Thursday, April 30, 2009

Harness the power of your peers

ACCOMPLISHING GOALS

Talula Cartwright, succeed@mediacorp.com.sg

IN GOOD times and bad, peer relationships can make or break you. Your peers hold the keys to resources, expertise and support and can be a powerful asset in both the short- and long-term. To work well with your peers and to leverage each other's strengths, you need to be able to effectively resolve conflict, give and receive feedback and build solid relationships.

Every relationship is not the same. You may work with peers in your department or across the organisation. With some peers, you have overlapping responsibilities and frequent interaction; with others, your relationship is indirect. Therefore, what is good enough in one relationship may lead to difficulties in another.

So, it is imperative to give peer relationships an honest evaluation and focused attention. Doing so will give you an advantage over those who ignore or mismanage their colleagues.

Work through conflict

Power is often the silent partner in conflict. During a conflict, your peers may feel threatened, their authority questioned or dismissed, or their hard-won territory under assault.

Issues of authority and responsibility, power, long-term and short-term success work their way into disagreements and disputes. By understanding the hidden power dynamics, you will be better equipped to confront conflict. Several actions that leaders can take to work through conflict are:

• Change your perspective. Trying to genuinely understand the other person's point of view instead of dismissing it outright, is a good start towards resolving conflict. Focusing on his words and behaviour, and not your own assumptions, can help bring out better perspective.

• Focus on solutions. Work with your peers to come up with ways to resolve a problem instead of focusing on blame. Identify multiple potential solutions and be willing to compromise. Remember that the objective is to look for a solution, not a victory.

• Express emotions. Feelings are often at the core of a conflict. It is better to express them in a forthright, appropriate way than having pent-up emotions leak or gush out. It is important to consider the opportune time to do so.

• Reach out. Make the first move to break a deadlock, resume communication or make amends. Taking the first step can be a risk, but it can have a tremendous positive impact as well.

• Reflect. Thinking before acting is always a safe course of action. Weigh the pros and cons and consider the best resolution to the problem. It is important to remember the time-honoured motto TLC: Think, listen, communicate.

• Take a time-out. Acting rashly can often have negative consequences. Try to let things calm down and give yourself time to think through the issue before giving a response.

• Adapt. Stay flexible to ensure conflict does not cause unnecessary problems in the future.

Give and seek feedback

Constructive feedback is part of a healthy relationship and should be a part of peer interaction. It can be a tool to strengthen good relationships and improve difficult ones. Feedback can be a sensitive issue, though. A helpful method is the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) approach:

1. Briefly describe the situation and setting where the behaviour occurred.

2. Communicate specifically what behaviours need to be changed.

3. Describe what the impact of the behaviour is.

When you skilfully deliver feedback to your peers, you are establishing an honest relationship focused on desired outcomes. The SBI model is helpful for letting your peers know when they have been inappropriate or need to improve. It can also be used for sharing good news.

You will also want to seek feedback, both positive and critical. Not all of your peers will be a helpful or ongoing source. So, before eliciting feedback, consider your best sources to turn to.

If giving feedback is unusual in your workplace, you may need to consider your challenges, expectations and goals before asking for feedback.

The more specific and targeted your feedback, the more helpful it is to you. Hence, instead of asking for general feedback, you should clearly ask for that which pertains to your goals.

Once you are comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, do it every day. The more often you receive feedback, the easier it is to be aware of what you are doing well and what you need to continue working on.

Build relationships

Your position in an organisation rarely equates to an ability to get things done. Peer relationships are essential to accomplishing your goals.

Influencing others and networking are the essential skills for developing effective relationships, and the ability to do so requires specific efforts, such as identifying and understanding their concerns, issues, agenda, perspectives and priorities.

You have to establish which peers you need to influence and the desired outcome.

It is also necessary to establish rapport that encourages openness and connection with peers, to exhibit a willingness to work together and appreciate efforts undertaken as well as to share your assets and capabilities, communicate effectively, listen sincerely and hone your negotiating skills.

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The writer is an adjunct faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education.

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www.ccl.org

For more details, visit website or contact CCL -Asia at 6854 6000.

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 27-April-2009

Second act

CHANNEL NEWSASIA

The Primetime morning interview

Jennifer Alejandro, jennifer@channelnewsasia.com

"I was past being angry. I was emotionally drained."

Thum Cheng Cheong, 46, received his biggest career blow last November. He was laid off from a European bank where he was the chief of legal and credit administration.

It happened so fast, he was shocked. He got the notice midday, putting an abrupt stop to a 16-year career in the banking.

At first he thought it was good to spend more time with his family. "It seemed like a good opportunity to rest and relax, because when would you get such a long break from work?"

But the worry set in fairly quickly, once Thum realised his job search was not yielding results. The worry was compounded by the knowledge that Singapore was caught in the midst of a global recession.

For help, he decided to turn to his passion for mind-mapping, and it turned out to be the answer he had hoped for.

Thum, a regular at mind-mapping workshops conducted by international author Tony Buzan since 2004, remembers thinking, "There were no jobs in banking at my level so I might as well take a risk. I have been assisting mind-mapping seminars for a couple of years now, so I asked myself, why not make my hobby a full time job?"

In January, the former banker and lawyer called up the local office of the Tony Buzan Learning Centre. With his track record, he was hired almost immediately as a mind-mapping trainer and in-house legal counsel.

He now moderates three workshops a week and does administrative legal work for the learning centre. He earns only half of his old salary but Thum said: "I'm happy that I could get this chance to tell people my story and do something I love."

I learned about Thum's story while researching for a series. Many have shared wonderful and touching stories with me. I remember a 51-year-old man who was retrenched by a local bank in November after 29 years in its customer service department. For almost two months, he attended job fairs and consulted agencies for assistance.

As luck would have it, a surprise came just in time for the New Year. Through a friend, he landed an interview at a secondary school and was hired as a teacher.

These are real-life survivors — people open to trying something they might never have considered, who had the courage to face up to change. After all, many of life's "second acts" begin only after a crisis.

We are looking for people who have re-invented themselves and got the better of retrenchment. If you have a story to tell, email second_act@channelnewsasia.com. Turn that page. Everybody deserves a second chance.

From TODAY, Plus – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First dip in resale flat prices since 2006

BUSINESS ANALYSIS

Prices of HDB resale flats fell 0.8 per cent in the first quarter compared with the previous quarter, marking the first decline since 2006.

This was slightly worse than the 0.6 -per-cent fall estimated by HDB earlier this month.

Price increases in resale flats have been moderating since the third quarter of last year. The median Cash-Over-Valuation amount for resale transactions dropped to $4,000 in the first quarter, a plunge of 73 per cent from the fourth quarter of last year.

The number of resale applications rose by 4 per cent to around 6,400. 938LIVE

From TODAY, Business – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

2007 homebuyers at risk

BUSINESS ANALYSIS

Tay Huey Ying

THE islandwide property price index registered a decline of 14.1 per cent in the first quarter, slightly steeper than the flash estimate of 13.8 per cent.

This is the worst quarterly decline to date. It's also worse than the 13.1 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop recorded in the third quarter of 1998 when the residential market was adversely affected by the Asian financial crisis.

Private home prices have now fallen for the third consecutive quarter, with a total decline of 21.2 per cent since peaking in 2Q 2008.

Based on the URA's statistics, the private home property index is now almost back to 1Q 2007's level. Hence, purchasers who bought their properties after 1Q 2007 are at risk of having the valuation of their properties fall below their purchase price. For those who bought their properties on the deferred payment scheme and have yet to secure a loan, this would limit the loan-to-purchase price ratio that they can secure from financing institutions.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence has thus far shown that a majority of such buyers are able to cough up the amount of purchase price not supported by valuation in cash. This has helped to keep the number of distressed sales at a controllable level.

Moving forward, although private home prices are expected to remain depressed, the rate of decline is forecast to moderate from the high of 1Q 2009, as developers have already marked down prices substantially in the quarter. Mass-market homes could see more gradual price corrections averaging in the region of 8 to 12 per cent over the next three quarters, as more sellers in the secondary market and developers of unsold units from earlier launches could be expected to adjust their prices to near-current levels.

The mid-tier and high-end segments could witness larger average price declines ranging from 10 to 15 per cent over the same period.

The writer is director for research and advisory at Colliers International.

From TODAY, Business – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

Last Letters

NEW BUSINESS

One man is helping others say that final farewell

Loh Chee Kong, cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg

DRIVEN to desperation by the Asian financial crisis, Mr H Y Teo faced the prospect of losing his home right after his IT business went bust — had his parents and siblings not helped him repay his mounting bank loans.

