Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Maserati Moaning and Foreign Interventions

Foreign construction workers at Little India.
Foreign construction workers at Little India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's neither a cautious nor clever political tactic to over promise and under deliver as is often the case in New Zealand when it comes to budgetary projections.

What I have always found refreshing is the more astute approach of doing the reverse; under promising and over delivering, as more often happens when it comes to Singapore budgets.

According to an article in Today Online, the Singapore government’s coffers last year swelled by S$3.9 billion, or three times higher than initially forecast.

While much has been made of the number of foreign workers being allowed to work in Singapore, there was a financial spin-off for the Government with higher foreign-worker levy collections contributing to a 10.7 % bump in Other Taxes.  The new budget anticipates that foreign-worker levies will provide S$0.85 billion more.

However those companies who are over-reliant of foreign workers, and demonstrate little desire to redress the balance between local employees and foreigners, will see a significant hike in foreign worker levies and face stricter allowances for imported labour.

All of which would seem to suggest that the Government is taking on board local discontent about the rapid influx of foreign workers;  recent election trends making this a necessity.

In more positive vein, Minister Grace Fu has released figures showing that 20,693 people took up Singapore citizenship, surely the most tangible evidence of commitment to the country.

Many had opted the "try before you buy" approach with half of the newly-hatched citizenry staying more than ten years in Singapore before they took the plunge.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that.  It's a big step in anyone's life. 27,521 people became PRs over the same period.

And, although it is not a welfare state (and has wisely determined that it never shall be) there is increased social spending in the new budget.

But the primary focus for the year ahead is to increase productivity on which the very fabric of Singapore society depends. It's a big worry for the ruling party that productivity actually fell 2.6% last year.  In 2011 there was growth of 1.3%.

Such a decline will partially offset by clobbering the wealthy with higher taxes.  If you own a Maserati and live in luxury accommodation you are in for an unpleasant surprise. Your property taxes might rise by as much as 69%.
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Sunday, 24 February 2013

To Market, To Market

Girl and Hens - Kerikeri Market
The farmer's markets have become an integral part of New Zealand life in recent times; in many ways a harking back to much earlier days before the advent of general stores and supermarkets.

The appeal of them is that they tend to have much fresher and cheaper produce than the supermarkets, and home-baked goodies are very tempting.

This morning we paid a visit to the Sunday Farmer's Market in Kerikeri where we are staying for a few days.  The town and its environs are well know for the abundance of citrus and sub tropical fruits that thrice here.

Add to this wineries and macadamia nuts, boutique cheese operations, peace and tranquility and you get the general idea of why celebrities like Michael Crawford buy into the area.

Chilies -  Kerikeri Market
Nature' Bounty - Kerikeri Market

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Friday, 22 February 2013

Leisure and Boredom

Mangonui Panorama
 There’s leisure and there’s boredom.

Boredom is Norwegian television where viewers watched two hours of wood being chopped followed by another three watching the wood burning on an open fire.  Apparently the only complaints received related to the wood stacks not being done correctly; not the sheer paralysis induced by the programme content.

Leisure on the other hand is what I am doing now – another trip to New Zealand’s Far North, staying once again in Kerikeri.  This time we are using it more as a base to explore points further north.

Our choice of motel this time around is Kauri Park and what a beautiful spot it is.  A free glass of wine upon arrival is the norm, tuis singing outside our back door and a deal well done for an executive unit for four nights.

Our hosts, Dallas and Delphine are a convivial couple; he an ex fire-fighter from Wanganui  I discovered.  Looking after picky customers must be somewhat akin to putting out a scrub fire.

We took a little over four hours to get here as there were considerable delays for patches of road works enroute.

Lean To - Mangonui
On this our second day we venture 66 kilometres further north to Mangonui, passing briefly to buy a lottery ticket in the rural settlement of Kaeo. I am working on the theory that the largest jackpots seem to be won in the smallest hamlets although come Saturday this observation will no doubt prove to be unfounded, as it has been in the past.

Mangonui is famous for its fish and chips but a quick visit to the shop was all we need to realise that fame has its price -  and the price was not one we were willing to pay on this occasion.

It is a remote but pretty little town with some historic buildings from the 1890’s that have been renovated and put to alternative uses.   For example, the old courthouse has become an art gallery.

The Yellow Boat
But the visit made a pleasant half day and we have now returned to the cool sanctuary of our motel room.  Tomorrow we will drive to Paihia and take the ferry across to the historic town of Russell.

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Sum Of Its Parts

Two years ago I bought a new car, not a second hand vehicle as is the norm in New Zealand, but a genuinely new European car.  It came with its usual Teutonic pedigree and a guarantee that it would perform without problem.

Two days ago, the small plastic grab handle for the driver's seat adjustment gave into the strain with a loud crack, propelling me backwards and leaving me with a handful of plastic shards.

Why was this so mortifying? Firstly the factor of the unexpected release which propelled me backwards into my seat. Secondly was the growing realisation that the part in question was grossly inadequate for the purpose to which it was put.

A thickness of two or three millimetres of plastic was never going to last the distance and so it proved.  What to do?

