Friday, 28 June 2013

Migrating to Oz: It gets harder every 1 July.

For prospective migrants to the land Down Under, the bar has just been raised yet again. Australian Immigration has recently released some information detailing significant changes for prospective visa applicants to commence from 1 July 2013.

It just got harder to migrate Down Under.
So what exactly are the changes and how will it affect subclass 189 applicants? Let's start with the good news first!

1. The occupation ceilings on the previous SOL has been reset
You will find the new SOL wef 1 July 2013 available here. Occupations which had previously reached its occupation ceiling, such as Systems Analyst, remain available in the new SOL. This means that the occupation ceilings have been reset and these occupations (Engineers, Programmers etc) are still in demand in Australia till June 2014. This is good news for the professionals who have submitted complete EOIs and are still waiting for an invite. My guess is your invite will come in July 2013 after the technical issues on Skillselect have been sorted out. Congratulations! 

2. Increase in maximum number of invites for July 2013
The maximum number of invites for 189 in June 2013 was 1850 while the new maximum number for July 2013 is 2300. Again, this is good news for those with completed EOIs in the system! For some who may not be aware, Skillselect issues invites based on points, then first come-first-served (like I mentioned in an earlier post on EOI submission).
Having said this, there is no concrete information for now on the exact maximum number of 189 invites they will issue in the new year. Typically the system assigns a higher maximum in July, then this number gradually decreases (as observed for the past year). So keep your fingers crossed, people.

Alright, sounds good so far. Now, for the bad news.

3. Increase in Visa fees!
It has been announced that the fees for almost all visa applications will be increased by at least 3 - 5% to account for the annual inflation. In addition to this fixed increase, there will also be increases made as follows:
  • Application fees for Subclass 457 will be doubled to A$900, with additional surcharges imposed for longer stay.
  • Additional Applicant Surcharge - currently, an entire family unit (including those under Subclass 189, 190 etc) is covered under a single application charge. After 1 July 2013, every family member included in the primary visa application will be subject to additional charges.
  • Additional charges will be imposed to applicants who lodge their visas in paper format, especially if eLodgement is available for that visa subclass.
The most significant impact for subclass 189 applicants is the second point, especially for applicants who had intended to include your spouse and dependents/other family members in your application. Oz Immigration has not released the exact costs yet, so stay tuned.
For all applicants with existing invites (which have not expired), do not hesitate! If you lodge your application and pay the fee before 9pm (AEST) TODAY, you will paying significantly less for your entire family.

4. Pharmacists and Aircraft Maintenance Engineers no longer on SOL
5 occupations have been removed for the coming year's SOL. REALLY bad news for Pharmacists and Aircraft Engineers. Better luck in July 2014?

Pharmacists are no longer in demand in Australia.

5. More stringent criteria for Subclass 457 applicants
As my posts are catered more to Subclass 189 applicants, I shall not delve into the details for this. Suffice to say Australia is clamping down on this visa to ensure jobs will be given to Australians first, as well as ensure only very skilled, genuine applicants make the cut for this temporary work visa.

6. Expect some changes to eligibility criteria and increase in costs and processing times for Skills Assessment in 2013/2014
Inflation will also affect costs for Skills Assessment. An acquaintance of mine who intends to migrate in a couple of years has been monitoring the steady increase in costs for application of a skills assessment, most notably from Engineers Australia. Every July when Immigration releases the new visa charges, the various assessing authorities will also review their fees accordingly and determine if an increase is necessary.
As for processing times, I did notice for AITSL (as an example) that the processing time of 8 weeks in 2011 has increased to 10 weeks in 2012 and to 14 weeks in 2013. As mentioned in Chapter 3, mine took 11 weeks and two days, and an additional two weeks for delivery via snail mail. Using the same example, the English Language criteria for teachers have also been made more stringent as of 1 January 2013. I suspect this has contributed to the small number of 189 invites for teachers for the year July 2012 to June 2013. You can have a look at the detailed figures and reports here.

7. Expect changes to state nominated occupations lists
Prospective migrants (especially those who do not offer occupations in the main SOL) should visit the individual state websites after 1 July to check if their occupation is in the state nomination list. Every individual state will also determine the eligibility criteria for their nominated occupations (whether on the main SOL or not) - and more often than not, the state requirements are usually more stringent than the requirement for the basic 189 visa. The only saving grace is that applicants receive 5 more points for applying under 190, which could be critical for someone short of points.

