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Balding Blog, Hair-raising development


Do you love a conspiracy theory? Or do you like to say there’s no such thing as a coincidence?  Monday, as you know,  saw the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.  June 04th 1989. There are a lot of things I could say about that. I was in Hong Kong over the weekend meeting with the Democratic Party of Hong Kong amongst others and the Democratic Party were busy gearing up for a press conference about a peaceful demonstration for  the Tiananmen  anniversary.  The overriding feeling this left me with (in addition to the terrible, unforgettable memories of  that time)  was that Hong Kong citizens enjoy more democracy than we do in Singapore. Not that they were allowed it but that they demanded it.

The eventual demonstration attracted tens of thousands, larger than ever this year . This probably was a function of fear over the new pro -mainland China, Chief Executive for Hong Kong due to be sworn in on July 01st.  Pro-democracy groups are talking of  more Mainland Chinese attending demonstrations and of  receiving more donations in RMB, the currency of Mainland China. This is clear evidence of support and participation of people from Mainland China. Again my feeling is that China will reach democracy before we do.

Enter the first conspiracy theory. On Monday the Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2,346. 98 and closed 64.89 points lower.   It opened at the  23rd anniversary of the date backwards 4/6/89 and closed at 6/4/89.  There can only be four explanations for this. Hackers, Manipulation ,( which would require enormous power,  influence and wealth) , a pure albeit, eerie coincidence, or help from a being from another world or a deity. Take your pick. China responded by blocking the terms on the internet.

Whilst in Hong Kong I also met up with some  economic think tanks as I am in the process of setting one up. Finally I spent some time with the HSBC Business school Assistant Professor Chris Balding. Originally he came to Hong Kong and then I went over to him in  Shenzhen, China.

Those that read his blog will know that  he wrote about meeting me. Why did I go over  there? Well a few weeks ago I was alerted to some pieces he had written on his blog about our SWFs Temasek Holdings and GIC. In fact my first response  to Singaporeans,  who emailed me agitatedly,  was along the lines of, “seriously?” I’ve been speaking out about the lack of transparency in Temasek for three years specifically and  calling for transparency and accountability in general since day one.  In fact one of my first moves as leader of the  Reform Party was to put the script,

” transparency plus accountability equals democracy

across the top of our website.

One of the manifesto pledges I made was to call for Temasek to be publicly listed and for the shares to be distributed to citizens. This would focus our SWFs on benefiting the citizens whose money it took to build up its holdings in the first place. But most importantly the public listing would ensure transparency.

Two years ago an interview I did with Reuters caused waves and was reproduced in the press all over the world. http://in.reuters.com/article/2010/03/12/idINIndia-46873320100312

Opposition chief tells Singaporeans: Don’t be afraid

“PRIVATISE THE WEALTH FUNDS

The Reform Party proposes the possible privatisation of Singapore’s two multi-billion dollar state wealth funds — Government of Singapore Investment Corp and Temasek — to allow more transparency.

“Obviously if they were privatised and listed on the stock market then they will have to ensure higher standards of disclosure,” said the former banker, whose background is more akin to the PAP’s scholarly leaders.

“It is unusual that we have seen big losses during the financial crisis yet no heads appear to have rolled among senior management.

Last February I set up this blog.  The theme of the blog was a follow on from my earliest  message that you do not need to give up on freedom to have prosperity. You can have both but crucially,  freedom is actually your best guarantee of prosperity.

This blog  also attempts to pull apart the PAP claim, as do all my economic writings, that Singapore is  a free market economic miracle. That somehow they have managed to make totalitarianism go hand in hand with prosperity.  There are no free markets in Singapore and the only miracle I contend is how successfully they use certain tools to turn the peoples into sheeples.
I examine the PAP propaganda  that the repressive regime is necessary because of this precious porcelain rice bowl that they have given you.  That your noses must be kept to the grindstone because you will never be given the iron rice bowl of socialism, the free education, the national health service,  the welfare state. In short how they attempt to convince you  that the meat and rice in your bowl comes entirely from them not from you and you had better be obedient, careful and grateful.  Hence the name “Reinventing the Rice Bowl”, looking at solutions which are neither the iron rice bowl of socialism nor the one precious, porcelain rice bowl of LKY.

