Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Singapore’s Japanese war hero: Shinozaki

War extracts a terrible cost from humans, victors and vanquished. Nonetheless, it is often during extreme situations such as war that humans demonstrate extraordinary qualities. The case of Mamoru Shinozaki during the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942-45) is just such an example.

Shinozaki's case warrants greater attention within Singapore. Sure, there is a small exhibit about the 'Japanese Schindler' inside the National Museum of Singapore but Shinozaki deserves more.

Mamoru Shinozaki: the Japanese Schindler
Hence, I sent the following letter to the Straits Times Forum. Singapore's lone general news broadsheet, in its infinite wisdom, decided my idea is unworthy and did not publish the letter. Perhaps the war wounds are still raw? 

Below is the text of my letter.

"In Singapore, street names are gaining greater currency as a means to explore the country's history. Naming roads is a way to honour significant personalities, both domestic and international. For example, there is Zubir Said Drive named for the composer of Singapore's national anthem. Located in the Yio Chu Kang area is Iqbal Avenue, named after Pakistan's national poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal.

It is time for the Singapore authorities consider naming a street after Mamoru Shinozaki (1908 – 1991). During World War Two, Shinozaki was singly responsible for innumerable acts of kindness and mercy during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Some estimates place the number of civilians saved by Shinozaki's liberal issue of government passes as high as 20,000 persons, mainly Chinese and Eurasian. The list of individuals contains many prominent persons, including prominent social worker and educator, Mr. Lim Boon Keng.

It is no coincidence Shinozaki is known as the 'Japanese Schindler.' Through Shinozaki's memory, Singaporeans can be reminded that even in the dark days of the war years there were Japanese individuals prepared to risk their lives and reputations to help the city's residents."

Imran is a Singapore Tourism Board Guide licensed guide. He is also a business and management consultant. For personalized tours or consultancy opportunities, Imran can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Singapore’s medical tourism and the law courts

Singaporeans, particularly those involved with Medical Tourism, should take heart from recent news reports that Gleneagles Hospital must pay a patient damages amounting to SGD 250,000 (approximately USD 201,000) by the law courts as compensation for a botched operation. The patient, a Hong Kong resident, claimed aggravated damages for "grave mental anguish, distress and depression."

Certainly, no one wishes to see Singapore become a trigger happy legal environment – where individuals sue each other over the slightest of grievances. However, maintaining professionalism requires accountability. In turn, accountability implies a fair and transparent legal framework. In this regard, the court's decision must be applauded by doctors, patients and hospitals alike.

The Doctor
Awarding damages to a patient for a poorly executed medical procedure sends the right message to everyone. Patients – already nervous about complicated medical surgery – gain comfort from knowing a doctor's scalpel is answerable to local law courts. Hospitals understand the seriousness of maintaining the sanctity of medical records. Doctor's will be more careful undertaking surgeries for fear of paying damages in case something goes wrong. The positive ripples are numerous.

Presently, patients looking at international jurisdictions for medical services may find Singapore less expensive than most European countries. Nonetheless, in today's globalized world, medical tourists have many alternatives available, including several countries cheaper than Singapore (e.g. Thailand).

Still, Singapore's medical industry can take heart from the resounding endorsement by none other than Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's dear ruler! The Zimbabwean President seems to visit Singapore for medical attention every few months.  
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Kranji War Cemetery: Singapore and the politics of the dead

Politics don't end with life. Whether it is a Japanese Minister honouring the country's war dead by visiting Tokyo's Yasakuni Shrine or the right to (permanent) burial plots here in Singapore, politics is unavoidable even after death.

Burial plots are valuable real estate in land scarce Singapore. Despite having increased the Republic's surface area through land reclamation by about a quarter since 1965, graves are available only on a fifteen year lease-hold basis. In 1998, the Singapore government announced the New Burial Policy to limit the burial period to 15 years. Henceforth, graves after 15 years will be exhumed. The exhumed remains may be cremated and put into a columbarium or be re-buried, according to one's religious requirements. (The New Burial System as described on the National Environment Agency website.)

No rest for the wicked, the weary or the brave ... at least not in Singapore.

