Singapore Elections 2011: A Wannabe Hacker’s Point of View

This is a break from the usual tech and startup related posts as I will be voting for the very first time in my life and I thought I ought to do a blurb about it.

As a concerned and vested citizen of Singapore, I am taking a long term perspective on issues and policies. Long term as in a time-frame of decades. I believe to have a 50 year plan, you first need to have a 5 year plan. To have a 5 year plan, you first need to have 1 year plan. So, like most things, the devil is in the detail. Say I want to hire a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). CMO waltzes in and says: “Ya, I increased visitors to xyz.com by 5000%. Trust me. Hire me.”

Erm, no?

Basing current performance on historic performance is well, not my cup of tea. Call me a fundamentalist. Here’s a simple exercise. Assume there are 5000 fund managers in the world. At the end of each year, a fund manger either outperforms the market or underperforms it. By the end of year 5, just based on pure probability alone, there would still be 156 fund managers who would have outperformed the market for 5 consecutive years. No skill, just probability.

The first things that come to my mind in testing this CMO would be:

  • How did you increase it?
  • What was the context for the increase?
  • Did you do A/B testing or MVT?
  • How did you account of seasonality?
  • Were your marketing efforts repeatable and hence scalable?
  • What methods are not longer effective?
  • What was your ROI?

You know, stuff like that to make sure this guy really knows his shit. So therein lies the problem for me: No party is giving me the f*cking details. I don’t know how all the parties are going to execute on their rhetoric. I want to know how you’re going to achieve your goals over what period of time and the resources required. You know, kinda like a shareholders AGM where the stakeholders can hold the company accountable?

First for the bored and curious, you can find the manifestoes for each party here: PAP, SDP, NSP, RP, SDA and WP.

Of all the parties, I think the Worker’s Party has the most thought-out and well written manifesto. Even then, they still fall short on details. Let’s take it party by party. I’m just gonna pick up random snippets.

WP

“The government should seek to attract more venture capital firms to Singapore so that they not only provide the funding to promising start ups, but the managerial expertise as well.”

Erm, how? VC’s are chasing returns. How do you have returns when there are no exitsDoing a Yuri Milner might be a better way to help startups in Singapore.

SDA

“Target to reduce Singapore’s Gini Coefficient of 0.45 to 0.35 within 10 years, the latter figure being representative of most of the developed countries.” 

Erm, how? This is like a fucking difficult problem can? Are you going to slow down the rate of millionaires in Singapore or what? In any case, why do we have to be on-par with other developed countries? Hell, why not lower?

NSP

“Increase funding for healthcare to reduce the financial burden on Singaporeans. Increased investment in public hospitals and polyclinics to cut the waiting time for Singaporeans. More hospital beds are needed for a growing and greying population. The number of hospital beds has remained stagnant at 11,000 to 12,000 over the past 10 years, while our population grew by 26%.”

Erm, how? Where is this money coming from? Is this coming at the expense of another budget? Is there a correlation between population growth and hospital beds? Shouldn’t the right comparison be proportion of aging population versus available hospital beds? Isn’t a lot of this population growth coming from young immigrants anyway?

RP

“Universal health insurance to be funded through current CPF contributions replacing current Medisave and Medishield schemes.”

Universal health care is an age old problem. From my limited understanding, the standard way to provide for universal health care is to have high taxes like in the Nordic countries. But wait, you want to increase GST as well. So, our CPF is gonna be like a magic hat? You pull money of out it to pay for your flat, your retirement and your health insurance? Erm, show me the math please? How is this all coming to work out? Where’s all the money coming from?

SDP

“Economically, the influx of cheap foreign labour is causing wages of locals to be depressed. The widen income gap is unsustainable. Socially, the immigration policy is causing tensions that are beginning to manifest in unfortunate and ugly ways. We must check the PAP’s recklessness and stop it from increasing our population by another 30 percent!”

Let’s compare apples with apples here. As far as I can tell, all the cheap foreign labour are doing the jobs that well, Singaporeans don’t want to do. E.g. Driving buses, selling rochor beancurd, atrium sales etc. So when you say wages of locals are being depressed, who are these locals? What are they doing? I think the reason why the PAP is letting so many foreigners into the country is because Singaporeans aren’t f*cking enough. Any culture needs a birth rate of 1.25 to be self-sustaining. Singapore is at 1.16. That’s right guys, we are going to be extinct at this rate of copulation.

PAP

” Provide new, high-quality and affordable HDB home”

Housing prices must surely be one of the focal points of this election unless you’re MBT. You could have taken this opportunity to address the many concerns of Singaporeans but instead you decided to go with a one-liner. 10 points for being concise, 0 points for empathy. Also, with the whole baby fertility thing? I think you’re treating a social issue as an economic one. Throwing more money (literally) at the problem isn’t going to help FFS. Didn’t anyone of your scholars read Predictably Irrational?

My Conclusion

I am not the target audience for the various political parties ergo my vote is not important to them. Their target audience are the kind of people who would respond to lorries blasting out slogans on a loud hailer. That’s also damn old school style of campaigning man. I cannot connect emotionally with a loud hailer on a lorry. Sorry, I just can’t. Not even if Nicole Seah, Foo Mee Har AND Tin Pei Ling were in the lorry wearing nothing but their birthday suits. Then again, words don’t even count for much these days.

