Monday, 15 December 2014

The Death of the Secular Islamic Polity

The death of secular nationalism across the Islamic world is a painful occurrence. It's not simply the rise of political Islam but also the weakness of secular (left wing?) intellectual thought which adds fuel to the fire. 

Perhaps it was the death of communism which left Muslim nationalists orphans in a world fueled by God-fearing capitalists. Perhaps it was the increasing gap between urbanized, westernized elites and mainstream populations in much of the Muslim world. (It could not have been easy for many Afghanis to accept local women parading around in miniskirts in 1970s Kabul when no more than the eyes of a 'traditional' rural Afghani woman show through her burqa while she is in public!) 

Female Kabul University students walk around campus in 1970s Afghanistan
To many, left wing nationalists such as Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad were bestial tyrants ready to kill their own people given even the most trivial of excuses. Surely, Iraq and Syria were not model societies. However, neither were their counterpart right wing dictatorships found in many Latin American or developing countries. In many instances, capitalist, US supported strongmen were just as lethal to their own people as Soviet supported leaders. 

Nonetheless, the death of Islamic nationalists did not occur with the passing of these two brutal leaders. It is progressively taking place even as these words are being written.   

Of particular note are the two bastions of secularism found on either pole of the Islamic world: Turkey and Indonesia. Arguably, the two nations tasked with 'protecting' the Western and Eastern most physical and ideological borders of the Islamic world. 

Turkey: the birthplace of the first Muslim Republic in the world. A nation which banned headscarves for women and the fez headgear for men; a nation where one can sit in a bar nursing a glass of wine while watching (and listening) to people praying in a nearby mosque. 

After over a decade of rule by an Islamically inspired political party, today's Turkish state is intent on rolling back Ataturk's secular markers from Turkish society. 

A copy of the first Koran printed in the Turkish language after the formation of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923
And so with Indonesia: the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Hitherto a staunchly secular republic, now a fertile playground for the bearded brigade to attack public art and impose 'Islamic' moral standards at will. 

For Islamic modernists, the importance of secular societies lies in the enabling intellectual environment it fosters. A socially liberating ecosystem permits otherwise pious Muslims to question established archaic conventions, many of which are ripe for modernization. 

Islam is a dynamic belief structure. Hobbling it with strictures and 'out of bound' markers is destined to fail. The depth of Islamic intellectual strength will ultimately overcome these obstacles. The only question remains how many more lives must be lost in defeating the die-hard battling Muslim obscurantists.   
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

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Singapore’s Gillman Barracks: where history meets art

All thriving urban areas require vibrant arts clusters to keep intellectuality creative. Typically, these neighborhoods arise naturally as artists flock towards them. Sometimes, however, a little nudge is required to get the ball rolling. That is the case in Singapore where three government agencies have partnered with the private sector to push for the success of Gillman Barracks (GB) as a contemporary arts cluster.

The entrance to the Gillman Barracks arts cluster. 
The lush green area was the site of a former military camp opened by the colonial authorities in 1936 in preparation for the Pacific War. The fourteen buildings comprising the garrison were taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces in 1971. For some years, Gillman Camp (as it was formerly called) housed the Headquarters, Singapore Combat Engineers (HQ, SCE). In 2010 the site was launched as the Gillman Barracks arts cluster in 2010.

Along with Singapore's iconic Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, which opened in 2002, Gillman Barracks adds a new dimension to the country's arts scene. Given the predominance of performing arts at the Esplanade's theater and concert halls, Gillman Barracks filled a void by providing scope for the growth of Singapore's visual arts scene.

A view of the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay along with the Marina Bay area.
Today, the conserved military barracks buildings house seventeen local and international art galleries, restaurants and the Nanyang Technological University's Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA).

The CCA brings not only an 'academic flair' to the area but, from time to time, also brings internationally acclaimed exhibitions. Most recently, the Guggenheim's 'No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia' (an exhibition for which I was trained by Guggenheim to act as a docent) visited Singapore courtesy of the CCA.