However, there is one group of deceased which is privileged in its exemption from exhumation: the brave souls who gave their lives defending Singapore during World War Two; and some who died during the Malayan Emergency; and some of their family members too. Their graves can be found at the Kranji War Cemetery located off Woodlands Road.

Certainly, soldiers deserve to be honoured. Nay, they must be honoured. It is a mark of a civilized society. Disciplined militaries fight to preserve commonly accepted social values, property and a nation's dignity.

These soldiers resting at Kranji fought and died for Malaya. Other than people from Malaya itself, Malaya's defenders came from Britain, Australians, India, New Zealand and other dominions of the British empire.

A glance at the list of the War Dead on the memorial suggests that a significant number of soldiers who died defending the British crown originated from the Indian subcontinent. For example, just in one battle, the Battle for Muar the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade started with 4,000 men and ended with only 800. Furthermore, after Singapore's surrender in 1942 approximately 55,000 servicemen from the Indian subcontinent were taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.

Yet, walk into Kranji War Cemetery and one is forgiven for assuming the cemetery is dedicated only to caucasian war dead.

The prominent areas of the cemetery are taken up with tombstones dedicated to deceased caucasian soldiers. Yes, tucked away at the back, behind the war memorial are some tombstones apparently of Nepalese Gurkha and Indian Hindu soldiers. And, yes, the inscription on the memorial itself is in multiple languages, including Urdu. However, the valuable real estate within the graveyard is virtually monopolized by tombstones dedicated to white soldiers. In fact, I had trouble locating any tombstones pertaining to Muslim soldiers from the Indian subcontinent.

It appears a little piece of Europe survives in the heart of Singapore: the Kranji War Cemetery. To the uninitiated, Singapore's cherished values of plurality and ethnic equality seem conspicuously absent from the many gravestones located at Kranji cemetery.

Undoubtedly, the blemish is a legacy of Singapore's colonial past and the cemetery's management lies with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (not Singapore). However, that fact does not justify the organization of the cemetery in a manner unbefitting of the sacrifices made by the many non-caucasian Commonwealth soldiers who died defending Singapore and the Malay Peninsula.

PS – Stay tuned for more on this subject. I expect to do some additional research on the Kranji cemetery and the annual remembrance ceremony to better understand the facts (and correct any errors in this article).
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The World’s newest ‘Banana Republic:’ the United States?

The United States is bankrupt. The government refuses to pay its bills. The US currency is no longer the 'be-all and end-all' of international currencies. Notwithstanding Apple, Microsoft and other entrepreneurial start-up companies, US economic clout is on the wane.

Ok, so the US is not really bankrupt – it can keep printing (and debasing?) more paper currency notes which the rest of the world happily purchases in ever growing amounts. Economic stability equals a free trade environment predicated on trust in the USD.

The rest of the world includes Singapore.

Singapore's foreign currency reserves, one of the largest pools of capital in the world are biased towards the US Dollar (USD). From Temasek Holdings to the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), Singapore's stake in international economic stability is great. Singapore is not alone. China – the largest single owner of US government debt – has a lot riding on USD stability.

The day China stops buying US debt, the USD may collapse.

Result: China becomes much less wealthier, on paper at least. Moreover, the US will be unable to keep importing goods from China because it cannot pay for them in the 'new, debased' USD. In turn, this leads to social problems within China as Chinese factories reduce production and lay off workers. Consequently, Chinese consumers, including travellers, decrease consumption and the world suffers more ... and the vicious cycle continues.

Of course, global politics are not so simple. Despite a gradual shift away from US dependencies, the world needs the US to behave responsibly. International stability continues to rest on the US, economically and politically. Shutting down government because of domestic political squabbles is not responsible. It smacks of 'Banana Republic' politics and politicians. The US looks more and more like the Third World countries it chooses to lecture (and bomb when they don't listen) about governance on a regular basis.

