’ll find the most dirty, rotten scoundrels in the finance industry. In line with the ignorant American public, eight town councils run by the ruling People’s Action Party had S$16 million invested in the various Lehman Brothers-linked products. The pain was quickly forgotten.

Next, shocking scenes from NUS freshmen orientation programmes spread virally through social media. Many who saw the images were outraged. Who could bear to see one’s own offspring being treated that way? Complaints exploded online, forcing the authorities to act in their customarily drastic fashion – complete shutdown of all events organised by students.


In a strongly-worded statement to the media yesterday, a spokesman for NUS said such activities were not condoned but were still carried out despite previous instructions on the matter.

“We are deeply disappointed that some of our students have flouted the rules and behaved in an unacceptable manner in organising freshmen activities,” she said.

“Dunking or any other form of ragging is strictly banned under the university’s guidelines for student activities.

“The university takes a very serious view of this breach and is currently conducting an investigation.”

The spokesman added that all student-organised team-building activities for freshmen have been suspended until further notice.

– See more at:

Anybody witnessing such scenes will feel disgusted, but let’s not tar all student activities with the same brush. During my time, orientation was more like a mixture between military training and reality TV. The seniors would treat you like recruits, talk down to you and making you feel like (and say that) you’re the lowest form of life.

They would also get you to go on stage to dress up, perform, present and the seniors would enjoy themselves by booing you off the stage. This was actually a milder form of ragging which I don’t find too unacceptable. Going further back, things were even more outrageous.

One senior recounted that he and a few other hostelites were forced to strip naked on the football field at night. They had their clothes taken away from them and were challenged to make their way back into their rooms without being detected. A senior lady told me that all the girls at her hostel had their underwear stolen by seniors from another block. They had to stand outside the seniors’ block and beg them to return their underwear.


Even back then, all these activities were officially banned, but they still took place in secrecy. Only on rare occasions did the freshmen report their seniors to the authorities who mostly just received warnings. Thankfully, the more extreme antics were very rare when I entered university more than 30 years ago. In its milder and more sophisticated form, most freshmen accepted that this was what they had to go through to get “initiated” into the fraternity, akin to the bizarre rituals of exclusive “gangs” like the Freemasons.

I thought that the form of orientation I went through at NUS had already died off after I graduated. It seems like it has made a comeback with a vengeance, taking on the shape of the atrocious antics of the 1960s and 1970s. This time however, the seniors don’t have the benefit of secrecy.


Interestingly, there were many deprecatory comments online, chiding the students for being misogynists, immature and unfit to be university students. While I personally do not condone this sort of orientation, I don’t think the problem lies in their depraved minds. It may have more to do with human nature and almost every one of us is capable of it when given the opportunity.


The tradition of 玩新郎 and 闹洞房 along with all the lewd antics being forced on the couple go much further back than the history of NUS. I have witnessed one wedding in China where the guests tied a peeled banana to the groom’s crotch and forced the bride to eat it. There was even one where the drunk groom was locked in the bridal chamber with a group of women who apparently took turns to have sex with him (or so the women claimed) before they let the bride in. These may be extreme examples, but I’m sure the students are quite familiar with images of the groom and his “brothers” being forced to eat or drink all kinds of nasty stuff before they can see the bride. Monkey see, monkey do and this easily translates to the kind of indecorous behaviour we see when orientation goes overboard.

© Chan Joon Yee

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