GB's galleries display a diverse range of art styles and pieces in exhibitions which are continuously refreshed. Along with Singapore centric galleries such as Fost and Yeo Workshop there are regional (e.g. Shanghai Art and Equator Art Projects) and international galleries (e.g. Partners & Mucciaccia and Arndt).

To experience a Singapore far from the shopping at Orchard Road or the bars at Clarke Quay, Gillman Barracks is the perfect venue. Art appreciation, history and greenery all blended into one serving!
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including walking tours of Singapore's arts trails along the Singapore River, Orchard Road, Marina Barrage, etc. please contact Imran at

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Singapore’s Mount Faber: a walking trail for riding to Sentosa

Mount Faber, or Telok Blangah Hill, ranks up there with Singapore's tallest peaks. Well, that is if one uses the word 'peak' liberally. After all, there are no mountains in Singapore – only hills; and at 105 meters in height, Mount Faber breaks the 'three digit barrier' and makes into the country's top ten list!

In 1823, the foot of Telok Blangah Hill was the site of the local Malay Chief (Temenggong) Abdul Rahman's settlement. It was not until 1845 that the hill was renamed after Captain Charles Faber.  Using mainly Indian convict labor, Faber built the narrow, winding road to the summit of Mount Faber. In those days, the colonial authorities had a flagstaff and signal station at the top of the hill. Both remained active until the 1970s.

The entrance to the Marang Trail which takes one to the top of Mount Faber
Today, Mount Faber is a popular sightseeing and relaxation spot for locals and foreigners alike. The more adventurous take the Marang Trail from 'ground level' up 70 meters, or the equivalent of 24 floors to Mount Faber Peak. The trail covers a distance of almost one kilometer.

At the top of Mount Faber, one can enjoy a nice panoramic view of the city, including Singapore's ubiquitous Housing Development Board (HDB) apartment buildings. Looking south, one finds the resort island of Sentosa and industrial facilities at Pulau Brani (Isle of the Brave).

A view from Mount Faber's peak. Note the yellow and white HDB public housing apartment buildings in the foreground
A visit to Mount Faber takes in more than just scenery. One can chill out with a beer or over a meal at one of several food outlets located at the Peak. Additionally, the Peak is also the starting point for the Singapore Cable Car journey to Sentosa Island. A round-trip cable car 'joyride' lasts about 30 minutes and takes in aerial views of Universal Studios, Sentosa and Harbourfront.

Mount Faber is most associated with its contemporary modern face, i.e. the cable car to Sentosa. However, dig a little below the surface and the rich history of Telok Blangah Hill starts to appear. Like many places in this Little Red Dot, Singapore's modernity blends seamlessly with a diverse history ... and one hasn't even mentioned Radin Mas' name!
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including walking tours of sites such as Mount Faber or the Singapore River trail, please contact Imran at

Monday, 13 October 2014

A small piece of Japan in Singapore: the Japanese Cemetery Park

Japan's occupation of Singapore during World War Two is well known, but few know of the broader history of Japan's links with the city-state. A great way to understand these linkages is by visiting the Japanese Cemetery Park, located in Singapore's Yio Chu Kang area.

The cemetery, said to be the largest Japanese graveyard in Southeast Asia, contains 910 tombstones, including several of well known personalities. It cemetery was created in 1891 after three Japanese brothel owners obtained government permission to build a graveyard for destitute Japanese prostitutes or karayuki-san that were present in Singapore in large numbers between the years 1870 and 1920. Karayuki-san, which means 'going to China' or 'going overseas,' comprised the bulk of the Japanese population in Singapore between 1870 and 1920. One large section of the Cemetery houses the graves of many of these Japanese women.

Prior to the karayuki-san's arrival in Singapore came a Japanese gentleman sailor called Yamamoto Otokichi, also known as John Matthew Ottoson. In 1832, Otokichi was shipwrecked and finally landed on the shores of present day Oregon, United States. Following a circuitous and painful journey, which included becoming prisoner of a Native American tribe, Otokichi found himself working for British colonial authorities in Southeast Asia and China.

