The new IPPT turned me from has-been to hero

I’m a pretty fit guy. I’ve always gotten gold for my IPPT and I’ve always been physically active, playing sports several times a week.

That is until my first child was born. After 12 straight years of IPPT gold, I added some 50 seconds to my 2.4km run timing the year after I became a dad. The following year, I added another 30 seconds. Then another 30. These days I’m hanging at just under 12 minutes, but who knows how long that will last?

I’m happy to walk away with a silver, and $200. Not too shabby, as I still consistently score full points for my other four stations, but I think of myself as well past my physical prime (although my wife would beg to differ). The other 70% of my cohort don’t fare as well as I do, unfortunately.

But the new IPPT scoring system actually puts me among the fittest of the fit – I could potentially get a gold even under the commando/diver/guards standard… because even though my 2.4km run is pretty meh, I would totally kill at situps and do quite well at pushups. If the SAF wants to give me $400, I’m not going to complain about it,

Some people have said that the new regime is “going soft” and represents a drop in standards. There are even some semi-serious Facebook groups on the topic. But let’s consider the full ramifications of this change.

1) Resetting the mean. If the passing rate is skewed to only 30% (in my cohort) it becomes more difficult to measure the ends of the spectrum. How fail are failures? Many folks who know they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell (because of a critical weakness in ONE station) will show up for the IPPT, then proceed to fail every station (even those you can pass) because, well, WHAT’S THE POINT? Sign up for RT and be done with it.

The new system actually gives most guys a fighting chance. And that means more fight.

2) A recognised standard. The US military and Korea already use pushups as part of fitness tests. It’s not like we’re going off into new territory.

3) Better incentives for incremental improvements. I never bothered to try and put those 2 lost minutes back on my 2.4km run. The effort needed to hit 10:30 reliably was just WAY more than I could afford, but now, every 10 seconds earns me a point, and I can bust ass at situps, instead of stopping at 43 and resting the last 15 seconds. I can aim for 55 now without wasting energy.

4) The financial cost? What about that FCC equipment? A full set of test equipment for one of our FCCs costs millions of dollars. Sure, we could still use two out of five stations, but there would be quite a bit of waste. Also, more people passing and getting incentives means more money paid out, but on the flipside, more people passing means fewer resources being wasted training unmotivated soldiers in RT, and paying them their rank allowance to go through the motions.

5) Bragging rights. I get to start every mention of IPPT with the words “back in my day”. I can make up stories about how impossible everything was and how much we suffered, like how all good soldiers do about crap that doesn’t involve actual warfare.

I’ll miss the old stations, but I’m eager to give this new system a whirl, especially when there’s an extra couple of hundred bucks in it (and a chance to put that old badge on my uniform again)!

P1 registration fix is long overdue

My wife and I just registered our son in Henry Park Primary School, which is within 2km of our home. It was a school that I was an ex-student of and, fortuitously, it was also near where we lived (I’ve lived in this area since I was a child). Even at this early stage of registration, the news reports had confirmed that a ballot was required.

The P1 Registration is broken – it flies in the face of meritocracy and is a tear in the fabric of our society. ST’s Sandra Davie has summarised the possible solutions in her piece last week, more comprehensively than I have hoped:

1) Eradicate Phases 2A1, 2A2 and 2B. No more fair-weather alumni and “volunteers” looking for favours.

2) The problem of the clustered “good schools” in wealthy neighbourhoods can be solved by uprooting them and placing them in HDB towns. It is time to tear apart these bastions of misperceived achievement. Alternatively, those who live nearby can be given priority over alumni (though I think this will not work).

Primary Schools are part of our meritocratic education system. They do not need to build a deep individual “culture”. Our society only stands to lose if certain primary schools come out tops in the “reputation” and “school culture” race. Primary education should be the level playing field every meritocratic society needs. Yet now it is a minefield of entitlement.

MOE has yet to make good on its boast that “every school is a good school”. The G’s failure to properly address the elitism still rampant in primary schools makes Heng Swee Keat look like a liar. The institutional way of trying to fix problems with “tweaks” falters in the face of a deep-rooted problem such as this – one reinforced by the basest kinds of kiasuism and one-upmanship. The tuition addiction continues to blight our children’s progress.

It seems that nobody in the ministry has the guts or fortitude to deal decisively with the problem at hand.

My wife (who is not Singaporean) marvelled at some of the literature that nearby primary schools were handing out – how even schools with nearly no accolades to boast about made desperate attempts to list their achievements, as if clutching to a fig leaf in shame, ironically entrenching their positions. How well-regarded schools likewise put their achievements on display, goading “lesser” schools and the ignorant public to play, and lose, the ranking game with them.