The world entered a new socioeconomic era some years ago. The post World War Two Bretton Woods and Cold War orders have wasted away. However, the replacement paradigm has yet to be defined. At least for the next several decades the world will continue to watch US domestic politics as if it were their own.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Sunday, 8 September 2013

City Harvest Church, the law courts and the abstract arena of trust

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned! Nope, it should actually say, "The Lord seeks forgiveness from City Harvest Church (CHC) for I, the Lord, have sinned!" At least if one follows the pastor of CHC, then it is perfectly normal for God to apologize for His behaviour to humans.

One does not have to be a theologian of the status of St. Thomas Aquinas or Al-Ghazzali to understand it does not seem right for God to apologize to His subjects. Whether we refer to the Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Christian or any other religion's Supreme Being, it is generally humans who ask for forgiveness ... not the other way around.

Humans succumb to temptation. Humans do bad deeds. Humans think bad thoughts. Humans seek mercy for sins. For many, to speak of a God with flaws is tantamount to blasphemy.

'God the Father' by Cima da Conegliano (circa 1515)
Still, as a mortal, it is not my place to judge others, especially in matters of personal faith. So, if the leader of the CHC believes God has wronged him and God should apologize, then more power to the reverend. We all believe in our own God(s) – and fight our own demons (in this life and more).

However, religious leaders play to a gallery. They are not alone. They speak to a flock. Their each word is scrutinized. They are opinion formers who speak to thousands weekly. Thus, when a religious leader even indirectly implies that humans are somehow not responsible for personal actions, it seems inappropriate.  

Yes, it is a slippery road I am taking: 'freewill versus destiny.' Squaring the 'freewill versus destiny' circle is not my intention here – nor am I capable of resolving the centuries old debate. Nonetheless, the (earthly) legal framework of laws and courts created by humans rests squarely on the assumption humans are accountable for our deeds. And, if we abuse public trust or harm others, we must face the consequences.

Legal technicalities may win cases in law courts but the yardstick applied to maintain trust in the real world is more stringent. Thus, while the CHC court case continues and no verdict has yet been pronounced, in my books the CHC has already lost an important battle: the claim to have behaved in a morally correct manner.

But then I am neither judge nor theologian, simply a blogger with views on right and wrong.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Singapore’s Pioneer Generation, work ethics and accountability

How soon will the phrase 'Pioneer Generation' join Singapore's popular lexicon? The answer may reflect upon the values held by Singapore's younger generation. The 'Pioneer Generation' phrase was aptly used by Prime Minister Lee to describe the generation of senior Singaporeans' responsible for propelling Singapore into the developed world's ranks in one generation.

Undoubtedly, Singapore owes a great debt to those who built Singapore into the prosperous city-state of today. The debt becomes greater if one remembers the realities of life during the 1960 – 1980s.

Jobs were not as plentiful – perhaps not plentiful at all; no Medishield program to pay for medical expenses; public transportation was in its infancy: the subway system was inaugurated as recently as 1987. That too with a single train line between Toa Payoh and Yio Chu Kang. Education was about learning survival skills – not a means to actualize creative potential in 'abstract' artistic or creative fields. The transition from kampong attap huts to Housing Development Board (HDB) flats – with all its associated implications for piped water, sanitation, etc. - only began in earnest in the late 1960s.

A glimpse of traditional 'kampong' or village life of yesteryears
Today, in 2013, the quality of public infrastructure is world class. Singaporeans' need not be quite as anxious about basic necessities such as housing, medical care and education. Worries have shifted to questions about quantum of disposable income (how to pay for the next vacation, latest phone, new car, etc.); getting one's child into a secondary school of choice; or the desire to maintain a better work-life balance ... and so on.

I am a newcomer to Singapore. I did not witness the transformation of marshy swamplands into concrete towers leave alone the shift from kampongs to community centers. However, I get the impression the urban landscape is not the only characteristic which has changed in the city-state.

Many Singaporeans' have lost the all-pervasive sense of ownership and accountability held so deeply by the Pioneer Generation. If something needed to happen, the community got together and did it – with the encouragement of local community leaders. The reflex action was not to complain and subsequently expect the government to address the problem by throwing taxpayer money at it.

The changes appear to have permeated the political elite too.

