Tag Archive | Tommy Koh

Let’s have more unwed mums?

The ever-august and urbane Professor Tommy Koh is the latest in a line of SG thought leaders calling Singaporeans to take a leaf out of how they do things in Scandanavia.

From closing the wage-gap chasm to getting more SGreans to have more kids, Prof Koh believes that the Norse countries have something to teach us benighted dumbos 1 degree north of the equator.

At least that’s what I gather from his paper now embedded in the Internet here and is causing much chatter in cyberspace.

His expalantion for SG’s total fertility rate falling way below replacement level? The paucity of well-located child care facilities, unbalanced work life and male chauvinism.

I certainly don’t agree with the male chauvinism part, especially looking at him with his gentle ways and soft words. Moreover in SG, we have the Women’s Charter for well nigh half a century and which made one male friend to crack that SG women can become more equal to men only if we gave up some of our rights 😆 😆 

As for child care and work life imbalance, I respectfully suggest that Prof Koh is putting the cart be4 the horse.

It’s more — or less — simple than that, depending on your viewpoint.

Fact is, in SG, due to our education and our upbringing inculcating a deep sense of what’s wholesome and right in us, few couples would dream of becoming parents be4 they are married. Even those who are living together without marriage won’t dream of having kids!

Stemming from this, those who become parents usually want to be responsible providers. Which for them means having a nest of their own to welcome the next generation. 

By contrast, look at what a summary of a recent OECD report has to say about TFR in developed countires:

“In general, countries with higher fertility rates in 2009 also display higher share of out-of-wedlock births… There are large differences across OECD countries in the proportion of children born outside of marriage: this proportion varies from less than 10% in Korea, Japan and Greece, to 50% or more in France, Slovenia, Mexico and the Nordic countries (except Denmark)..”

Well, if SG wants to raise its TFR, the way to go may be to encourage more SG women across all economic and education strata to become unmarried mums and for there to be no stigma attached to their offspring. 

True, the OECD summary also said there is no clear relationship between the increase in births out of wedlock births and changes in fertility (the relevant correlation coefficient is less than 0.5).

Conversely, it needn’t mean that if SG lifts its communal disapproval of “illegitimate” babies, it won’t lead to a better TFR.

In fact, isn’t it true in SG that women who have more children tend to be those who are less fussed about their marital status or indeed whether they and/or their partner are able to afford their kids?

So the $64 billion question is whether we as a society would find it more acceptable to make it chic to be unwed mums than having a rising tide of immigrants to make up for what the stock didn’t bring?

We can’t have our cake and eat it, you know! 🙄


2 reasons why Mr George Yeo shouldn’t

… join the race to become Singapore’s next president.

First, like he said, he is not “temperamentally suited for such a job”, which carries one responsibility that I think no one should be asked to do — and that is to sign the execution order for those condemned* to die by our courts.

How would Mr Yeo, a self-confessed “free spirit”, react when families of death row prisoners send petition after petition asking for their loved ones to be spared?

Sure, the president has no power to gainsay a death sentence and must abide by the advice of the Cabinet.

But in his private moments, in his secret conscience, would he not be forced to recall the story of Pontius Pilate? Could he sleep well on the night be4 the execution or wake up feeling good on the morning when he gets up knowing that someone, somewhere in Singapore has been hanged on his orders?

The second reason why Mr Yeo shouldn’t attempt the presidential election is that he might well lose, whether in a two or three-horse race. How would he feel to lose two elections in a row, not having lost one till this year in his decades long political career? Could his self-confidence survive such bruising within the span of a few months?

If he really needs to have something to do apres Aljunied, he should look no further than the forever urbane Tommy Koh as a template. Professor Koh has reinvented himself many times over and seems to have the secret to being forever relevant whatever the year, the season or the reason.

* I’m no Alan Shadrake and I’m not against capital punishment as such for heinous crimes. Indeed, when i was robbed at gun-n-knife point several years ago — one of 18 victims in a hair dressing salon in Katong Shopping Centre that was hit by 3 armed robbers — my first thought was that all the bastards should be hanged! Alas, none of the culprits were ever caught! In calmer moments though, I feel terribly for the burden we impose on fellow citizens when we task them to carry out the country’s death penalty!


I’ve always said Foreign Minister George Yeo isn’t my favourite man in white, for many reasons too tedious to retail here. (But his wife and kids are lovely people).

So, I was not surprised — tho nevertheless disappointed — to read his first reactions concerning the Wiki leaks relating to Singapore in media reports.

He was quoted as dismissing the offending remarks purportedly made by Singapore’s top civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Singapore’s super diplomat Tommy Koh as being taken out of context and cocktail party talk.

How effete!

If I were him, i would have strongly rubbished the Wiki leaks. They were after all stolen documents, or at least seemingly stolen documents. (In this increasingly John le Carre type of world, who really knows?)

For the sake of keeping life simple, let’s accept they are genuinely stolen. But given the gutter mentality of those who stole the documents, why should we pay them the compliment of believing they won’t doctor or jazz up the contents to ensure the biggest bang, not end up a damp squib?