He recalled: "I wanted to tell them how much I appreciate and love them but I didn't know how to say it."

So, he wrote them heartfelt letters, and it struck him then that there must be many others like him, "who had something to tell their families but they didn't have the opportunity, or the time was not right, they were not ready, or they were too embarrassed".

Eleven years on — and facing another recession — Mr Teo, a part-time IT consultant, has turned that realisation into a business: The idea is to get people to pen their last words in advance, leave them in the hands of a total stranger who would deliver the letter to the intended recipients — wherever they are — for a modest sum of $39.90 (until June, when Mr Teo will review the pricing strategy).

Lastletters.com.sg has, since its launch in January, attracted an average of 60 to 100 visitors a day from around the world (mainly from Americans and Australians, with Asians making up less than 10 per cent).

According to the website, the company would contact the client once a year for the first two years upon receipt of the letter — and once every six months thereafter.

Should such attempts fail to contact the client, the letter would be delivered to the recipients.

Unconvinced? Apparently, some 400 or so people out there beg to differ. They have been interested enough to contact Mr Teo to ask for more details — on top of pouring their sorrows over marital problems or complaining about the neighbours.

"There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly," Mr Teo recalled.

A common refrain among the enquiries was while they liked the idea of penning so-called "last letters", they were unsure how to do it. Apart from letters — which have to weigh less than 100 grammes — Mr Teo also offers to safekeep and subsequently deliver personal artefacts to intended recipients. A 75-year-old Briton has already asked Mr Teo if he could help him pass a grandfather clock to his son after he dies.

Mr Teo has yet to close any deals but he is optimistic — so much so that he is planning to retire in two years and concentrate on building up what his friends have disapprovingly described as a "black business".

Some friends have argued that people contemplating suicide can now count on Mr Teo to deliver their last words.

But Mr Teo is adamant he is doing more good than harm.

Said Mr Teo: "If people want to take their own lives, nobody can stop them." What his business intends to do is to give people the peace of mind to "go anywhere they want, and take on any jobs they want".

And he was convinced he would be making the world a "better place"— even if people do not buy his idea, which was exactly what some have told him via email.

Said Mr Teo: "They said they were not going to be my customers. They said something like, 'I'm going to spend more time with my loved ones because I realised that I neglected them a lot. I'm now going to speak to them a lot more.'"

Mr Teo continued: "My tears rolled down after I read these — not because I'm sad that I'm not getting business. I think I have done some good to educate people out there."

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There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly.

Mr H Y Teo, www.lastletters.com.sg

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Never mind the moral lessons, the business concept certainly has moneymaking potential. Mr Teo has already received a handful of propositions from major technology corporations, which were sounding him out for a joint venture. One even said it might consider acquiring his business.

"I won't sell my business for whatever amount they can offer... at least not in the near future. I want to see it grow," Mr Teo insisted.

And yes, those letters he had written in 1998 are still with him — lovingly preserved in air-tight plastic bags and locked away in a safe. "My wife and children know what to do with them should anything happen to me," he added.

WEEKENDXTRA

From TODAY, World – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

Notable Successful Failures

"For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again."
Proverbs 24:16

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You have probably read how "Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read. Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school. Beethoven's music teacher once said of him, 'As a composer he is hopeless.' When a boy, Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything. F.W. Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21, but his employers wouldn't let him wait on a customer because he 'didn't have enough sense.' A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had 'no good ideas.' Enrico Caruso's music teacher told him, 'You can't sing. You have no voice at all.' And the director of the Imperial Opera in Vienna told Madame Schumann-Heink that she would never be a singer and advised her to buy a sewing machine.

Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. Werner von Braun flunked ninth-grade algebra. Admiral Richard E. Byrd had been retired from the Navy as 'unfit for service' until he flew over both Poles. Louis Pasteur was rated as 'mediocre' in chemistry when he attended the Royal College. Abraham Lincoln entered the Black Hawk War as a captain and came out as a private. Louisa May Alcott was told by an editor that she could never write anything that had popular appeal. Fred Waring was once rejected for high school chorus. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade." Dr. Milton E, Larson, "Humbling Cases for Career Counselors," Phi Delta Kappa, February 1983. Volume LIV, No. 6; 374.

Speaking personally, my father wouldn't allow me to go to high school. I was only 13 when he made me go to work to earn my own way. But through faith in God and sensing his purpose for my life, hard work, and determination I not only graduated from college but also from graduate school. True, I started late, but I made it. You can too.

My advice to one and all is this: Don't allow your past to determine your future. Discover God's purpose for your life and, with his help, give it all you've got.

Remember, failure is an event—not a person. When you stumble and fall (and you will from time to time), don't stay down. Get up, learn from your mistakes, and go on! Every day for the rest of your life commit and trust your life and way to God and he will be with you every step of the way.

Suggested prayer:
"Dear God, help me to know what your plan and purpose for my life is. And give me the faith and insight to learn from my failures and the strength and courage to never give up until I become all that you envisioned for me to be, and to do all that you planned for me to do. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

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Received in the e-mail from a good friend…

True Greatness

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3 (NKJV)

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Shortly after Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town, when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman.

Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested.

When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady. The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. "It's perfectly all right, Madam," he replied. "Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it's always a delight to do something for a friend."

Suggested prayer:
"Dear God, please help to remember that I, too, am a fellow struggler and should always be ready to lend a helping hand to that person in need whom you bring across my path. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

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Received in the e-mail from a good friend…

NEWS COMMENT

By boycotting the Geneva racism conference, the West suggests they agree that hate speech is not free speech

Nazry Bahrawi

090423-NewsComment WE HAIL it among the loftiest of human ideals. So much so that it was cast in stone as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in 1948.

That we can speak freely without fear of repercussion, is as sacred as life itself. Its sacrosanct virtue is perhaps best captured in the aphorism credited to Voltaire’s biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Yet when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened the UN racism conference in Geneva on Monday by calling Israel “a cruel and repressive racist regime”, representatives of Western nations who attended staged a walkout. This snub came after several Western states such as the United States and the Netherlands decided they would boycott the conference by not showing up.

Some would justify their act on the belief that the Iranian President was making a farce of the UN summit. British Ambassador to the UN Peter Gooderham explained that Mr Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric against Israel was “the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve”.

Given that anti-Semitism was one of the primary themes of the summit, Mr Gooderham’s observation has some credence. But Islamophobia was also a theme at the summit.

Western nations did not react with the same fervour to the Prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy four years back that began in Europe and swept through the Muslim world. Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published 12 satirical caricatures of Prophet Mohammed, at that time defended its move as an exercise in the freedom of expression. As Muslims worldwide took to the streets to protest, European newspapers reacted by republishing these cartoons on the pretext of defending the sanctity of the freedom of expression.

Both controversies had each undermined a segment of humanity — Muslims with the Mohammed cartoons and Jews with Mr Ahmadinejad’s lambast of Israel. So, why the double standard on the part of Western nations?

Even though their diplomats do not agree with Mr Ahmadinejad, the boycott and dramatic walkout does not gel with the idealistic notion of defending to the death the right to speak wrong. If there is any wisdom that could be garnered from this UN debacle, it is that the likes of Ms Hall may be peddling a Utopian vision. The universality of free speech is fast becoming a myth, if not already. There is always a backlash. Speech is nuanced more than it is free.

Far from oppressing us, this realization must surely free humanity from the naïve stance that we have held on to so tightly since 1948. Perhaps it is time for world leaders to rethink Article 19 to better reflect ground realities. There is already precedence to justify the move. A clause that decries hate speech could be a good start.

Before die-hard propagators of free speech resort to decrying this suggestion as a heresy to the sanctity of civil liberties, a qualification needs to be outlined with regards to the thorny issue of religion. Hate speech is not the same as criticism of religion. The former could lead to disastrous ends, while the latter has the potential of unveiling the evils of authoritarianism.

As portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda, hate speech instigating the majority Hutus to attack the minority Tutsi “cockroaches” was broadcast over the radio just days before the genocide. Surely this must not count as an exercise of free speech.

But in the endeavour to rethink free speech, criticism of religious ideas must not be derided. This is a practice that exists even within the Muslim tradition, where the faithfuls used to freely express their doubt and disagreement about different facets of Islam during sermons delivered by persons of religious authority, including Prophet Mohammed.

On the political front, some diplomacy should perhaps be exercised if criticism of religion is to make any headway. The consideration of power here is highly important. When economically stronger European nations lead the charge against Islamic ideas as in the case of the Danish caricatures, they are effectively signaling to the Muslim world — most of which comprise developing nations — that the powerful could stomp on the weak.

