Long Birthday Weekend Dashed

I originally wanted to take leave on my birthday (coming Mon) so I could enjoy a long weekend.  Main purpose was to just relax at home & indulge myself with hours & hours of watching TV/ DVD.

Unfortunately, all plans have fallen apart.  Ok.  That sounded a bit melodramatic but I have cancelled my leave because:

1) 3 colleagues have resigned (jumping ship together) and I need to accompany 1 of them to a meeting with an important client on Mon to ensure she doesn’t say anything detrimental to our company,

2) We’re currently tendering for a job and though the deadline is on Fri & I have done up the first draft of the report, I need to meet an underwriter to discuss some issues & he will only be in Singapore on Mon &

3) We’ll be interviewing a candidate on Mon.

With regard to the mass resignation, all I can say is people come, people go, and it’s how you conduct yourself that matters.  Some of them have disappointed in this aspect. 

Despite the increase in workload (I think I’m taking over about 2/3 of their workload), I don’t really think that will be an issue.  I don’t think anything could be worse than the working hours I was subjected to in my first job. 

I also see an upside to this because I’m now forced to learn whole turnover trade credit.  Not that it’s difficult or anything, but I’ve always been more interested in my side of the business – political risk, structured trade credit , bonds & crisis management… and so I was never motivated to learn the specifics of whole turnover trade credit.  With this mass resignation, however, I’m quite motivated to learn the tricks of the trade so that I can excel in this area too.  After all, only my boss knows all the different products that my department handles… and once I master whole t/o trade credit, I will be the next person who knows all the products.  I think that’s quite empowering.  Haha. 

I’m also pleased to see that Meeneon is taking this positively and is also looking forward to learning something new.  I’m confident we’ll tide this over, and we’ll come out as winners.

So bring it on!  I’ve read up & familiarised myself with the policy wordings of 2 insurers (there’re 5 main insurers for this line of biz).  I intend to finish another 2 tomorrow, and the last one during the week. 

I’m very excited.

Insult to my Intelligence

I met a Nigerian Australian scammer today, whose plot was so paper thin, I felt it was real insult to my intelligence.  So this old man turns up without appointment at my office and said he was looking for an insurance bond.  Our receptionist sent a management trainee from our Business Development team to speak to him, and mgt trainee in turn called me to join them in the meeting room.

Mr Scammer showed me a letter that says he’s representing a public construction company from Australia, to look for a “good country overseas, with favourable tax laws & ‘of course it’s all legal’, to set up a new company so as to do many more projects and business”.  His search brought him to Singapore.  In order to raise capital for this new company, he would like to find a Standard & Poor’s rated ‘A’ or similar Moody’s rated insurance company, to issue a payment obligation guarantee, that this new company has the ability to repay USD200mil worth of financing, at the end of the 10-year bullet maturity date.

Focusing all my energies on not rolling my eyes at Mr Scammer, I told him that this structure was not possible because insurers can only issue performance bonds, and not financial guarantees.  Moreover, even if insurers could support this structure, there’s no way any one was going to issue this sort of bond for a company with no financials.

Mr Scammer would not give up.  Insisted that he’s done this sort of structure many times before with insurers such as Prudential in USA , Zurich in Switzerland, Lloyd’s in London, etc.  He said the only reason he is approaching us in Singapore is because he’s from Australia and he’s here in Singapore now and so he felt that this was good business for us to earn.  He even had the audacity to add that the credit standing of the company was “irrelevant”.

Irrelevant?  What the heck!  When you go to a bank to borrow money, is your credit worthiness “irrelevant”???

Once again, I reiterated that insurers do NOT issue financial guarantees.  Trying to find a more polite way to tell him to get lost, I asked if he has tried approaching the local banks to lend him money (which obviously would not be possible).  He said he did but they refused as they were “unable to think out of the box”.  So I repeated myself.  Insurers do not issue financial guarantees.  Gosh.  I must have said that line like 20 times.  I could sense his frustration but Mr Scammer would not leave!

He tried to take the high & mighty route and said that it’s a pity that this is good money but our insurers do not want to earn it.  He said he could not think why an insurer would not be willing to take the USD90 mil his company would pay, in exchange for a guarantee that they will be able to repay USD220 mil in 10 years.  Good grief.  I didn’t know to give him credit for re-working the Nigerian lottery scam story, or to feel even more insulted that he thinks I’m gullible enough to buy the story.

