On Happiness

February 19, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Posted in Being Me, But Seriously | Leave a comment

…[S]o as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

That’s from our Pledge. Recently I’ve read a lot about the achievement of happiness . And I am often reminded of a famous document that had the words “pursuit of happiness” in it and the discussions on what happiness means.

My first point is that the pledge speaks of achieving happiness but it is not for ourselves but for our nation. I think that is too often overlooked. The pledge is to achieve happines for our nation. So the next thing to discuss is what does it mean “happiness for our nation”. There are several ways to take this, one is to say that the sum happiness of all members of the nation should be positive (i.e. the majority is happy or the super majority is happy). Another is to  say that every single member of the nation must be happy. A third position would be that the happiness of a nation is more than the sum of its members. It is the national psyche, the national sentiment or the national spirit. Whichever method you wish to apply, it would be difficult to measure.

So we’ve established that happiness is for the nation, and that there are several ways to look at how to measure. Now to discuss what happiness is.

Associate Professor James Rogers points out that “happiness” the American Founding Fathers were referring to is not “a subjective emotional state.” He notes that to them it meant “well-being”. He cites James Madison’s point that “[t]aking the word “interest” as synonymous with “ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient , the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in its popular sense, as referring to the immediate augmentation of property and wealth, nothing can be more false. ” He has some religious themes as well, but I think as a secular nation, Singapore should avoid throwing religion into the mix when defining its happiness. Professor Rogers concludes the part on happiness by saying that happiness can “be understood centrally as a sort of virtuous felicity, perhaps in the sense of Greek eudemonia” (eudemonia definition from Wikipedia: simple Platonic defintion states that it is the good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature).

Dr Carol Hamilton explores the origin of the phrase “pursuit of happiness” and believes that Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase from Locke. Locke tied the happiness with liberty, and that we should pursue “true and solid happiness”, not imaginary happiness. As Dr Hamilton puts it:

“It is not merely sensual or hedonistic, but engages the intellect, requiring the careful discrimination of imaginary happiness from “true and solid” happiness.  It is the “foundation of liberty” because it frees us from enslavement to particular desires.”

Locke was looking to eudemoniaas well. And the Greeks knew that happiness was not “wealth, honour or pleasure”, and that “Virtue [is] the foundation of happiness.” To this end, happiness as decribed by the Greeks, Locke and Jefferson, is tied to the “civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice”, and since these are civic in nature, the happiness that they refer to is basically in our pledge, it is the happiness of a community or nation.

To be sure, if everyone in Singapore possessed civic virtue, people would actually be happy, and we would actually be a truly happy place. Each of the virtues listed by Dr Hamilton can only lead to true and solid happiness.  Not the emotional happiness that is fleeting, but a true lasting happiness permeating through society. Now time for me to seek out happiness for myself and for the nation…

Budget 2012 Highlights

February 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Posted in But Seriously | Leave a comment

Cribbed these notes yesterday while following the Budget presentation…


Reducing Foreign Workers

The amount of foreign workers will be reduced through the following measures:

Continuing with the increase in foreign worker levies and considering higher levies in the future

Raising the eligibility criteria for Employment Pass and S Pass holders.

Reducing Man-Year Entitlement (MYE) quotas by 5% and raising levies for basic skilled workers hired outside the MYE quotas

Reducing the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) for Manufacturing and Service industries:

  • Manufacturing DRC: 65% to 60%
  • Services DRC: 50% to 45%
  • S Pass sub-DRC: 25% to 20%


Moves to help SMEs

Special Employment Credit (SEC) for companies who have Singaporean workers older than 50 years old and earning up to $3,000 per month. The SEC will be 8% of the wages. A lower SEC will be given for 50 years and above workers earning $3,000 to $4,000 per month.

A one-off cash grant to help SMEs offset higher business costs because they have to cut their dependence on foreign employees. SMEs will receive a cash grant pegged at 5% of their revenues in 2012 (capped at $5,000).