This is painfully reminiscent of colonising tendencies and it is regressive. In this light, the boycott and walkout of the Geneva summit only serve to add further grievous harm to an already sore injury. A more becoming reaction of powerful Western nations would have been for their diplomats to stay and engage with the ideas of the delegates that they disapprove.

Above all, it is clear that both the Western nations and the Muslim world, despite their seeming disagreements about free speech, are fighting the same enemy — hate speech. So why not reconfigure Article 19 of the UDHR to reflect this ideal?

The writer is pursuing a postgraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh under the British Chevening scholarship.

From TODAY, World – Friday, 24-April-2009

Economic recovery a slow thaw

Tan Hui Leng, huileng@mediacorp.com.sg

GLOBAL economic recovery is likely later in the year, but sustainable growth will be slow, said investment strategists here yesterday.

Describing the recovery as a "slow thaw", Societe Generale Asset Management (SGAM) strategy and economic research head Michala Marcussen said she expects weak growth in the next two years before sustainable recovery in 2012.

Barclays Wealth's Aaron Gurwitz, managing director and head of global investment strategy, said while he is "less pessimistic" the recession will creep into the next year, downside risks still remain, with the weak economy and crippled banking system vulnerable to external shocks.

Ms Marcussen, one of Europe's 100 most influential women in finance, noted that even amid signs of a pick-up in the economy, credit is still not flowing normally. But she is encouraged by evidence of improvement, such as stabilisation in inventory levels, policies to stimulate the economy, as well as positive signals in business confidence.

"Ordinarily with all this stimulus out there, business confidence would have soared up to historically high levels rather than stabilising at historical levels, so that shows that there is something out there slowing down the economy," she said.

    Economic recovery, she noted, would come with deleveraging — as the current downturn, triggered by the sub-prime crisis is due to the world being increasingly leveraged and dependent on short-term loans.

Thus, a key challenge is the deleveraging of US household debt. But unlike previous crises when the world would, at some point, depend on the US to increase leverage, it is unlikely to happen this time round, she added. Asia is unlikely to pick up the slack because it does not yet have independent domestic growth engines in place, something that is likely to change only in the longer term.

From TODAY, Business – Thursday, 23-April-2009

SATYAM COMPUTER SERVICES

Firm's managers duped customers as they lined their pockets, says report

NEW DELHI — Managers at India's Satyam Computer Services spun an elaborate web of fraud to attract customers and investors, while using stakes in the company to raise cash for themselves, according to a report by India's top investigation agency.

The deception played out over at least eight years, involved dual accounting books, more than 7,000 forged invoices, dozens of fake bank statements, thousands of unnecessary employees and auditors who received fees several times the market rate, according to a charge sheet filed by the Criminal Bureau of Investigation.

The 77-page document provides details of the scope of the fraud at Satyam, and lays out the bureau's case for charging six company managers, their PricewaterhouseCoopers auditors and an adviser with cheating, forgery and falsification of accounts.

Satyam managers, including the founding brothers B Ramalinga and B Rama Raju, "were able to attract prospective customers and investors by making them believe" that the company was "carrying out huge volumes of business", the report said.

The details of the bureau's investigation could bolster a string of class-action suits pending against Satyam managers and auditors.

Tech Mahindra, a joint venture between the Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra and BT Group, won an auction to take over Satyam on April 13 with a bid valuing the company at US$1.1 billion ($1.66 billion). The deal may still need to clear regulatory hurdles in the United States and Europe.

The Raju family and their friends, which held 19 per cent of Satyam when it went public in 1992, "made hay when the sun was shining" by selling shares as they carried out the fraud, the bureau said.

More than 300 investment companies were started, some of which used loans backed by shares to invest in real estate and agriculture.

Banks issuing the loans included Deutsche Investments India, GE Capital Services and DSP Merrill Lynch.

Like many companies, Satyam had a multi-step process for taking customer orders, calculating what the work would cost and generating invoices.

Managers in different departments checked and crosschecked the figures as they passed through the system.

But employees in the accounts receivable team could also practise "emergency generating of invoices" which bypassed most of the steps, the report said.

From the beginning of April 2003 to the end of 2008, nearly 75,000 of these special invoices were created.

Of these, 7,561 were fraudulent, generated to make Satyam look as if it had more business than it did.

From 2004 until the fraud came to light when Ramalinga confessed in January this year, sales were inflated 18 per cent a quarter on average, for a total of about 42.6 billion rupees ($1.3 billion).

The Raju brothers are accused of forging receipts for bank deposits and destroying the forgeries.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

From TODAY, Business – Thursday, 23-April-2009

I SAY

Liang Dingzi

DBS Bank’s objection to Ms Josie Lau, vice-president for consumer banking group cards and unsecured loans, taking on the top post at women’s advocacy group Aware demonstrates antiquated thinking.

It raises the question of how far an employer can legitimately exercise control over employees’ external activities.

DBS said it supported Ms Lau’s involvement as a council member, but not as president. This is tantamount to not recognising her rights to private decisions on matters outside of work.

This could not have come at a worse time as Singapore looks to promote volunteerism as a way of life.

Not many companies, however, are as generous as DBS in supporting volunteer work even at the basic level. For good public relations as responsible corporate citizens, some firms structure community contributions into work schedules (lest there be a lack of volunteers on their own time), but they frown upon any involvement in activities that have nothing to do with the company.

Usually cited is the blanket concern that such activities will adversely affect performance at work. Such an argument puts the cart before the horse, because it depends on how each individual balances work with personal pursuits.

The choice should rest with the employee, who must then be prepared to face consequences when he or she underperforms. In fact, many companies already have in place measures to deal with poor performance, not necessarily the result of an employee’s involvement in volunteer work.

It is time companies realise they do not own their employees, body and soul. What they have a right to demand from staff is loyalty and to refrain from acts that will jeopardise the business of the company.

Few individuals can afford to do fulltime volunteer work, and few companies are able to offer opportunities for those inclined to expend their energy this way.

But there is more to life than just work. The more Singaporeans become involved in community activities, the stronger their pride of belonging. Nil or lukewarm corporate support only serves to smother that passion and check a development that could benefit society.

The world was impressed with the spirit of volunteerism displayed by China’s citizenry at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Singapore will have its opportunity at the Asian Youth Games and again at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. It is critical that companies lend their support.

But support for only big national events is not enough. For Singapore to be a vibrant society where life can be lived meaningfully and with fulfilment, there should be more opportunities for individuals to take up challenges outside of work.

Companies that allow staff room to grow, not just within but also outside the company, will benefit from having in their employment more well-rounded individuals.

The writer is a management consultant.

Email your views to voices@mediacorp.com.sg

From TODAY, Voices – Thursday, 23-April-2009

SINGAPORE BEYOND LKY

Singapore can prosper even if differences exist

Letter from Poh Lee Heng

I refer to “Singapore beyond Lee Kuan Yew” (April 22).

I am 45 years old and have seen and benefited from the transition of Singapore from Third World to First under the strong but dominant leadership of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. I am very pleased that there is at least a debate about the future of Singapore beyond Mr Lee.

There should be more such debates as this is an issue of great national interest. The more we debate about it, the better we will be prepared for any unexpected scenario.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping is spot-on by saying that “for Singapore’s sake, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had better be sustainably competent, because there is no dependable, tested Opposition party as fallback for the country. The price of the PAP’s extraordinarily successful half-century of governance is that the system is now particularly vulnerable to the internal self-renewal of the PAP”.

The Singapore political system is highly efficient but not robust and as Mr Ho had pointed out, very dependent on the PAP.

China’s political system is efficient compared with India’s but India’s system is relatively more robust.

For a party to be in power for so long and remain corrupt-free and efficient is due to the strong leadership of Mr Lee and its current leaders.

In addition, the current leadership is self-disciplined and constantly reminding themselves of their duty toward the people of Singapore.

But in the absence of a strong leader, there is no guarantee that it will continue to do so.

I personally would rather live with a certain amount of instability due to political differences, in exchange for political robustness. I think Singapore has matured vastly over the last 20 years and can survive and prosper even if there are political differences.

Mr Lee, Singapore’s founding father, is in a great position to put our political system on a road map to robustness and this should cut across party interests.

I hope that Singapore will continue to be a great country for my children who are now in their teenage years.

From TODAY, Voices – Thursday, 23-April-2009

WASHINGTON — Fears over China are hitting the image of Asian-Americans, as their loyalties come under suspicion despite steady improvements in perceptions of the community, a survey said.

The Committee of 100, a Chinese-American group, conducted a nationwide survey to look at changes since its major study in 2001 on attitudes toward Asian-Americans in the United States.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of the public believed immigration from Asia was good for the nation and far more people were willing to accept an Asian-American marrying into the family or as an official representing them in government.

