Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our Future - The Art of Foreign Diplomacy

Business sentiments have never been so bad. The local economy is sliding rapidly as international trade suffers the worsening dampening effects of global structural changes. The oil and gas industry has taken the hardest hit and the domino effect is being felt in all related sectors. More retrenchments are in the pipeline as more businesses are folding up. This is the time that tests not only the temerity of our people but the capability of our leadership.

During the earlier periods when our economy was buoyed by the birth of new economies and the expansion of global demands for goods and services, we experienced double digit GDP growth and the birth of "million-dollar" ministers. Although many have constantly expressed surprise that a tiny country like ours could ever become so economically successful, one would have thought that the challenges for a giant country, besieged with extensive socio-political-geographical concerns, to achieve economic success would be much harder to surmount. In that regard, China's growth as an economic powerhouse despite all its historical baggages, political dogma, multi-faceted internal conflicts and recurring natural calamities country-wide is, by comparison, a greater miracle.

With the current slump in world trade, the blame game has just begun. Fingers are pointing outwards to the causes of our economic woes even as our trade pacts seem to have brought little direct benefit for our people and businesses. We may be too set in our old ways and slow to react to a fast changing world even as we constantly preach innovation and creativity. A new world order is taking shape with a new big brother claiming its place as a super-power. 

Not too long ago, China was just a big, poor country, with little international clout and prestige. But its economic awakening accounted for intensified world trade in the last 25 years and brought abundant business opportunities for the entire world and no small part of our acclaimed economic success. China, the Middle Kingdom, has arrived not only at the world stage as a big-time actor but it is also vying for one of the director's seats. And the directors of the old order are sitting tight, hoping to continue with the performances under their scripts for as long as they could. And several supporting actors are caught in a bind in the tussle. Unfortuitously for us, our tiny nation is one of them.

The cameras have lately shifted in our direction and we have come under the spotlight. The storylines in both the old and new scripts are not so kind to us but our show must carry on as it has been for the last 50 years. However, if there is to be a positive spin from all that has gone wrong for us thus far, it has to rest upon our realisation that the economic future and survival of our tiny nation lies in one important skill - how well we handle our diplomatic relations with all nations, big and small. Our friend's enemy is not necessarily our enemy. And our enemy's friend is not necessarily our friend. 

Old alliances should not stop us from forming new alliances. As the saying goes: "There are no everlasting enemies nor friends. Only friends with the same interests." Where there are commonalities, these should be heightened and worked upon to mutual advantage. Where there are differences, these should be minimised as much as possible with a mutual understanding to not let these differences stand in the way of future co-operation and collaboration for mutual benefit. We cannot ignore sensitivities and must constantly be aware of how our words and actions may mean one thing but be taken to represent something else which is unintended. We may also not be able to please every neighbour but at the very least, we should be mindful not to offend any sensitivities.

Lest we believe them, the MNCs were never really here to stay. Many have relocated elsewhere and major businesses are finding it harder to cope in the current economic downturn. In the midst of all these happenings, it is imperative to extend all possible help to our SMEs to keep them afloat. In essence, they are our true economic lifeline. After all, don't all businesses start small?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Retiring Retirement - A New Way of Life

Before the invention of the retirement age, people did not think of retiring from work. They would just carry on working until they could no longer do so. Then in 1881, Otto von Bismarck presented the idea of a pension scheme to a newly formed Germany that was premised upon a retirement age when people could choose not to work anymore and be financially taken care of by the state. It was a brilliant political move and soon Britain and Europe were buying into the idea of Bismarck's pension scheme [Read More].

During our colonial times, the British implemented a pension scheme in Singapore and civil servants could comfortably retire at the withdrawal age of 55 and enjoy social security when they no longer have to work. Back then, life was a lot simpler and the cost of living and healthcare was more manageable. With the rapid advances in modern medicine and technology over the last few decades, people are living longer and healthier lives. But, with escalating prices from food to transport, those on pension schemes are finding it harder to cope financially. Today, aged poverty stares in the face of millions of retirees living in rich countries. In the United States, more people are working past the age of 65 [Read More]. 