The Renovation and Refurbishment Deduction Scheme is now a permanent feature and the amount raised from $150,000 to $300,000.

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Allowance scheme – SMEs get a 200% tax allowance on transaction costs (legal and tax advisory fees), $100,000 cap.

Trade financing schemes expanded to help SMEs with business in emerging markets.


Raising Productivity

Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) enhanced to provide a 60% cash payout to cover up to $100,000 of firm’s PIC expenditures. In-house training costs of up to $10,000 per year will be allowed. Requirement training programmes certified by WDA or ITE removed for the first $10,000 used for in-house training.

90% course subsidy for SMEs to upgrade workers through courses certified by WDA/ Academic CET programs at Polys/ITE. Absentee payroll cap increased to $7.50/hr.  Also applies to self-employed persons.

Subsidies for capability development for SMEs increased to 70%.


International Schemes

Temasek Holdings has established a specialized project finance company (PFC). The PFC aims to have cross-border projects with significant Singapore-based corporate participants making up about 80% of its portfolio. The Government will guarantee the loans that the PFC will take.

The Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation scheme will be simplified.


Developing the Economy

The Government will inject $905 million into the Tourism Development Fund (TDF). The GST Tourist Refund Scheme will also be for international cruise passengers departing from the Singapore Cruise Center and the future International Cruise Terminal.

GST relief for goods brought in by foreign and local travelers will be simplified and enhanced.

$150 million for A*STAR and Economic Development Board to develop solutions for deepwater oil production.

Investment-grade gold and other precious metals exempted from GST

Clearer guidelines for companies disposing of equity investments and income taxation

Tax on beedies, “ang hoon” and smokeless tobacco will be raised by 20%, unmanufactured tobacco by 10%.


Enhancing the Transport System

800 buses will be added over the next five years (20% increase): Government paying for 550 of those buses

Green Vehicle Rebate Scheme (GVR) will be replaced with a new Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) for private cars. Cars with low carbon emissions will enjoy up to $20,000 rebate on their ARF, and cars with high carbon emissions will pay a surcharge of up to $20,000. The GVR will remain for commercial vehicles and motorcyles for another two years.

Special Tax for Euro V compliant cars will be lowered from $1.25 per cc to $0.40 per cc.

The Additional Transfer Fee (ATF) abolished.


GST Rebates

Permanent GST Voucher for lower-income Singaporeans. The lower half of retiree households will get a full offset, while those in upper half will get a significant offset.

Lower-income families will also offset about half their GST bills. The amount offset will depend on income and Annual Value (AV) of their homes.

It will come in three components:


  • For families in the bottom 40% and who live in HDB flats or private properties with an AV of up to $20,000
  • Those in HDB flats will get $250 per year
  • Those in private properties will get $100 per year so long as their income is below $24,000.

Medisave top-ups

  • For those above 65 years old and live in HDB flats or private properties with an AV of up to $20,000
  • For those in HDB flats
    • 65 years old to 74 years old: $250 per year
    • 75 years old to 84 years old: $350 per year
    • 85 years old and above: $450 per year
  • For those in private properties
    • 65 years old to 74 years old: $150 per year
    • 75 years old to 84 years old: $250 per year
    • 85 years old and above: $350 per year


  • 1- and 2-Room HDB Flat: $260 per year
  • 3-Room HDB Flat: $240 per year
  • 4-Room HDB Flat: $220 per year
  • 5-Room HDB Flat: $200 per year
  • Executive HDB Flat: $180 per year


Helping Senior Citizens

CPF contribution rates for older workers will be increased from September 2012:

  • 50 – 55 years old: 14% for employer contribution (up 2%), 18.5%  for employee contribution (up 0.5%)
  • 55 to 60 years old: 10.5% for employer contribution (up 1.5%), 13%ncrease for employee contribution (up 0.5%)
  • 60 to 65 years old: 7% for employer contribution (up 1.5%), 7.5% for employee contribution (no change)

The increased contribution rates will be allocated more to the Special Account (SA).