Also, because they were reports of what the Singapore officials were supposed to have said — and not vebatim statments stolen from MFA’s own systems !! — why oh why should so much credence be placed on them?

Why couldn’t the US guys have added pepper and salt in their reports to please their bosses in the State Department n earn brownie points rather than tell the unglamorous truth that their Singapore counterparts were more interested to talk about food and tell asinine jokes along the lines of FakePMLee etc etc.

What set me along this line of thought is the preposterous suggestion that Prof Tommy Koh used words such as “stupid”. Worse, he was ascribed as having said “big” and “fat” in the same breath. How uneducated and that isn’t Proh Koh at all!

I have had a slight acquaintance with Prof Koh for years and all my working life i’ve been smarting from a comment he once made about my work — when I was a grunt at MFA and he a high up ambassodor. It’s not his style to use such peasant-like vocabulary as alleged in the Wikifakes. While cruel in his dismissal of my work, it was worded with sophistication.

So, no I don’t believe anything of what is coming out from Wikifakes. But after reading the transcript (reproduced below from MFA’s site) of Mr George Yeo’s media interview given on Saturday, I can see that his answers to journalists were a lot more robust than reported. So our Foreign Minister was clearly over-summarised.

And I am delighted to see that MFA has at last revealed investigations into the purported remarks which showed that 1) they “did not tally with our own records’ and 2) one purported meeting did not even take place.

Now what needs to be done is to find out who Mr Julian Assange’s puppet masters are. Let the United States lead the charge. Or I would begin to suspect that there is more than meets the eye with the continuing torrent of Wikifakes.

If the most powerful nation in the world can be brought to its knees by just one man — or a small group of Assange clones — why should anyone think having America as an ally will be a plus any more?

You tell me!

Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo’s Interview with the Media on WikiLeaks at the Eurasian House on Sunday 12 December 2010 at 5.00pm 

Question: Minister, with regard to the recent comments that there were some comments made by Ministry officials about other countries like Malaysia, what are your comments on these things that came out on Wikileaks?

Minister: 250,000 emails, reflecting the views of US diplomats, have been leaked. I’m quite sure that there will be a few which emanate from Singapore. These are interpretations by US diplomats of what they have heard, their conversations. I don’t think it is right of us to comment on these, because these conversations were confidential, some might be informal, but we don’t know the context, so I would not go beyond that. But it is bad practice to me for such confidential communications to be leaked, because it makes future confidential communications that much more difficult. It is almost as if when we talk, we have to talk on the basis that there is a camera in the room recording everything we say. Then we lose something when that happens.

Question: Has the Foreign Ministry been in touch with the diplomats named in the cables? Have you had any correspondence with them since the story broke this morning?

Minister: Which story broke this morning? About comments made by Bilahari and Tommy Koh?

Question: Yes.

Minister: [Laughs] I’m quite sure they make worse comments about me. [Laughter] No, no, these are in the nature of cocktail talk, people say things in a blunt, forthright way. I don’t think we should divorce… even if true, we should not divorce what is said from the context.

Question: Are you saying that they are not true?

Minister: I have no idea. [Laughs]

Question: The Australian newspapers claim that this will spark political controversy in the region.

Minister: No, this whole WikiLeaks saga will run on for some time, and it will be worldwide. No doubt so far the juicier bits, supposedly, have come out. But there will be more coming out in the future, “Oh, you said this about me, I said this about you”, and it goes on. I think it is best that we respect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.

Question: Do you see this affecting any relations?

Minister: Relations with?

Question: With the countries involved.

Minister: No, I don’t think so. I’m quite sure that others may say things about us, which we may find perhaps unsurprising, in confidential diplomatic communications.

Question: So this WikiLeaks saga is pretty damaging to the diplomatic world. How do you see this panning out?

Minister: Well, it is American law, because if confidential information falls on your laps, then you have the freedom to spread it. This is not the case in many countries, not in Singapore, where you have the Official Secrets Act. If you are in receipt, however accidentally, of confidential information, disseminating it is a crime and you will be prosecuted. It is the case in most countries. But the US takes freedom of information to a point where you can’t stop these things from happening. And it goes back to the Vietnam War, when because of the release of the Pentagon papers, a political change happened in that country, and there was a certain loss of faith in the institutions. They are quite determined to maintain that right, even though many of them know that there is a cost to be paid for maintaining that right.

Question: Sir, sorry, I just want to confirm something. So what do you think is the impact of this latest string of comments that our senior staff and Cabinet [members] have made on diplomatic relations? Did you say that there was no impact? What sort of impact will there be?

Minister: I don’t know what impact there will be, or how others will interpret it. But because of the nature of diplomatic communications, taking it out of context, that, “look, so and so said such and such a thing”, at a cocktail, about a particular incident, and it gets reported, I don’t think we should over-interpret such communications.

Question: So the Foreign Ministry has not received any communications from these countries that were named?

Minister: Oh, I only saw it this morning in The Sunday Times.

Question: So, so far nothing yet, right?

Minister: No, I don’t think we want to comment on what others say about us. It’s not for us to say, “yes it’s true” or “yes, it’s not true”. Then it’ll be endless.

Question: But Sir, this is what we said about others, not what others said about us.