Our son’s pre-school teacher gave the most damning advice of all – when we asked her why they were teaching Primary One syllabus at preschool, she matter-of-factly replied that “teachers in primary school don’t have time to help your child keep up. If he falls behind, that will be the end.”

If that is truly the case, then it is the end for all of us.

Forestalling a war of Pink and White

Lawrence Khong has taken another step into the face of the LGBTQ community to ask churches to ally with muslims and wear white in opposition to something called the “gay lifestyle”, a nebulous term for the support and normalisation of LGBTQ rights in our society. I’m not sure if, had this been several hundred years ago, Pastor Khong would have picked homosexual allies to go sack the Muslim-held cities of the holy lands. It seems a queer choice of bedfellows (pardon my pun).

As a conservative Christian, I hold to the belief that God has clearly revealed that homosexuality is not His design and, along with the sins that I and the rest of mankind commit, attracts the penalty of death. We are all condemned.

But this earthly home, Singapore, consists of more than the Church. We are a diverse society, put here, together, now, by God for His glory. Should anyone insist that God approves of homosexuality, they will be commenting within the Christian context and sphere, and on that basis I will refute the argument as robustly as I am able.

Outside of this Christian circle, however, is the larger society, which has its many worldviews, rules, factions, and values. As much as I will not appreciate someone else dictating to me what I should believe, I have no right to prescribe my worldview for others – I can only persuade within the law and the bounds of society.

While Pink Dot’s organisers and sponsors have kept the event’s tone very measured, many of its participants border on the belligerent and throw barbs at the religious beliefs of others, claiming universal oppression and hatemongering. Pastor Lawrence Khong’s own tirade against his so-called homosexual conspiracy often comes out as discrimination against rights that the state has given universally – regardless of our individual proclivities and sins. In the light of these tendencies, it would be wise for both groups to withdraw from public displays (although they may legally have the right to do so) and continue persuading others in the private sphere.

The last thing we want to see happening is for there to be a real legal situation that is actively used to force any one segment of society to conform to the values of another, at detriment to the freedoms we all share and hold dear.

MUIS’ wisdom should apply to all. Don’t be confrontational about this issue. The lines, as far as civil society goes, are quite clear. Polarising the issue and a confrontational approach will only delay a peaceful solution and new equilibrium for Singaporean society, and push both religious and homosexual agendas to the fringe. We’ll make more progress talking than screaming.

5 Ways to Interpret Lim Swee Say’s latest CPF Gobbledegook

Minister in the PMO and Labour Chief Lim Swee Say’s latest statement about CPF has been feeding the flames of Mount Facebook since it was reported yesterday evening.

His easily-misinterpreted statement, delivered off-the-cuff on the sidelines of a Singapore Model Parliament event, has left many fuming, some puzzled, and others scrambling to defend the man.

The Man. photo:

The specific quote in question:

“Instead of thinking about whether you can spend your savings in the CPF at the age of 55, I think we should think about how can we help our Singaporeans to continue to remain employed, to continue to earn a good living, continue to have good jobs, and at the same time to continue to contribute to the CPF because the more money they have in CPF, the longer they defer the use of the CPF — this will mean they will have more for retirement.”

Mr Lim made a daring grab for the mantle of Captain Obvious from NMP Eugene Tan by, among other things, saying that people who put more into their account (by working past the ‘retirement age’) will have more money for retirement. There was also this nearly pointless quote: “You have your money, you have the account, and you receive the statement, the account on a regular basis. So, you know how much money you have in the CPF”.

Here’s five ways we can interpret his overall statement as reported:

1) You probably won’t have enough money in your CPF to retire, so it’s best to defer retirement. Ditch that pipe dream.

If this is true, that’s pretty in your face. While I personally agree that retirement is a myth these days, Mr Lim is known for making bizarre and confusing statements like “Cheaper Better Faster”, which took months for NTUC to clarify and is still being misinterpreted today, the “Little Frog” story from GE 2011, “better, betterer, betterest”, and of course, “I feel so rich”, the legendary proportions of which doubtless will colour every statement about CPF Mr Lim will ever make.

2) Those who don’t have enough money to retire should continue working.

Blunt, but true, if that’s what he meant. It doesn’t bode well coming from the mouth of the labour chief, though. This corroborates with the fact that some 50% of CPF Members today cannot meet their Minimum Sum and will not have enough to retire on.

3) Don’t spend your CPF savings on other things (like housing and education) so you have enough for retirement.

If that’s what he was trying to say, then it’s terrible advice. This interpretation, however is a little far fetched, although the reporter’s opening line “The best way for Singaporeans to prepare for retirement is to use less of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) money when they are young, said Labour Chief Lim Swee Say” lends some weight to this.

