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American Shane Todd’s death – suicide or murder?

20130313.141205_internet_shanetoodOn the 16th of Feb, I received a note in my Facebook inbox from a close friend of mine pointing to an article published in FT Magazine titled “Death in Singapore.” In the opening paragraph, the authors immediately point out the controversy surrounding the death of Dr Shane Todd, who was on a working stint with the Institute of Microelectronics (IME). He was supposed to return to the US after 18 months of work in the government research institute in Singapore, but he did not. His parents claim that he was murdered and was involved in an illegal transaction with a China based company Huawei, a telecom manufacturer. At the crime scene, Shane’s mother finds an external hard drive which contains incriminating evidence of a transaction between IME and Huawei:

The plan lays out how, from 2012 to the end of 2014, IME and Huawei would “co-develop” an amplifier device powered by gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material able to withstand extreme heat and power levels well beyond silicon. GaN devices have commercial use in lighting as well as high-powered transistors for mobile phone base stations. They also have tremendous military potential, and major US defence contractors – including Northrup-Grumman and Raytheon – have pursued significant research and development in GaN for use in radar and satellite communications.

Security and technology experts consulted by the FT reviewed the project plan and all noted its civilian and potential military applications. Robert York, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara – a world leader in GaN research and where Shane earned a doctorate in silicon devices – said it would be “unnerving but not surprising” if Huawei were to be trying to advance its GaN technology. The high-powered amplifier has civilian use but “could be used for a number of military applications: high-powered radar, electronic warfare including signal jamming and even potentially some weapons”, Professor York added.

Shane, it turns out, had deep misgivings about the project he was working on and feared he was compromising US national security. His family wants to know whether that project sent him to his grave.

Read the full article here

Huawei is a security risk to US

The Chinese firm, Huawei, has been labeled a security risk by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee due in part to its ties to the People’s Liberation Army, and it has also been banned from participating in the Australian broadband network. And allegations of “stealing” intellectual property has been rife since 2003 when Cisco took civil actions against Huawei.

IME received funding from US

According to an article in billingsgazette.com, IME received nearly $500,000 in 2010 in Defense Department sub-grants. And the senators in Montana have proposed blocking of funding to IME till FBI sees records/evidence of Shane’s death.

Shanmugam visits US Capital to reassure them

Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam made a visit to the US to reassure that no improper transfer of technology took place between the Institute of Microelectronics (IME) and Huawei Technologies. He also said that IME was “subject to rigorous internal audits, and there had been no illegal transfers of technology”.

However IME told the Australian,  “the institute did not go beyond preliminary talks with Huawei on a commercial project relating to GaN power amplifiers for base station applications. The institute does not have and has never had a project with Huawei on GaN power amplifiers.”

It is still unknown about the extent of these “preliminary talks.”

Minister Shanmugam is walking a diplomatic tight rope with allegations of murder and illegal transfer of technology to Huawei. He has also committed that the Singapore police will share evidence with the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in probing the disputed death of American researcher Shane Todd.

There are several questions surrounding this case and foremost was, why was the police quick to classify this as suicide before concluding the inquiry into this matter? Secondly, why wasn’t the crime scene secured? And thirdly, why is IME, a local institution getting grants from the US Department of Defense?

Copyleft Notice: Please accredit this piece to Kumaran Pillai and provide a backlink. 

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Chaun Jin sets new targets for productivity led labour growth

fwcurbs

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin told parliament yesterday that “if we are not able to meet these targets, we are likely to continue the tightening and restructuring approach.” The targets he set out are:

  • foreign presence in the labour pool is capped at around a third;
  • productivity grows 2-3 per cent a year; and
  • when Singaporeans’ wages improve.

He pointed out that the foreign workforce grew by 67,000 last year. He remarked that the number was still too large and needs to be tightend to ensure that growth is led by productivity rather and increasing the supply side.

The minister also announced changes to the Employment Act, which will ensure better protection for workers – including Professional, Managers and Executives. This new move will provide better protection to about 450,000 workers.

Mr. Tan also said that there is a need to strike a balance between the needs of the employers and employees. Policies need to be honed based on feedback on the ground.

Giving details of the key changes, the ministry said the salary threshold of non-workmen will be raised from S$2,000 to S$2,500 for them to enjoy working hours-related protection, including overtime payment. Examples of non-workmen include retail assistants, administrative staff and clerks. About 150,000 more workers stand to benefit from working hours-related protection.

However, to help employers manage costs, the ministry will cap the amount of overtime rate payable to non-workmen at the salary level of S$2,250.

Beyond the salary protection already accorded to PMEs earning up to S$4,500, they will also be protected under the general provisions of the Employment Act — like sick leave benefits and protection against unfair dismissal. About 300,000 PMEs will benefit from this change.

Big-Car COE cheaper than smaller cars

The proof is in the pudding they say. In the case of our government trying to level the playing field between the rich and the poor, they seem to be tripping over the policies created by their predecessors.

coe

No where on earth would a tax for a luxury car be lower except in Singapore. Well, this is the genius of our bureaucrats. Not too long ago DPM Tharman said that we have a progressive tax system. Like as if his words were jinxed, the COE prices for big cars plunged below those for smaller cars in the recent COE bidding exercise. So now we have a situation where the tax for a Ferrari is lower than the tax for a cheap Korean car. You need to give it to these guys, they have turned economic theories on the head. Or as depicted in the illustration, they have a car on their heads instead of a brain in their head!