After electing Mr Barack Obama as their first African-American leader, just 9 per cent of Americans were uncomfortable with the idea of an Asian-American president, well down from 23 per cent in 2001.

But 45 per cent of the general public believed Asian-Americans were more loyal to their nations of origin than the US — up from 37 per cent at the beginning of the decade.

Mr Frank Wu, a scholar who helped lead the study, said that those Americans with the most anxiety about China’s rapidly growing economy were also the most concerned about Asian-Americans.

“There is increasing acceptance of Asian-Americans as people who are equals with the right to take part in democracy and are no different from white or black Americans,” Mr Wu said. “But coupled to that, there is also a great sense among a significant part of the population that they are not quite ‘real’ Americans.”

The survey, administered by Harris Interactive, interviewed 1,427 adults in January.

Mr Wu said unlike some other groups, particularly African-Americans, stereotypes about Asian-Americans were largely positive — viewed as a “model minority” who are hardworking. “We’re lavished with praise on one hand but if you scratch a bit beneath the surface, then Asians are seen as not just hardworking but as unfair competition — they are sort of taking over,” he said.

Around 5 per cent of the US population claim ancestry from Asia. AFP

From TODAY, World – Thursday, 23-April-2009

Take it like a man

PIRACY TRIAL

Somali teen pirate to be tried as an adult in US court

NEW YORK — A teenaged pirate captured by US forces in a high-seas drama off Somalia was ordered to stand trial here as an adult on Tuesday.

Abduhl Wali-i-Musi, wearing a blue T-shirt and with head lowered as he entered the court with an interpreter, faces the mandatory life imprisonment if convicted on the most serious charge of piracy.

Judge Andrew Peck ruled the young Somali would be tried as an adult after rejecting a claim by the defendant’s father that Musi was only 15 years old. Prosecutors said he was over 18.

The five charges filed against Musi were piracy “under the law of nations”, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to take hostages, and discharging and brandishing a firearm in the course of a hostage-taking.

Musi was allegedly one of four Somali pirates who boarded the US container ship Maersk Alabama on April 8, and later fled taking its American captain, Richard Phillips, as a hostage in a small life boat.

Musi, who prosecutors described as the group’s leader, was taken into custody April 12 after he boarded the USS Bainbridge to demand safe passage in return for Mr Phillips’ release.

On the fifth day of the ordeal, US Navy snipers shot dead the other three pirates and rescued Mr Phillips.

The crew member who stabbed Musi said on Tuesday that the teenager counted himself lucky to raid a US ship and carried himself as the leader of the pirate gang.

“He was surprised he was on a US ship. He kept asking, ‘You all come from America?’ Then he claps and cheers and smiles. He caught himself a big fish. He can’t believe it,” crew member ATM “Zahid” Reza said.

He said Musi told him it was his dream to come to America. “His dreams come true, but he comes to the US not as a visitor, but as a prisoner,” Mr Reza said.

AGENCIES

From TODAY, World – Thursday, 23-April-2009

The end result is a zero-sum game

Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun

CYNICISM has long reigned in Thai politics.

The crisis, which culminated in violent clashes between Thai security forces and red-shirt protesters spiritually commanded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, reaffirmed the existing absurdity and hypocrisy in the nation’s political domain.

First, on the surface, the current political wrangling between the Bangkok elite and the masses in rural areas seems to have stemmed from a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Analysts describe this conflict as a “class war”.

Representing the rich are those in the circle of the old establishment. They include big businesses, the military and the royalists, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. The Democrat Government, under the leadership of Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, identifies itself with this powerful network.

Mr Thaksin, on the other hand, has led the rural poor. He carefully nurtured his image as an authentic friend of the have-nots through his populist programmes designed to empower the grassroots. Effectively, this image and his reputation as a leader of action for the poor, had sustained him through a series of crises, including the bloodless military coup that overthrew him in September 2006.

But the ex-PM is a billionaire has lived a lavish life. When he was accused of having siphoned off US$2 billion ($3 billion) through the sale of his Shin Corp to Singapore, Mr Thaksin found himself battling to shore up his pro-poor image. Now in exile, he is still concealing his status of a tycoon-turned-politician, but continues to volunteer to fight for the poor. Ridiculous as it seems, Mr Thaksin has emerged as a hero of the have-nots. He is Thailand’s version of Argentina’s Juan Domingo Peron. Second, the buzzword in Thai politics today is democracy — such as equality, justice and respect for human rights.

Mr Thaksin, in a five-minute interview with US cable network CNN on the night of the violence in Bangkok, referred to “true democracy” 10 times. He considered his actions, such as calling for a nationwide uprising against the government, a battle for democracy and justice. He believes democracy was robbed by the military and its political proxy — the Democrat government.

A long-running theme in Thai politics, according to Mr Thaksin, is that the country, when not facing military rule or praetorian bureaucracy, is confined to one brand or other of elite democracy.

To contest this, he crafted his own brand of democracy supposedly based on the people’s campaign. He once made clear his willingness to hold a national referendum on the question pertaining to constitutional changes to make the political system more receptive to the people’s voices and needs.

But while in power from 2001 to 2006, Mr Thaksin was too willing to transform Thai democracy into a government of his singular political self. On top of this, he denied responsibility for gross human rights abuse in the drug war that saw more than 2,500 Thais executed and his government’s maltreatment of Thai Muslims in the deep south.

The fact that he blatantly accused Mr Abhisit’s government of killing unarmed protesters and hiding their bodies inside military barracks, which has until now proved groundless, shows he remains a prisoner of his own artificial brand of democracy.

Finally, both Mr Thaksin and Mr Abhisit are now talking about national reconciliation. Mr Abhisit, in particular, wants to exhibit his leadership and regain legitimacy. The recent Pattaya incident and the ferocious riots in Bangkok, however, reconfirm a deep polarisation between the two political factions. This polarisation seems increasingly untreatable. Thus, national reconciliation may not be the right remedy.

Thai politics, in its present form, is best described in terms of political networks. The two networks, one represented by the old establishment and the other by Mr Thaksin, have sought to eliminate one another. A zero-sum game is the likely end scenario. Yet, the leaders pretend to aspire for a false reconciliation.

But cynicism is a useful political tool. It obscures the scary reality of Thai politics and makes its leaders look normal and legitimate in the imperfect world of Thai democracy.

It would, therefore, be cynical to conclude that the end of violent demonstrations in Thailand and the ability of the government to take control of the situation are enduring. This is because that scary reality in Thai politics has yet to be seen.

The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

From TODAY, World – Thursday, 23-April-2009

FOOD STALL HYGIENE

Benchmark idea for hospital canteens ‘helpful’, but won’t work for hawker stalls: Yaacob

Leong Wee Keat, weekeat@mediacorp.com.sg

WHILE he welcomes the Health Minister’s firm stance that food stalls at public hospitals must score an “A” or “B” on cleanliness, that is Mr Khaw Boon Wan’s “prerogative”, says Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, who rules out tying hawker stall tenders to hygiene grades.

“If we just penalise them just because they are (graded) Cs and Ds, there may be other implications,” said Dr Yaacob yesterday. “I think some hawkers have already mentioned ... that this may affect their livelihood. So, rather than make it a legal requirement, we work with them ... On the part of NEA (National Environment Agency), we will continue to work with the hawkers and hawkers’ association to improve their hygiene standards.”

He also called on consumers to send a signal by choosing a B-graded stall over one graded C.

On Sunday, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan suggested linking the renewal of stall tenders at hospitals to their hygiene ratings, with those not meeting the mark told to close shop.

While there is clear consensus that cleanliness standards need to be improved, why such divergent approaches from two ministers?

There is “no right or wrong” in either approach, said Madam Halimah Yacob who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health.

In hospitals, the public expect the “highest standard of hygiene possible” and if mass food poisoning were to occur, “the psychological impact would be far greater”, she felt. Pointing out that hospital food stalls see a different clientele, Mdm Halimah added: “Besides visitors, customers could also be patients waiting to see a doctor.”

Her counterpart helming the GPC for Environment, Mr Charles Chong, pointed out that while food stalls in hospitals could be purpose-built, hawker centres on the other hand come in a wide range — including makeshift temporary ones.

“Some are old, some are new. If they impose a minimum standard straight away ... there will be an uproar from the hawkers who may complain that they have been subjectively graded,” he said.

Numbers could also make a difference: While there are just six restructured hospitals, there are 106 hawker centres across the island with 5,600 stalls.