I also like to examine our so-called growth. Our productivity is abysmal and the GDP growth is driven by bringing in cheap foreign labour from LDCs at the bottom who are willing to work for virtually nothing (and are often treated shamefully.)  There is no economic miracle no free market  and LKY didn’t start from a malarial swamp.

I can’t blog on economics, competition and free markets without also  focusing on freedom.  Freedom of information, freedom of expression, social freedom, free markets and a free market in ideas. So I write here extensively on the need for transparency, accountability and freedoms.

Three months ago I wrote an article  for Wired Online which was well received globally and quoted all over the world, popping up in articles from Yale professors to geek aggregators. The theme of that article was that the hi-tech island miracle we were promised back in the 80s had not materialised. No surprise to me. Totalitarianism and innovation cannot exist together.
http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/04/opinion-jeyaretnam-disneyland-death-penalty/2/

In my role as leader of the RP, I wrote a three-part response to the Budget – not reported anywhere ?? (because the Budget responses of non economists will always be so much more compelling? Or because I pointed to discrepancies?) In particular I reported that  the Budget was a model of  opacity and that there were unexplained discrepancies. Part three has not yet been written because I am still awaiting the statistics that will allow me to write it.

SO, I have been on this theme for quite some time.  Then along comes Chris Balding.  Naturally my first thought was that this guy had read about me in Wired  had then read this blog which is linked from Wired and seen my budget response.  How could someone else be writing about discrepancies and Temasek when I was the only one in Singapore who had dared to bring it up. Let’s not even ask why the forum agitators and keyboard warriors  stand to attention when one of the foreigners they spend the rest of their time deriding, points out what a son of the soil has been saying for three years.  Of course they have swallowed the govt character assassination so well that  the same people on the forums who complain every time I release a statement that my style is too technical or scholarly,  have in the last few days been writing in our forums that I couldn’t have written the letters/posts myself because…..wait for it… the style is too technical and scholarly!

In fact, although Chris’s recent work had only come to my attention a few weeks ago it seemed he was a bona fide academic with a long history of research and published papers on SWFs.  It really did seem  that we had both independently, coming at it from different directions, reached the same conclusions, namely that there is something rotten in the  state of Denmark. In the most simplistic laymen’s terms he has done with our SWFs over the long-term what I did with the budget 2012 in part 1. He has taken the figures available added them up and found they don’t match.  The fact that neither one of us previously knew the other or was aware of the other’s work but were reaching the same conclusion is  significant.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be finding some validation after years of working away in isolation, kept  in the dark,  in this secretive State with its stranglehold on the media via the Printing and Presses Act and on the public through the climate of fear.   Of course I tempered my excitement with caution.  I tried to find some evidence that Chris was a PAP spy luring me into a trap,  mentally unstable in some way, with a grudge against Singapore or an axe to grind or indeed an outright fraud. Those conspiracy theories get to you and you do get paranoid.

To cut a long story short I made the decision to fly over and meet up with Chris basically to conduct whatever due diligence I could  on a face to face basis and to see whether we could help each other .

Did I find any evidence to support my earlier paranoia? Certainly his final figures of that time would have benefitted from some extra data and the exploration of varying scenarios and I was glad to help by  adding some pieces to the puzzle. Also his working paper, “Madoff comes to Singapore” had overlooked an explanation that I believe allows our SWFs to report those returns.  But what I found was a genuine academic and a genuinely nice guy.   That weekend  and since we have worked well together.
Chris is an academic specialising in political economics and with the  luxury of  a salary and the time to look into our finances he had gone into our SWFs in a depth that I would have loved to be able to do.   I am  an advocate for democracy with an inside knowledge of Singapore’s smoke and mirrors technique and the way in which the faux free market is constructed. I am also a pure economist and a  veteran in the financial markets. I bring a fund manager’s knowledge and intuition of the many  ways in which historically, individuals and institutions have attempted to massage their figures.