But all is not lost. PAP MP thinks that this can be corrected while the car dealers think that the market will correct itself in the long run.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport Cedric Foo said, “with the loan curbs shifting demand to Cat A (cars up to 1,600cc) and with all the German marques there, there is upward pressure on premiums. If we don’t adjust supply, this is what happens.”

Maybe so but Cedric seems to have forgotten what I said before, “if the economy ain’t broke, don’t break it.” What we need is a set of policies that bridge the wealth gap. It seems to me that whatever measure they come up with are defeated because they have tinkered too much with the economic system.

In another article, I have also highlighted about how the Wage Credit scheme though well intentioned is not meeting the objective of raising the wages of the workers.

Jenn Jong is suggesting a government led financing for SMEs in Singapore. What are your thoughts on this?

Yee Jenn Jong

Committee of Supply Cuts by YJJ on Ministry of Trade and Industry

SME Bank

The service economy is increasingly important to Singapore. Excluding Financial and Insurance, the service sector had 135,000 enterprises and employed 1.35 million workers in 2010.

The 2012 SME Development Survey highlighted that 50% more service sector SMEs found bank financing a challenge compared to the previous year. This is despite the availability of government-backed loans through financial institutions. The survey also found more SMEs facing cash flow problems and worsening liquidity.

Service sector SMEs generally require working capital financing such as supplier invoice financing, working capital term loans and factoring. They are generally asset light with little collaterals. Financial institutions are cautious and tend to make unsecured lending only to bigger mid-sized SMEs. With the Basel III minimum adequacy requirement, banks are likely to tighten loans to smaller and riskier SMEs.

Government lending to SMEs has…

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Society needs to accept broader definition of success in life: Heng Swee Keat

“We cannot have broader definition of success in education without our society accepting broader definition of success in life.” – Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat

criticalthinking

Is this a sign that PAP will be revisiting its meritocracy policy? It makes one wonder what triggered the Minister to say such a thing. This is a stark departure from their meritocracy policy where emphasis was purely on exams and government scholars. Ironically, we have seen a few scholars themselves who have jumped onto the Opposition bandwagon and have become critical of the PAP. Fate has it that some people would have the best of both worlds.

So what would be the new definition of success in life? I hope the new definition would go above our worldly material accomplishments and focus on how we as individuals impact the society.

I think the first step in defining our success is to stop saying yes to everything. This would be hard to measure for most people, but it can be easily solved by looking at the performance of MPs in Parliament. It is only when we challenge status quo that we can innovate and change.

As for children in school, what would be key is to develop their critical thinking abilities. Only then, we’ll see a bunch of kids growing up to make real changes in the world.

While I applaud the new measures to improve our education system. It seems like the government is still emphasizing on rote-learning and exam oriented education system- more is done to take care of the “weaker” students.

What we are going to see in the next few years is that private pre-schools going out of business with the government entering the fray of providing quality kindergartens. I shall not bitch about this because there is really a dire need to improve the standards of our kindergartens. Unfortunately, PAP kindergartens do not cut it!

PM Lee welcomes high quality foreign investments.

Bennett editorial cartoon

 

There was an article in CNA website late last night and it was a rather factual piece. PM Lee goes for dinner with the folks from Rolls-Royce  and decides to utter some of him characteristic one liners, “S’pore must continue to welcome high-quality investments.”

Let’s break this down. Anybody who is not familiar with the current state of politics in Singapore may interpret it the other way – that there are a bunch of politicians who are advocating low quality or zero foreign investments. As far as I recall, there has been no such statement made by any alternate media or politicians.

My point being, we need quality investments but more needs to be done to weed out the inefficient companies that are here on tax breaks, exploiting (foreign) workers and taking up industrial land here in Singapore. We need to move to a high value economy.

PAP wage model : The unspoken greed?

By Tan Jee Say –

tjs

The NTUC Secretary General Lim Swee Say again rejected calls for a minimum wage system, claiming that the existing wage model is better. Question is “better for whom” ? Let’s try to understand him. The worker’s basic wage which is already depressed low by cheap foreign workers, gets supplemented by the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS), the Workfare Training Support (WTS) scheme and the new Wage Credit scheme (WCS). According to the labour chief, these combined supplements will make the wage system “work better than a minimum wage”.  But he did not tell us who pays for these income supplements. And the answer makes a world of difference.

 

In a clean minimum wage, the total wage cost is paid by the employer. However in the PAP composite wage model, the employer pays only a portion of the overall wage that is lower than what a minimum wage would cost, and the rest is paid for by taxpayers through the various income supplements. This wage subsidy by taxpayers enables the employer to maintain or increase his profit margin without the requirement that he shows improvement in his workers’ productivity particularly in the case of the Wage Credit scheme. Doesn’t this remind us of the wage subsidy scheme introduced during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 that simply enhanced empolyers’ cashflow and profitability? This time, the Wage Credit scheme will make profitable firms become more profitable as explained in the BT report below.

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