Tag Archive | NTUC

No free lunch?

I used to be very chuffed whenever I received NTUC Fairprice Co-operative’s annual notice of the dividend from the handful of shares I hold in the co-op and the rebates I get from shopping at the co-op’s supermarkets. These are on top of the cash Linkpoints that I can use to offset my bills.

Then suddenly last year, I noticed something in my bank statements that I didn’t remember seeing be4. Every month, for goodness how long, whenever NTUC Income credits my account with the pay-out from a small annuity I bought from the insurer, there was a corresponding debit of $9.

The sum was innocuous enough for me not to make a quick journey to NTUC’s headquarters to demand an explanation.

Suddenly, the penny dropped.

The $9 is probably some kind of fee I’m paying to hold the U-card which in turn allows me to enjoy link points and rebates from my shopping at Fairprice.

The corollary is that if I don’t shop at Fairprice or don’t shop enough to offset the $108 I pay every year to NTUC Co-op, then I should give up my U-card.

So, there’s no free lunch!

The timely arrival of my latest yearly statement from the co-op a few days ago showed that I enjoyed a rebate of $168 for the year ended March 2013.

Assuming that I also got cash offsets of the same amount from my Link points, the candle is worth the game especially when Fairprice’s outlets are ubiquitous enough across Singapore for me to be able to buy from any without making any great effort.

The only drawback in general — though not for me — is that poor folks who can’t afford their monthly $9 contribution to the co-op won’t enjoy the Link points or the rebates.

Which doesn’t seem right especially when those who have little $ need to have every bit of help they can to stretch what little they have.

Oh sure, Fairprice and/or NTUC already do a lot for the poor, with food vouchers and many other things.

But why not a little bit more, such as granting U-cards to all households living on direct welfare from the Government?

As a gesture to encourage NTUC to do a little bit more, I am willing to use part of the rebate I have enjoyed to enable one disadvantaged household to have a U-card.

Anyone care to recommend such a household? :lol:

Having a political background matters!

Yup, you read right. Say what you like, but don’t you think the only candidate without any real political shadow hanging over him did badly in the recent presidential election precisely because he didn’t and doesn’t any real political affiliation?

I’m referring to Mr Tan Kin Lian who lost his deposit because he didn’t get the 12.5% of the votes needed to retrieve his $48,000. Why, he didn’t even get 6.25%! He got under 5%, leading to jokes about “low 5″! And this despite the fact that he’s been visible for years since he quit NTUC Income — online and offline at Speakers Corner at Hong Lim Park.

What’s so different about him from the other three competitors?

IMHO, I think it’s political affiliation. Tan Kin Lian really had none, never mind the fact — which few people knew, really and truly — that he was a PAP assistant branch secretary at some time in his NTUC career.

By contrast, all the competition had overt political connections, never mind if everyone of them strenuously tried to distance himself from, if not entirely disown those connections.

Take Tan Jee Say. He was as recently as May a failed election candidate standing under the banners of the Singapore Democratic Party. He resigned from SDP, as he must, to contest the PE.

He and his running mates – who failed in their joint bid for the Holland-Buona Vista group representation constituency — were very much in evidence in his PE campaigning. The ever-delectable Nicole Seah was there as were other National Solidarity Party luminaries. OK, all in their personal capacity, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. But you get the picture. :lol:

It was the same for Tan Cheng Bock. OK, he too said he was his own man. Independent. Above politics ad nauseam. But come lah, he was a PAP man for decades and successfully contested countless elections wearing the PAP badge.

Even all the evidence he proudly displayed to show his independence — speaking out against the Nominated MP scheme, getting free parking in HDB carparks on Sundays et al — were ironically achieved while he was a PAP MP, not because he was independent loner Tan Cheng Bock.

He spoke in parliament and was listened to because he was an important long-serving PAP backbencher who scored the highest percentage of votes in his final election — which incidentally he did not because he was just Tan Cheng Bock, independent but because he was a PAP candidate through and through, white on white.

Given the decades’ long association that he has had with the PAP, it would take decades, not months or a couple of years for the public to view him solely as indie Tan Cheng Bock without also seeing the PAP association in everything he does.

So, guess what? I think he was given a handsome outing because voters inherently associated him with the PAP and his success in garnering almost 35 per cent of the votes is due more to his PAP DNA than he was sweet Mr Independent.

Some observers say that Tan Cheng Bock attracted opposition support. I would like to suggest it’s not so much opposition support per se as voters who had voted against PAP in the general election, ands having taught the PAP “a lesson”, deciding they would rotate the support to a candidate with PAP cred.

As for Tony Tan, he got the solid PAP supporter vote all right. Although he too, in the mood of times, tried to move away from the PAP banyan, he was never vociferously anti or ungrateful about his PAP background. And he is to be respected for that.

