Sunday, 29 January 2012

Singapore’s 5.2 million ignorant residents

Foul play makes the news. Arrests make headlines. Arrests of senior civil servants should not only make headlines but generate heated debate amongst civil society. Especially when the civil servants are peripheral to the country's security establishment.
Thus, it disturbing that news about the arrests of the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau and the Commissioner of the Civil Defence Force, allegedly for corruption, was withheld from Singaporeans for several weeks. According to the Singapore authorities the narcotics chief was arrested on December 19, 2011 while the civil defence chief was arrested on January 4, 2012.
Singaporeans only heard of the arrests when a Chinese language paper broke the news on January 24, 2012.Until the January 24th news report, the authorities made no mention of the matter.
Clearly, the arrests dent the government's image, particularly at a time of heightened public scrutiny of various other government policies. Nonetheless, the government's handling of the incident raises several questions. 

Why the delay in revealing such significant news? Certainly, the delay could not be related to the recent parliamentary debate about the linkage between corruption and high pay for public officials? Or could the delay be part of an effort by the authorities to somehow make the news more palatable to the general public when it was finally revealed?
Additionally, the episode makes one wonder whether there is more 'government related' information which has been kept from 'ordinary' Singaporeans? If news about the arrests of the chiefs of two of the Republic's premier government agencies can be successfully concealed for weeks then conceivably there is more news where that came from; facts and figures which may in some way damage the reputation of Singapore's political elite.
Moreover, who within the government decides what news is worthy of Singaporeans' interest and what news is 'unimportant' and may be held back?
Arguably, the government's failure to voluntarily disclose the news about the arrests of senior civil servants betrays a general lack of trust of the electorate. It indicates a 'We, your leaders, know best what is good for you.' We are more qualified to make decisions on your behalf. Singaporeans: be happy, quiet and trust us.
Undoubtedly, Singapore's success as an independent nation is due to visionary leadership. However, without the support of the general population Singapore's Third World to First World journey will not have been possible. If the government wishes to retain the support of the voting public then it will be well advised to adopt a more transparent posture. One would have thought that the ruling party's near misses in the recent General and Presidential Elections underscored that point loud and clear.

Surely, Singapore's government did not invest massively in its population's education only to keep them ignorant of the news.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Gong xi fa cai!

To all my readers, best wishes for your health, happiness and prosperity in the Year of the Dragon.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Haw Par Villas – Singapore’s neglected gardens

I visited Singapore's Haw Par Villas recently. It had been over a decade since my last visit. During that time, the Haw Par Villas have dropped off from most tourist guidebooks covering Singapore. An unfortunate development as the 'Tiger Balm Gardens' (another name for the same park) is a unique mix of Chinese culture and serene natural surroundings.
The Tiger Balm Gardens were built by a wealthy Chinese businessman, Aw Boon Haw, for his brother, Aw Boon Par in 1937. The brothers, with roots in Rangoon, Burma, are famous for developing the famous pain relieving ointment called 'Tiger Balm.'
The Tiger Balm Gardens contain a blend of Chinese morality tales told through visual imagery such as statues and picturesque gardens with the occasional stream. Haw Par's 'Ten Courts of Hell' arrangement, which depicts traditional gruesome Chinese punishments for a variety of sins, is particularly remarkable. The display gives insights into Chinese cultural traditions that still play an important role among many modern Singaporeans.
Since 1988, Haw Par Villas have been managed by the government's Singapore Tourist Board (STB). After spending a large amount to renovate the gardens into a more contemporary theme park, complete with rides and shows, the STB turned Haw Par Villas into a commercial enterprise with entrance fees. Originally, the gardens were free to the general public.
By all accounts, the efforts to commercialize operations failed with the park suffering significant losses in ten years of operations.
In March 2001, the STB restored the name 'Tiger Balm Gardens' and granted the public access free of charge – as  the Aw brothers had envisaged. 
Today, the place looks run down. Paint is peeling, descriptive signs were often missing or provided limited information and I could not locate any cafes or rest areas where coffee or refreshments were served. (Maybe I did not walk around enough?)

The entire experience is not up to the 'Singapore Standard.'
Surely, the STB can devise a plan not only to put the Haw Par Villas back on Singapore's tourist trail but improve upon the generally neglected atmosphere surrounding the gardens. At the very least, leasing out certain areas for coffee shops, curio shops at rates commensurate with visitor numbers might help generating funds for the garden's upkeep.
The Tiger Balm Gardens make a fine change from the casinos and Marina Bay Sands. And how about creating a dedicated website for the Tiger Balm Gardens? While researching this article, I could not locate a dedicated official Tiger Balm Gardens website. (Again, maybe I did not search hard enough.)
In a city always scraping around to create history, we have a duty to take better care of that history which is available to us, such as the Tiger Balm Gardens.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Is Dubai safe for Singaporean visitors?