Take for example Secondary School Teacher - Victoria state requires teachers interested in nomination as a Sec School Teacher to offer either Math, Physics, Technology or IT, General Science, Languages or Special Education. They also require teachers to have a minimum of 2 years relevant teaching experience. Both of these are in fact not compulsory requirements for a 189 visa applicant.
You can use the links provided below to find out more for each state:

If you have missed the boat this time round but still intend to migrate to Oz, it is time to speed up your decision process. Time waits for no man...

Click here for our overview on the migration process!

- A

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

SG Haze: A Response to "Dumb and Dumber Singaporean Reactions to the Haze"

Before you read this post, you may want to glance through the article entitled "Dumb and Dumber Singaporean Reaction to the Haze", found here.

In this blog post, I will attempt to address the various points brought up by the blogger (let's call him Mr D for short) on the 'dumb' reactions of Singaporeans online with regards to the worst haze in the history of the country.

1. On the stop work order and comparing with other countries

Firstly, Mr D claims that nobody has made a comparison to how "the other countries have reacted when their air is bad". As an example, he used a document issued by the US EPA meant for children to illustrate his point that in the US, children can still go out and play when the air is bad.

All I can say is that this argument is really weak and not at all well substantiated. May I direct you to the following links which are all meant for ADULTS:
Mr D then goes on to inform us that in Malaysia, an API of 500 and above will warrant all non-essential services to be suspended, with the closing of all ports in the affected area. In fact, the Malaysian PM has declared a state of emergency in the areas most adversely affected by the haze yesterday, when the API exceeded 700.

What is Mr D trying to tell us, exactly? If anything, the Malaysian government HAS reacted to the hazardous conditions and by declaring a state of emergency, their government IS taking decisive, immediate action! When the air was choking the people, the Malaysian authorities did not hold meetings and conferences, suddenly establish an Inter-Agency Haze Committee and then proceed to tell the people not to be too fixated on the PSI. Are you seeing the difference here?


Furthermore, Mr D makes the huge assumption that stop-work order issued by the government must be absolute. He assumes that Singaporeans are demanding a complete stop work for the entire nation for every single industry. This assumption is erroneous. Mr D has failed to realize that a stop-work order can be partial, with the government agency (MOM) specifying clear guidelines on the type of essential and non-essential services that should stop/continue but be closely regulated during the haze. I have also addressed the point of partial stop-work order in my earlier post here

Finally, Mr D has failed to address the ministerial salary issue when asking Singaporeans to make comparisons with other countries. Has he forgotten that our leaders are the MOST highly paid in the WORLD? By that measure, it is NOT UNREASONABLE to expect more from them! 

2. On the Preparedness of the Government

Please refer to this website again. It was reported that the Inter-Haze Committee was established AFTER the haze reached unhealthy levels. The guidelines were prepared in a hurry after the PSI hit critical levels. I can only assume Mr D does not understand the definition of the term "being prepared". One makes preparations BEFORE an event. Do you study for a test during the test? Do you prepare for your presentation after the presentation? Clearly, your idea about preparation is absurd!

Preparation 101. Even squirrels know you store nuts BEFORE winter.

The writer also failed to realize the following in his arguments:
  • The 9 million masks in the armory is indeed a sign of preparation, but NOT for the haze! N95 masks can only last for a limited number of hours of continuous use, after which the masks will no longer filter effectively. This article here mentions that up to 8 hours of continuous use is a safe duration. Considerably longer usage of the mask will depend on conditions, with good function being maintained in clean, non-dusty environments (ie not in a haze). If the government had indeed prepared the 9 million masks for the haze like you claim, then you discredit them even more than the 'dumb' Singaporeans, because you, Mr D, are implying that our leaders cannot do simple math. 9 million masks for 5.3 million people in bad haze conditions? How long can the it last? How is this preparation for the haze? Therefore, there is only one logical conclusion. Nobody, not even the leaders, expected the haze to be the worst ever in Singapore, reaching extremely hazardous levels in such a short time.
  • The haze is a yearly event, not like 'ponding/flooding' which is a 'once in 50 years' phenomenon, ok? 
  • Yes, most Singaporeans can afford to buy masks and yes the masks should go to those who urgently need them first. No one denies this. But the truth is the entire country's retail for masks and air purifiers are pretty much out of stock. Mr D must not have visited the pharmacies recently. Please tell me again how the government was prepared for this.