Minister: That is what certain individuals said about others, there could be a diversity of views. As I said, they probably said things about me which I may not agree with. But that’s fine, that’s to be expected. If you want to hear everything which others say behind your back and take offence at it, you’ll be a very unhappy person.

Question: Do you think this WikiLeaks saga has had a very negative implication on US diplomatic relations?

Minister: I think it will have an impact on diplomatic communications where it involves American diplomats, because, well, you can never be sure. So since you’re not sure, you’ll err on the side of safety and manage the risk.

Question: Will that then affect relations with America?

Minister: No, the diplomatic work will still have to continue, hard subjects will still have to be addressed. People will find ways to convey messages and points so that if they are released, then the entire context is clear. I’m always wary about taking a sentence or a phrase out of context, out of time and space – but, when, how, what did I say before, and what did I say after? What’s your overall presentation?

Question: Have you had a look at the actual cables yet, at what was inside?

Minister: The American cables?

Question: Yes.

Minister: No, I’ve only seen what The Sunday Times has put up. I’m not quite sure if The Sunday Times should be putting up all these things, because you are really adding to the general melee. It is gossip, and does it help?

Question: So it is gossip and quoted out of context.

Minister: It is always out of context, and is it right to ask people to confirm, “Was this what you said? It was reported.” Then it is endless.

Question: So have you asked the people to confirm if that was what they said?

Minister: No, no, I have no intention of asking. These are confidential communications. Thank you.

. . . . .

So who let the dogs out?

First there was the curious case of the 300 pieces of Peranakan artefacts and silverware  whose value went from $15 million to under $2 million within a matter of three expert valuations. And all because of a complaint, it seems!

The donation to the Peranakan Museum was made in 2008 and announced last year amid much fanfare. The donors, Mr and Mrs Tan Eng Sian, eventually asked for the collection to be returned.

Mr Tan, who is in his 80s, is a descendant of pioneer and philanthropist Tan Kim Seng.

The expert who gave the $15 million valuation is Mr Peter Wee, a well-known Peranakan artefacts dealer and a fourth-generation Baba who is a descendant of prominent businessman Tan Keong Saik.

He is standing by his valuation and also revealed that he received a $15K fee for his job, not the $100K that he was widely rumoured to have received.

National Heritage Board chairman Tommy Koh wrote to the Straits Times to explain why further valuations were called for after the gift had been accepted by the Asian Civilisations Museum.

“…  the Asian Civilisations Museum board felt it had a duty to review the original valuation, after receiving a complaint …..”

While we know that the gift was returned, that there were two sharply lower valuations after Mr Wee made his and that there was a complaint, the Singapore public remains in the dark as to

  • who made the complaint
  • who the two Peranakan experts whose valuations carry more weight than Mr Wee’s and last but not least
  • how much were the subsequent experts paid for their valuations?

Care to enlighten us, Prof Koh?

Now, the Tan Eng Sian donation isn’t the only multi-million dollar deal that has come a cropper as a result of a complaint.

Last week the Singapore stock market, which already had its hands full from the Grecian debt and deficit fall-out, had to deal with the fall-out from an 11th hour (OK, 12 hours, if you must be precise)  pull-out by IPO aspirant, China’s New Century Shipbuilding.

Rumours there were aplenty with various unnamed sources close to the matter giving the same story: the withdrawal was due to the Chinese shipbuilder’s failure to disclose that its subsidiary is the defendant in a US$60 million lawsuit filed by Singapore-based Sino Noble. Also, New Century is alleged to have included two shipbuilding contracts worth a total of US$180 million, which had already been terminated some time ago

And how did our bourse SGX get wind of that lawsuit allegation and contracts inflation? A complaint apparently is New Century’s undoing.

Some powerful complainant it must have been surely for  those astute professionals working on the offering — and whose faces must now be covered in egg, if the complaint is true — to take notice? How can a lawsuit involving a Singapore company, which would easily turn up in a search on public records, be overlooked?

Like NHB and ACM over the Peranakan donation, I’ve a feeling we are never going to know who complained. SGX, MAS, UBS, Morgan Stanley and DBS will probably seal what they know about this fiasco in a … a… kamcheng?

what we know, we'd keep in a kam cheng

I spied with my little eye more

Singapore’s who’s who..

Starting with the scion of a very well-known Singaporean lunching with a woman who isn’t his wife at the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Kent Ridge cafe.

I mustn’t jump to conclusions because his dad in his young days too used to escort young women to meals at places such as the Stables (alas all those fillies have become old nags) at the Mandarin Hotel but he never philandered.

Also having a meal at the same clubhouse but away from prying eyes today (8 Sep) were Professor Tommy Koh and Professor Arthur Lim.

They had obviously been hosted by the NUSS committee and management because when I saw them they were being sent off by the NUSS president Johnny Tan and a committee member (also ex president and ex NMP), Chandra Mohan, with much Korean-drama courtesy (ie a lot of bowing).

Prof Lim was escorted all the way to his chauffer-driven car by Mr Tan while Prof Koh made his own way to the reserved car-parking lot for his. Well, at least a lot had been reserved for him in front of the Guild House!