Sure, members of parliament are available to constituents at regular 'meet the people' sessions. However, the 'real' connection between the political elite and the population has weakened. A leadership living in landed properties or condominiums driving expensive cars to work is less able to relate to a population still overwhelmingly living in public housing and using public transport to commute to work. (Something reflected by the SMRT CEO's comments a few years ago about people having a choice to board trains?)

Additionally, many public servants (bureaucrats) seem content to keep their 'iron rice bowl' secure at the expense of delivering quality public services. The incessant 'outsourcing' of tasks to foreign workers, often supervised by more 'skilled' foreign workers, means accountability and quality of work suffers. Perhaps the 'non-Pioneer Generation' is more interested in sitting in an air conditioned office and less inclined to pull up their sleeves and make things happen?

Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Singapore’s NDP and the limits to integrating foreigners

Singapore's annual National Day Parade (NDP) is a unique event. The NDP contains enough songs and pageantry to make even the hardest heart melt. Failing the songs and skits, demonstrations of brute military strength and prowess by the Home Team will evoke pride in any armchair general. Though most of all, it is the nostalgia of a Singapore long gone which appears to bind together local hearts and minds – particularly when described through the local Singlish 'dialect.'

All that and more ... but only for 'genuine' Singaporeans.

Yes, I am a Singaporean. Not only did I attend NDP 2013, I also enjoyed it ... to an extent.

A photo taken at Singapore's National Day Parade in 1968
Sure, I could answer most of the NDP's 'pop quiz' questions relating to Singapore's history. Who designed City Hall? What is the oldest building standing in Singapore? In fact, dare I say it, I probably know at least as much about Singapore's history as most of the 27,000 other NDP attendees seated at the Marina Bay Float. (Not surprising, as I regularly relate the 'Singapore Story' to visitors to the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) in my capacity as an NMS volunteer guide.)

Still, something was missing at the NDP.

It starts with the Singlish. I admit I don't speak Singlish. So many humorous references in the NDP skits left me scratching my head. Secondly, my theoretical or factual knowledge about Singapore cannot replace the experiential familiarity 'born and bred' Singaporeans have gained over a lifetime of living – despite my having lived in our fine city for almost fifteen years.

So, yes, 'true-blue' Singaporeans you are right: first generation foreigners cannot completely immerse themselves in Singaporean culture (however we define the city's culture). I will never relate to Kuehs, Ice Kacang, Laksa or the many other 'Singaporean' things the way you do. It's an honest to goodness fact. No denying it.

However, that simply brings me to the point where most Singaporeans' historically started the 'Singaporean Journey.' That is, as foreigners arriving in Singapore aspiring for a better life and to support families back home.

Over time, 'back home' became a slowly fading memory as roots were sunk on this island. With each passing generation, it became clearer that no person actually intended to return to the 'homeland,' ever. Be that China, India, other islands in the Malay Archipelago, or, as in my case, Pakistan.

Result: the birth of the second or third generation (or more) Singaporean – the so called 'true blue' Singaporean.

I am a Singaporean too - a Pakistani-Singaporean (or a Singaporean-Pakistani if you prefer). Asking me to shed my 'Pakistaniness' is like asking a Singaporean to shed her 'Singaporeanness.'

Can a Singaporean give up Singlish, laksa, roti pratas, and all else 'Singaporean' simply because they migrate to Australia? Unlikely.  So please don't ask me to achieve the impossible.

I cannot be exactly like you. Nor do I aim to be exactly like you. We do not share the same history, though we certainly share many similar values.  

Leave the 'real' integration for the next generation. Until then, please humor me and respect my history.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Singapore: Monaco of the East!

Cities reinvent and regenerate themselves constantly. At least, cities which thrive and beat the ravages of time to stay relevant are no strangers to change.

Singapore is no exception. During the last ten years, the city explicitly decided to shirk its 'Fine City' image, moving from being a sterile, gum free environment to a hip, happening urban setting. As is often the case, Singapore's policymakers succeeded ... perhaps too well for the city's own good.

The casino, nightlife and incremental lifting of social restrictions worked its magic. From being the fortress 'Gibraltar of the East,' Singapore reinvented itself in the image of Monaco, i.e. the 'Monaco of the East.'

