Sunday, 17 June 2018

HSR Negotiation: Reformasi vs. UNMO friendly; Open vs. Close; low pay vs. high pay; Institutional change and reform.


The Malaysian government will soon send three ministers to Singapore for the re-negotiation of the High Speed Rail project. The latest Malaysian status is the project is to be delayed rather than cancelled.  Anyway, a negotiation is needed and interestingly, Singapore will face a team of ‘reformasi’ ministers who are different from the usual UNMO friendly ministers.

In addition, the negotiation is to be conducted in a transparent, open and perhaps in equal terms.  Both Malaysia (under Najib) and Singapore governments need big projects to generate economic growth, regardless fair wealth distribution.  In particular, the former Malaysian prime minister like to use big project for election purpose and maybe also for personal gain.

A close and less transparent contract, likes the HSR, will certainly have less than perfect consideration, assessment  and evaluation. As shown in the recent election result in Malaysia, voters did not trust Najib, especially in urban areas and perhaps, hated him for all his wrong doings. If HSR is a value for money project and helps to create jobs, Malaysian voters will think twice before saying no to Najib, especially in states that HSR runs.  

A NEGOTIATION LED BY FUTURE LEADERS

Despite different ideological and political experience, one common thing between Malaysian and Singapore ministers is they are future leaders of both countries, for example, Lim Guan Eng, Azmin, Anthony Loke and our Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Seng etc.

We will then see how their performance is. This is a real test for both sides as we all know Najib Administration maintained a good working relationship with Singapore government. But few know new Malaysian ministers and a new working relationship needs times to build up.

Here are two examples showing how the new Malaysian ministers work:

I’m Malaysian, don’t see myself as Chinese

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-cwzza8vkw

Loke urges MOT staff to serve, not line up to greet ministers

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/426229

These ministers do not have our PA-style grassroots support but people support. Their political struggles are very different from our scholars-turned political leaders. Lim and Azmin have been jailed and in the eyes of 70% Singaporeans, they are not perfect.

IS PAY AN ISSUE?

The 3 Malaysian ministers are all first time ministers and draw low salary based on Singapore standard. With the recent 10% cut in pay, these Malaysian ministers are really poorly compensated.  

Will pay and low compensation affect their performance during negotiation?

Let’s recall the story of dignity and pay:

He (Lim Wee Kiak) had been quoted by the Chinese paper last week as saying, "If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister's ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity."
In his Facebook note, the MP said, "I withdraw those remarks and apologise for making them. Dignity cannot be and must not be measured purely in monetary terms."
https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/reasonable-pay-help-maintain-bit-dignity-084833549.html

It is interesting to see how the low pay Malaysian ministers discuss and negotiate with our highly paid ministers and whether they have the dignity to protect the interest of Malaysia.

We will then see whether compensation is the key motivation for political appointments and ministers.  

The open and transparent HSR negotiation will also help Singaporeans to understand the meaning of openness, transparency and citizens-led democracy.  

INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE AND REFORM

The HSR negotiation is taking place under institutional change and reform in Malaysia. We have seen the resignation or removal of top judges, Attorney-general, central bank governor, MOF secretary-general, anti-corruption chairman, election commission chairman, registry of societies chairwoman, plus the heads of government-linked companies.

In Singapore, it is hard for us to imagine so many key persons in the public administration and GLCs been removed and replaced. 70% of Singaporeans will think this will be the end of the country as the change of government will lead to no capable men and women running the country.

Is this true?