In the late 1840s, Otokichi took up residence in Singapore and stayed in the city until his death in 1867. Otokichi is regarded as the first Japanese resident of Singapore; an honor which led a delegation from his hometown in Mihama (Aichi Prefecture) to visit Singapore in 2005. The delegation collected a portion of his remains to his hometown for burial – arguably a homecoming late by 138 years.

The tomb housing a part of Otokichi's remains. 
The World War Two Syonan-to years are well represented in the Cemetery.

The Hinomoto guardian deity stands tall at the main entrance, reminding visitors of the 41 Japanese civilians who perished in Allied internment camps at Jurong while awaiting repatriation after Japan's surrender.

Also inside the Cemetery is a War Memorial dedicated to dead Japanese soldiers, including those who died as Allied prisoners of war in Singapore and Johor after the war as well as the 135 Japanese soldiers executed as War Criminals in Changi prison. However, pride of place within the Cemetery is given to Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia. General Terauchi died in June 1946 at a prisoner of war camp in Johor, Malaysia.

In the years since the end of World War Two, Singapore's relations with Japan have improved progressively. From the opening of the first post-war Japanese business establishment in 1954, today's Singapore is a hub for many Japanese multinational corporations operating in Southeast Asia. Japan is one of Singapore's top ten trading partners, with total trade aggregating USD 48 billion in 2013 (compared to say Singapore's former colonial master, the United Kingdom, with which total trade totaled USD 14 billion in 2013). 

A structure with deities located near the park's entrance.
History helps shape nations and peoples. Yet there is also no reason to be held hostage by unpleasant historical events. A visit to the Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore underscores the power of realistic progress, i.e. building the future without forgetting the past.
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including tours of World War Two sites such as Changi Museum and the Japanese Cemetery Park, please contact Imran at

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Progress, harmony and eco-tourism in Singapore

Singapore is well known as a modern metropolis – Southeast Asia's global city. Yet, few are aware Singapore also contains a genuine patch of rainforest within an otherwise highly developed concrete jungle. The 6.2 hectares of rainforest is located in the center of the city and is part of the original site of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), founded in 1859, is Singapore's candidate for the country's first UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.

View of the Marina Bay area at night from Gardens by the Bay (East)
However, Singapore's underappreciated penchant for blending the old with the new is fully displayed at the newer Gardens by the Bay (GBTB). Opened in 2012, the GBTB are 101 hectares of intense pleasure, especially for nature lovers. The gardens contain two specialized greenhouses: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. (For those who simply wish to get out of the blazing Singapore sun or incessant rain, both domes are nice and cool – verging on cold!)

The Flower Dome, which contains nine different gardens such as the Succulent Garden and South American Garden, replicates cool and dry climate of the Mediterranean. Flowers from five different continents, i.e. Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania are on display inside the Flower Dome. The 1,000 year old Olive Tree is a standout! The Flower Dome even gets a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records 2015 as the largest columnless glass greenhouse in the world.  

The second greenhouse, the Cloud Forest, contains orchids, pitcher plants and ferns from the cool-moist mountains and other higher elevation tropical highlands (up to 2,000-metres above sea level). At a height of 35 meters, the Cloud Forest also contains the world's tallest indoor waterfall. The 'planted walls' on the 'mountain' inside the greenhouse provide a unique touch to the greenhouse.

A view of the Supertree Grove at night
The new, modern Singapore is clearly visible in the garden's Supertree Grove. Supertrees? These are 'trees' with a height of 25-50 meters (up to sixteen storeys) and create the forest 'canopy' structure for the gardens. At night, the Supertrees are tastefully lit up as part of a light and sound show.

GBTB are not just about flowers and plants. For many, the sight of a gigantic naked baby located in the park's Meadow is the highlight of any visit. Titled 'Planet,' the work was created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Marc Quinn and depicts Quinn's infant son. The statue – if one can call it that – appears to float above the grass. 'Planet' is one of over 40 works of art nestled within the Gardens by the Bay.