4) Specifically saying that younger Singaporeans should stay employed and earn more to have more for retirement.

It’s good advice, and a friend in NTUC tried to this as a defence by bringing up the example of someone she knew who was out of a job for several years before he was 40. This, however, doesn’t seem to be what Mr Lim is talking about at all.

5) People should plan to continue working and leave monies in the CPF account between 55 to the Drawdown Age (currently 63), even though they can, by right, withdraw monies in excess of their Minimum Sum at age 55.

This is possibly the best interpretation for Mr Lim, should he want to come out and clarify his statement. It makes sense, is sound advice, and doesn’t sound prescriptive. Too bad he totally botched the delivery, as he often does.

Here’s the kicker: in the same interview, Mr Lim was also reported to have said that “the labour movement has been watching the debate closely, and wants to ensure that what is discussed does not create confusion among workers and union leaders.”

Looks like he’s got some catching up to do.

UPDATE 23 June, 10:15pm: A clarification has been made on what Mr Lim said. It seems that his use of the word “young” to describe people aged 55 resulted in mass confusion. Point 5 is our winner.

Dr Puthucheary gets too personal with Catherine Lim

As soon as Catherine Lim puts pen to paper, she gets the PAP and its supporters all hot and bothered. Her open letter to PM Lee, published in the South China Morning Post, raised the concern that trust in the government was lacking.

First, Singapore’s consul general in KH (Where SCMP is based), Jacky Foo, wrote a letter to the SCMP to insist that Catherine Lim was wrong, citing a study done that showed trust in the government was high, although he failed to mention that the same study showed that trust in individual politicians was pretty low.

Then a certain (or should I say uncertain) Eugene Tan did some statistical gymnastics on the ST Forum page to try and prove that the PAP is highly trusted.

Now Dr Janil Puthucheary has volunteered to wade into the fray on PM’s behalf (PM being wise enough not to get involved so far) with yet another letter. While Dr Puthucheary did make a good point about how trust may fluctuate over the short term, and how good government is a long-term endeavour, he wasn’t able to control himself (unlike the previous two fellows) and decided to add some of his own personal attacks into the piece, saying that Ms Lim “could not be trusted to be consistent” and insinuating that she was one of the “jaundiced commentators on the sidelines”.

The second, especially, reeks of then-PM Goh’s “join politics or shut up about it” rant back when Ms Lim decided to pen him a letter.

Dr Puthucheary, who has been saving babies for about 13 years now (although this is irrelevant), Jacky Foo and the mysterious Eugene Tan all seem to have forgotten that many others have made exactly the same observation, with nobody in government taking umbrage.

ST Editor at Large Han Fook Kwang, for one.

ST Editor at Large Han Fook Kwang, for one. (photo: Andrew Loh FB)

NMP Laurence Lien for another.

NMP Laurence Lien for another.

Dr Puthucheary has come down excessively hard on a moderate and reasonable critic, and this does his party and government no favours at a time when (I assert baldly) trust is diminished and the G needs to appear reasonable and inclusive. I’m sure Dr Puthucheary will also consider me another jaundiced commentator on the sidelines. But, by definition, all commentators are on the sidelines, and it’s so easy to look down on the commentators and fans when you get picked for Singapore’s “first 87″.

It really makes his reference about getting feedback from Singaporeans look like lip service if he cannot listen to Ms Lim without getting all worked up.

4 things about CPF that I don’t get

I support the CPF scheme for the most part. Its principles are essentially sound, although there are many things about how CPF works that are just bewilderingly at odds to me.

This, of course is no grounds for me to march off to Hong Lim Park, but it does make me want to shrug my shoulders.

Robert Downey shrug animInflation-pegged targets, without inflation-pegged returns

It seems rather strange that the Minimum Sum is pegged to inflation, but the CPF interest rate isn’t. Here you have a savings goal but the path chosen to get to it is… something else. Why?

I’m not saying that we’re being cheated of our money or that it’s lining the pockets of the GIC or anything. In fact, there have been one or two times when the CPF rate exceeded inflation, but it’s the principle that makes me go…


As this 2002 Asian Development Bank Institute paper by Mukul Asher had also asked, “How valuable is the guarantee of 2.5 percent nominal return? As the long-term annual inflation rate in Singapore is about 3.0 percent, the guarantee does not even preserve the principal in real terms.”

Never mind that CPF Life itself doesn’t even offer payouts that are pegged to inflation (yet – the G is looking into it, who knows how long it will take, good luck grandma).