We will know the answer when the 3 Malaysian ministers visit Singapore.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

任人唯贤,人才回流,大马变天带给新加坡的另一个震撼。


『马来西亚变天,影响的不只是大马,它对新加坡的中期经济表现,财政政策,带来震撼性的反响。上文谈到吉隆坡-新加坡高铁项目的流产,对新加坡的中期财政政策带来巨大影响。人民行动党政府一直依靠大工程、大项目来推动经济,而高铁项目取消和裕廊一带的发展一定受到影响,PAP如何寻找替代的大项目?』

变天后的马来西亚,展现出依法治国,任人唯贤,能者上任的新气象。这和前朝的国阵政府很不一样。财政部长,总检察长,都不是土著,总检查长,甚至马来语不灵光。事实上,马来西亚的股市,经济并没有受到影响,反而,马来西亚人的信心回来,投资者对于新政府的公开,透明给予掌声。

如果,这是事实,这对新加坡来说,将是另一个外部震撼。短期内看不出什么来,中期过后,马来西亚的机会多了,马来西亚的人才、资金将回流本国,而新加坡的人力资源将会出现问题,市场也会因为高铁不建而出现腹地问题。马来西亚为新加坡提供的人才,还包括我们的国会议员呢!当然在资金方面,马哈迪很想谈一谈大马人在新加坡的公积金问题。

    2018年新加坡财政预算,提到中期财政政策时,就提出调高消费税到9%的问题。当时,并没有考虑到马来西亚变天,以及变天后可能影响我们中期表现的问题。一切的设想,都是纳吉继续执政。为此,新加坡政府有必要在年底前,为大马变天后出现的新的局面给新加坡人一个更新的经济评估。如果,还是一成不变,装聋作哑,没有交代,就是PAP的失职。半年的时间,马来西亚的短期和中期经济政策应该出来,而新加坡方面也应该做出相对的反应。

    马来西亚变天后,对新加坡经济的影响,远远超过政治上的影响。甚至,不需要等到中期,短期内就出现一些微妙的变化。新马股市的合作,需要重新检讨。一马大案会不会影响到新加坡的金融声誉?我们有没有涉及到纳吉和团伙的洗黑钱活动?马新官员已经开了两次一马案的会议,这很可能比高铁项目取消,还要严重。另外,马哈迪的第二次向东学习,对我们会产生什么影响?

    一向以来,马来西亚都以新加坡为学习对象。最新的一个,是大马人力部考虑学习我们的外劳政策。我们推出的一些政策,适用的,大马那边就会跟着推行。现在的情形,反而很可能会被马来西亚赶超。任人唯贤,法制建设,大学不再限制政治活动,反对党选区同样获得政府津贴,新闻自由,还有部长和高官减薪10%,必须申报财产,似乎讽刺我们在民主、自由、公开透明、法制上的相对落后。

【新加坡中期信心在哪里?】

    新加坡现在出现一个非常不自然的发展。在政治上,李显龙交不交出政权,PAP第四代领导,敢不敢接受挑战,成了中期政治稳定的大问题。即使交给PAP第四代领导管理,新加坡人,似乎呈现出缺乏信心。这里面有李显龙为何不愿交棒的考虑。与此同时,纳吉的败选,人们也对李显龙没有信心。这是一个,人民对PAP信心动摇的时间点。

    (相对于马来西亚的政治,就以民主行动党DAP来说,根本没有出现我们PAP的问题。他们有年轻的接班人,可以完成中期,甚至中长期的政治任务。当马哈迪委任林冠英为财政部长的时候,DAP就出动了三个部长级人选(所谓的左剑桥右牛津)来做这项工作。其中2个人还是义务无薪金的帮忙国家半年。试问PAP有人愿意做出这样的牺牲吗?有部长不做,还要倒贴免费服务。)

    在经济上,同样也出现问题。中期计划中的消费税提高,未必能够说服人心。大项目,大工程的推出,是否能够做到公开透明,同样的,公积金,国库储备和主权基金的善用和透明公开,一直是一个大问题。马来西亚变天,是否会连带人们想象PAP在管理国家的经济上,单方面要求人民要相信PAP,无需质疑PAP?的做法。纳吉在选前,不也说着同样的话?