-----

No hygiene rating for night markets

Pasar malams will not be given a hygiene rating — in spite of the fact that more food stall operators at such night markets were booked last year for hygiene lapses — but that does not mean they are not scrutinised, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Pasar malams “operate on a very short basis” and by the time the grading is done, the markets are over. “The most important thing is to make sure we check. So, don’t be under the impression that pasar malams are not being supervised ... Our inspectors are down on the ground to supervise,” the Minister said.

There are also licensing requirements, such as that food must be prepared beforehand, with only heating up or frying allowed. Last year, 45 enforcement tickets were issued, up from 31 in 2007 and 23 in 2006.

ONG DAI LIN

-----

Since 2001, 72 centres have been upgraded with the remaining 30 or so to be madeover by 2012. And Dr Yaacob is confident this would help significantly to raise standards. After all, he revealed, 99 per cent of the stall holders who have benefitted from the Hawker Centre Upgrading Programme, have achieved “A” or “B” grades.

“This shows that as we begin to improve the ambience, design, layout and impose better cleaning practices, hawkers can do a good job in terms of improving hygiene standards,” he said.

The 12-year-old hygiene grading system assesses food hawkers based on cleanliness, housekeeping and food and personal hygiene. Last year, more than 85 per cent of stalls scored an “A” or “B”.

The weak chink in the armour: The four temporary markets currently, where more than nine in 10 stalls have “C” grades. Inspections of such markets have been stepped up, Dr Yaacob said.

Mr Chong hopes more can be done. He got the sense, after speaking to some hawkers, that many are not clear on how grading is conducted. The authorities could also think of ways — such as rental rebates — to reward hawkers who move from a “C” to an “A” grade, he said.

From TODAY, News – Thursday, 23-April-2009

D-BODHI

Tan Hui Leng
huileng@mediacorp.com.sg

WHEN Ms Anita Sam (picture) started importing eco-friendly furniture five years ago, customers snapped up pieces based on their design and craftsmanship. Today, consumers consider the environmental sustainability of the furniture's raw materials first, and design second.

"I think Singaporeans have reached a level of maturity where they love good design and quality, but they also want to be socially responsible," said the Singapore Permanent Resident and furniture industry veteran.

"It's the 'feel-good' factor… not only does the furniture look good, it is also good for the environment."

Last Friday's official opening of the flagship d-Bodhi concept store, which Ms Sam said saw "very substantial sales", is testimony to her passion for environmental sustainability. In fact, sales at the eco-friendly furniture business have grown almost 10-fold from 2004 when it would ship out two containers a month to the 18 to 20 containers monthly now. The company aims to expand its monthly exports to some 30 containers this year and 50 next year.

d-Bodhi is one of a few reclaimed wood industry players in Singapore. The furniture range was started in 2002 by Dutch national Raymond Davids, a partner of the company. It recently set up a 3,200-square-foot flagship store at Alexandra Industrial Estate here and hopes to have 200 d-Bodhi shops worldwide by 2015.

d-Bodhi uses reclaimed teak from Indonesia, with pieces salvaged from buildings and railway sleepers and can be up to 100 years old.

"Reclaimed wood poses other challenges, such as the tedious collection of wood," said d-Bodhi's co-owner and director Ms Sam. A team of 700 in Indonesia is involved in the business — from sussing out buildings for sale to collection of wood.

Unlike buying new wood by volume, reclaimed wood comes in all shapes and sizes. It has to be processed more arduously, as items like nails, nuts and bolts and screws have to be removed before they can be stripped down. The planks then have to be sorted according to the type of furniture they are more suited to be in their next lifetime.

However, such teak has a special quality which Ms Sam and other aficionados love for the character its grain, natural finish and age lend.

The d-Bodhi line is marketed as a premium brand, with prices starting at $300 for chairs and over $3,000 for bedroom sets. d-Bodhi also distributes to 13 countries globally and aims to sell in 25 countries by next year.

It has been successful in getting the United States-based Forest Stewardship Council to start a new certification category, that is, "100 per cent recycled wood" for such furniture, different from new wood sourced from sustainable plantations.

"For many of our customers, it's a conscious decision to buy from us rather than from other shops," said Ms Sam.

"Some of them also tell me frankly that they entertain friends and business associates who are environmentally friendly."

That d-Bodhi's furniture come with an international "green" certification is the icing on the cake. The company has extended the eco-friendly aspect of the business to reuse sawdust generated during the furniture making process as they are pressed with a resin to be made into home accessories like tealight holders, coasters and table lamps.

Looking ahead, d-Bodhi is open to using other types of reclaimed wood. It is also looking into working with more Singapore designers through Spring Singapore.

From TODAY, Enterprise – Wednesday, 22-April-2009
I SAY
Ho Kwon Ping

IT IS perhaps Mr Lee Kuan Yew's fate, as one of very few successful nation-founders who retired on their own accord, to have periodic questions asked about his legacy. After all, the overwhelming majority of revolutionary leaders or nation-founders had more courage than wisdom, and few retired willingly.

The considerable earlier achievements of Mr Mao Zedong, Mr Fidel Castro, or even Mr Robert Mugabe, were severely diminished by their clinging to power long past their peak. In modern history, perhaps only China's Mr Deng Xiaoping and Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew not only when to retire, but how to guide their countries to a sustainable, stable future.

Mr Deng has long passed from China's scene, but the country remains firmly focused on Mr Deng's vision of a peaceful and prosperous country, attaining its rightful place in the world. In Singapore, Mr Lee remains a vibrant mentor, though slower of gait and mellower in temperament.

So the question is: When he is no longer around, how will Singapore fare? Will it, as the political scientist Professor Samuel Huntington, once predicted, that the system created by Mr Lee "will follow him to his grave"?

This was the broad thrust of a recent forum entitled "Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew". As one of the speakers, I raised two questions. First, whether political renewal within the People's Action Party (PAP) can produce leaders of sufficient calibre that people will continue to support the unique one-party-dominant system characteristic of the Singapore system of governance. Because if they do not, we will be sailing in uncharted waters.

And second, should the waters ever turn choppy, can tomorrow's generation find their way through the storm, with or without the PAP? In other words, how will Singapore society and its people fare and fend for themselves beyond Mr Lee?

Let's take the first issue of political renewal within the PAP. For Singapore's sake, the ruling PAP had better be sustainably competent, because there is no dependable, tested opposition party as fallback for the country. The price to Singapore of the PAP's extraordinarily successful half-century of governance is that the system is now particularly vulnerable to the internal self-renewal of the PAP.

Will the Singapore system of self-renewal work beyond Mr Lee and after the present generation of leaders depart the scene? The only possible answer, since we have not yet crossed that bridge, is that we do not know. But future leaders will certainly not enjoy the huge political legitimacy arising from approval by Mr Lee.

The risk to successful self-renewal in Singapore beyond Mr Lee is not only the paucity of talent and the difficulty of identifying, recruiting and grooming leaders.

Another risk, over time, is the spectre of internal schisms within the PAP. The party's extraordinary cohesion over 50 years is due not only to the PAP's compelling vision and its centrist positioning, but owes much to the forceful personality of Mr Lee. Whether factionalism can be kept in check after this present generation of leaders including its mentor, have left the scene, is an imponderable. But given its past record, the chances are reasonably good.

The second question I raised was this: If the PAP, for whatever reason, fails to lead Singapore, will Mr Lee's legacy then unravel? Or can the people of Singapore muddle their way through even if the leadership renewal of the PAP fails to deliver what it has done for the past 50 years?

To borrow from United States President Barack Obama, I think the answer is "yes, we can". Mr Lee's greatest legacy, I believe, is that the Singapore which he so passionately shaped will outlive not only him, but even his own party should that ever come to pass.

Perhaps because he is the quintessential realist with no illusions about the difficulty of creating a genuine nation out of different ethnic groups with their own traditions, and still recognises that the fault lines of race and religion continue to lurk in the background, Mr Lee has made nation-building one of the single most critical political imperatives of his leadership. And he has largely succeeded.

No Singaporean or foreigner questions today that we have a shared identity, common values and aspirations. This is no small achievement.

And so, 44 years after nationhood, the acute sense of vulnerability which suffused the Lee Kuan Yew era with an urgent dynamism, is inevitably giving way to a more relaxed and confident nation.

Will that translate into a complacent and cocky generation, ultimately descending into the hubris which will destroy Mr Lee's legacy? Or will a sense of "concerned gungho-ness", shaped by the collective memory of vulnerability but inspired by the promise that theirs is a destiny they will continue to shape on their own, define my children's generation?