3. On the confusion regarding PSI Readings

S has done a recent post on PSI vs PM2.5 and the confusing NEA website: you can find it here. The bottomline is this. We, the ordinary citizens of Singapore, are not statistics experts and air quality experts. That is why we rely on our leaders and experts at NEA to educate and communicate the information to the layman, to ensure that public health is protected. Mr D says we should just 'look outside the window' to determine how bad the haze is. By that measure, he is saying that NEA's measurements for air quality is only useful for blind people. Everyone else doesn't need it.

The most useful tool for determining haze according to Mr D. NEA, are you offended?

4. On "Singapore should do something to Indonesia"

No one denies that issues pertaining to foreign affairs are extremely complex. Whilst there are those who are naive on this, I believe Mr D has taken this 'inital reaction' of Singaporeans way too seriously. Hello?? Singaporeans are NOT asking for war!

Bring yourself back to when you were a kid. Say you were playing with your neighbour, and your neighbour injures you. Wouldn't you immediately run to your parent / guardian for protection and justice? Calling for 'justice' is a simply a normal knee-jerk reaction in response to an immediate stimulus and anger. Ironically, much of your blog post is also reactionary in nature, so aren't you the pot calling the kettle black?

5. On 'Shameless' Public Behaviour 

After I read this section and your argument, I genuinely felt like banging my head against the wall.

To Mr D: Every society has a good side and an ugly side. You shamed Singaporeans who are deliberately profiteering from the masks (the ugly side) but failed to acknowledge the people who have taken proactive steps to collect and distribute masks on their own initiative (the good side). You failed to acknowledge the soldiers who have spent their weekend distributing masks. You failed to mention the appreciation that Singaporeans have shown to their countrymen for these selfless acts. You failed to mention the heroes who sent to put out the fires or seed the clouds. Why is your argument so one-sided? What is your agenda?

There are helpful Singaporeans too!

You are asking Singaporeans to boycott the Heart Truths blog. While I do not agree with everything that Roy has said on his blog, I would urge Singaporeans seeking alternative media to read and analyse with a discerning eye and make their own decisions. Just because you don't agree, no one else should read it? Hello?? This is the age of the internet! Free our internet and free your mind! I encourage everyone to read Mr D's post on "dumb Singaporeans" again and draw your own conclusions on which blog is more worthy of being boycotted!

Finally, Mr D claims that Singaporeans are politicizing the haze issue. Why shouldn't we? After all, the politics and governance of a country is intimately linked to every single aspect of our lives and our future! After 9/11 and the Boston bombings, while the local authorities and volunteers organised immediate assistance at Ground Zero, millions of Americans questioned their leaders and looked to their authorities for justice and action. When the Victorian government failed to fulfill its promises to make Victorian teachers the highest paid in the country, 30,000 educators went on strike in retaliation. Isn't that what Democracy is about?

In fact, Singaporeans are already too apolitical as you will find from this article here. We do not politicize and discuss politics enough, as compared to the rest of the world. According to the eyes of the world, we are not even considered a democracy but a 'hybrid regime' - think about that!

Singapore is not a democracy according to the Democracy Index.

Thanks for reading. At this point, I believe I have sufficiently demolished Mr D's arguments and claims, and will leave my readers to their draw their own conclusion.


P/S: Thanks to the 100k visitors to our blog over the last 3 days! For all you know, MDA may be regulating us soon... =P

Sunday, 23 June 2013

SG Haze: What you really need to worry about is PM 2.5 NOT PSI

The only thing you really need to take away from here is that PM2.5 is the real killer. See here, here and here for evidence. NEA does publish PM2.5 readings, and PSI can take a back seat.

Update: Those who wish to protect themselves can take a look at how we are doing it here

S here, those who have read my earlier posts know I love disclaimers. Then again, despite these, some people still don't get it. Here goes:

For those who are already aware that the real danger in haze is PM 2.5, this post would be purely for your entertainment. But if you deem it helpful, please share with your loved ones.