And the lesson to be learnt from the recent pressie election? If you want to get anywhere in the next PE in 2017, you better have some political name recognition, overt or at arm’s length. Otherwise, be prepared to lose your deposit!

2 mysteries & my Marina Bay Sands wins

In the run-up to the 2011 General Election, two mysteries have surfaced — at least they seem like mysteries to me.

First is the teariness of Mr Lim Boon Heng, the secretary-general of the NTUC, when he was asked about “group think” in the PAP at a recent press conference.

He hint-hint that he was against the casinos aka the integrated resorts so that’s one example of no group think. And he wept, apparently, at the havoc the casinos have already wreaked on the well-being of some Singaporeans.

I find this a mystery. Why should the casinos cause such havoc when legal gambling is already big time and well entrenched in Singapore?  4D, Toto, horse racing, football betting, lucky draws, Big Sweep and the ubiquitous slot machine rooms at private clubs and at the NTUC’s own Downtown East.

Also does Mr Lim, as NTUC boss, know that many (perhaps all?) Fairprice supermarkets actually host Singapore Pools outlets? I’ve even seen Fairprice employees manning the 4D and Toto booth at the Square 2 Fairprice.

Perhaps Mr Lim was more upset by the IRs cannabalising that slice of NTUC income that comes via the NTUC Club’s slot machines and Sg Pool sub-tenancies?

Now for the second mystery which relates to all those self-appointed political analysts relentlessly dissecting the PAP’s every move. Many are now surmising from Mr Lim’s tears and hint-hint re disagreements over the casinos that there are cracks surfacing at the all encompassing PAP terrain.

I really expected these analysts to see the skull beneath the skin; not jump at what appears obvious!

Still, never mind.

Time now to share my own happiness at another successful joust at the Marina Bay Sands. Below are the latest lot of loot I left at the end of my 19th n 20th visits on April 5 and April 11.

Yup, the latest amount had declined from what I collected on March 31 (18th visit) but higher than what I was left with on April 5, the 19th visit at the end of which I gave back about 25% of my March 31 winnings.

net win on April 5


net win on April 11

Actually, my winnings (see pix right) on my latest visit (April 11) had gone all the way to $660 but along the line i forgot my “harvest, harvest” mantra and my target to recoup my $2000 one-year entrance levy.

I shall be more careful at the next visit which hopefully I can fit in sometime next week. Ah anticipation!

PS I’ve not put in any fresh money since the signficant $330 loss in early January, churning my accumulated small winnings on every subsequent visit. Now isn’t that a mystery too? My ability to hang on to my winnings, I mean :roll:

Incentivise health, not sickness

OK, one more post on thoughts stemming from Tan Jee Say’s prescription to the Government on rescuing Singapore from the brink. And I’ll be done. Promise!

TJS’s prescription, touching on hospitals and doctors, called for $10 billion to be pumped into enlarging the healthcare sector, as follows:

Hospitals Regeneration – Singapore is lagging far behind other First World countries in key indicators of healthcare; we have only 32 hospital beds per 10,000 population, about half the average number of 58 beds in high income countries, 17 doctors per 10,000 population compared to an average of 28 doctors in other high income countries, and 53 nurses and mid-wives versus their 81. The $10 billion fund will be used over the next 5 years to add another 8,500 beds in public hospitals and to double the number of healthcare personnel so as to achieve First World norms.

I’ve always had problems with the term “healthcare sector” or “health sector” when essentially it’s really a sickness sector. So talk of euphemism!

And I shudder at the thought of seeing money spent on adding more hospital beds and doubling the number of sick-care personnel.

Rather, my proposal is that money could be better spent in encouraging Singaporeans to stay healthy and stay away from doctors and hospitals as much and as long as possible.

Here is what I would do if I were in charge of what is truly the Ministry of Health (instead of what is currently an euphemsim for the Ministry of Sickness!)

First, I would provide all Singaporeans with $5K worth of “sickness” credit every year which could be used at hospitals and clinics, public or private, when they fall sick.

Stay healthy for 3 years and the sum of $5K (or any leftovers after medical bills) from the credit from year 1 would be the recipient’s to spend or invest as he/she or his/her parent/guardian deems fit.

Second, I will get the Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and SNEF — as a tripartite effort — to persuade employers to complement the Government’s move to incentivise the nation to stay healthy by letting

  • any and all sick leave not taken in one year by employees to be carried over to the following two years and
  • anything not consumed in Year 1 by year 3 be given out as as paid leave

This means that all Singaporeans will have good and solid incentives to stay well.

Now isn’t this a better way of spending the nation’s $$$$$ instead of promising free or heavily subsidised medical support, with a doctor at every bus stop and a hospital around every corner?