Contrary to popular stereotype, young people today are not apathetic. They may be disinterested in electoral politics, but they are increasingly involved in civil society and community issues. They seek expression not in Speakers Corner but in alternative digital media and social networking sites. Singaporeans studying overseas remain engaged about Singapore issues and many are returning home, no doubt partly because of dire job prospects in the West, but also because their sense of belonging is strong.

Visitors to Singapore marvel at how we have managed fundamental diversities of race and religion so well. But now that we are a single, cohesive nation, there is a need to encourage a different kind of diversity — not in race or religion — but in outlook and analysis.

Thankfully, the once-rigid Singapore system is beginning to cultivate and celebrate diversity in our schools and universities, in social and cultural life.

The definition and measure of success and achievement is also broadening. In my interaction with my children and their friends, or with Singapore Management University students, I sense that young Singaporeans are responding positively to these trends. I do not believe that their sense of ownership over their country is any less than the youth of other countries.

In short, the Singapore of Lee Kuan Yew is changing — as it should and as he would have wished it to. By responding to tomorrow's generation, today's leadership is ensuring Singapore's survival.

-----
This is an edited extract of a speech delivered at a forum entitled "Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew: Institutionalising the Singapore Way". It was organised by the Asia Journalism Fellowship programme, an initiative of Temasek Foundation and the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
-----

From TODAY, Voices – Wednesday, 22-April-2009
Monday, April 27, 2009

Glut in office space?

MARINA BAY DEVELOPMENT
A short-term problem, say private sector players, Government


The Double Helix Bridge





The hotel towers








Minister Mah Bow Tan with Marina Bay Sands integrated resort project director John Downs (left) and Urban Redevelopment Authority director of urban planning and design Andrew Fassam (right) looking out from one of the IR 's unfinished hotel towers.
(Wee Teck Hian)


EASING fears of a glut in office space with demand falling and more space to come onstream this year, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan assured that there will be a need for office space and infrastructure when the economy picks up.

Developers will also have the flexibility to phase in the office spaces available.

"Some of those developments may be delayed ... so I think such short-term adjustments in the timing, (we'll) leave it to the developers, they'll know what to do," he said during a site visit around the Marina Bay.

The Government will play its part by looking forward.

In 10 to 15 years' time, the Marina Bay area would be completed, creating new space for Singaporeans to work, live and play.

By the end of this year, a Double Helix Bridge and the Art Park in the Marina Bay area would be ready.

The former will link the bayfront promenade near the floating platform to the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, while the latter will feature 27 artworks by Singaporean youth.

To date, over $22 billion in investments have been pumped into Marina Bay. The Government has spent about $5.7 billion, with the remaining $16.5 billion coming from private investors like Keppel Land.

The Government will be spending another $1 billion over the next 10 to 15 years on additional infrastructural works.

Both public and private sector players were also "quietly confident" that the Sands resort, which is scheduled to open in the last quarter of this year or in early 2010, will be able to attract visitors from around the world.

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 22-April-2009
TRAVEL WATCH
As recession bites, companies are cutting back on such expenses

ESTHER NG
estherng@mediacorp.com.sg

AS IF they don't already have enough on their plates, some head honchos of multinational companies (MNCs) here have taken to scrutinising their employees' business trips.

Such expenses, it seems, require the chief executive's (CEO) nod in some 67 per cent of organisations, as companies tighten their budgets, according to the latest Hewitt Compensation Watch Survey.

The international human resource firm had polled 53 companies, mostly MNCs.

Is this the best use of a CEO's time?

"A total waste of effort," said Mr Henry Cheong, managing director of Telesto Broadcast Solutions. "It might work for a small company, but not for one that has 500 to 1,000 people or more."

As it is, CEOs have other bigger worries. "We have to find ways to grow our business, all the more in these economic times, find new markets and improve our bottom line," said Philips Electronics chief Wong Lup Wai, adding that the MNC would not be adopting this tack any time soon.

"We believe in empowering our business unit managers to make these decisions," he said.

Other MNCs that Today spoke to were coy about revealing whether they had resorted to taxing their CEOs in this manner. However, they did admit to switching their travel mode from business class to economy or even budget, video- and teleconferencing.

However, Ms Annie Yap, managing director of AYP, believes that the practice is more of a deterrent than the CEO going through a pile of applications.

"It's to weed out the non-critical from the critical business trips," she said.

Business travel expenses are projected to be cut by 21 per cent this year. Other findings in the Hewitt survey include fewer retention bonuses, reduced year-end variable bonuses and overtime pay.

Salary projections in Singapore are expected to slump by minus 5.4 per cent in June to September, with the lowest increase among senior management (1.9 per cent). But professional and general staff will experience the highest pay increase at 2.3 per cent.

Job seekers looking for a big jump might want to head to India, with companies there offering 8.2 per cent in wage hikes — highest Asia-wide.

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 22-April-2009

Loh Chee Kong

cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg

090421-SingaporeOnwards (From left) Prof Mahbubani, Mr Cherian George and Mr Ho.

Wee Teck Hian

A PEOPLE'S Action Party (PAP) split by internal schisms. Future leaders bereft of the "huge political legitimacy" that could be gained from endorsement by the man with unmatched moral and historical authority. These are some of the leadership fates that could befall a post–Lee Kuan Yew Singapore, as hotelier Ho Kwon Ping sees it.

And such "imponderable" scenarios could help explain why a "system of elders" is now taking shape in the political landscape.

"Perhaps it is to restrain factionalism, arbitrate disagreements, groom and assess future leaders, that the positions of senior minister and minister mentor have been institutionalised," said Mr Ho, who feels the PAP's "extraordinary cohesion" over five decades has owed much to "the forceful personality of Lee Kuan Yew".

Mr Ho, who is also MediaCorp chairman, was speaking yesterday alongside Professor Kishore Mahbubani at a seminar organised by Nanyang Technological University's Asian Journalism Fellowship programme. The topic? "Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew: Institutionalising the Singapore Way".

Of this future, Prof Mahbubani, who is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, would not rule out a "significant reversal" of Mr Lee's legacy, or the rise of a stronger Opposition usurping the one dominant party system — though he gave each scenario only a "one-sixth probability".

While a "smooth and seamless transition" was a two-thirds likelihood, Prof Mahbubani harked back to the words of former Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee, after the PAP's long monopoly of parliament was broken in 1981. "As (Dr Goh) has wisely told us, failure happens when we fail to consider the possibility of failure."

So, for instance in the unlikely event of a strong opposition arising, would Mr Lee's legacy be weakened? In fact, the "sharper political debates" arising could make Singaporeans more aware of the "precious political legacy they have enjoyed", said Prof Mahbabuni.

On the other hand, as has happened in South Korea and Taiwan, it could also lead to the old legacies being quickly lost and forgotten by the new generation. "I am frequently shocked when I meet younger Singaporeans who have never heard of Dr Goh," he said.

Both speakers were not alone in expressing uncertainty over how Singapore's future, sans Mr Lee, would play out. During the Q&A session, which was off-the-record, the audience raised concerns such as how the country would be deprived of its most astute and influential critic — and whether Mr Lee's legacy, or indeed Singapore, could unravel.

While Mr Lee's retirement would "create a huge political vacuum", Prof Mahbubani believes Singapore has "done a lot" to protect his legacy, such as instilling a deep culture of meritocracy and incorruptibility.

And Mr Ho had no doubt Singaporeans could "muddle their way through", even if the PAP's leadership renewal "fails to deliver what it has done for the past 50 years".

Mr Lee's greatest legacy, he said, "is that the Singapore which he so passionately shaped will outlive not only him, but even his own party, should that ever come to pass".

The reason: In his single most critical imperative — nation building — Mr Lee has largely succeeded, said Mr Ho, who has found young Singaporeans to own a strong sense of involvement and ownership in the country, contrary to stereotype.

"Equally contrary to some people's wishful thinking, there is not likely to be dramatic, broad-brush social or political liberalisation," said Mr Ho. "This is not a pent up society waiting for the demise of the strongman in order to overturn highly unpopular laws."

Rather, the Government has the support of the politically-vital heartland in its pragmatic, incremental approach to change, even as it responds to tomorrow's generation, he said.

From TODAY – Tuesday, 21-April-2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Top firms saw plunge in profits: Fortune

WASHINGTON — The top 500 corporations in the United States saw their profits plunge 85 per cent last year, their worst showing in more than half a century, Fortune magazine reported yesterday.

“The sumptuous profits America posted over the past few years weren’t part of a new world order, but a bubble that, like the others, went out with a bang. And what a bang,” the magazine reported in its latest issue.

“Last year was the worst economic performance in the 55-year history of the Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest 500 companies,” Fortune said.