This post came about because I noticed yesterday on Facebook that the skies were apparently blue and visible once again, and that PSI readings had actually dropped. People were once again taking to the streets, and even starting to exercise outdoors again. How very dangerous and worrying - unless you are a PAP member/hardcore supporter, in which case, please treat this article as bullshit, and heed your dear Minister's advice instead.

"We can still go out". This sentiment seems pretty prevalent from what I can see. Never mind yesterday's PM 2.5 levels of above 200 micrograms per m³.
According to Emergency 101, an official Government site set up in response to the haze, three-hour PSI readings are a measure of PM10. 24-hour readings measure either PM10 or PM2.5. Wow, make up your mind. Adding to confusion but giving us the clearest picture of all, PM2.5 is ALSO reported as a separate value. Given the mercurial (or prata-flipping) nature of what exactly constitutes PSI, I'm including a screen grab:

 Yahoo! Singapore states:
"The PM 10 filter allows all particles PM 10 and below to go through, thus it includes [emphasis mine] the PM 2.5 reading as well."
 Whereas the NEA official website comes across as less definitive:

So what exactly does PSI measure now? In the past it used to measure a basket of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons, etc...
I find this quite preposterous, because it's like saying a measuring index can focus on whatever the hell the creator chooses to. I mean, the Gahmen/NEA could declare PSI to be a measure of PM Lee's height (Good day to you Sir, if you are reading) instead of PM10, to take this analogy way over the top.

PM10 is bad, no doubt. It clogs your noses and gives you copious multicolour pee sai (nose dirt/boogers), and is primarily responsible for reduction in visibility which characterised most of the photos recently posted on Facebook, et al. Of course, for those in the know, petrochemical smog also causes hazing at other times of the year, but it's usually restricted to morning hours and results in an orange pall. And it's nowhere near as bad as the haze as we know it.

Not mine... In case you are wondering.
The real killer as admitted by our dearest Mainstream Media is PM2.5. At least the facts are there. However, the emphasis clearly isn't sufficient. The Government needs to come out and put its foot down and tell people explicitly that PSI isn't everything, instead of making lame excuses. Enough people have lambasted Dr Ng Eng Hen for asking people to focus on the 24-hour readings. Instead of saying that, could Dr Ng not have asked people to watch PM2.5? And this guy is a medical doctor! Also, surfing the NEA website, at first glance, what would one think is the main issue?

There is plenty of information out there on the dangers of PM2.5. I'm not sure what percentage of our population knows this, but my Facebook feed is worrying. My own family didn't get it until I hammered the point home yesterday, instead focusing on PSI readings.

NRSC didn't quite get it, either, if you saw our earlier posts on haze here and here, we were ignorant about the real danger as well. In fact, I went to work as per normal last week, armed with only a surgical mask that I had bought many years ago from Daiso.

I'm not active on Twitter, but I do know it could be a very rough gauge for awareness or at least momentum of certain topics. Let's take a look at the following screen shots:

Tweets on PSI spiked to around 200,000 on June 19. Compare this with PM2.5 below
PM2.5 had just 450 mentions at its peak
It's telling that there has been a spike to 1800 mentions for "clear sky". "blue sky" has similar figures. Contrast this with PM2.5, which is what we should really worry about.
Spread the word.


Friday, 21 June 2013

SG Haze: Response to readers' comments

My half-hazed self (who was wheezing and blogging till 1 a.m. last night) would never have expected that haze post to go viral in less than one day. Presently more than 50k pageviews for that one post alone! Phew.

Firstly, for the large majority of positive/encouraging/funny/constructive comment contributors and many other 'silent' individuals who have shared the post (presumably because you agree with the points listed), a sincere note of thanks to you! Some of you have even taken the liberty to rebut certain flawed arguments, in defence of my original post! Thank you very much! :)

Thanks for supporting NRSC!

As some readers have rightly pointed, the PSI has hit another new record-high of 401 this afternoon, so we should be thankful that a weekend is around the corner and some of us can be spared the commute to work. Stay indoors and stay safe, everyone.

Now, let me address some other categories of comments received.

Type of comment #1: "The haze problem is NOT SO serious/ not a national crisis"

Can't believe that there are still Singaporeans downplaying the seriousness of the haze when the PSI is constantly in very unhealthy or hazardous levels. Please have a look at this article so that you have a clear idea on exactly how serious and dangerous the haze is. News on the haze has also been picked up by international news sites like BBC. If you do not believe it is serious, you can just take a stroll outdoors at PSI 300-400 ok? Since it is not serious to you. Or you can join the Hello Kitty queue.