So I used this line that all insurers use when they want to decline a risk – “I’m sorry we could not be of more help”. 

I think I must have said that 5 times… and repeated the line about “insurers cannot issue financial guarantees” another 10 times… before Mr Scammer finally gave up & left our office.

After he left, the management trainee showed me his name card.  I only have one phrase in Hokkien to describe it – WAH LAU EH.

The name card was printed out this dull gold paper (the sort I used to use to make greeting cards with when I was in secondary school) and everything was typed in this cursive font:

“JTown Capital Limited

Mr J Molley

j.molley@gmail.com.au/ j.h.molley@yahoo.com.au

Goodness gracious.  Couldn’t he at least spend some money to print a more presentable name card?  And “gmail.com.au”?  Aiyoh… since when got this domain name? 

I forgot to mention that the letter he showed me was also typed in this super old English.  Totally not a writing style of this century.

While recounting the incident to Iceman, a thought came to me – maybe this guy is some old-time scammer who was just released from prison after 20 years or so.  Hence his old style of writing, crappy presentation & obvious lack of IT knowledge.

Whatever the case, I really think he needs to work on his con job skills.  He definitely won’t be seeing USD220 mil from any one at this rate!

It’s Not Just About Political Agendas

Read with interest the latest saga over Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) candidate, Vincent Wijeysinga, and how he was touted at a gay forum to be a potential “first gay MP” rallying for more rights for homosexuals.  The People’s Action Party (PAP) asked SDP to clarify its position on the matter and SDP came out to clarify that they are not pursuing the gay agenda and none of their MPs will.

I think the issue goes beyond “pushing political agendas”.  I believe the choices/ stance/ position that a person takes is intrinsically linked to his beliefs & values.  For example, many Christian MPs spoke out against having casinos in Singapore and this was based on their religious beliefs.  Another example might be if there is an MP who is very concerned about shark conservation, should any bills be tabled about banning the import of sharks’ fin, the MP is then highly likely to support this.  In the same vein, even if a homosexual MP doesn’t actively pursue gay rights in parliament, I think it’s only logical that this MP will make decisions based on his belief/ values.

This may be good for people in support of gay rights, and not so good for people who want things to remain status quo.  My point is, voting for a candidate is not just about what “political agenda” they say they have, or don’t have.  It’s also about voting for a candidate who shares the same beliefs & values as you.  Since it is often said that an MP is the people’s voice in parliament, then we should remember that “out of an overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”.

Engaging Discussion – Singapore Elections 2011

I had a really interesting discussion over Facebook’s private messages with a friend who supports the Opposition.  Some of the points she brought up… and my view of these points:

1. Ministers’ Salaries

Her point: One sign of PAP’s corruption is that they pay themselves the highest salaries in the world, and they do it because they can.  For e.g. Lee Hsien Loong earns approximately USD 2.8mil annually whereas the US President US$400,000 annually, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 non-taxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment

My view: it’s our ministers who get paid well, not PAP. Should the opposition parties one day show that they are capable of running Singapore, they will be entitled to the high pay too. Sure, politicians in other countries, e.g. US, are paid lower than in Singapore. But the non-cash perks they have (housing, security, private jets, etc) are way more than what our ministers are paid.  For e.g., it costs a whopping US$181,757 per hour to operate Air Force One!!  Given the amount of travelling the US President does a year, do you know how much that works out to?

I thus don’t think it’s fair to just use salaries as a basis of comparison. I think we should look into the overall amount it costs taxpayers to support a politician.

Perhaps more importantly, a lot of overseas politicians do not stay to serve the country longterm. They come in for a term or two, then they move back to the private sector knowing that that short pay "sacrifice" while they are in public office will be easily recouped once they rejoin the private sector with all their political connections.  I don’t think this sort of high turnover is beneficial to the country.

2. Casinos

Her point: Allowing casinos to be built has ruined PAP’s moral standing.  She personally knows 3 people who have been financially ruined by gambling.

My view: I believe an individual must take responsibility for his own actions. Many people are also ruined from playing the stock market. Should we then remove SGX? And I’m not saying this from a bystander point of view. My dad has lost over a million in shares in the past. But my dad just worked harder to make back the money. It may be tough, but definitely possible.