    马来西亚的变天对于新加坡来说是一个思想上的转弯。或许,PAP和国人没有觉察出来。

    以往,我们一直认为在东南亚,我们是领先的。我们只要维持本身的信誉,国际中心地位,那么,临近国家那些利用他们国家资源致富的政客和商人,就会把钱存在新加坡。带动我们的房产,出入口生意,金融,医药和服务业等。因为,这些国家出现贪污,不透明不公开,不稳定的政治经济局势。

    今天,这个局面已经改变了。菲律宾,印尼,到现在的马来西亚,他们其实不希望他们国家的人把钱放在新加坡。因此,他们努力改进他们的司法制度,采取更加公开透明的治国方针。而新加坡似乎在原地踏步,这就是别人前进,我们不进步,反而落后而不自知的地方。

    新加坡不可能永远停留在过去的风光。就像特兰普-金正恩在新加坡开会见面,这是一时的光荣和对国际社会的义务。我们有必要踏出转换跑道的勇气。至于这是PAP内部自我转变,还是变天,现在言之过早。

    还有,我们不能一直希望处于贫穷邻居间,才显现自己的富有。时代已经改变了,我们的邻国已经开始民主,政治,经济觉醒了。他们会继续经济发展的步伐。我们应该希望他们更加民主,公开,透明,更加富有,这样我们在新的时代才能有所作为。瑞士如果没有富有的德国,法国,北欧国家,北意大利地区,它能够这么富有吗?

    问题在于,我们是否能够跟上邻国的步伐?这不是PAP的问题,而是国人应该思考的问题。也不是PAP是否继续执政的问题,而是,谁能够跟着时代的步伐,跟进邻国的发展。

Sunday, 3 June 2018

HSR, External Shocks and the Medium-term Fiscal Policy Challenges



Singapore is now waiting for the official notification of the cancellation of Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) from Malaysia.  This big item project, as part of Singapore’s medium-term fiscal policy, has now become an external shock. Do we have a Plan B? Are we going to find another bigger project or speed up our existing projects?    

The People’s Action Party government likes big projects. They believes big projects can generate economic growth and jobs, like the two casino projects.
Besides HSR, they plan to build Terminal 5, seaport, developments in Jurong area, more metro lines, and continue the existing projects like housing and health care facilities.

Singaporeans seldom ask why or the cost/benefit analysis.  According to Malaysian reasoning, HSR is too costly to build and to maintain.   

Guan Eng on HSR: 'You can get something... for half the price.'
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/02/guan-eng-on-hsr-you-can-get-something-for-half-the-price/#MR07VAdqFcRqHTVU.99    
We believe Lee Hsien Loong’s explanation (as he claims) just like Malaysians, especially rural Malaysians, believe Najib’s explanation on the necessity of big projects until 9 May 2018.   

Tharman’s calling

{Policymakers must look past the strategies of the second half of the 20th century if they are to deal with the challenges of the 21st, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Wednesday (May 30).
He warned of an "ebbing of hope and optimism" and the loss of faith in market-based meritocracy in advanced economies.
“Loss of faith in market-based meritocracy” can happen in Singapore too. In fact, it is happening. We have seen conflict of interest in our GLCs, Temasek, GIC while the PAP still insists it is based on meritocracy.  
By calling Advanced economies to think of progressive strategies, I wonder why Tharman did not mention his own country - Singapore. We, too, face the same challenges or even worse than them in term of Gini index and inequality.

Purposes of fiscal policy

Annual budget and medium-term fiscal framework have three purposes:
  • Stabilization of economy, reducing internal and external shocks
  • Efficient use of resources, including human resources
  • Equal distribution of growth, reducing poverty and inequality

International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other international bodies are helping the world to maintain economic stability, especially when countries facing internal (e.g. high debt, deficit) and external shocks (fluctuation of commodity and oil price).

They also provide assistance on the use of resources and distribution of income. One key recommendation to achieve the target is Citizen Engagement. Without the support of the citizens, successful implementation of fiscal policy will be in doubt. The first 50 years of Singapore after independence is one such example. However, since Lee Hsien Loong became the prime minister, “Loss of faith in market-based meritocracy” appears.

The recent Malaysian example shows voters have no confidence in Najib’s fiscal policies. His economic policies have failed to achieve equal distribution of wealth to Malaysians, especially rural Malaysians. People care more about cost of living rather than Najib’s corruption. This is another example of “Loss of faith in market-based meritocracy” .
Why WP rejects Budget 2018?