"I don't care what you say! The haze is not serious!"

Type of comment #2: "The haze is not worse than SARS"
In comparison to SARS (in Singapore), there are 2 main aspects to consider. If you consider severity, then yes I would think that the symptoms of SARS will generally be more acute to sufferers (unless you have asthma or other chronic respiratory illnesses). However, if you consider the health impact, then clearly ALL the 5 million++ people affected directly by the quality of air now is significantly worse than back in 2004, when only less than 1000 people in Singapore was infected with SARS.

In addition, we know that SARS caused an economic downturn back then. Right now, the haze is also likely to cause an economic downturn in Singapore. SARS can be contained and WAS successfully contained back in 2004. Try containing the haze now. 

Which is 'worse'? You be the judge. We can agree to disagree. I am not always right, but I reserve the right to air my opinions on my blog.

Type of comment #3: "The world doesn't revolve around you/ get a grip / all you do is complain"

What can I say? Haters gonna hate. A small minority of contributors simply drop hate comments with zero constructive/intelligent feedback of any sort. Because there are simply too many comments to attend to, I will only focus on contributions with substance.

Gotta move on.

Type of comment #4: "Talk is cheap/what are you doing about the haze"
Everyone knows it is easy to say what you want without action. Millions of facebookers do it everyday worldwide! Blogging, however, is an intellectual exercise. People who make comments as such, obviously do not blog constructively. I have posted a coherent blog post to spread awareness so that something can be done on a national level to help my fellow Singaporeans. What have YOU done, besides telling me 'talk is cheap'? Moving on...

The purpose of the previous post was not to whine and complain about the government. It was written to highlight what our leaders have done so far, according to news sources. It was written to spread awareness about what can be done immediately to mitigate the haze which cannot be contained. Yes, I was very frustrated because I felt that despite my best efforts (staying indoors and whatnot) I was being poisoned by the air I breathe. That explains the tone of the previous post. In my simple mind, I extrapolate my own wheezing and breathlessness to the 5 million++ people out there (presumably including these haters) who are breathing the same smog. I entitled my post what CAN be done. I listed workable ideas (many of which are contributed by a relative, Mr X, who happens to be a successful lawyer btw) to move forward so as to make breathing a little easier for everyone, while the authorities sorted out their diplomatic issues over the next few days/weeks. 

You can call me simplistic, naive or whatever other names. Name-calling is so primary school. Judging by how viral the post has gone, what was said has obviously struck a chord with many Singaporeans. All of us are breathing the same crap, after all.

Type of comment #5: On Singaporean Community Spirit

Some readers have correctly pointed out that as of today, mask distribution is currently underway. That is great news! I have also read on the online Straits Times (posted 7am this morning, 7 hours after my haze post was published) that ordinary Singaporeans have taken the initiative to collect and distribute masks as well as opened their homes for homeless strangers to stay in.

KUDOS to these inspirational Singaporeans who have shown selflessness in this time of national crisis! We salute you!

Food for thought: If ONE ordinary Singaporean can mobilize 10 volunteers to help collect and distribute more than 2000 masks, imagine what our leaders can do if they mobilize the civil service to distribute the purported 9 million masks in storage. Where are these 9 million masks anyway?

N95 masks, probably the most wanted commodity in Singapore now. Where are the 9 million masks?
On the other end, we also have Singaporeans who purposely inflate the prices of the N95 masks to make a profit out of others' misery. I shall withhold my comments on this and you can read what others have to say about such behaviour by clicking on the link above.

Type of comment #6: On the Stop-Work Order

The final point of contention amongst readers is with regards to the Stop-Work order. I realize that many readers interpreted my point on stop-work-order as absolute stop work for the entire nation for all work types, because I did not elaborate on exactly what I meant.

In my (albeit simplistic) mind, a stop-work order should be issued to inform the nation and/or respective ministries on exactly what types of work and services should be stopped and/or regulated when PSI/PM2.5 reaches certain levels. Click here for the closest thing to a Singapore haze action plan I have managed to find so far. S has called the Government out on their inaction in his earlier post, and I too find it overly-general in its descriptors. Perhaps more enlightened readers out there can let me know whether any specific haze plan has been issued?