3. Not Upgrading Non-PAP Wards

Her point: Not upgrading non-PAP wards is morally wrong as these people also serve NS, pay taxes, and this would never happen in other developed democracies.

My view: I think we have to be clear that PAP didn’t say their flats would never get upgraded. But there’s a queue for all the flats to be upgraded and so they were placed at the end of the queue. From a PAP voter point of view, I think that’s fair. U can’t have your cake & eat it. If I supported the ruling party at the last elections, then I expect to have certain "priority" when it comes to things like HDB upgrading. I would certainly be annoyed if a non-PAP ward got upgraded before a PAP ward.

4. Workfare Bonus

Her point: Workfare bonus goes into CPF & not our pockets so it’s all for show.

My view: CPF pays a much higher interest rate than banks so this sort of forced savings for retirement is not a bad idea. It provides a basic safety net for the masses when they retire. The financially savvy would know that they should not put all their eggs in one basket.  I think the last global financial crisis has shown you never know what may go wrong. So why shouldn’t a diversified portfolio include CPF (together with stocks, fixed deposits, unit trusts, etc)? For those who are not financially savvy, all the more they need more $$ in their CPF when they retire.

We finally agreed to disagree…politics is like religion – you can never convince or persuade someone to come round to your point of view, but I certainly enjoy an exchange of views.  Smile

Singapore Elections 2011

Someone told me that when Margaret Thatcher visited Singapore, she made a comment that she & Lee Kuan Yew were similar in the way they ruled a country, however, LKY was more fortunate because he had many more years to roll out his policies.  I am unable to verify the authenticity of that comment, though, even if taken as a parable, I still see the point it is trying to make. 

I believe that one of the reasons why Singapore has moved from being a Third World country to First World so quickly is because the same party has been in power for the last few decades.  Think about it.  Elections have to be called every 5 years.  If the ruling party changed every time, it means that the newly elected party has only 5 years to implement whatever policies it has for the country.  It will probably take about 2 years for the newly elected party to run off the policies implemented by the previous government, by which it only has up to 3 years to implement its own policies, plus plan for the next elections.  Given the short frame of time, it is almost practically impossible for the ruling party to do any real long term planning for a country.  Will the government be able to do any sort of 5-year & 10-year blueprint?  For long term plans that are midway in execution, what happens to them when the ruling party changes?  Do these plans get abandoned?  Modified?  How effective & efficient will the country be if long term plans get disrupted all the time?

People have jokingly called Singapore’s ruling party a dictatorship.  But I think how Singapore’s political system has differed from a dictatorship is that although the same party has been in power for many years, there has been proper succession planning & renewal at the top ranks.  As a thought, is it necessarily bad that the same party has ruled for so many years?  Having the same party in power has ensured that plans and policies have been followed through.  Sure, there may have been some wrong decisions made, or opportunities missed.  What’s important, however, is that the people who made those decisions were also around to rectify & improve things.  I feel that that’s way better than having new politicians come in all the time, give their 5-year shot at running the country, then either moving back to the private sector to earn big bucks leveraging from their political career, or running off because they screwed up.

People talk about our ruling party having “group think” but I think the herd mentality is more applicable & evident in people who bash the government, just for the sake of complaining.  There will always be opposition parties in Singapore and there is merit in that.  What I hope is that Singaporeans will cast a meaningful vote.  Vote for the party that can take our country forward, not for the one who makes the greatest noise.

Epiphany

Had sort of an epiphany a few days ago… a revelation of sorts.  Occurred to me that I feel that my blog is at its most “real” and most meaningful when I write down my thoughts.  Sort of like how one might share one’s innermost thoughts in a diary.  The thought just came to me while watching The Seventh Day and seeing how Nikki Chow’s character pen her thoughts on her blog.  Will try to write more often… even if the post is very short.  Smile

Missed It!

Aiyah!  I know I said I’ll try blogging at least once a week but I missed it last week.  Was just way way way too busy.  Came back from HK to tons of e-mails… and my colleague was on 2 days leave so there was no one around to help me.  Worked past 8pm from Tue – Fri.  Visited Universal Studios on Sat (which was a whole day event) and stayed at home to rest on Sun.  Siong!