Singapore Budget 2018 was rejected by the Workers’ Party. It is related to GST.

[The Workers’ Party MPs voted “no” to the motion that Parliament “approves the financial policy of the Government for the financial year 1st April 2018 to 31st March 2019” for the sole reason that WP is unable to support the announcement of a GST hike from 7% to 9% in 2021-2025 at this point in time.
We support the Government’s budget strategy and measures for the coming Financial Year, as presented to Parliament. However, the future GST hike is an announcement and not a budget measure. We are unable to support the announcement for three reasons:
1. the lack of clarity on long-term projected Government income and spending;
2. the lack of consideration of alternative revenue streams and whether there is scope for the reserves to better support and invest in Singaporeans;
3. the lack in details on the effect of the future GST hike on low-income and middle-income Singaporeans and the Government’s permanent GST offset packages.
In our parliament system, a vote of NO to annual budget is a vote of no confidence to the government.

WP’s reasoning is related to our medium-term budget framework and fiscal policy.    
It is related to future income and expenditures, as well as Plan B.  It seems the PAP government has failed to provide a detailed fiscal risk statement to the parliament.

Few Singaporeans notice the NO vote. Even fewer are asking why. Anyway, the Budget 2018 has passed. Life is back to normal. Is this so simple? Should we expect and demand a transparent PAP government?  

What are the fiscal risks
 
The Malaysian example shows the contingent liabilities that do not appear in the budget or fiscal framework. Najib Adminstration only considers federal debt as government liabilities (RM 686.8 billion).

Malaysia's 1 Trillion Ringgit Government Debt Explained

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-24/malaysia-s-1-trillion-ringgit-government-debt-explained   

Fiscal risks can be explicit contingent liabilities, like 1MDB. When the company is not able to serve the interest or principal payment, the government as a guarantor has to pay.  (RM199.1 billion)

There are also implicit contingent liabilities, like major banks, too big to fail state owned enterprises, where investors and citizens believe the government will step in to help. Just imagine our Temasek, GIC, or GLCs, Singaporeans and foreigners believe the government will bail out these companies if they get into troubles.  

Bigger and bigger SOEs and fiscal risks

When Singapore economy grows, so do the GLCs, GIC and Temasek. Today’s Singapore SOEs are the major listed companies in the stock exchange. They also expand their reach all over the world. By definition, SOEs are part of the public sector and so should subject to parliament’s questioning.   

In rejecting Budget 2018, WP said there is “the lack of clarity on long-term projected Government income and spending.” Indeed, few in Singapore know about the accounts of these SOEs.  Even listed in Stock Exchange, companies like Keppel can still involve in corruption cases in Brazil.   
All these are potential fiscal risks for Singapore. What happens in Malaysia can happen in Singapore too. Najib claimed Malaysian debt is only 50% of the GDP while the new government increased it to 80%. However, Singapore’s debt to GDP ratio is nearly to 120%. Many of these borrowings are from CPF members so there is no worry for the government? Think again! CPF contribution is your money not the wealth distribution from the government.
Think again why is Najib withdrawing his 1MDB court cases in Malaysia?

Sunday, 27 May 2018

透明度倒退25年的新加坡公共财政管理。


一转眼,过了25年。

1993年,王鼎昌年成为新加坡第一位民选总统。当时,他为了维护总统负责的第二把国家储备钥匙,问了总审计长,储备知多少的问题。这个需要52年工作日计算的大工程,现在已经过了1/4个世纪。

人生有多少个25年,我们在这1/4个世纪,有没有改进新加坡的公共财政管理?如果拿纳吉作为反面教材,那当然就是没有,不只没有,还很可能倒退,比一些亚细安国家落后,甚至不如后发的一些非洲国家,如南非等。

往事如烟,新加坡公共财政管理,依然故我,透明度没有进步 - 到底有多少人知道储备的真正情形,而真实的情形是不是政府说的那样?说了就算?相对来说,国人似乎也不在乎,相信人民行动党政府的解释,而怀疑反对党的质问。马来西亚的变天, 警惕国人,  是时候关心政府的所作所为,公共财政管理是需要全民参与。