Fortunately a new car comes with a warranty and in the case of our model this was for three years.   So I dutifully made a temporary repair with a bandage of used rubber bands and called the dealer.

It is here that I must give kudos to the Service Manager of my local franchise.  Often the term "service" in a title means anything but.  In this case he couldn't have been more obliging, agreeing that the offending plastic was inadequately designed for the job, and giving me a replacement free of charge.

To be frank I would much prefer to travel by public transport as I did in Singapore.  Yes, there has been the occasional and frustrating MRT failure in recent times but at least there is an MRT to fail!

Now come the news that Singapore and KL are going to be linked by a high speed train.  The planned service includes stops in Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan.  Pity there is no stop mooted for Ipoh; giving passengers the chance to stock up on some of their famous kueh kueh.
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Monday, 11 February 2013

Merchandise I'd Like To See

Get The Button
It always used to amaze me that seamlessly placid Singaporeans could be transformed into 'ranting emptor' when disputing the contents of a Singtel account or service.

I must confess to have had a few such similar occasions when we first arrived in Singapore. But we were fortunate in that we came across one senior manager who went out of his way to assist us; and continued to do so over the years whenever we had a problem.
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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Something Rotten In The State Of.......Sport

Amateur Sport the way it used to be
I'm the first to admit it, I think professional sport has ruined sport - full stop! In my playing days (rugby) we were all amateurs what ever grade or representative team we played for.

We didn't get paid for playing but the reward of reaching rep. team status, playing for your province, was reward enough. You might get a free meal if you were visiting another club and of course representative kit was provided by your rugby union. That was the sum total of the 'perks'.

But then rugby went professional and the marketing men and player's agents moved in. Salaries were paid and rapidly spiralled upwards. Now we are in the absurd situation& where the once cherished All Blacks are no longer a team but a 'brand". To compound the idiocy the "brand" has been further diluted so we don't just have an All Blacks team any more, we also have an All Blacks Sevens team.

But this is not the only problem with morphing what were amateur sports into 'entertainment products'. Two very ugly consequences have recently emerged. This past fortnight we have had confirmation of just how corrupt sport betting is.

According to Chris Eaton, ex-FIFA head of security, gambling houses in South East Asia form the foundation for organised crime gangs to generate huge profits from sports match-fixing. Singapore has been fingered as playing a pivotal role the fixing of about 680 overseas football matches says an Interpol and Europol report.

Scarcely had we digested this piece news than the sport-mad Australians revealed that the use of banned drugs in Australian professional sport was rife. The report can be seen here.

" Despite being prohibited substances in professional sport, peptides and hormones are being used by professional athletes in Australia, facilitated by sports scientists, highperformance coaches and sports staff.
Widespread use of these substances has been identified, or is suspected by the ACC, in a number of professional sporting codes in Australia. In addition, the level of use of illicit drugs within some sporting codes is considered to be significantly higher than is recorded in official statistics.
The ACC has also identified that organised crime identities and groups are involved in the domestic distribution of PIEDs, which includes peptides and hormones. ".

So all in all it is a very sad indictment on what sport as we once knew it has become; hardly the motivation to encourage youngsters to take up a physical challenge in a field of their choice.
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Monday, 4 February 2013

Married in Haste, Repent at Leisure

Hark!  Do I hear the pitter, patter of little speed daters? Or maybe the aftermath of speed dating?  I am a great believer that nothing worthwhile happens in a hurry, even raising the birth rate in the Republic.

But the pace of everything in Singapore is just that much faster than many other parts of the world and so it comes as no surprise to learn that a masquerade ball, organised by the Social Development Network (SDN), has broken a world record for having the most number of singles participating in a speed-dating activity in one place.

One is reminded of the 1693 quotation by William Congreve who said "Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure."

Old William would clearly not have approved of speed-dating, but England in the 17th Century was not desperately trying to boost its population.

A recent White Paper by the government suggests that Singapore's population could could well hit 6 million by 2020.  Most Singaporeans' would much prefer that this growth occurred through an increased fertility rate amongst native born Singaporeans, rather than the import of foreign nationals who threaten to swamp the indigenous culture of modern Singapore.

Compounding the planners' misery is the knowledge that Singapore's population is an aging one; a trend that is global and not confined to the Little Red Dot.

Singapore’s first cohort of baby boomers turned 65 last year reports Bloomberg, and its number of elderly will triple to 900,000 by 2030

Enter stage left, Eric - the Elderly Rehabilitative Interactive Companion robotic dog. Eric's battery-driven role in life is to help the elderly stay active and ease the boredom on therapeutic exercise.

This is not the first example of warm, furry robotic motivating and entertaining the elderly.  The Japanese were amongst the first to trial this approach and they have a high-tech baby seal called Paro which was originally developed in 2003.

The inventors claim that their robotic animal "allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties. Paro can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name"

Who would have thought that Furby would have morphed into something like this?

Maybe the answer lies in the invention of a speed-dating robot which can relieve the mother-in-law  and government pressures that many younger Singaporean women face.
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