Monaco, of course, is a playground for the world's wealthy. Singapore too has become a playground for the worlds wealthy, particularly China's nouveau riche looking for a 'safer' place to park themselves and their cash. And, the annual haze notwithstanding, breathe fresh air.

Education is a key component of Singapore's drive to retain economic competitiveness in the coming years
To some extent, the 'New Singapore' means accepting larger income gaps between the wealthy and the not so wealthy. According to one widely accepted measure of income inequality, the Gini coefficient, Singapore's income inequality has risen during the last year – even taking into account all government subsidies and other redistribution measures.

However, all is not well in the PAP's (Singapore's ruling People's Action Party) domain.

Singaporeans are pushing back in an unprecedented manner. Locals are unhappy with Chinese immigrants driving Ferraris while subway trains get more crowded; or having to fight with foreigners for places in the local school system.

Nonetheless, there is no turning back for Singapore. The city's 5.3 million people will become 6 or even 6.9 million, maybe not at the PAP's proposed timetable but perhaps sometime within the next decade. (Seats on subway trains will remain a scarcity for commuters, forevermore!)

In the midst of all the changes in Singapore, one change becomes ever more obvious with time: Singapore's price competitiveness is eroding.

According to the latest Mercer cost of living survey, Singapore is the world's fifth most expensive city for expatriates. Hong Kong, Geneva, Zurich and Shanghai are all cheaper cities. The change may not be explicitly policy driven but it is a consequence of multiple factors, including growing Singapore's population by 66 percent in two decades.

To be sure, Singapore has moved beyond the stage of relying simply upon cost to retain economic competitiveness. Nonetheless, can Singapore afford to be the fifth most expensive city in the world and still preserve its 'regional hub' status – or will the Little Red Dot be relegated to being a hub exclusively for knowledge intensive 'Research and Development' areas such as biotechnology?'

Relying on knowledge intensive industries is no bad thing really ... if Singaporeans don't mind the income gap between rich and poor widening further in the coming years.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Reflections from Pakistan XII: Malala’s Swat Valley

Until a few years ago, Pakistan's Swat Valley was a serene, beautiful region known only to a handful of foreign and Pakistani domestic tourists. All that changed with the gradual infiltration of the valley by Taliban extremists during the 2000s. In fact, by 2006 the Pakistani state had lost control of most of the valley. The Pakistani state was left protecting Buddhist relics in the Swat Museum and a few other isolated pockets of authority, mostly in the form of minor paramilitary bases.

However, with the gradual Taliban takeover of the valley, alarm bells rang in Islamabad. Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, is approximately 250 kilometres and a four hours drive from the Swat's largest town, Mingora. (As the crow flies, the distance between the two cities is approximately 135 kilometers.)

Additionally, Swat is part of Pakistan 'proper,' civil courts, Constitution and all. The Swat Valley is not part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). There is no comparison between Swat and South Waziristan.

Pakistani soldiers raise the Pakistan flag at the Baine Baba Ziarat, the highest point in the Swat Valley located at a height of approximately 2,130 meters 
Initially uncertain about how to respond to the Taliban's encroachment on Pakistani territory, the state marshalled its forces and acted in 2009. Taking advantage of an unprecedented act of 'Islamic' justice – the whipping of a teenage girl by extremists in a public square – the government lined up public opinion behind a massive military offensive intended to eject Islamic militants from the Swat Valley.

Following bloody street battles and hand to hand combat, the military emerged victorious and declared victory a few months after Operation Rah-e-Rast began in May 2009. The operation came with a heavy price tag: millions of Swatis became temporarily homeless and street fighting had destroyed much physical infrastructure in the valley.

As Malala's optimism testifies, the war was worth the cost. The Swat Valley is open for tourism again. As a visitor to the Swat Valley myself late last year, I bear witness to the Valley's beauty and also its return to normalcy.

Surely, isolated (and unacceptable) acts of violence still occur across the Valley. However, the Taliban has been driven out. Girl schools are open. Women walk the streets alone – subject to 'pre-Taliban' social constraints imposed by the traditionally conservative Pashtun culture. Swat's residents radiate hope and happiness; more so than most other parts of Pakistan. Electricity shortages mean nothing to Swat's residents, they are happy simply to breathe freely again.