There is one major difference between academics and politicians. If my ideas get out there and are picked up then I have done my job no matter who ends up ‘owning’ the idea.  Because of course you can’t ‘own’ an idea like democracy.  Just as the PAP attempt to make me  a non-person they can’t make my ideas non-ideas.   Academics however live in a world of publish or perish. All those rankings you see of Universities which manage to put NUS or NTU so high or laughably put LSE above Oxford and Cambridge are based on the number of papers published without regard to quality or originality.

Chris therefore can and needs to publish and this  pressure may make him less reserved in his conclusions than I am.  He can print working papers and go back and refine them as more information becomes available. So some of his results published on his blog may seem a little sensational.  But at least they caught your attention! He is also offered some protection from the State sponsored isolation and smear campaign that I am subjected to, by being an American citizen, so he can be and is bolder.

As a hedge fund manager my job was to manage risk to and to hedge against it, so I do tend to be more cautious. The advantage of caution and freedom from the  pressure to publish is that when I do publish , I can be certain. So for example with my letter to the Wall Street Journal which MICA so laughably tried to refute, I can stand by it and say, ” I didn’t and don’t misrepresent facts.”  Not that any media here gave me  a right of reply or asked for my point of view.

Chris and I are still working together on this both banging our heads against the same wall. That wall is lack of access to transparent figures and an explanation of their valuation.  I, as a Singaporean citizen with the credibility of my background, can reasonably ask our government for answers and try to achieve the missing figures we both need.   That is why I am not easing up on my call to demand transparency from our MOF and our government at large.

So what is the conclusion? Is there a huge loss and what does it mean?

Well, I would like to finish crunching the figures with Chris and analyzing them first.  The key thing is that meanwhile questions are being asked. It is necessary to ask them. It is the essence of democracy. In a healthy and robust democracy, vital questions on a matter of national interest  from a credible source are not repressed but are answered swiftly.  I am not casting aspersion nor throwing out accusations. I just want some transparency about my money and yours.

So far all I can  conclude with some degree of certainty and I am looking at the most favourable outcome, the very minimum, the best case scenario, is :

  1.  Chris Balding’s scenario may be an extreme one but even a much more favourable one throws up several discrepancies and in particular why net assets and reported surpluses do not add up. The figures that I do have, show that net assets do not add up to the reported surpluses over the last 32 years even if compounding is already in there.
  2. Government debt has been increasing rapidly with no explanation as to why the government is increasing borrowing. This is enough to worry me.
  3. The valuation of unquoted assets in the balance sheet has tripled in the last eight years at a time when listed equity valuations have declined.

I have therefore written to the MOF  with some reasonable questions asking for clarification. At the same time I have been asking questions to try to ascertain whether our loan to IMF was fully constitutional. We need to know that protocol and procedures and indeed the law are being followed. Greece of course has rejected austerity plans and has benefitted all this time from those iron bowl services you have never had.   If you are frustrated or concerned about the state of our reserves or our economy  you can take up active citizenry and join me in asking those questions or write to the Press or in forums asking what is it about these ‘Open Letters’ that has made the Media ignore them.

Meanwhile let’s hope you haven’t gone without freedom for nothing. To have given up so much freedom for prosperity as the end result is one thing but to have given it up for austerity is quite another.

What about the conspiracy theory?  Yesterday Chris Balding’s website containing his blog was suspended. He hasn’t found a satisfactory explanation. His service provider has informed him that his account was compromised and he has warned me that my emails to him will also have been affected.  He has also received a lot of very agitated mail and the kind of hysterical character attacks that have become part and parcel of my life.  Welcome to my world Chris! I heard from another source that his University is fending off calls from angry Singaporeans.  Meanwhile my open letters to MOF and the President and to the Press  remain unanswered or even acknowledged. Eerie Coincidence?  Or is the net that has been used to isolate and silence me now tightening around Chris?  You decide.