PS The scheme might also allow for undrawn health credits from the Government to be accumulated for future consumption or withdrawal. Perhaps impute a small interest element to discourage unnecessary (ie sickness unrelated) and immature use and encourage accumulation?

Clubs’ jackpot hit: no surprise

As has become my habit, I read past issues of Singapore newspapers, after my nephew’s family has done with them.

Today, I chanced upon an article in the Today freesheet which documented the sorry state of the coffers at Singapore’s social clubs, and all due to the opening of the integrated resorts or casinos for short.

The jackpot rooms of these clubs — which used to contribute the giant slice of their income — have been all but been deserted, with their faithful followers drawn as if by magnet to the casinos, the $100 daily levy on Singaporeans and permanent residents notwithstanding.

I’ve reproduced the article in full below and want to boast that’s exactly what I had forecast would happen in this post as far back as June.

Actually, it’s a no-brainer. If you like playing jackpot or slot machines, regularly or even occasionally, the casino is the place to be.

If nothing else, the sheer number and variety of machines, besides the far bigger winning possibilities, available at the casinos leave what’s offered by the various clubs, including those run by NTUC, looking like pauper cousins from the ulu!

So, my forecast for 2011 is that the jackpot revenue at our clubs will continue south, unless, unless, horror of horrors, our dear garmen raises the entry levy!

With this possibility lurking in the days ahead, perhaps I should direct the hongbaos I hope to collect in the upcoming Chinese New Year to buying myself a full year entry to Marina Bay Sands? Or should it be at Resorts World Sentosa which I’ve yet to visit! :-D :-D

Clubs’ jackpot coffers take a hit

Athletes and community programmes could be bigger losers if the clubs can no longer support them

05:55 AM Dec 09, 2010
by Teo Xuanwei

SINGAPORE – Some clubs will have to sponsor fewer training sessions for national athletes they support. Others may cut back on community welfare programmes or give out fewer scholarships and bursaries. And up to four S-League teams may even have to drop out.

All this because of plummeting revenue from these clubs’ jackpot rooms, with many of their regulars flocking to the casinos in Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands.

Jackpot takings, which constitute some 20 to 80 per cent of clubs’ revenues, have plunged by as much as 60 per cent since the integrated resorts opened, managers told MediaCorp.

Clubs are now pleading for a lifeline from the Ministry of Finance, in the form of lower duties. Currently, they pay 30 per cent tax on the deemed turnover from their fruit machines. Clubs had appealed against the 12-per-cent tax on actual turnover – a “significantly higher burden”, according to the clubs – which was to have been introduced in 2006.

A review of the new private lottery duty is ongoing.

In one manager’s words, if taxes are not lowered, many clubs will be “in jeopardy”. They hope to pay 15 per cent of deemed turnover, similar to what the IRs pay.

Singapore Recreation Club general manager Abdul Rashid said: “All we’re asking is for an equal footing. If the proposed 12-per-cent tax kicks in, we’ll be hit very hard. Some things like funding for certain sports may have to go.”

The SRC supports 15 sports, including snooker and bowling.

Its funding for sports activities next year has already been cut 30 per cent, said Mr Abdul Rashid.

The Chinese Swimming Club also uses part of the revenue from its 35 jackpot machines to fund some national swimmers, such as Mylene Ong, who train there. So far, takings have slumped by over 40 per cent.

General manager Rosalind Tan said: “Should the tax be fixed at 12 per cent, our preliminary calculations show that our revenue will be very significantly reduced, on top of the fact that the base is now much reduced.

“The club will have to take a long-term view and review its current operations, including its business model in entirety, should its jackpot results continue to suffer or if it becomes untenable to operate.”

S-League clubs could be hardest hit

At the National University of Singapore Society, the approximately $2.8 million it makes annually from 50 jackpot machines helps to fund community care initiatives, scholarships and bursaries, among other causes.

Revenues have fallen more than 30 per cent and chief executive Tong Hsien Hui expects a further 10- to 15-per-cent slide next year.

S-League clubs may end up the hardest hit. Some of their operating budgets are 80 per cent from jackpot revenue.

Said one official, who declined to be named: “If this new tax law is passed, we won’t be able to afford to take part in the league – and this is the case for most of the other local clubs as well.”

When contacted, Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin said it would be a “double whammy” if the new tax is implemented on football clubs.

“It will have a direct negative impact on the operation of these clubs,” he said.

The clubs, which each need between $1 million and $2 million annually, have done a study on the anticipated impact of a 12-per-cent duty on actual turnover, he said.

“We want to engage (the authorities) and give feedback because they may not be aware of the quite serious impact the new tax will have,” he said.

“The fruit machines are not a profit-making exercise for football clubs. The funds that come out of these operations are put back into funding the club’s football needs.”