OF COURSE we don't stop EVERYTHING because of the haze. I thought that was commonsense enough, even if I didn't elaborate thoroughly in my previous post. One does not simply close all hospitals, government offices, our military, the airport, the supermarkets and shut down public transport. These are examples of essential services (a term I used in my previous post), and those serving in these essential services should be the first to receive N95 masks so they they are protected and can continue their work.

However, the leaders CAN close all schools (like they did during SARS) as well as set guidelines for all non-essential outdoor services (hawkers etc). OF COURSE this takes time, but at least people become aware so that such measures can be made sooner rather than later. OF COURSE the economy will suffer because of the haze. Some of you mentioned that stop work could equate no-pay leave and possible economic downturn etc etc. Even with no haze to complicate matters, the national topic concerning economy vs work-life balance has already been discussed to death. There is no solution, because people (including Singaporeans) want their cake and eat it. Every cause has an effect. Each of us must make a choice based on our own circumstances. 

Eat or don't eat? Choose one.

I can already predict haters and skeptics saying things like if I have so many ideas why not I come up with this so-called stop-work order? I am all-talk-no-action blah blah blah. The simple fact is this. At this moment, I believe only our nation's leaders have sufficient insider knowledge, manpower details and experience to know how to draft a workable haze plan/stop-work order. They are in the best position to determine exactly what constitutes essential and non-essential services and how best to regulate work accordingly. Not to mention they are the only ones with sufficient manpower to mobilize and implement the plan on a national level. Common folks like you and me are simply not in the position to even begin to draft this plan. Many of us only have ground level knowledge and too many blind spots.

I shall end this post with my favourite comment so far. 

I suggested these in Minister Shanmugam's fb page few days back as he wants people to stop complaining but start giving solution. I suggested deploying soldiers all over the island to distribute masks and provide fast medical emergency response to those in need. I called for mandatory provision of mask and reduced work hours for outdoor workers if stop-work is not possible for essential services.

You know what I got? I got banned from posting in his fb account.

Hmm. Telling, I should say. What do you think?

- A

What our leaders CAN do about the haze!

Update: My reply to most of your comments (published or unpublished) has been posted here.

As I start this blog post, the PSI is presently at 292. I suppose I should be thankful this is merely 'very unhealthy' compared to the hazardous, record-breaking 371 at 1pm this afternoon. Last night when it breached 200 (from 190 to 299 in less than one hour), the nation went into state of shock. By this afternoon, it has breached 300. Will the PSI go any higher than the ridiculous 371? What exactly is Singapore's "haze action plan"? What is going to happen if the haze persists for many more days? Weeks? Months? What's going to happen when school re-opens in 10 days' time?

What is the haze action plan? Is there one?

During this national crisis, some Singaporeans made jokes and create 9GAG memes about the haze. Some sealed themselves indoors as if we are having a zombie outbreak. Some go into a frenzy buying N95 masks and air purifiers. Everyone goes into a tirade of complains. A majority carry on working as per normal because work has not been stopped.

Is it just me, or has it not yet dawned on our nation and our nation's leaders that we are at this very moment experiencing a national crisis? Have my fellow Singaporeans realized that having PSI 371 is more than a hundred times worse than the SARS outbreak of 2003? SARS can be traced, contained and quarantined. In 2003, SARS in Singapore was spread to 238 people out of which 33 people died. At this very moment, this 'hazardous' haze is affecting more than 5 million people in Singapore and God knows how many asthmatics, elderly and children are suffering in the hospitals and at home, gasping for their dear lives. 

At the end of the day, how can we quarantine ourselves from the air we breathe? Stop breathing???

Yes, I do blame the irresponsible companies  in Indoland who have started the fires because it is the most convenient way to clear the land. I find it equally ridiculous that THEY are blaming us for the haze. I also count ourselves extremely unlucky that there is no rain and the winds are bringing the haze directly to us. 

But more than that, I blame OUR government for NOT taking IMMEDIATE, DECISIVE actions to manage the crisis and alleviate the suffering of the populace. Right now and over the last few days, while we are breathing the smog and gasping through the masks (if you managed to get any, that is), our PM has written a letter to the Indonesian authorities, held a couple of press conferences, arranged for a new committee to look into the haze matter and asked us to remain calm.