Most importantly, an unambiguous and defiant message has been delivered to the Pakistani Taliban by the Pakistani state and people: there is a line in the sand beyond which Islamist encroachment onto the country's 'mainland' will not be tolerated.

One may find many reasons to criticize the Pakistan army, beginning with General Zia's disastrous 'Islamization' process in the 1980s. However, any visitor (or resident) to the Swat Valley can do nothing but praise the Pakistani military. The army has brought order back to the valley – restoring hope and sanity in the process. If Pakistan has only one success story from its war against the Taliban, the Swat Valley has to be it.

View a small selection of my photos from the Swat Valley here.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sufism – a Quest for Eternal Truth

All are invited to a free talk on Islam's Sufi traditions in the context of other faiths, particularly Buddhism, organized by the Asian Classics Institute (Singapore).

Date:          July 1, 2013 (Monday)
Time:          7.30 – 9.00 pm
Venue:       #02-45 Shaw Tower, 100 Beach Road, Singapore

For more details and registration, please visit Asian Classics Institute.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Singapore punches above its weight diplomatically - really?

The haze is an 'externality,' a phenomenon ostensibly beyond the control of Singapore's government. A result of burning forests and peat, commonly attributed to 'slash and burn' farming techniques employed in nearby Indonesian islands. However, never during the last two decades has the haze affected behaviour as severely as during the last few days. Sure, the haze was bad a few times in the late 1990s but it probably did not reach 'hazardous' levels on the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) measure. During the last few days, the PSI seems to have breached the 400 number a few times.

The haze places more than just the health of Singapore's greatest asset – its people – at stake. Its economic implications are significant.

Indonesia: hear the roar of Singapore's mighty Merlion?
Absent and unhealthy workers affect productivity. Retail sales are affected by people staying indoors as much as possible. Tourism takes a hit as people cancel or shorten pleasure and business trips. For those brave individuals who visit Singapore anyway, they may not leave with happy memories and will most certainly not spend as much time in indulging in outdoors activity (e.g. Sentosa, Orchard Road, alfresco dining).

Despite being a problem with roots in Indonesia, Singapore has diplomatic options to help alleviate – if not completely redress – the annual haze dilemma. To be sure, Singapore must balance the 'carrot and stick' effectively to ensure the Republic's relations with Indonesia are not irrevocably damaged.
Diplomacy is a delicate art requiring the virtuous use of many different soft and hard levers in an optimal combination. Results are never guaranteed and unintended consequences may also arise from using any number of diplomatic tools.

Singaporeans are often told, Singapore is a small country but due to hard work and progress, the country punches above its weight. The present is as good a time as any to demonstrate Singapore's regional clout by pushing for a sustainable solution to an ongoing problem. To remain hostage year after year to the same problem is not an option.

Singapore's politicians and civil servants, including diplomats, are well paid and highly trained. Ordinary Singaporeans will be happy to see them earn their keep by continuing current efforts to address the crisis. Surely, Singapore's otherwise wise and masterful civil service scholars and policy makers can come up with lasting solutions to vexing questions such as the haze?
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Another protest rally in Singapore – what else is new?

Not so long ago, criticisms of Singapore's ruling party figures were typically voiced only in hushed tones. For good reason: critics feared defamation law suits which often ended only once the defendant declared bankruptcy. Soon enough, some of Singapore's fiercest opposition activists were either bankrupt or preoccupied with trying to keep their heads afloat. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens were too busy pursuing the coveted 'Five C's,' leaving little spare time for any political activism.

That was the last century. Much has changed in Singapore since the dawn of the new Millennium. The River Safari, Esplanade, Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands now grace Singapore's limited land mass.

A view of Singapore's skyline in the new Millennium
However, the real changes have been in the Singaporean's psyche.

The list of subtle though significant changes in Singapore is endless. Corruption cases originating in the public sector elicit no more than shrug – although if sex is involved then all details must be made public in the name of 'transparency!' Crime, including loan sharking, is more common than at any time in recent memory. And, horror of all horrors, even labour unrest and strikes have resurfaced in Singapore.