Forced to invest like a retiree

What kind of fund buys the bonds of a single government exclusively as the be-all and end-all of its investment plan? Yay for mega-stability and reliability, but that sounds like a terrible investment strategy to me when you think of the bigger picture (caveat: I’m not an investment professional). Basic principles such as diversification and risk appetite and your age aren’t even taken into consideration. This flies against all the conventional wisdom I’ve read from Ryan Ong (of MoneySmart fame).

Isn’t the principle that each person pays for themselves? I agree with that principle, but CPF hasn’t stuck to it when it comes to investing “our money” – it’s not tailored to represent us as a whole, or as individuals, and the returns, as a result, often disappoint (emotionally).

brendan fraser nothing to say

When you’re young, you put your money down in housing; when you reach middle age, equities tend to be the way to go. Finally, when you’re all done earning, saving and profiting, the conventional wisdom is to keep your money in bonds, MMFs, and other low-risk-low-return instruments, so that the stash you’ve built up will last you for as long as you hoped it will.

The whole point of a fund like CPF is that a professional fund manager should be doing the investing and making well-educated decisions for us. Instead, we’ve got what looks like the laziest investment plan on the planet – handing cash to the G (to invest for its own, separate, purposes) for the promise of a safe but flaccid return. Great for retirees. Most of us aren’t retirees yet, and some may never be.

CPFIS: forced savings or playing around?

So, we’re saving for retirement – I get that. But what’s this CPFIS thing that allows folks to go play around with a small pool of not-too-efficient investments on their own? What happened here? Did people complain about not having control over their money so some halfway solution was built to let people feel like they can play with their money a little (and generally lose it, since only 40% of CPFIS investments outperform the CPF rate of returns)?

So, are we putting forced savings with Big Brother or investing our own money?

kevin spacey doesn't get it

If you ask me, I’d rather have a proper fund manager for my CPF. That’s why we pool billions of dollars, isn’t it?

Static income cap, moving savings goal

The income cap of $4,500 has been around for a while. Why does it exist? Why does it exist at that level? Why hasn’t it changed after years and years?

The Minimum Sum savings goal moves. Wages increase (usually). Inflation. Shouldn’t the income contribution cap have gone up by now or is nobody keeping an eye on it?

matt damon promised land lost

So before anyone throws the accusation – I’m all for CPF. It’s helped poor, financially indisciplined me save enough to pay for a home and hopefully enough medical to keep me working to the end of my days. But some things just don’t click for me. Anyone got enlightenment?

NOTE: I stand corrected! The contribution cap is $5000, up from $4500 in 2011. Thanks “Daniel Tay”. Still don’t know if it is inflation-pegged.

Sacking Roy Ngerng: G can’t handle TTSH’s wildcard

Roy Ngerng and PM Lee, already embroiled in “the cripple fight” that I expect neither side to really win (but for PM to lose worse), have both just been thrown a wildcard by TTSH’s sacking of blogger Roy Ngerng.

It seems apt that a hospital get involved in a “cripple fight”. Source: link to FSAAM

Blog FSAAM broke the news and TTSH’s press release put it down to “misusing company time” (something I’m probably doing right now, but my company doesn’t mind), and that his values were incompatible with TTSH’s. It is not known exactly what these values were.

But as far as placing bets on how this new dimension will play out, I’m sticking to my old bets – the G (and by extension, PM Lee) is going to (maybe already has) screw up the PR game, while Roy will try his best to milk it (and he already has).

Exhibit A: Government PR flop

TTSH is probably well within its rights to sack Roy, but the sacking was followed quickly by a Ministry of Health statement to the press (not available on MOH’s website) that “it supports TTSH’s decision to terminate Mr Ngerng’s contract, as his “actions show a lack of integrity and are incompatible with the values and standards of behaviour expected of hospital employees”.

MOH’s involvement adds credence to the rumour that Roy’s sacking was politically motivated. If TTSH had simply made an operational decision, there would be no need for MOH to open its mouth. Now it looks like the order did come from on high, and that TTSH officials are, of nothing else, being backed by ministry officials.

If MOH felt that had to open its mouth at all, it should have been to say that TTSH makes its own decisions about staff performance. Better yet, it should just have kept quiet. The timing of the sacking alone was enough to win Roy sympathy.

Exhibit B: Roy flips to milk the political angle

Yes, it is a “shift”, as the PAP like to call it, with Roy first claiming that the sacking was justifiable and that he “could have done a lot better over the past few months,” but then following up to say that it was “politically motivated”.

Oh yes, Mr Ngerng is happy to milk the incident, and why wouldn’t he? It seems that he hasn’t got a whole lot of employment options left except in opposition politics.


Looks like the G comms machine is cutting its own legs off, while Roy remains nimble enough to gain some ground, in spite of having made some mistakes.

Meanwhile, there’s a job opening at TTSH for those of you who don’t blog, read blogs or access Facebook at work.