Contribution rates of self-employed persons, aged 50 and above, into their Medisave Accounts will be raised to 9.5%.

Earned Income Relief will be increased:

  • 55 to 59 years old: $6,000 per annum
  • 60 years old and above: $8,000 per annum

Silver Housing Bonus of $20,000 will be given to older Singaporeans who want to sell their existing flats and purchase 3-room or smaller HDB flats; $15,000 will be in cash, and $5,000 will be credited to their CPF account.

The Lease Buyback Scheme will be enhanced by doubling the incentive from $10,000 to $20,000; $15,000 will be in cash, and $5,000 will be credited to their CPF account.

Healthcare Expenditure will double from $4 billion to $8 billion over the next five years.

  • Bed capacity in acute hospitals will be increased by 30% by 2020.
  • Bed capacity in community hospitals will be increased by 100% by 2020.
  • Two new community hospitals will be built in Outram and Sengkang.

Long term care services capacity will be doubled by 2020. This will include nursing homes, home-based health and social services, day care and rehabilitations facilities, and Senior Activity Centres. There will also be more specialist outpatient services closer to the community.

Lower-income patients will receive a 75% government subsidy, and those from the median income group will receive a 20% to 50% subsidy. Subsidies for nursing homes, day care and rehabilitation facilities and home-based care packages will be raised.

$120 per month grant will be given to families hiring a foreign domestic helper to help care for elderly family members who have severe dementia or are immobile and unable to care for themselves.

Each household with an elderly member will get $2,000 for home modifications.

GST will be absorbed for subsidized patients in the long term care sector.

There will be a $600 million top-up to Medifund.

MediShield coverage increased from 85 to 90.

One-off MediSave Top Up:

  • 1 to 40 years old: $50
  • 41 to 50 years old: $100
  • 51 to 60 years old: $200
  • 61 to 75 years old: $300
  • 76 years old and above: $400


Helping Singaporeans with Disabilities

There will be an increase in places in centers for children who need intensive early intervention.

Development Support Program will be introduced in mainstream pre-school centers to provide learning support and therapy interventions for children with mild speech, language and learning difficulties.

A Special Employment Credit will be given to employers who hire SPED graduates. The employers will get a credit of 16% of the employee’s wages.

Workfare Income Supplement scheme extended to all SPED graduates.

The Handicapped Earned Income Relief to be doubled for all persons with disabilities.

Singaporeans with severe disabilities to enjoy same enhanced care subsidies that older Singaporeans will receive.

There will also be a 25% expansion of places in Day Activity Centres.

There will also be an expansion of places in residential homes and the provision of transport options.


Helping Lower-Income Families

A new per capita household income (PCI) criterion will be introduced to pre-school subsidies instead of just household income.

The household income ceiling for the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme will be raised from $1,500 to $2,500 per month. Will also be extended to SPED schools.

Over the next three years an additional top up, of up to $15,000 per year, will be given to School Advisory and Management Committees. Will also be extended to SPED schools.

The household income ceiling for Student Care Fee Assistance will be raised to $3,500 per month.

There will be a $200 million top-up to the Edusave Endowment Fund and a $200 million top-up to the ComCare Endowment Fund. $10 million will be given to Self-Help Groups and the CCC ComCare Fund.

The Real “Problem” with SMRT Train Operators

December 23, 2011 at 12:41 am | Posted in But Seriously | Leave a comment

I read this with great interest as to why no announcements were made. I don’t get why this is a language issue. I think most SMRT train operators are competent English speakers, what I think the real problem is that they may lack the confidence or skill in public speaking.