To a certain extent, I almost don’t care what their implementation policies are like. I know this completely contradicts what I’ve just said. But I guess I just want to know that they are actually thinking about these various problems in detail and anticipate that us, the electorate, aren’t just nodding donkeys ready to drink the kool aid that’s being dished out. That they actually have a crack team of guys doing the due diligence that’s required and having the data to support their assertions. You know, data-driven policy making.

To cap off, I think the best outcome is for PAP to win in aggregate but for certain parties to win seats in Parliament. Chen Show Mao is a rockstar and he is the kind of people we need in Parliament to provide expertise and perspective that will ultimately determine the future of Singapore and her inhabitants. We also need to start caring about the details because this isn’t a popularity contest. Maybe that’s the problem — no one cares about the details anymore.

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2 thoughts on “Singapore Elections 2011: A Wannabe Hacker’s Point of View

  1. couple of points.

    1. at the very least, “data-driven policy making” requires comprehensive data, of which the government hasn’t been very ready in providing to even the late president OTC, let alone opposition parties. i know this is baseless but honestly, if you allow your numbers to be scrutinized carefully by someone who wants your downfall, your practically digging your own grave because its probably going to be irregularities.

    2. do you really believe that the opposition will live up to their grandiose promises? of lowering gini coefficients, introducing minimum wage and all that? at the last count, only 2/84 are against pap policies in parliament. optimistically speaking, perhaps 10-15 from the opposition will get elected. they don’t even form the minimum required percentage to block bills passed by the majority. Singaporeans are pragmatic and hence the pap will continue to hold power. but think of the effect this election will bring about.

    3. face it. popular rhetoric helps gain support and the parties need it. tell me, is nike going to sell their shoes with a detailed description of the make of the shoe, the exact specifications and complete in a 10-page pamphlet about their product? or rather a sports star appearing in an ad wearing their product? the people need sexy catchphrases and juicy bits to spice their interest! its how the world does selling and its really no different from the politicians.

    4. i take issue with the foreign talent issue. if you want to compare apples with apples, i’ve got another context which i feel is much more relevant to the one you’ve raised.

    the FTs coming to singapore are capable, no doubt about that. But i’m doubly sure the Singaporeans educated locally or overseas are able to hold their own water with their own capabilities. (i’m proud of my local education)

    Whats unfair is the basis these FTs compete on. China, India, local neighbours, FTs come from predominantly places where the standard of living and also the cost of living is MUCH lower than Singapore. naturally, it doesn’t hurt them to accept lower wages compared to local singaporeans as they’re already enjoying a pay raise compared to their homes. while on the other hand, we singaporeans have lived our lives in this society where a high standard of living exists.

    to ask us to lower our standards to match the FTs in terms of wages is an extremely unfair judgement passed on us. moreover, its a sudden adjustment we have to live with, because this sudden influx only took place in the past decade.

    now, the fts are out-competing the locals because they’re able to accept a lower wage compared to singapore, in the knowledge that the fts lived through different set of living standards. is that on fair grounds? competition should only come in the form of merit, and i’ll gladly give up my job to FTs if they out-compete me in terms of performance, rather than capitalizing on an added advantage of a lowered cost to the company.
    (i haven’t talked about the unfair advantage the FTs have because companies don’t have to deal with employees on NS leave and CPF contributions)

    these are the real tangible benefits from a stronger opposition.

    first, more accountability from the government regarding their policies. CSM, LTK, SL, etc etc aren’t going to let PAP off that easily anymore, let alone allow our dear PM to brush LTK off with just 3 seconds to think of an adequate reply.

    second, political apathy amongst the youth will decline, as we have role models to follow and look upon. politics will no longer be an “old-man’s game” as more step into the fray.

    third, the opposition will gain credibility and experience as they participate in policy-making and governance. we cannot simply have one party running Singapore without any backup at all! what if, very unfortunately (and i say choi! first), our leaders meet with a poland-like incident, who’s going to take over?

  2. Hi AP,

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I think by and large we are agreeing on the same points but I might not have expressed some of my them as eloquently as you have. So just to clear things up…

    WRT to the data driving policy making. I meant that for all parties, not just PAP. A lot of the promises made by the opposition calls for money like universal health insurances, reduction of GST etc. So where is this money coming from and what are the repercussions of such changes in policy. Having a “data driven” culture in policy making will at least hold the politicians up to sound (ideally) economic justifications. Rhetoric and branding will count for a lot less if the numbers make sense at the end of the day.

    For point 2, its two separate points really. Whether they actually follow through on execution is one thing. Whether it gets passed is another. But at least there would be more “Lily Neos” championing for the people. Its a start like you said.

    For point 3. I guess that’s really it. People don’t care about the details anymore. It’s a popularity contest when it really shouldn’t be — not when the stakes are so high. This comes back to my point on data driving policy making.

    I admit my example on FT’s is kinda weak. It’s a tricky one. Protect the locals you risk becoming uncompetitive. Don’t protect them you risk incurring their wrath. This is probably a bit out of depth to comment any further. The point I was trying to make was for the opposition parties to provide more details in which pass such statements like “Economically, the influx of cheap foreign labour is causing wages of locals to be depressed. “. What industry are you talking about and for what groups of people. Essentially back to my point on more details.

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