HELLO? Am I the only one who thinks that A LOT MORE can be done and done AT ONCE?


1. Import and issue N95 masks for FREE, IMMEDIATELY. 

If you haven't noticed, virtually the entire nation has run out of N95 masks and the majority of the people on the streets are not wearing masks because they are not able to purchase them anywhere

The government can and should mobilize the civil service and the grassroots committees to issue N95 masks to all, starting with those working in the medical industry and those in other essential services. At the very least, EASE the suffering and CONTROL the chronic and hazardous effects of the haze FIRST.

Logically, people who queue for Hello Kitty in PSI 200 and above must be immune the haze. However, most of us aren't.

How much can these masks cost to the wealthiest nation in the region and to the highest paid government in the world? Or perhaps you can sell it to the populace at cost? Surely, you are not looking to profit when your people are literally, dying?

If cost is NOT a factor, then WHAT IS STOPPING YOU? Why haven't you acted when the PSI reached 100 but waited for it to surpass 300? Every minute in delay means an additional minute for more than 5 million people to continue suffering needlessly!

2. Educate the People! Inform!

Put up notices in the papers. Make infomercials on TV. Post it on NEA/ MOH websites. Post it on YouTube and make it viral. Make information widely and easily available to all. Inform people in detail about what the effects of the haze. Tell everyone how the PSI is derived and how the scale (moderate/hazardous) comes about. Tell people what they are breathing - what exactly are these particles we see in the air and the chemical components of this damn haze? Get doctors to suggest ways to help everyone alleviate the itchy skin, persistent cough, sore throat and stinging eyes. 

How hard can it be to make this happen, and happen ASAP? Please don't just talk about "setting up committees" and "coordinating efforts"! MAKE IT HAPPEN! 

This is the only helpful national haze info I have come across at the moment.  Surely more can be done?.

3. Determine EXACTLY WHEN a stop-work order should be issued.

"Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday afternoon that there was 'no hard line' for when a stop-work order should be issued and that the decision to stop work would also depend on what kind of work it was." - Yahoo News

If HAZARDOUS PSI is not serious enough, what is? Is it when a worker finally collapses and dies of respiratory issues? Is it when the hospitals are completely full and there are long queues at clinics? Please, I urge our leaders to be decisive about this ASAP. Please let the people know EXACTLY AT WHAT POINT you will determine the situation serious enough to issue a nation-wide stop work order. Base this decision with a focus on the safety of your workers, especially those in doing manual labour in an outdoors environment. Show your people that the economy can take a back seat at this moment during a national crisis. What good is wealth when your health is at stake?

4. Finally, SHOW that the people are THE priority. Not money. Not at this time.

A picture paints a thousand words.

There are countless ways to show the people you care. Below are just a few suggestions.

  • As mentioned above, give FREE masks. Or at the very least, sell them at cost.
  • Set up public Mask Distribution Centres. Stock up pharmacies such as Guardian and Watsons and get them to help distribute as well.
  • Set up temporary clinics if need be and provide highly subsidized or free medical care, especially for those who need it immediately. There are plenty of poor, elderly and sick people who are enduring the smog because they cannot afford medical treatment.
  • Provide online channels for people to make health queries and haze-related queries on the NEA website (besides simply displaying the value of the 3 hr PSI and a note that the weather is hazy.) Display these FAQs on the NEA website and provide directions to Mask Distribution Centres, as well as availability of masks at the respective centres.
  • Provide 24hr hotlines for people (especially the elderly who do not use computers/understand English) to answer haze-related health queries. Publicize the hotlines on the NEA/MOH website for people to inform their elderly. Post it on all local TV channels, especially during prime time.

NOW is the time and this is a golden opportunity for our leaders to prove to their electorate that they are competent in managing a crisis. Yes, by all means, continue to tackle the root of the problem in Indonesia and applying pressure on them diplomatically. Yes, by all means, boycott the companies responsible for this. However, as you look at Foreign Affairs, don't forget Home Affairs. Plainly, having lots of meetings, setting up committees (to have more meetings), publishing plainly obvious information on the NEA website and writing letters to Indonesian officials is simply NOT ENOUGH. Please act NOW!

The NEA website features a visit to the landfill. It also tells me the weather is HAZY. YOU DON'T SAY??