“Earnings dropped 84.7 per cent from the previous year, from US$645 billion ($968.2 billion) to US$98.9 billion, marking the largest one-year decline ever,” it said.

“For every dollar in profits the 500 garnered in 2006, its members made 13 cents in 2008.

“The economy’s fall was precipitous, leaving companies little time to adjust and pushing the 500 from the summit to something resembling an earnings depression,” it said.

Unsurprisingly, the financial and automotive sectors were the worst hit, with the former reporting US$214.3 billion in losses, US$99.3 billion of which came from one company — the insurance group AIG.

In Fortune’s latest annual listing of the top 500 US companies, energy and oil firms held three of the top four positions, led by ExxonMobil, which snagged top spot from retail giant Wal-Mart. The retailer dropped to No 2.

Chevron came in third, followed by ConocoPhilipps and General Electric.

Automaker General Motors was sixth, despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, followed by Ford in seventh place.

AIG suffered the biggest drop in the standings, falling from 13th to 245th place. AFP

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 20-April-2009

CEO 101

090420-ChongPhitLian Reply from Ms Chong Phit-Lian, Chief Executive Officer, Jetstar Asia

Jetstar Asia believes in continual training and skills upgrading for our staff, especially for cabin crew who represent the airline and are the ones in closest contact with our customers. This year, we have three experienced cabin crew undergoing the WSQ Diploma in Tourism. When staffs have the opportunity to upgrade themselves, they feel valued and become more efficient at work. The “feel-good” factor can clearly translate into their service towards passengers, which is important in the service industry. Also, the diploma they obtain can help them provide better customer relations and also advance their career when they stop flying.

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 20-April-2009

BRAIN FOOD

Rupa K Bose

 

090420-IndiaBusinessChecklist With a population of over a billion, India is one of the world’s largest markets. In recent years, its economy has been expanding at a rate of 6 to 8 per cent annually and companies are rushing in to tap this growth.

But for foreigners unfamiliar with its culture and federal system, doing business in India presents many obstacles.

Not to worry. Help comes in the form of a new book published by John Wiley and Sons (Asia) and written by international business consultant Rupa K Bose.

An easily accessible and practical guide, the book starts by introducing the reader to India’s history and culture and shows how its financial system evolved.

Targeted at the busy expatriate professional who may otherwise be floored by the complexity of doing business in India, the book takes the reader through the process of setting up a business, such as getting the needed documents, approaching the relevant authorities, meeting regulatory requirements and as well as observing proper etiquette.

Also included are travel tips, climate information as well as a list of holidays.

And for those looking to live in India for an extended period, the book provides practical advice such as getting student visas for their children and the need for a backup electricity system because of the frequent power outages.

Case studies of multinational companies, such as Coca-Cola, that have set up offices in India, are also provided to give detailed real-life examples of the issues involved in doing business in the country.

With its extensive explanation of all aspects of doing business in India in short, easy-to-read chapters, the book is an essential resource for foreigners looking to take part in the country’s growth.

ONG DAI LIN

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 20-April-2009

TAKING CHARGE

Analysis can help you identify the problem and creativity help you solve it

 

Today-JohnBittleston

 

John Bittleston

succeed@mediacorp.com.sg

 

090420-Succeed BY ITSELF, information achieves nothing.

Decisions about what action to take must be based on analysis of it, and that means asking what the possible causes of the information are and what consequences it, and any action you decide to take, may lead to.

An example of this is the current recession partly created by the finance industry. Everyone is now trying to find someone else to blame except themselves. Apportioning blame solves nothing.

The recession is the result of a culture of inherent human greed that was inadequately constrained by making less greedy behaviour more rewarding.

Greed is not eating too much, although that can be a manifestation of it. Greed is about quantity and, importantly, timing. In the 1950s, John Osborne wrote I Want It Now and started a culture of greed and instant gratification that spread around the world.

Capitalism is partly based on the concept of greed, and it has worked extremely well for much of the world. Look around you. Everything you see is the result of capitalism.

However, you and I have created excessive expectations of capitalism, namely that it brings instant wealth and, consequently, happiness. Philosophically, we know this is not true, but we continue to behave as though it was. Why?

Because we naturally, even nobly, want to be self-sufficient and make our families economically secure. We may abuse wealth when we get it, but the reasons for wanting it are generally good.

So, how can we obtain the reasonable economic security that wealth can bring while deferring the unreasonably urgent need for it?

Exhortation to be less greedy does not work. People do have high personal standards ... sometimes. Unfortunately, there are enough people who do not — and enough times when those who do, forget them — that asking people to behave decently is not enough.

We must build into our reward systems a mechanism to make instant gratification unattainable but longer-term security possible. So far, I have demonstrated analysis.

The creative extra has to address and solve the problem that analysis has identified. If we do not want to constrain by law what people are paid (and I would be against doing so), we need to do two things.

First, we must ensure that the bulk, perhaps 80 per cent, of payments over a certain amount, say, $300,000, are made in the form of what I shall call attached shares.

These are shares in the company or organisation valued at the stock market price at the time they are granted. They can be sold only after the owner has held them for seven years or has died or has been diagnosed with a dreaded disease. They may be sold for no other reason, not even if the owner is fired or resigns.

The above rule would apply not only to companies but to public bodies as well.

That way, the consequences of managements decisions over the seven years after the shares are earned would be reflected in what the holder eventually gets. This is fair because he would have contributed to the management who are going to make the business succeed or fail.

Second, we need to have strong shareholder unions whose controlling bodies represent the individual as well as the institutional investors. These unions must have clearly laid down responsibilities as well as rights so that they do not become merely a shadow management. Their power will be exercised through the existing mechanism of shareholder voice, the General Meetings.

I have shown how analysis can identify a problem and creativity can help to solve it. You may disagree with my analysis or my solutions. If you do, why not try the same process to arrive at yet more creative answers?

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com.

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 20-April-2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Any job should do...

COPING WITH THE RECESSION

Flexibility will impress future employers, Gan tells youth who raise discrimination concerns

ESTHER NG, estherng@mediacorp.com.sg

AS A fresh graduate, do I really have to accept a blue-collar job?

This plaintive question — sent via SMS by a participant in the audience, who worried that it would affect one’s shot at a PMET job after the economy recovers — drew some laughter as it was read aloud.

But Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong was in earnest as he advised this participant, and the other 80 or so youthful participants at the dialogue session with Young NTUC, to be flexible when jobhunting in a downturn. He urged them to “take up any job that is available”, as there would always be “opportunities to upgrade later on”.

Say an employer asks why you’ve not been working for the past one year — do you answer that there were “no jobs available”?

“Employers will not believe because there are always jobs available,” said Mr Gan. “Employers will think ... if in a crisis situation you’re willing to sit at home and do nothing, it means that you’re not flexible.”

For instance, Mr Gan revealed his “dream job” had been to teach, but the closest he got to it was as Minister of State for Education.

“The important thing is not to look for things we like to do, but to like the things that you’re doing”, he stressed, reiterating that many jobs are available in the fields of early childhood education, tourism, science and technology.

The two-hour forum at NTUC Centre yesterday involved mostly young unionists, and the issues they raised centred on the recession and other hurdles for graduates in the job market.

One asked: Are there enough training places for everyone, and should they look to upgrade their skills in an area they like — or train for where there is a market need?

Giving his assurance of sufficient training resources and capacity, Mr Gan advised job-seekers to approach the Employment and Employability Institute or Community Development Councils, where “career consultants” will help match their abilities with “market needs”. Training comes in where there is a mismatch, he said.

Ms Joyce Wong, 21, wondered if local graduates with degrees from private institutions enjoy equal job prospects as graduates from the three local universities.

Ms Mabel Siew, 23, wanted to know why applicants are compelled to disclose whether they are bankrupt and their medical conditions. Should they answer truthfully? “Because if you do, chances are you may not get the job,” she told Today later.

Both were hoping for some form of anti-discrimination legislation, but were not surprised when Mr Gan said the Government would “rather not legislate because the employer can get information through other means”.

He advised job applicants to be “honest” and, if they encounter discrimination, to approach the Tripartite Centre for Fair Employment.

On recognition of degrees, he said: “Even if you put up legislation, when you apply, (employers) can choose not to accept.” Rather, it’s up to private education providers to market themselves — like UniSIM, which has “built up its reputation” and “companies are happy with their graduates”, said Mr Gan.

The question about a CPF cut also cropped up. Mr Gan’s reply: There would not be one “for the time being”.

“Let’s focus on pushing ahead with Spur (Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience) and Jobs Credit.

“I think Jobs Credit has been very effective in helping companies manage their cost of employing local workers... We also have Workfare Income Supplement and so on — we need to get these implemented,” he said.