Surely, it is. Not just for Singaporeans but for most nationalities. Perhaps one of the only dangers arises if one is a Palestinian on the Israeli Mossad's hit list in which case even five star hotels become unsafe.
Singaporeans, however, might be mistaken in believing that the Dubai authorities act with reckless abandon if a recent article in the New Paper were anything to go by.
Yes, the New Paper might be considered Singapore's answer to Britain's Sun newspapersans the page three girl – but it is part of the domestic mainstream media. The article titled 'Singaporean family's Xmas eve nightmare in Dubai jail' was given front page honours.
I was puzzled by the lack of specifics in the article. There was little information and the circumstances leading to the 'nightmare' were only vaguely described. Consequently, before reacting I tried to obtain more details, including from the journalist author. None were available.
A view of Dubai International Airport's Terminal Three building

I do not wish to downplay any injustice or pain that the affected families went through during their ordeal. Nevertheless, having lived in Dubai for more than five years I felt the need to react to the 'broad brush strokes' painted by the article.
The journalist suggested I write to the New Paper's forum expressing my point of view. For the Grand Moofti's readers, I reproduce the text of my letter below.
January 6, 2012
To the Editor, the New Paper.
I read your January 2 article titled 'Singaporean family spends Xmas eve in Dubai jail' with both surprise and concern.
As a Singaporean who lived in Dubai for almost six years (2004-2009 inclusive), it is hard to believe the UAE police will act in an arbitrary manner and without due cause. Certainly, many Singaporeans may not agree with the nature of some of UAE's laws, e.g. ban on public displays of affection, but as foreigners we must respect the host country's laws.
I am concerned that your article gives Singaporeans the mistaken impression that the UAE security establishment routinely acts in an unsystematic manner without any respect for individual rights. In my experience, this is certainly not the case. Many travellers will testify that transit travel through Dubai airport is a pleasant experience and the airport's facilities compare favourably with those Singapore has developed at Changi airport.
That the UAE gets millions of tourists every year is testament to the country's friendly and open society. The content of your article does not provide enough information for readers to form an objective picture of either Dubai or the UAE.
Best regards,
Imran Ahmed
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011: the Grand Moofti’s two cents

2012 begins a new year, leaving behind a year many will be happy to forget.
Economically, 2011 saw the European debt crisis deepen. The Euro's future survival, at least in its current form, became a topic of discussion.
The US economy showed signs of life; just barely and only in the context of the anaemic growth of the previous few years.
Despite the ups and downs, US stocks as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Index of blue chip companies closed 2011 with a gain of slightly over five percent. The US Dollar strengthened a few percent versus the Euro while the US Dollar Index (futures) remained virtually unchanged, 80.2 versus its December 30, 2010 close of 79.5 (source: Wall Street Journal, Online).
Politically, the economic weakness of the global economy weighed heavily, particularly on the developed world. The US debt ceiling debate demonstrated the inability of US politicians to address deep seated issues with any resolve. Everything appears on hold until after the next presidential elections.
That is, except perhaps in the area of national security.
The killing of Osama Bin Laden racked up a major public relations victory for the US security establishment. However, the quiet withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and the forthcoming retreat – if one may use that word – from Afghanistan muddies the picture.
The post 9/11 upheaval in the Islamic world returned with a vengeance in 2011.
The Arabian Spring resulted in the fall of several Arab 'pillars of stability,' including Egypt's Mubarak and Libya's Gaddaffi. There are certainly more regime changes yet to come. Yemen and Syria rank topmost amongst this list.
Moreover, between Saudi Arabian – Irani rivalry and Iran's nuclear policies, Iran stayed in the news throughout 2011. However, other than some tightening of sanctions, the Iran situation did not escalate radically. Nonetheless, large arms purchase contracts by Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signal that regional tensions remain at simmering point.
Within Asia, the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster raised red flags about energy sustainability, especially the safety of nuclear power. The debate continues even as some countries decided to go-slow on new plants or even shut down existing nuclear power plants.
Staying in Asia, North Korea's new 'Great Successor' hit the news just in time for the New Year. Yet, news from North Korea seems like 'more of the same' with 'predictable unpredictability' being the only constant emanating from the country.
Surely, 2011 contained many personal and public events in everyone's life. And, while the Grand Moofti will continue to pontificate about all and sundry during 2012, permit Imran Ahmed to wish each and every one of my readers a happy, healthy and successful 2012. I hope my posts have been as interesting for you to read as they have been for me to write.
Happy New Year!
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at