7 Comments »

  1. I really don’t have the background for much of this budget wonkitry which is the problem I would like to have you solve.

    Firstly, it not entirely clear to me what the links are between the CPF moneys that we contribute and the capital that is invested by the SWFs. From what I can understand, Termask is wholely owned by the Ministry of Finance. How exactly is this transfer made? Are there even reports about the year to year transfer rates?

    Secondly, during the 2008 crisis, we taped the Reserves and then put the money back during the subsequent boom; at least according to the mainstream media. My mental model is of a vault somewhere under island which the Government sent some people to open and take the treasure out. When it is all over, they put it back again. This is complete nonsense but I don’t have a better picture.

    Finally, this currency board thing makes things complicated. Controlling the exchange rate directly using mysterious bands seems to work well when dealing with inflation for imported products. I am not sure how it can be used for controlling internal goods and services like property and COEs. In general, I find it difficult to get good info on it since controlling interest rates is more widely used.

    Please let me know if you have good references for a curious citizen with no financial training or are will to expose on them yourself.

    Thanks in advance!

    Like

  2. KJ, great article on a noble cause.

    1) you shld raise yr profile, and more people will be able to follow you.
    Have searched years for alternate views of matters Spore and nvr heard of yours. A good friend came across this site thanks to the Balding matter.

    Suggest you go to popular sites like TOC, TRE, 3-in-1 etc etc and do a bit of publicity by using the comments part.
    Using your name, and making references to yr blog sites, 100s, 1000s more would know more about the good things you are writing about.

    2) On this matter of the reserves, is that there are no loses or anything to hide. They would be just afraid and embrassed to reveal the size and growth of our reserves.
    I thing this reserves had been growing even during the worst of recessions we went through in the last dozen years.
    Imagine that, the govy cuts expenditure, cuts salaries, cpf, during the bad times; and yet iincreases the size of our reserves!!!
    Nevermind not using these reserves to booast our economy.
    Why do we need FDI, when we are FDI-ing big time into other people’s economy?

    Wishing you the best in these endevours, and please please investigate our the Consolidated funds work.

    With the good work, perhaps the populance may one day dream of having “freedon of information” act in our beloved country.

    John John

    2)

    Like

    • KJ, great article on a noble cause.

      1) you shld raise yr profile, and more people will be able to follow you.
      Have searched years for alternate views of matters Spore and nvr heard of yours. A good friend came across this site thanks to the Balding matter.

      Suggest you go to popular sites like TOC, TRE, 3-in-1 etc etc and do a bit of publicity by using the comments part.

      The socio political sites have an obligation to put up my pieces along with everyone else’s if they wish to present themselves as an alternative balanced view. I am the leader of a political Party under a blanket censorship by our MSM Media. Why would I resort to the comments section? The MSM censors me but they shouldn’t. Everything I have written over the last 3 years has been distributed to them. I even offer to waive the copyright restrictions for them to publish. Now TOC publish me because Ravi Philemon was replaced as editor. But before then only TRE would publish me.

      Like

  3. Frankly, this is a nicely written article. But (there is always a ‘but’), I’m afraid this is not what the Singapore people are focusing on right now.

    Like

    • James, Thank you for interacting with the blog. In my view Transparency and Accountability are the essence of Democracy. Anyway, what could be more important to Singaporeans than examining whether there is any meat left in their rice-bowl? Don’t you agree? BTW, this is a blog which I write in my personal capacity as an economist. I examine the meat and rice issues of everyday life here and blog on free markets and other freedoms vital to macro economics. I don’t take a partisan political stance or deal with partisan political issues unless commenting in general or doing a general round up or a link is vital to the sense of the piece. Please do refer to the relevant Facebook pages and official websites for information on Party activities.

      Like

    • i’m afraid by the time singaporeans shift their focus to this, it may already be too late.

      see also: immigration, hdb, maid & mindef deaths, ministerial salaries

      Like

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