From TODAY – 20-April-2009

DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS

FINANCIAL MELTDOWN

Talk about the end of the crisis could be premature — dangerously so

PAUL KRUGMAN, xtra@mediacorp.com.sg

090418-Business BEN Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, sees “green shoots”. President Obama sees “glimmers of hope”. And the stock market has been on a tear.

So is it time to sound the all-clear? Here are four reasons to be cautious about the economic outlook.

1 Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: The latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the 12 Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline”. Whoopee.

2 Some of the good news isn’t convincing. The biggest positive news in recent days has come from banks, which have been announcing surprisingly good earnings. But some of those earnings reports look a little... funny.

Wells Fargo, for example, announced its best quarterly earnings ever. But a bank’s reported earnings aren’t a hard number, like sales; for example, they depend a lot on the amount the bank sets aside to cover expected future losses on its loans. And some analysts expressed considerable doubt about Wells Fargo’s assumptions, as well as other accounting issues.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs announced a huge jump in profits from Q4, 2008 to Q1, 2009. But as analysts quickly noticed, Goldman changed its definition of “quarter” (in response to a change in its legal status), so that — I kid you not — the month of December, which happened to be a bad one for the bank, disappeared from this comparison.

I don’t want to go overboard here. Maybe the banks really have swung from deep losses to hefty profits in record time. But scepticism comes naturally in this age of Madoff.

Oh, and for those expecting the Treasury Department’s “stress tests” to make everything clear: The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says that “you will see in a systematic and coordinated way the transparency of determining and showing to all involved some of the results of these stress tests”. No, I don’t know what that means, either.

3 There may be other shoes yet to drop. Even in the Great Depression, things didn’t head straight down. There was, in particular, a pause in the plunge about a year-and-a-half in — roughly where we are now. But then came a series of bank failures on both sides of the Atlantic, combined with some disastrous policy moves as countries tried to defend the dying gold standard, and the world economy fell off another cliff.

Can this happen again? Well, commercial real estate is coming apart at the seams, credit card losses are surging and nobody knows yet just how bad things will get in Japan or Eastern Europe. We probably won’t repeat the disaster of 1931, but it’s far from certain that the worst is over.

4 Even when it’s over, it won’t be over. The 2001 recession officially lasted only eight months, ending in November of that year. But unemployment kept rising for another year and a half. The same thing happened after the 1990-91 recession. And there’s every reason to believe that it will happen this time too. Don’t be surprised if unemployment keeps rising right through 2010.

Why? “V-shaped” recoveries, in which employment comes roaring back, take place only when there’s a lot of pent-up demand. In 1982, for example, housing was crushed by high interest rates, so when the Fed eased up, home sales surged. That’s not what’s going on this time: Today, the economy is depressed, loosely speaking, because we ran up too much debt and built too many shopping malls, and nobody is in the mood for a new burst of spending.

Employment will eventually recover — it always does. But it probably won’t happen fast.

So now that I’ve got everyone depressed, what’s the answer? Persistence.

History shows that one of the great policy dangers, in the face of a severe economic slump, is premature optimism. Franklin D Roosevelt responded to signs of recovery by cutting the Works Progress Administration in half and raising taxes; the Great Depression promptly returned in full force. Japan slackened its efforts halfway through its lost decade, ensuring another five years of stagnation.

The Obama administration’s economists understand this. They say all the right things about staying the course. But there’s a real risk that all the talk of green shoots and glimmers will breed a dangerous complacency.

So here’s my advice, to the public and policymakers alike: Don’t count your recoveries before they’re hatched. THE NEW YORK TIMES

WEEKEND XTRA

From WEEKEND TODAY, Business – 18, 19-April-2009

This is leadership in action…

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Letter from S Satish Appoo

Director, Environmental Health Department, National Environment Agency (NEA)

We refer to the letter “Flies make home in our eateries” (April 10).

Our investigations confirmed the presence of flies in the refreshment area of the foodshop at Sembawang Drive. The foodshop management has mobilised its pest control operator to locate and eradicate the fly-breeding sources. Our field officers have also extended their checks to the surrounding areas. The foodshop operator will face enforcement action should breeding be found in his premises.

During our inspection, food for sale was found to be properly covered. We have reminded the operator of his responsibility to ensure that crockery and cutlery are properly covered, and refuse properly bagged and disposed of.

We thank your reader for the feedback.

From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009

NEA ON HAWKER CENTRE HYGIENE

Letter from Andrew Tan

Chief Executive Officer, National Environment Agency

I THANK all letter-writers and journalists of Today who have commented on the importance of maintaining high standards of public hygiene in our hawker centres following the severe incident of food poisoning traced to a stall at the Geylang Serai Temporary Market.

We at NEA are deeply saddened by this episode that is linked to more than 150 people falling ill, many acutely, with two losing their lives. Our hearts are with the affected people and the grieving families to whom we have extended our deepest condolences. The outpouring of concern rightfully shows the widespread sympathy we share for them as well as the high standards expected of our markets and food centres.

Maintaining Hygiene Standards

NEA has the overall responsibility for ensuring high standards of public health and hygiene in Singapore. We would like to assure the public that NEA will strive to uphold these high standards.

The current system for upholding public hygiene comprising legislation, surveillance, enforcement and public education has served us well. The number of food poisoning cases in Singapore is very low. Over the last three years, there has been an average of only four food poisoning incidents a year, even though we have 5,600 hawker stalls across 106 hawker centres.

Grading of Stalls

The grading scheme, introduced in 1997, was intended to motivate licensees to improve on their personal and food hygiene and upkeep of their premises. All stalls that are graded and allowed to operate meet the basic hygiene requirements. The grading scheme sought to differentiate and recognise those who made greater efforts to improve and sustain the cleanliness and hygiene of their operations. By making the grades public, it was hoped that consumers’ choice could also lend pressure to encourage hawkers to strive for higher standards.

NEA, on its part, also actively worked with stallholders to encourage them to improve, by paying more attention to those with lower grades. NEA facilitates upgrading courses so that food handlers gain the knowledge to raise standards.

Food stalls in hawker centres that are graded A and B are inspected every eight weeks, while stalls graded C and D are inspected more frequently — every six weeks. NEA uses a point demerit system to penalise foodhandlers for any lapses in maintaining good personal and food hygiene. When a food handler accumulates 12 demerit points in a year, his licence will be suspended for two weeks. This is how NEA keeps unhygienic stalls from operating.

This regime has led to a significant improvement in food hygiene levels in Singapore. Over the years, the proportion of Grade A and B stalls has increased from 46 per cent in 2002 to 86 per cent last year. The remaining 14 per cent of stalls are graded C and they meet hygiene requirements.

The grading and point demerit system, together with a regime of regular inspections, have helped to keep food poisoning incidence low. Notwithstanding, food poisoning incidents can occur in any food establishment, regardless of its grading, if there are lapses in personal hygiene.

Overall hygiene standards at hawker centres have also improved through the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme. Since 2001, a total of 72 centres have been upgraded with better facilities and toilets, among other improvements. The remaining 30 or so centres will be upgraded by 2012.

Cleanliness of Geylang Serai Temporary Market

When markets and hawker centres are being upgraded, grassroot organisations and their advisers can choose to have a temporary market which is not provided for under the government’s Hawker Centre Upgrading Programme (HUP). If so, they also carry the responsibility of keeping the temporary market clean to meet NEA standards. However, NEA will intervene if it assesses the need to do so in the interest of public health.

In the case of Geylang Serai Market, the Kampong Ubi CCC decided to build and manage the temporary market. Despite the best of efforts put in by the Temporary Market Management Committee in implementing its cleaning regime and in tackling the rat infestation problem, the problem persisted. NEA should have moved in firmly earlier to address this problem. Sustained efforts with NEA’s assistance and enforcement have now led to a marked improvement. NEA will continue to require the Management Committee to sustain ongoing cleaning and pest control efforts.

Greater Vigilance

Going forward, NEA will step up its vigilance and enforce higher standards of public hygiene on all food outlets. NEA will also conduct more refresher training on food and personal hygiene for stallholders and food handlers. We will further tighten up our own procedures to ensure the timely issuing and display of up-to-date grading labels.

To impress on the need for good hygiene practices by all and enhance understanding of the overall system, NEA will step up engagement of market managements and operators of food establishments, Public awareness efforts so as to also involve consumers in maintaining high levels of public hygiene at all times are also being looked into.

NEA will further improve on the current system, taking into account the useful feedback and suggestions thus far. We thank everyone for the valuable feedback and suggestions. We continue to welcome views at contact_NEA@nea.gov.sg and 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255 632).

From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009