Marc Quinn's sculpture of a naked baby 'Planet' canbe found in the Meadow, Gardens by the Bay
For many, Singapore represents nothing but sleek, modern glass skyscrapers within a bustling urban environment. But the Little Red Dot is much more than a modern metropolis. For those who care to look, Singapore offers diverse experiences, including the city's 'contemporary' botanic gardens called Gardens by the Bay.
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including tours of the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay, please contact Imran at

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Imran Khan: don’t you have a province to govern?

As a cricketer, Imran Khan was a fine leader and brought cricketing glory to Pakistan in 1992. However, even during his World Cup victory speech it was clear what Imran Khan is about – himself! Imran's victory speech ignored Pakistani fans, the nation and his teammates. It only referred to his personal obsession and his career (watch the video from one minute onward to understand why I make the claim).

As a politician, Imran Khan has fared less well. For starters, it seems Imran's ego cannot accept losing Pakistan's 2013 general elections, particularly to a 'twice tried and failed' Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). After all, Imran Khan's Pakistan's Tehrik Insaf (PTI) party promised to rid the nation of corruption in 100 days; build a cricket pitch in each district; and, most importantly, was led by the only person who knows how to fix Pakistan, i.e. Imran Khan himself.

So maybe it was Imran's ego which led to the PTI's poorly timed (Pakistan's Independence Day – really?) and unsuccessfully executed 'Long March' from Lahore to Islamabad. Once the Long March fizzled out, the Prime Minister 'wannabe' decided to take his party deeper into the political wilderness. He has called for a civil disobedience movement  against the government by demanding Pakistanis stop paying utility bills, taxes, etc (Imran Khan: Pakistan's Martin Luther King, jr. in the nation's fight against an 'illegitimate' government?!).

The Pakistan Monument located in Islamabad, the nation's Capital city
Now the PTI has asked all its Parliamentarians to resign from the National and Provincial Assemblies. But wait, there's some fine print. No Parliamentarians need to resign from the Khyberpukhtoonkhwa (KPK) Provincial Assembly! I guess the polls were only rigged in the three provinces where the PTI did not win enough seats to form a government?

Imran Khan – hit the reset button and get with the national storyline! You can still salvage the PTI and yourself from the hole you have dug over the last few weeks.

Rescind calls for civil disobedience and move away from confrontation. Instead, start delivering on election promises through the PTI managed KPK provincial government. Focus energies on constructive and useful issues, e.g. spearhead the polio immunization campaign in KPK, champion female education in a province still sceptical of its benefits, etc. There are a thousand and one things in KPK which scream for attention and political will. Voters will naturally flock to the PTI once they see KPK effectively governed by the party.

The way to winning the Pakistani people is not through confrontational politics. It is through good governance. The people of KPK gave you an opportunity to showcase your party's effectiveness in governing. Don't squander the trust of the KPK electorate.
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

Monday, 11 August 2014

Singapore: Asia's Little Red Dot and Economic Powerhouse

  • Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has become a global economic powerhouse.
  • With its 'entrepot' history, Singapore is a regional trading hub ranked as the 2nd most competitive country in the world.
  • Recently, Singapore has moved up the economic ladder into higher value added sectors, e.g. biotechnology and the biomedical industry.
  • Singapore's fiscal conservatism, ample FX reserves and solid legal infrastructure underscore the country's relative attractiveness within a fast growing region.
Read the full article, first published on Seeking Alpha on August 4, 2014, via this link: 

Monday, 28 July 2014

An introduction to investing in the Arabian Gulf stock markets

Please click on the link to read my article on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stock markets, published in Seeking Alpha on July 28, 2014: 

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

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The three keys to Singapore’s trading success: Boat, Clarke and Robertson Quays

The Singapore River is home to Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Best known for their watering holes and al fresco dining, the three quays are also replete with history. Not surprising really, as Singapore's history itself begins with the Singapore River.

A view of Boat Quay and the Singapore River around the turn of the 1900s.
Perhaps the oldest surviving relic of the island's earlier inhabitants, the curious slab of rock now known as the Singapore Stone, was found at the mouth of the 3.2 kilometer long Singapore River in 1819. The stone's location underscores the river's importance to Singapore's pre-colonial history.