不论世界银行,还是国际货币基金组织,在协助落后地区,甚至在贷款给发达国家的时候,都希望看到健全的法制和公民参与支持相关的计划。对于有些批评者,这两个组织是维护富人、富国的利益,这不正符合新加坡政府的治国方针吗?我们甚至是这两个组织的伙伴,协助它们输出新加坡的管理软件、技术到其他国家。

公民参与是过去25年的世界趋势,联合国,世界银行,国际货币基金组织等一直强调,还有很多非政府组织纷纷出现,参与监督财政政策的制定和审计。而储备作为财政预算的重要一环,它的多少,如何合理使用,将会发挥它在财政政策上的效率。

人民行动党政府在制定财政政策的时候,如增加消费税,新机场的兴建,基础建设的工程,似乎是它说了算了。就如新机场需要动用多少资金,也无法说清楚。只是一味要求人民相信政府,它的出发点,完全是为了新加坡的将来。这不正是和25年前一样,储备金无法及时算出来,给出同样的答案。

25年来,科技的进步,大数据时代到来,行动党似乎还是停留在1993年,利用旧电脑来计算储备、计算财政政策和预算。它忘了马哈迪就是利用脸书等社交媒体打倒纳吉的主流媒体。

在公民参与部分,其中IBP国际预算伙伴是值得关注的一个公民参与的组织。IBP通过民间力量,分析政府的政策政策和预预算,达到改善政府的财政率和降低贫穷人口。

IBP在世界各地区有超过100多个伙伴。其中,新加坡的伙伴是新加坡国立大学的李光耀政策研究院。在对115个国家的调查中,竟然没有新加坡的数据。在IBP的网站中,一点关于新加坡的资料都没有。不过,李光耀政策研究院却对泰国做了调查。这让人有些错愕,为什么没有研究新加坡的财政政策和预算。
https://www.internationalbudget.org

IBP每两年进行一次调查。以下是一些亚细安和非洲国家的指数。100为满分,有些国家是零分。

IBP Open Budget Survey 2017 财政预算公开(度)调查

马来西亚
46/100
印尼
64/100
缅甸
7/100
泰国
56/100
菲律宾
67/100
柬埔寨
20/100
埃及
41/100
南非
89/100
越南
15/100
肯亚
46/100
加纳
50/100

李光耀政策研究院是不是公民组织?它是代表政府的立场,还是独立的第三者?可以想象为什么IBP的调查,没有新加坡的数据,相对来说,我们还可以看到中国(13/100)和越南(15/100)的指数。我们是不是比中国,越南,缅甸更加封闭,公民参与财政预算、政策制定和审查,相对落后,而不自知?

以上的数据,甚至115国家的整体数据,间接证明财政政策和预算公开度高,民主意识高和公民参与意愿高的国家,指数相对较高。我们或许很容易明白菲律宾和印尼的指数为何高于越南、柬埔寨和缅甸。

新加坡一向很自豪,我们在国际上的透明指数,排名很高。其实,这是指反贪指数,例如:新加坡在“透明国际”的排名一直在前面。反贪可以从法制的执行力度来看,新加坡当然可以很有效率。从治国角度看,这是国家对个人行为的监督,没有涉及到公民参与,也看不到公民社会对于政府的监督。

我们从纳吉的例子可以看到这个不同点。纳吉可以随时更换反贪领导,可以随时更换总检察长,可以随意立案调查别人,这是利用国家机器来反贪。最令人心寒的是他对国家财政,预算的随意更改,图利个人。即使反对党在国会质询,还是没有作用,一直到公民参与变天。

如果马来西亚没有变天,我们就不知道、看不到:
  • 高官、审计长都看不到的“红头文件”。这意味着财政预算、政策制定是在有限信息下进行的。
  • 国家主权公司可以不按规定,转移资金给出事的一马公司。作为国家储备的一部分,纳吉可以不按照宪法规定来随意调动国库资金。这无形中,回避国会和公民组织的监督。
  • 很多大工程、大项目,没有详细的政策研究和预算,往往出超。这就是为什么新的希望联盟政府要检讨这些工程和项目的原因。
  • 马哈迪一口气取消好几个法定机构和政府组织,事实上,这些单位是和政府部门有着重覆功能,无法到达财政政策的效果。例如:陆路公共交通委员会(SPAD)重归交通部。

