Monday, February 29, 2016

Singapore, a weird city indeed.

Singapore has no official national definition of poverty, unlike some countries such as the United States which have poverty thresholds based on household income and size.

I also feel that Singaporeans do not have a good knowledge of how poverty looks like. Many people think that a lot of people in poverty are uneducated and caused by: Low-wage workers' wages are depressed due to the influx of cheap foreign labor, and workers are left out of economic growth.

This is partially true, but the influx of foreigners also drive up costs. Transportation costs a lot more than before, and the train breakdowns are more often. Even the motorcycle, a mode of transportation which people who cannot afford to drive can get around Singapore easily is becoming unaffordable as the COE exceeds $6,000 making the cost of small motorcycles over $10,000.

The rents and property prices can easily cost $250,000 for a 4 room public housing far away from the city, and most new couples who cannot otherwise afford housing, need subsidies and long term loans as their combined salaries may only be $5,000, making the public housing cost more than 50 times their monthly combined salaries.

Increasingly, I do have friends who are not doing well financially. They are not what you expect of people living in poverty. In fact, many of my friends with diplomas, degrees and post-graduate degrees who lose their jobs above the age of 40, find it very hard to find another job with the influx of cheap experienced professional labor.

Many of them end up becoming tutors or driving taxis to get by. Some who have savings decide to start cafes or small businesses, and most of them lost their savings as shop rentals are unrealistically high, and customers have low buying power.

I do know many people living in what I consider poverty. I have a classmate who was lecturing in a Polytechnic, owns a condominium, until his wife got cancer, and after a few operations, fell into a coma which lasted more than a year. Medical costs piled up and to take care of his wife, he eventually sold the condominium to pay for medical bills.

In the final days of his wife, he took care of her and stopped working for a while, but was still left with a huge medical bill after she passed away. He declared bankrupt, and lost his possessions and his job, and teaches tuition and services the bill he owed. In all sense of the word poverty, he fits the description, however, he is highly educated, unable to get any form of financial aid, and all the training provided by the government schemes do not help his case, and this is not unique.

There are in fact many people living in poverty, but due to means testing and loads of bureaucracy, unable to get any aid. Some of them got into hard times, others live with rich relatives, but unable to find jobs as industries disappear when the government change economic directions.

Many of them do have jobs, but the low wages and high costs of living keeps them poor. Even with a degree, many people still live hand to mouth.

I've accompanied people to apply comcare grants, and the questions and checks made can be rather degrading. The process is not fast either, and many who already are desperate could not wait for the process get frustrated and did not get the aid they need.

The fact that the spending on social services from the government is much lower than the SG50 budget is troubling and I do agree, more should be done for the people.

I think the government needs to address the fact that rents can be increasing to a point where a restaurant rent in a mall can triple in a span of 5 years, and yet salaries of the staff increase by only 10% which business owners are not willing to pay more.

There are specific groups of people who benefit from the system, pay low taxes, have not capital gains tax, earning dividends, but they do not seem to be willing to give back, and the fact that the income gap is worsening, yet, nothing is done to address it will only further inequality.

Healthcare in Singapore is also getting worse as queues at public hospitals are getting longer, and medicine costs more. With the typical Singapore mentality, the doctors here, foreign and local, prescribe way too much medicine for typical coughs and cold, making medical bills relatively high. A significant portion of the population would rather not go to the doctor as they do not think they can afford medical bills.

There is a reason for minimum wage, and having an amount where people can work and not be poor is important. The reliance of cheap foreign labor creates overcrowding, and it leads to more social problems which does not seem to be easily resolved.

I also feel that education costs needs to be more affordable. For many years now, many bright students who entered NUS, NTU and SMU cannot afford school fees and have to rely on bursaries and donations. I've donated to many of such bursaries, but when I see that the university has record profits, I do question why is there even a need to charge that high for school fees when there is so much unnecessary construction and buildings which are built and unused.

On the case of SMRT, I recently took the downtown line, and was amazed by some of the shopping areas in the train station, and yet there are ugly overhead bridges. The stations are all very big in size compared to many other countries, and of course, the cost of building these stations borne by the government would be much higher than building a smaller MRT station.

I've heard many reasonable suggestions of building a longer platform so that the lengths of trains could vary if the line become popular, but it was not done due to the additional costs, but looking at the shopping space built, I do not understand why the government needs to build all the additional space for a private companies like SMRT to run rental business, when their primary business should be public transportation which they are not doing a good job, yet having record profits yearly, while increasing fares when oil prices are low.

With a "Satellite ERP" system which costs more than $556 million (Probably will over budget as government cannot handle large budgets) why is there no discussion on such big ticket items which serve no purpose other than "taxing" Singaporeans more, and ERP has never reduced much congestion as costs of vehicles are already so high, and depreciation may likely be more than the cost of ERP.