A Ministry of Finance spokesperson said: “MOF regularly reviews its tax policies and as part of the process, seeks views and inputs from various parties.”Additional reporting By Shamir Osman

Copyright 2010 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Be suspicious of fly-by-nite opinions

It’s OK for someone like me with a narrow vision, no reputation and no pretensions of great — or even little — intellect to shoot off my mouth after a visit or two or three to a country, pretending to speak like an expert to end all experts.

This is because those kind enough to hear me out would know that I’m no authority and they might be poorer in knowledge if they treat what I articulate as gospel.

Not so when it comes to those who are who’s who in their sphere of influence and when visiting Singapore, the country’s elite will sit at their feet waiting for pearls to pop out from between their pearlies.

Such elevated folk should, no, must be more thoughtful with what they articulate, not make sweeping pronouncements about their host countries when their comments carry disproportionate weight.

It doesn’t matter whether the remarks are positive or negative. What matters is that they are opinions formed without thorough thought.

Let me cite two recent examples where I think the conclusions these “experts” have formed about Singapore are dead wrong, even if the conclusions are flattering to my country.

First, there is Paul Vocker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and economic adviser to President Obama.

When he was in Singapore recently to speak at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, he said: “I wander around the city and wonder where the poor people are!”

Dr Vocker should have taken a walk up and down Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads and he would surely have run into the wizened old down-and-out I’ve written about here, here and here.

Also by stating that he hasn’t seen a poor person — while intended as a compliment to the country — Dr Vocker actually makes nonsense of efforts such as the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund, Comcare, NTUC free text book distribution, public assistance etc etc

Like it or not, while we are not Somalia or even Bangladesh, there are poor people in Singapore!

The other person’s pronouncement that got my goat is New York Times bestselling author and explorer, Dan Buettner, whose five-year global study on the keys to personal happiness fingers Singapore as the happiest in Asia.

This is because in Singapore, people of different ethnicities feel they belong and fit in. Citizens are able to trust their Government and police. Unemployment is low, home ownership is high. The country gives people access to green spaces despite having one of the highest population densities in the world.

I’ve no quarrels with his findings so far.

Mr Buettner says where security is concerned, Singapore shows that feeling secure is more important than freedom when it comes to happiness.

His kicker: “In Singapore, you cannot freely buy pornography, it is harder to start a political party, but if you’re a woman, you can walk down the street any time of the day and you can be pretty sure no one is going to bother you.”

Alas Mr Buettner is somewhat out of touch with recent reality. Even men aren’t quite safe.

Ask Jarius Ang. Or ask the family of the woman who was murdered in Woodlands on the mid-Autumn festival night.

So Mr Buettner, Singapore may not be Mexico where violent crime is concerned; but we aren’t Bhutan either.

It’s best that those who flit in and out of Singapore don’t ruin their reputation by passing off fleeting impressions as erudite research! Even if it does my country no harm, it can’t do much good for your reputation.  Or your street cred, uncle!

Those who have much will be given more

When I tore open my annual notification from Fairprice today and saw how much my dividend and rebates from shopping at the supermarket chain came to, I couldn’t help thinking of a line from St Matthew’s Gospel which I did as part of Scripture Studies for my “O’ Level exams, in 19-dot-dot.

“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.”

OK, my payment from Fairprice won’t buy me a meal at Gunthers but would finance me and at least two others for a slap-up lunch at my fav restaurant, Ichiban Boshi. But it’s still a nice hongbao by most measurements. And this is on top of an almost similar amount in Link Point rebates I had enjoyed in the year!

Which is why it made me think about what happens to those who shop at Fairprice but who aren’t union members or Fairprice shareholders?

And I’m not thinking of those who live around Coronation Plaza and shop at the Fairprice there, with a maid or two in tow and a chaueffer waiting in the driveway. These are unlikely to be union members or own Fairprice shares tho I won’t discount that some of them may be, just to enjoy the rebates on their hefty shopping bills!

Rather, I’m thinking of the really poor who occasionally pop into Fairprice to buy low priced items such as 50-cent canned boiled peanuts; 90-cent canned sardine and other necessities and pay for their purchases with coins and small notes.

I’ve never seen any of them – when they happen to be in my payment queue — handing over a Link Point card to scan for rebates. So I guess that they don’t own Fairprice shares.

It’s such a shame.

It’s this group precisely who would find the rebates useful and make a real difference.

Sure, NTUC does hand out a lot of Fairprice vouchers to the poor every year.

But won’t it be better to give this group some Fairprice shares as well so that what they spend over and above the free vouchers would yield them money down the line? And what better way to teach these households about budgetting and financial literacy?

Perhaps NTUC could partner some of its better off Fairprice shoppers to acquire Fairprice shares for disadvantaged families and demonstrate that it’s not only those who have much that more will be givem!