The stone dates from the thirteenth century. The three meters tall and three meters wide Singapore Stone was inscribed with writings of an ancient script. Unfortunately, in 1843 the colonial authorities destroyed the stone before the writing could be deciphered by scholars. 

A fragment of the original Singapore Stone can be seen at the National Museum of Singapore. Note the script on the stone.
The Singapore River sets the foundation for Singapore's traditional 'entrepot' role within Southeast Asia. Artefacts excavated from Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), Fort Canning Park today, point to extensive trading links between Temasek and the rest of the world. Singapore island was known as Temasek, meaning Sea Town in old Javanese, until it was renamed Singapura in the thirteenth century. Following their arrival in 1819, British colonial authorities simply formalized and extended Singapore's status as a free trading port.

Trade fed the emergence of Boat Quay as an area of warehouses and trading establishments. Populated with historical shophouses, Boat Quay is today a playground for Singaporeans, particularly relaxing professionals from the adjacent central business district (CBD). Yesterday's shophouses are today's bars and restaurants. Among its various attractions, the Boat Quay area contains the Old Parliament House, Raffles Landing site, the Cavenagh Bridge and the Asian Civilizations Museum.

With time and as Singapore's trading activities grew, Boat Quay was unable to handle the increasing traffic. Hence were born Clarke and Robertson Quays.

Clarke Quay is named after the second Governor of Singapore and the Straits Settlements (1873-5). Contemporary Clarke Quay houses some of Singapore's favourite nightspots. However, much of Clarke Quay's history can be found in the elegant River House mansion, the Read Bridge named after Scottish merchant William Read and Tan Tye Place, the historical location for pineapple canneries owned by Tan Tye.

The colorful Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay.
After Clarke Quay came Robertson Quay. Named after a municipal councillor, Robertson Quay is a mixed residential and commercial development. Consequently, the ambience in the area is slightly different from the preceding two riverside quay areas which are primarily commercial. Within Robertson Quay one can find the colourful Alkaff Bridge, the Singapore Repertory Theater and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute – along with many nice bars and restaurants.

Taking a stroll alongside the Singapore River is a pleasant experience. As is a river cruise or simply downing a few drinks while watching the world. Whatever you fancy, the Singapore River is a great place to begin exploring the island's history.

After all, the river is where it all began.
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange any personalized tours in Singapore, including walking tours around the Singapore River and the Civic District, please contact Imran at

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Reason, chance and resignation: an existentialist tour guide's opinion

"Your life is an incessant compromise, between an ultimately slight inclination towards revolt and anarchy, and your deeper impulses that direct you towards order, moral health, and I might also say, routine ... My dear old chap, look yourself in the face ... You have attained the age of reason, Mathieu.

"Pah!" said Mathieu, "Your age of reason is the age of resignation, and I've no use for it."

- excerpt from 'The Age of Reason' by Jean-Paul Sartre. Emphasis added by author.

I have often been accused of succumbing to routine in my life. Sticking to a schedule, visiting the same places, shying away from the new and unknown.

Routine makes our lives orderly and predictable. We all do it. Humans instinctively reduce stress caused by avoiding unknown situations.

But a life of routine is boring. Welcoming, even pursuing, new experiences potentially makes an otherwise drab existence exciting. Continually leading a life of novelty and there is always something to look forward towards. We never really know what might happen.  

Nonetheless, even in the most routine of lives, the element of randomness lurks menacingly, threatening to cause a disturbance to an otherwise usual existence. A chance encounter, an accident or winning the lottery all combine to make lives less routine. But such events may not happen frequently enough to add spice and create a more extraordinary life. Instead, we must chase these atypical experiences proactively to insert them into our lives.

All of us have some rebel inside our souls. Yes, we are not all destined to be Che Guevaras' but we can certainly allow some unorthodoxy to sprinkle our daily lives with adventure. For any individual, finding the correct balance between 'Order' and 'Anarchy' must be like reaching Buddhist Nirvana: the ultimate goal for any 'pseudo-rebellious yet pseudo-conservative' social animal!

Nurturing the rebel inside us may provide one path towards reaching this particular version of Nirvana. Even if we have reached the Age of Reason, there is never any reason for resignation. Life remains full of wonderful possibilities for the adventurous rebel.