以上这些例子,会不会在新加坡出现?这25年来,我们看看淡马锡,政府投资公司,人民协会,工资理事会,新加坡消费者协会,公共交通理事会等等在做些什么?我们的国库也通过更加严厉的法律来管制,预算案也有更加多的限制,这些表面功夫,真的能够监督政府的所作所为吗?

如果马来西亚没有更加多的公民参与,公民监督,变天有可能吗?

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Has Lee Hsien Loong learned the meaning of “Rule of Law” and “Miscarriage of Justice” from Mahathir and Anwar?


Lee Hsien Loong finally got the chance to meet the two most important political leaders in Malaysia. While it is not known whether he got the first hand interpretation of Rule of Law and Miscarriage of Justice.  But Malaysians accept their interpretations and voted out Najib who in many occasions abuse the law and justice.

After winning the election, Mahathir in almost all his news conferences stressed the need to restore the Rule of Law in Malaysia. Obviously, many top government leaders of the immediate past had broken the law to benefit themselves.

For the case of Anwar, it is a miscarriage of justice.

"Pardon (is) based on a miscarriage of justice," said Anwar's daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is also Permatang Pauh MP in a WhatsApp text to The Straits Times. (12 May 2018)

It is a common political tool to destroy opposition leaders. It has been used for more than 60 years in Malaysia. Mahathir used it. Najib also used it.    
  
If the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition did not win the recent election, miscarriage of justice and abuse of law will continue.  Not only that, as disclosed by Mahathir, the national accounts are not accurate.

Mahathir warns many figures on Malaysia's financial position are false

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-politics-data/mahathir-warns-many-figures-on-malaysias-financial-position-are-false-idUSKCN1II19G
There are holes and gaps in preparing the national accounts, claims, expenses, and perhaps, national reserve. The newly assigned Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said he will have to work very hard to find out the discrepancies.

Rule of law, justice and national finance are all wrongly managed under Najib Administration.  
 
Thank you, Mahathir. Thank you, Anwar.

Even though it is a Malaysian politics, it is a wake-up call for Singapore, for the People’s Action Party, and for the oppositions too.  

When Lee Hsien Loong met Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur, he was meeting a man of possibility, of imagination, of flexibility. Lee, of course, personally saw for himself how Mahathir and Anwar making a dream into reality. This is certainly a wake-up call for Lee Hsien Loong, a friend of Najib.

Looking at the situation in Malaysia before and after 9 May 2018, Mahathir, as an experienced politician, demonstrated his confidence in winning the elections and running the country. The market did not crash. The public institutions are running normally. If this is not the case, Singapore will be badly affected, be it stability, destruction or human flows.  

I think the Malaysian civil service and public administration are performing despite the inefficient reputation and many top civil servants involving corruptions or assisting corruptions. While when a strong and disciplined man like Mahathir is in charged, public administration will be in order.    

PUTRAJAYA, May 21 — Returning here as prime minister once more after nearly 16 years, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told an assembly of civil servants today that it was imperative to keep the country’s institutions independent and separate.
Speaking to workers from the Prime Minister’s Department for the first time since winning the 14th general election, he also urged them to give his administration their every cooperation.
“The separation of powers among us must be maintained, as only through this way we can make sure there is not embezzlement in the country’s administration.
“We have to separate the lawmakers, the enforcers of the law, and the judiciary,” he said. 
https://www.malaymail.com/s/1633135/on-first-day-at-office-pm-stresses-need-for-separation-of-powers

Singapore civil service has a better reputation. While it is important the civil service maintains its independent, distancing itself from any political association. Civil service is to serve the country and dies with the country. Otherwise, it will be like Najib government, law, justice and finance are all broken.  

Singapore may not be so lucky to have a Mahathir to save the country!