Seriously folks, most of us dread public speaking. Doesn’t matter if you don’t actually see your audience and you are speaking into a microphone. It’s tough. It’s hard enough if you have a script to follow, it’s tougher if its unscripted. In most emergencies, it’s unscripted. Train operators are recruited for their technical skills and not their public speaking skills. Sure there will be some who can do it, but generally most of us are afraid to speak before a large crowd. I’m lucky to have received training and am expected to speak publicly as part of my job, but it’s still nerve wrecking each time you do it. Even with a script.

So to me this who issue is not about language skills but public speaking skills, maybe SMRT should start training their train operators and other staff in public speaking. Perhaps focusing on their PR department more. =P

[Public Service Annoucement] Proposed Changes to Work Injury (Compensation) Bill

November 25, 2011 at 11:42 am | Posted in But Seriously | Leave a comment

Disclaimer: As a PSA, I thought I’d share what I understand about the proposed changes to the Work Injury (Compensation) Act. This is my understanding, go read the Act yourself when they pass it. This is also tongue in cheek.
Proposed Work Injury (Compensation) Bill
Was proposed on 18 Nov 2011

Major changes

  • if you fight at work, your employer is not liable, unless it falls within the exemptions
  • if you get a disease from work (by way of chemical or biological agents), your employer is now liable
  • you cannot make a claim after the limitation period has passed (previously you could)


  • if you fight, no compensation. if you acted in self-defence, protecting life/property or were trying to break up the fight, then you can get compensated
  • if you are exposed to some sort of chemical or biological agent at work, your employer will be liable to compensate you (it is unclear if your employer has to compensate you if you become Spiderman or some other superhero due to exposure to these chemical/biological agents)
  • Compensation only due to you if it was within the limitation period after leaving your job and your job scope included exposure to that agent. So if you are employed as a paper mover in the Paper Shuffling Department, and for some reason you got exposed to a radioactive spider from the Radioactive Animals Department, you will not get compensation

What it means for you

  • stop fighting at work
  • don’t get bitten by a radioactive spider unless your job scope says you have to work with radioactive spiders
  • make sure that if you work as a radioactive spider handler and you get bitten to claim before the limitation period is up (check the second Schedule, if not listed then 1 year)

[Public Service Annoucement] Changes to the Retirement Act

November 25, 2011 at 11:23 am | Posted in But Seriously | Leave a comment

Disclaimer: As a PSA, I thought I’d share what I understand about the changes to the Retirement Act. This is my understanding, go read the Act yourself.

The new Retirement and Re-employment Act will come into effect on 1 Jan 2012, amending the old Retirement Act.


  • If you turn 62 before 1 Jan 2012, then the re-employment rules will not be applicable to you (laws are not usually retroactively applied/ it has got to do with how good laws do not apply backwards or something like that/ I hated jurisprudence so go ask someone else)
  • Current specified age is 62, can change

Presumption: you are medically fit for re-employment and your work is satisfactory, employer will have to prove that you are not capable of re-employment

So what are the changes?

  • Employer is obliged to re-employ you after you hit 62 (specified age) until you turn 65 (but this upper limit can changed by Manpower Minister)
  • Employer is deemed to comply if they let you keep working without a new contract of service
  • However, the employer can also enter a new contract of service, to vary the terms of the previous contract. Variations based on several factors including, your productivity, performance, duties, responsibilities and wage.
  • Also, if you enter the new contract, the previous contract is disregarded
  • If employer cannot reasonably re-employ you, then they have to give you employment assistance payments (EAP) to help you until you can find employment with another employer.
  • However, if you tell your employer you that you want to retire at 62, then he has no obligation to give you EAP

What does this all mean?

  • You’ll be working until 65 if you choose, otherwise you can enjoy retirement at 62
  • Your employer has to show that you “cannot make it” if they don’t want to re-employ you at 62
  • If your employer really cannot keep you on (downsizing, job too demanding for a 62 year old, etc) then they have to give you EAP, but you have to look for a new job (I don’t know how EAP will be calculated).
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