🇸🇬 Getting down to (the) business
🇹🇱 Familiar battle-lines drawn for May election
Not to spill my guts, but I am in the middle of experiencing some extraordinarily weird professional tumult. This week I’ll be keeping both premium newsletters open to all readers in a blatantly desperate fundraiser drive. It’s a tough time for everyone but I hope if this newsletter brings value to you either in your work, schooling or just because you’re also an enormous nerd please consider upgrading to premium.
I can also arrange institutional and group memberships through Substack which can be very helpful (maybe especially to those .gov.au email subscribers who frequently forward and I have never said anything on account of being nice!)
I will always keep subscriptions free for Asean and Timorese nationals under 30, or readers from Myanmar of any age, so if you qualify let me know and I can activate that option for you.
Thank you so much to everyone who has already supported, either with a paid membership or through liking and sharing and helping me do all those things you need to game the various algorithms that run digital media. I really, really appreciate it and I am, despite everything, very excited to have a few more days a week free to go all-in on this newsletter, Ayolah and the Buku podcast.
🇸🇬 Is it astrology, or is it the cost of living crisis?
Singapore’s ever-declining birth rate dipped down to 1.05 in 2021. It’s a perennial issue for the city-state but I was really struck by a comment made by PMO Minister Indranee Rajah in Parliament on Friday. “This was partly due to the Tiger year in the Lunar calendar, which is generally associated with lower births among the Chinese,” he said — and the numbers back it up. In 2010, also a Tiger Year, Singapore recorded a rate of 1.15, lower than the surrounding years, as per Channel News Asia.
That may mean a tick-up in 2024, write Today Online, with Year of the Dragon. NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser isn’t so convinced it can all be explained away with astrology. “An equally strong reason is that couples think of raising a child as a long-term commitment, involving time and energy, which a dual-income couple may not be able to spare,” he said, as per Today.
It also gives an opportunity to revisit this Coconuts Singapore classic from 2016 after then Senior Minister of State Josephine Yeo suggested young Singaporean couples only “need a very small space to have sex,” so just get on with it. As Coconuts pointed out at the time, it’s not the deed itself that is the issue, it’s the housing and costs associated. All factors that have only deepened since 2016. I tend to avoid the housing conversation in these pages due to it being far above my head — I know what HDB stands for, but what the heck is BTO? — but I do lurk very hard in the various Singapore subreddits and those users are stressed and scared. Kids aren’t on the cards for many.
Elsewhere, Reuters published a fascinating report into the deal between US petrochemicals firm Dow and the Singaporean government that purportedly recycles old clothing and shoes. It largely ends up in the neighbouring Indonesian island of Batam where, as it’s illegal to import second-hand clothing into the country, it largely becomes landfill. Read in full and then treat yourself to this Twitter thread from one of the Reuters journalists on the project, Joe Brock, who goes into how this was reported:
This could be something, this could be nothing, but it is very intriguing. Chinese investment banker Bao Fan is the latest high-profile businessman to go missing on the mainland suddenly. “Like many wealthy Chinese since the tech crackdown in China and during the pandemic lockdown, he was trying to diversify his wealth in Singapore,” one unnamed source told the Financial Times. While the paper couldn’t confirm if Bao Fan had been able to do so, it may be something to watch.
🇲🇾 Whose island is it?
Across the causeway, one irritant in relations may be (temporarily) resolved. According to Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamad Alamin, Singapore has agreed to suspend its reclamation project on a disputed island — known as Batu Puteh in Malaysia and Pedra Branca in Singapore. “Apart from delimiting the maritime border, negotiations to discuss Singapore’s unilateral development plan in Batu Puteh have also been initiated by both countries,” the DM said in Parliament.
In a more colourful outburst, a high school student took to TikTok to vent about a history exam that included questions about Singapore. “To whoever prepared the SPM History paper, f*** you!” the student said in the since-deleted TikTok video. This is a non-issue but the escalation is very revealing. Two 18-year-olds were hauled in by police (after being dobbed in by a teacher!) and administered drug tests, which came up negative. “The case is being investigated under Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1995 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998,” Hulu Selangor district police chief Supt Suffian Abdullah said, as per Coconuts KL. Which lends the question — why???
Elsewhere, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim dropped his first budget last week. “Given that the income and wealth of the country is concentrated among the wealthy and elites, it is appropriate that the distribution of national revenue is focused on low and middle-income groups,” he told Parliament during tabling on Friday. Luxury goods will cop a new tax and the top income bracket will see taxes increase. Small business owners have welcomed loan programs and healthcare workers are thrilled to see some state investment.
Former prime minister and UMNO leader Ismail Sabri has reportedly indicated he will not contest his positions within the party. He’s had enough!
Has former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng “suffered enough” for his role in the 1MDB scandal? That’s what his lawyers argue. I’d say, given he’s the only banker to see the inside of a prison, it’s everyone else who hasn’t suffered enough. Still, colleague Tim Leissner and a chief architect of the entire sorry mess will be sentenced by a US court in September.
🇹🇱 Nothing new in Timor-Leste’s election
Timor-Leste is back to the polls in May and analyst Parker Novak has laid out a very handy explainer/update on key issues for the months ahead for Lowy’s Interpreter. Relations between the country’s two political heavy-hitters — Xanana Gusmão and Mari Alkatiri — will be one to watch. Novak writes that while there’s not much in the way of polling at this stage, Gusmão’s governing National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction is likely to triumph over Alkatiri’s FRETILIN. And then there’s the Greater Sunshine. Loved this line from Novak: “Timorese campaigns are driven by resistance-era credentials and national identity more so than party platforms and policy priorities.” Something to always be keeping in mind.
🇮🇩 Bashings, taxes and the whole damned thing
I’ve found myself recently using ‘nickel’ as shorthand for stories that are enormously important in Indonesia that I just cannot motivate myself to get excited about. So here’s a nickel link sans context from Bloomberg.
A very complicated weird story began with a teenager beating a peer so badly he ended up in a coma and has ended with pundits demanding Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati be someone’s VP pick. The young man, identified as MDS, grabbed a friend and the pair jumped into MDS’ Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and beat another young fella terribly. (Allegedly.)
It then all came out that MDS’s father is a tax official. And if you’re thinking, how the hell does the son of a tax official have the same car as Los Angeles influencers, you’d be correct in being suspicious. Sri Mulyani has been swift in intervening and while she says this scandal has undermined the integrity of the tax directorate her response has reinforced the long-held reputation that she is on a whole other level in keeping public workers accountable. Much more to come here and I will be watching closely. MDS faces a five-year imprisonment for the alleged assault.
This has been updated to remove an error in the Indonesia section