Pension schemes are turning into fiscal hot potatoes for governments with an ever-growing silver population. The cost of funding state pension schemes is taking its toll on government coffers. In 2013, it was announced that our civil servants will no longer receive pensions [Read More]. While pensions have been removed, the retirement age was not. There is a statutory retirement age that was previously set at 60 and our laws have since moved to provide for a "minimum retirement age" of 62 [Read More]. In other countries, legislations on retirement have either been abolished or amended to  push up the retirement age [Read More]. The writings are on the wall. Retirement has to be retired.

The current working generation has to learn to face up to a future without retirement. In the context of today's high costs of living and healthcare, it is no longer glamorous nor affordable to retire and it is certainly better to be ready to keep working than being sorry about it. Not retiring from work 6seems to have its advantages. Modern scientific research has shown that retirement may in fact be bad for your mental health [Read More]. 

Without retirement, work and leisure will take on new meanings. For the employee, they will learn to take pride in being economically productive despite their age [Read More]. For employers, they will recognise the value of the silver workforce and its capacity to enhance productivity and to meet any labour shortage The responsibility of creating job opportunities for the silver workforce eventually falls on the government's shoulders. Our public sector could take the lead by employing more older workers on fixed or flexible hours and without discounting their wages or CPF contributions because of their age.

As working becomes a long-lasting commitment, attitudes towards planning for regular leisure activities and holidays will change. That long holiday in a dream destination which would have been put off until retirement need no longer be delayed that long. Living the moment will no longer be seen to be just be a mantra. It will be the way of life. For everyone.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Social Conscience - Unlocking Our Positive Energy

These days, there isn't a day that passes without some tragic news. Terrorist attacks, mass killings and homicidal "lone wolves" are making newspaper headlines and every government is beefing up security measures to avert another tragedy. However, even the best security system cannot guarantee absolute protection against the fanatical forces that wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary folks and cause mayhem in peaceful societies around the world. Only recently, we were told to brace ourselves for the day when our security net may be breached (Read HERE). Besides concentrating our efforts on security measures and enhancing civil, police and military vigilance, we need to ask what else we can do in our struggle against the impact of ideological radicalisation and extremism.

In the deep recesses of our subconscious minds lie a powerful inhibitor of wrong-doings. Each time we are about to do something that we shouldn't be doing or hold back from doing something that we should, it makes us feel queasy. When this queasy feeling intensifies, we feel a prevailing sense of guilt or regret and then promise ourselves not to let it happen again. That natural inhibitory reflex inside us is our "conscience" and it also has the power to make us do good. In psychoanalytic theory, our conscience is identified as our "super-ego", that part of our subconsciousness that aims for human perfection.

As people live in communities sharing common values and aspirations, those innate feelings that restrain us from doing harm and spur positive behaviours in troubling situations, develop into a sort of social conscience. A moral compass that we rely upon to navigate through many moral dilemmas in our lives. This social conscience encapsulates social consciousness, the latter being a form of conscious awareness of our society's well-being that is merely knowledge devoid of the energising force of social conscience.

A strong social conscience will move us to respond to our sense of right and wrong. It makes us display our best human values, those that build the best traditions of a mature, peace-loving society. In one online dictionary definition, it is said that if you have a social conscience, you worry about people who are poor, ill, old, etc. and try to help them (Read More). It is more than that. Social conscience can be perceived as a form of positive energy that is sadly diminished in those of us who pursue selfish gains and fanatical idealism. The negative forces of greed, jealousy and hatred can only be subdued through unlocking that positive energy in each of us. In order to do so, we need to develop a strong social conscience that forces our humanitarianism to the surface. And the way to go about is to constantly learn and understand our own humanity and how decent human beings ought to treat each other.

Unlock that positive energy in you and help change the world for the better.