One of the most apparent changes is a willingness to challenge official government policies openly. Today, Ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's famous 'Out of Bounds' markers are slowly but surely becoming obsolete.

There is no more hiding behind anonymous social media monikers or whispering behind closed doors. Instead, opposition is expressed directly at the ballot box and, more surprisingly, through regular demonstrations at Singapore's own Speakers' Corner located at Hong Lim Park. (The Hong Lim Park 'haven' of free speech was itself an innovation of the new Millennium, inaugurated in the year 2000.)

During the last few months, Speakers' Corner has been the venue for several rallies. A couple were directed at the government's immigration policies while the most recent gathering expressed participants' disapproval at the government's new media regulations which came into force a few days ago.

Humans are fascinated by new and original activities, especially if they include an element of 'shock value.' This certainly seemed the case with the recent string of protests at Singapore's Speakers' Corner. Many joined the demonstrations not only to express displeasure but also to experience something novel.

However, humans also get bored easily. People tend to move on to the next new thing quickly – unless there is a glue to make the activity stick sustainable. The Singapore government must wait to see if there is any glue binding Singapore's social activists together; particularly once the novelty of raising anti-government placard and slogans fades away.

Nevertheless, recent events have established one fact: protest rallies at Hong Lim Park are no longer the exclusive domain of political activists. In fact, protest gatherings may soon become just another Saturday afternoon bonding activity for Singaporean families wishing to visit a park.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Monday, 3 June 2013

Reflections from Pakistan XI: Islamabad is a foreign city

Islamabad is Pakistan's custom built capital. A city built on an empty piece of land during the 1960s. Until recently, Pakistanis were not 'from' Islamabad – they just happened to live in Islamabad. (Until recently, only bureaucrats and diplomats lived in Islamabad.) However, today a new generation of 'Islamabadis,' with their own culture and lifestyle has emerged.

Islamabad's location on the Potohar Plateau surrounded by the Margalla Hills was no accident. Despite sitting astride an earthquake fault line, President Ayub Khan selected the location due to its proximity with Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar. As a bonus, nearby hill stations like Murree, standing at a comfortable 2,300 meters above sea level, are just about one hour drive north. From the capital, Lahore is several hours drive south while Peshawar is a road journey of a couple of hours northwest.

Daman-e-Koh park in the Margalla Hills which surround Islamabad
Islamabad is home to Pakistan's Parliament and civil bureaucratic leadership. The country's lawmakers and senior mandarins live in nice, leafy neighbourhoods dotted across the city's 900 square kilometer area. Despite being the country's capital, many Pakistanis feel Islamabad is a foreign city; not a part of the 'real' Pakistan. It is easy to understand why such a belief is so widespread.

Islamabad has a sense of order and logic absent from Pakistan's other cities. The 'grid' design of Islamabad city streets helps reinforce the perception of order. In stark contrast, Pakistan's other cities have developed with little or no urban planning. Cities like Karachi and Lahore are breaking under the weight of the country's ever expanding population.

Islamabad's order is far removed from the problems of 'real' Pakistan. Thus, by residing in Islamabad, Pakistani lawmakers and senior mandarins have little practical understanding of the life experienced by most Pakistanis.

Given Pakistan's multitude of serious problems, it is easy to understand why the Pakistani political elite might wish to insulate itself from the rest of the nation by sticking its head inside Islamabad's hallowed ground.

Unfortunately, Pakistan's problems are compounding to the extent that Islamabadis cannot hide from them any longer. Islamabad has electricity rationing like the rest of the country. Extremist mullahs make noise in Islamabad – even violently such as during the 2007 Lal Masjid incident, 2008 attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, or most recently during protests in September 2012 against an allegedly blasphemous film – as in the rest of the country. Other ills plaguing Pakistan, including crime, inflation and unemployment, ultimately find themselves seeping through Islamabad's sterilized door.