Imran is a banker turned consultant turned tour guide. He presently resides in Singapore. Imran rambles incessantly about history while showing visitors around Singapore. Through his consulting, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

Monday, 26 May 2014

Random thoughts on Camus, Existentialism, Absurdism and Al-Qaeeda

I recently picked up a collection of short stories by Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning French-Algerian existentialist author. I was stepping back in time – not simply into the 1940-50s, the setting of the stories, but to a different era; a time of US - Soviet rivalry symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

The time after World War Two was also one of great idealism and spawned countless left-wing groups and intellectuals inclined to throw in their lot with the communists in the hoped of creating a classless society. Many of these groups morphed into terrorist organizations, including Germany's Baader-Meinhoff Gang, Italy's Red Brigade and Japan's Red Army.[1] The absurdity of an impending nuclear holocaust poised to destroy civilization also engendered competing schools of thought, notably 'Existentialism' and its closely linked cousin 'Absurdism.'

Existentialism is "characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude" or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience."[2]

Surely, many will agree reality is often more absurd than any fiction we read!

However, it's the 'Absurdist' philosophy which really strikes a chord within me. While there is always a desire for humans to seek meaning in life, Absurdism suggests such a quest is futile. There are far too many unknown variables in the world and too much information for an ordinary mortal to comprehend. Humans, therefore, live in a world of absurdity.

It's the idea of an absurd world which I like. Does it not aptly describe a world of teenage gunmen gone wild, religiously motivated suicide bombers and the many other crazy things happening around us daily? Yes, one easy way to 'systematize' the world is through an absolutist religion, one which defines the world in 'black and white' leaving no room for any doubt in between.

Nevertheless, for me, it adds excitement knowing there are so many uncertainties and opportunities in the (mean!) world out there. As an old Greek friend called Epicurus once said, the world's atoms regularly randomly swerve from their appointed path to create a whole new set of causal realities. It just happens ... no one knows why.

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

[1] Japan's Red Army was responsible for at least two major violent incidents in Southeast Asia during the 1970s. In January 1974, two members of Japan's Red Army (JRA) along with two colleagues from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacked the Shell Oil refinery on Pulau Bukom precipitating the Laju Hijacking incident. The incident was a major milestone in the career of Ministry of Defence employee S.R. Nathan, later to become the Republic's President. Separately, in August 1975 the JRA stormed the building housing the US and Swedish Embassies located in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur and took over 50 hostages. Following negotiations, the JRA successfully won the release of five comrades imprisoned in Japan in return for freeing the hostages. The gunmen, along with their five freed comrades, later flew to Gaddafi's Libya.
[2] 'Existentialism,' Wikipedia. Accessed on May 26, 2014. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Singapore's governance: should MPs only be MPs?

I sent a letter to the Straits Times Forum for publication a few weeks ago. The Forum chose not to publish my letter. I have reproduced the text of my letter below. 


The Straits Times,

April 20, 2014.
To the Editor:
Recently, I had cause to write to my Member of Parliament (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) to seek his assistance with a particular matter. I was disappointed not to receive an acknowledgement of my request for assistance, leave alone any assistance.
It was not until I followed up with an email ten days later that I finally received a response from my MP. His response was upsetting as the text indicated he had neither bothered to fully read my initial communication nor attempted to properly understand my situation.
Perhaps the blasé manner with which my plea for help was treated is due to the competing demands on an MP's time, i.e. maintaining a professional career within a law firm alongside his duties as an elected representative? In light of my experience, it seems appropriate for the authorities to initiate an independent study to determine whether time spent by an MP on his 'external' professional career, say as a lawyer, impinges on his ability to carry out his obligatory duties towards his constituency.

If the government wishes to maintain the trust of the electorate then the attitude reflected by the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh does not help. Ignoring requests for help from a constituent simply widens the perceived gap between the 'ruler' and 'ruled.' It is time the governing party implements and enforces quantitative standards upon its elected representatives, e.g. response times to requests, etc. Such delivery standards are the norm within any efficient managerial establishment, including Singapore's own bureaucracy, and are necessary to maintain Singapore's usually high standards of governance.