Fellow Singaporeans, if you care, do share this post. Better late than never. Maybe there's a chance it will reach the correct channels. I wrote this, wheezing away, because I care and I believe something CAN be done about our predicament NOW. 

- A Neurotic Singaporean.

P/S: I would like to acknowledge and thank some of my readers, friends and relatives on facebook for contributing to the above ideas. This post is a collation of many ideas and suggestions made by others, especially my cousin, Mr X. I cannot claim credit for the ideas listed and they are not rocket science anyway.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Haze clearly demonstrates impotence of PAP Government

Amidst all the bantering on Facebook about the haze, and whether NEA or the Singapore government could be held responsible in any way, I realised one thing:

At some level, somehow, despite myself and my occasional gripes about being shortchanged by the system - I still love Singapore.

Why else should I feel anger rising when I see ignorant comments about our Government's accountability on Facebook?

A question was posed:

What if the PSI were to hit 400?
As you can see, my tongue-in-cheek (or talk cock) response was a mishmash of crappy excuses given by our Ministers in response to such gaffes as Mas Selamat's escape and the floodings which have become more common in recent years, after decades of headway in this area.

Someone took me a little too seriously, and asked:
"indonesia burn their forest what can the govt do?"
At a very superficial level, C's statement appears to hold water. Our esteemed Minister has whined about it to his Indonesian counterparts, and short of buying a few hundred Chinooks and stationing them to hover at the west end of Singapore to try to blow the haze away... What can the Government do? What more do you whining Singaporeans want?  

Not sure if my hare-brained idea would work, but I'm being not paid millions a year to think of solutions...
But a few moments of thought - and trolling the web - may yield even more questions. Because no one in a position of power has actually deigned to address them.

Before we go deeper into the haze, let's continue browsing my FB exchange with C.

Some people are just thick. That's the cruel reality of the bell curve for you...
Seriously, why are you making the lamest excuses for specially selected, world's highest-paid politicians? Have you ever wondered what the fuck is our action plan if the haze rises above say... 300 PSI? Is the lack of oxygen or high PM 2.5 levels hampering the mental faculties of our dear Gahmen?

For those of you who clicked through the "action plan" link above and want to shoot me for implying there isn't one, take a closer look, and you will realise that there's no "action" or real solutions offered, other than a suggestion for people to "avoid outdoor activities". Please, the average ten year-old could tell me that.

There's another document here, published by MOM. It's marginally more helpful, but neglects to mention or deal with exposure to haze from commuting to work. At PSI levels of "below 100", I can already smell the haze from the fare gates at City Hall MRT. At current PSI levels, I smell haze all the time, at my office, and throughout my train journey. 

On top of that, most of us do not teleport to work or even the MRT/Bus stations. We have to walk a certain distance unless we drive and have our own private garage at home AND work. But there has been no provision thus far for an official public holiday to allow most employees to stay away from work in the event of very bad haze.

Now also consider this - our dear Leeders have had a pretty decent track record of hunting down and battering political opponents or critics. Leslie Chew of Demon-cratic fame even mentioned that the CID was waiting for him the day he returned to Singapore. This is just one example to demonstrate that Singapore has decent investigative and intelligence capabilities, if only it would deploy them to the correct end.

Does anyone for a moment doubt that our authorities can unilaterally track and identify the culprits and punish them economically? While Singaporeans may hesitate to vote the PAP out of parliament, I have faith that we will be united enough to punish the culprits by boycotting all their products. And yes, I have no doubt in the ability of the Government, even if I have doubts about whose interest they truly have at heart.

I guess the "hatchet" was only ever meant for PAP's political opponents.
Whether the PAP's apparent impotence is intentional or otherwise, I guess one thing is sure. The only long-term solution for those of us living in Singapore is to move on to a place where the air tends to be cleaner.

Singapore, today I've discovered that I loved you and always have. But it's like a bad relationship. It just isn't going to work out.

In Summary:

  1.  The government has done too little to mitigate the haze at its source
  2. The government has demonstrated poor leadership (or at least very poor communication) by not tabling real action plans to deal with haze effects on Singapore residents
  3. The government charges a very steep price for what was purportedly stellar leadership
  4. Possible solutions are not implemented because PAP traditionally wanted to have its cake and eat it. Possibly not wanting to offend Indonesia because of short-sighted economic reasons
  5. The only long-term solution is emigration from Singapore.

- S