Certainly, Islamabad is a nice showcase for Pakistan. But Islamabad is a foreign country. Pakistanis can only hope Prime Minister designate Nawaz Sharif's government will remember there is more to Pakistan than Islamabad (and Lahore).
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Monday, 20 May 2013

Sharif’s enviable tasks for Pakistan

With Pakistan's elections out of the way, Pakistanis are eagerly anticipating two things sorely missed during the last five years of democracy: governance and leadership.

One would expect democracy – with its large quotient of accountability to the people – will have provided large doses of both governance and leadership to Pakistan.  Not so. Since the removal of President Musharraf's regime, the only aspect of democracy visible to most Pakistanis has been an unmistakable slide towards anarchy.

The military, still smarting from the ignominies associated with the final few years of Musharraf's rule, stayed away from active politics. Moreover, the military is busy fighting Taliban militants bent on undermining the Pakistani state. It was left to an activist judiciary to try and maintain some semblance of control over an inept civilian government. The judiciary's controversial efforts unseated Prime Minister Gilani but failed to galvanize the government to implement any meaningful policy reforms.

Imran Khan, the white knight ever-ready to save Pakistan, made some electoral inroads in Election 2013. Khan's party was helped by the 'protest vote' against Pakistan's two mainstream political parties (vehicles for Zaradari and Sharif). Having won the most seats in the Khyberpukhtoonkhwa (KPK) provincial assembly, Khan has the opportunity to prove himself by forming the KPK government. Voters will be watching closely to see how his party fares in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics.  

Nonetheless, Nawaz Sharif won a handsome victory in Election 2013. People expect him to put his mandate to good use. Top of the nation's wish list are security and reliable electricity. Sharif has the reputation of being pro-business. Surely, a businessperson understands that electricity is a prerequisite for a modern economy!

Additionally, people outside of Sharif's stronghold of Punjab province will scrutinize his focus on Pakistan's three smaller provinces. Will he abandon the likes of Karachi, rural Sindh, KPK and Balochistan or will the federal government help to provincial governments' resolve pressing issues? If Sharif acts as the Prime Minister of Punjab, the strategic repercussions for the federation may be severe. Already, separatist forces are clearly at work in Balochistan. It will not take much for disgruntled elements to undermine the federation in the other provinces.

Zardari's government chose to compromise national interests in favor of competing personal interests. Sure, Pakistanis can vote out Sharif's government in five years if his party too fails the country. However, the country is fast running out of time; and five years is a long time in today's wired age.

Pakistan rightly expect Sharif's incoming regime to make progress in stemming the country's decline. Pakistanis may not tolerate another five years of supporting a political elite which does no more than attend the National Assembly a few times a year, while keeping themselves isolated from national consciousness behind multiple layers of state sponsored security.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Monday, 13 May 2013

Pakistan’s 2013 General Elections: some positives and negatives


1.   Largest voter turnout in three decades drowns out Islamic militant extremists;

2.   PPP candidates suffer a drubbing! Electorate demonstrates unhappiness with disastrous five years under Zardari and his people. Bhutto aura appears to be fading;

3.   Imran Khan's party goes some way to break the traditional two-party stranglehold on Pakistani politics;

4.   Clear mandate to PML-N;

5.   All politics is local – province's voted according to local issues;

6.   Imran Khan's PTI to most certainly be part of new KPK government – will provide opportunity to party to demonstrate practically PTI's effectiveness at governance;

7.   Many first time voters across the country. The power of the ballot seeps into national consciousness.


1.   Imran Khan's party splits electorate;

2.   Clear mandate to a party with a dubious /mixed historical track record in governing Pakistan;

3.   Clear divide in voting patterns across the four provinces – national versus provincial politics;

4.   Other than Punjab, likely that governments of three smaller provinces will not be from party forming federal government – will most certainly lead to tensions between Centre and Provinces;

5.   Islamic militants and 'gangster' elements demonstrate ability to carry out violent acts almost at will throughout the country. Law enforcement agencies appear helpless;

6.   Likely that PML-N will soften stance against religious extremists thus setting country back socially. Women's rights and cultural environment to particularly suffer;

7. Secular ANP party virtually wiped out from KPK assemblies.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com