Many things do not make sense as I strongly feel that those who benefited more from the system -- the rich land owners -- should be taxed more to have more social services without the needs for means testing which can sometimes be demeaning.

-- Ironbowl

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Solar is here, some reasons why businesses are still not jumping on board.

There is a low of talk about sustainability in Singapore, Eco seems to be the buzzword, but in terms of action, with such a small land size without natural resources, and long hours of daylight, it totally makes sense for more businesses to go Solar.

However, in Singapore, any PV system exceeding 1MW must obtain a generating licence from EMA and register with the Energy Market Company as a market participant, even if all solar electricity is consumed on site. The registration is very complex, and thus may be costly to implement.

Since 2008, you are allowed to sell back to the grid, there are available technologies to cost efficiently do so in US and Europe, but the market mechanism in Singapore makes it almost impossible to happen.

As Singapore is largely dependent on fossil fuel business, with oil refineries, transporting and repairing of oil tankers, manufacturing of oil rigs, research and process of oils and plastics, all contributing to a significant chunk of the GDP, the oil and gas companies do have good friends in the government to slow the progress of solar.

Every year since 2008, there has been much talks, but till 2016, I've not seen much progress on businesses going solar. Here are some reasons.

1) Many businesses do not own the facility. When you lease the facility or land for 30 years, using capital to invest on something that does not really impact the business is what many companies do not even consider.

2) There is still much laws and regulation when you generate significant amount of energy. Even when the laws change, the perception is still, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO DO IT.

3) Is is complex to sell back to the grid. While getting a battery is an option, for many businesses with large roofs, they WILL produce more energy they can use and it would be a good idea to sell it back to the grid as they may need to buy some energy to use at night. Instead of paying to store, using the grid to store is a good solution. The mechanism to sell back to the grid is not so transparent.

4) Lack of awareness and knowledge that Solar Energy is 30% the cost of 2008. Yes, the idea of you getting ROI in 10 years does not sound sexy, but today, solar panel setups can get you back the cost in 3 - 5 years as technology improves. The panels are more efficient, batteries are cheaper, and the cost will only go down with more research and development.

5) Everyone takes energy for granted. There are not much blackouts in Singapore. Energy is relatively stable here and people do not think about sustainability because everything is out of sight and out of mind. There is no disasters, and what goes on, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity is also not seen by the public. However, if you live on the west side of Singapore, sometimes you do smell unpleasant odors from the burning of trash and fuel byproducts.

Well if you want to do something about it, there are many options to harvest the free solar energy.

Think portable. Even living in an apartment, you do get 6 hours of sun? Most of the time, this is enough to charge a portable solar device. This also mean that you can go out off the grid while charging your devices like tablets and phones.

Panels come in various sizes and attaching it to your powerbanks, you get power when you need them, and when traveling, you don't need to bring any adapters anymore for your all important mobile phone.

You might even consider a portable battery and solar panel. I've a set up for under $1,000 which consists of a 120W solar panel and a 400WH battery. This device powers my led lamps, fans, router, laptop, etc. With this device, nearly everything in my room runs off the battery which is in turn charged by the sun.

This device is also portable, and I can use this outside during a BBQ or an outdoor event as the battery only weights 6.5kg and the panel about 1kg. If you want to bring your electric guitar outside to jam, perhaps with all your speakers and amps, you may want to bring your own power device from now?

The future is here, we can all play out part to use renewable resources. I think it is time to look into solar energy, whether your government want to talk about it or not.

-- Iron Bowl

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Campaign Slogans You Won't See?

Are these Campaign Supports for Real?

If you think they are fake, think again...


-- Ironbowl

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Passive Aggressive Bitches Don't Win

Was on the bus today, a lady with a stroller ran over an auntie on the bus and the auntie simply grumbled for a while and kept quiet. At the next stop, another stroller came up and ran over the lady with the initial stroller. The auntie laughed and was squeezed in a corner opposite the exit door. Everyone there exchanged angry stares and emotions were tense.

At the next stop, a handicapped person entered the bus and the auntie grumbled again, "Why do such people take bus, delaying everyone..." Then many people stared at her as she was forced out of the corner and it was a tight squeeze with 2 strollers and a wheelchair on the bus. The handicapped man shouted at the strollers for being in his way as he took the corner. On the way there, the lady with the first stroller got ran over again and screamed. The auntie cheered and mumbled that the lady deserved it.

The mumblings got louder on how handicapped people should not be on the bus, and how strollers should not be allowed...I was planning to record a video and then the bus just stopped at the bus stop. Something broke down.

Lesson of the day:
Too many passive aggressive bitches.
Bus Break Down...
All the bitches lose.

Experienced something similar?

-- Ironbowl