Yours sincerely,

Imran Ahmed. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Faith, hope, miracles and the free market

I believe in the free market of ideas. Even if some of these ideas are ludicrous, the ‘magic of the marketplace’ will discredit them over time. Or so I hope.

Nonetheless, often it seems that my faith in humans is misplaced. Rationality is trumped a human being’s desire to believe irrational thoughts, mostly because these thoughts provide hope.

Hope is the foundation for so many positives in so many lives. Hope helps us achieve in ways which cannot be quantified. And how can I begrudge anyone who provides Hope (with a capital ‘H’)?

Sometimes, though, hope plays to the frailty of the human spirit. Hope often makes us believe things which fly in the face of logic.

Sometimes that’s good but other times it’s bad. It’s good to believe we all can achieve our dreams during our lifetime. But how about believing illnesses like diabetes can be cured through prayer?

Hmmm ... I am a little sceptical. Maybe the Scientific Revolution is so much a part of our modern lifestyle that it is difficult to fathom the miracles Faith (with a capital ‘F’) can wrought upon us?

So how does a person who believes in freedom of thought square the circle of allowing free thought but yet controlling harmful thought? Not easily, if at all! Squares, after all, cannot also be circles.

The only Hope (there’s that word again!) lies in education.

The Scientific Method  – teach people to be rational and we won’t be fooled again! Unfortunately, at times even education fails us ... so we are left with other harsher methods such as censorship through a criminal code. There again, someone has to play God and define morality?

So perhaps it is best to let people attempt to cure diabetes through miraculous prayer ... and let them figure out the truth for themselves!
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

Monday, 17 March 2014

Singapore's future: a miserable and expensive (though global!) city-state?

Singapore’s image has taken a beating in recent times. Not only is it the most expensive city in the world but it has also been labelled a ‘City of Misery.’ A city where everything, perhaps even happiness, must be mandated or authorized by the government!

It’s easy to pick on Singapore? It’s a small city-state whose name is synonymous with efficiency, practicality, authoritarianism and success. At least if success is measured by average per capita income.

The gradual appreciation of the Singapore Dollar is one factor in Singapore's jump in global cost of living indices
As successful people are aware, success come at a price. Envy and jealousy are the most obvious though not the most useful. More important is the analytical discourse surrounding achievements, such as Singapore’s progress from Third World to First World.  

In this vein, Singapore’s newest accolade as the world’s most expensive city is a wake-up call for the city-state.

Like most societies, Singapore’s economic progress is a significant factor in maintaining social cohesion. If Singaporeans’ perceptions about economic progress and social mobility suffer then the impact on the country’s broader social structure may be considerable.

Statements by parliamentarians notwithstanding, during the last few years Singapore has become an expensive city.

Part of the reason is down to conscious policy decisions, e.g. the exorbitant cost of owning a car as a result of the government’s Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system. However, there are factors other than the vehicle COE system affecting Singapore’s cost competitiveness. Certainly, the recent focus on foreigners has added to inflationary pressures. As lower paid foreign workers from nations like China, the Philippines and Myanmar are replaced with better paid Singaporeans, increased wage cost are ultimately borne by consumers. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the hardest hit.

Singapore’s foreign exchange rate policy also plays a part. The gradual appreciation of the Singapore Dollar against the US Dollar makes the city seem more expensive to expats, particularly when placed in the regional context. Neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia sport depreciating currencies.

Singapore may well yet morph into Switzerland or Australia, countries with rigid labor markets and high levels of government provided social welfare. Call a plumber and pay a handsome sum just for the tradesperson to step into your home - and schedule the visit on a future date to suit only his convenience. In such a world, costs are high and efficiency suffers; though society leaves no one behind as a result of an a comprehensive and far reaching social safety.

In Singapore, an all pervasive social safety – coupled with a rigid labour market - net may be ours too ... if we are ready for Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates to gradually move to fifteen percent; and personal income tax rates towards 50 percent!

Is it worth the cost? It’s your choice Singapore.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at