Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kopi Talk

My taxi driver from the airport tonight was very fond of conversation / the sound of his own voice. Like most taxi drivers you ask and probably many other Singaporeans (only 66% voted for the monotheistic PAP last election) he had some very negative and probably seditious things to say about his beloved home country...

- first 20 years of LKY, very good, it work, but last 20 years very bad - just make money for Lee family.

- everybody think [know? I can't recall exactly what he said] Lee Hsien Long [current PM, on $3.8 million a year] is an idiot.

- Singapore people no talk politic in kopi shop, people listen. Never talk politic. You talk politics in kopi shop, man follow you out, take you away for two days. Is true, everybody in Singapore know this.

- there no transparency in Temasek - (see note 1) money come in from our CPF [superannuation] where it go, where it invested? [Keep your hands on the wheel, Uncle!] We cannot see. We have no say. Temasek it lose money in crisis, invest in Citibank [actually it was Merrill Lynch and Barclays], and that Thai Shincorp [don't start him on Thaksin]...

- Hong Kong is much better, so much freedom, do what you want, say what you want [I did not prompt him on this, I swear!]

- people, you live here in Moulmein [where we at the time], they know how you vote in election, next year you in other area, change change, you in Moulmein but vote for other area... [gerrymandering]


Australia did not escape unscathed either, in a backhand sort of way.

- Australia, what going on? Everything good, best of all country in Asia, no problem after finance crisis. So why you change Prime Minister? You crazy people. Nobody else would do that!


All in all an interesting ride home.


Regarding the Stasi-like eavesdropping in the coffee-shops, I notice that "Emma Larkin" has a new book out. Her last one, Finding George Orwell in Burma (US title) was a wonderful and frightening look into the ongoing oppression in Burma, reported through non-conversations in tea-houses of Rangoon and Mandalay, etc... (She refuses to use the new names as she feels that this legitimizes the current military regime.)

I saw a copy of her next book in the Ko Samui airport Bookazine. It's called Everything Is Broken" and is about the corruption and arrogance during the least reported (suppressed even) enormous human tragedy in Asia* since the killing fields in Cambodia, the hurricane Nargis that devastated the Burmese coastline in 2008, leaving 140,000 dead.

* You can't say that news of the 2004 tsunami was suppressed or went unreported!


That (to cheer an old man up), and David Mitchell's latest are on the list.



knobby said...

correct, temasek didn't invest in citibank. but correction #2: they don't take money from the CPF or act as its fund manager. public domain info. GIC does manage some CPF money (emphasis on manage. it doesn't "belong" to them. whatever that means) though i don't think they report how much publicly.

expat@large said...

From Singapore Citizen

"The MoF takes our CPF money to buy bonds issued by GIC essentially lending our money to GIC at an interest rate of 2.5%."

[So it is GIC that sets the interest rates for CPF contribution that it pays to the MoF (thence to Singaporeans). GIC of course can invest that CPF money where-ever it likes earning a lot more interest (pre-GFC days). The difference (profit margin) goes to GIC not CPF members. What do GIC do with the money? Thus where the lack of transparency sucks.]

"Yes, I heard the honorable minister say this 2.5% is risk free and our GIC bears all the risk that is why it gets a higher return of 9.5%. So the GIC deserves the 9.5% & CPF holders deserve 2.5%."

knobby said...

er, no.

GIC has never issued a bond. it's the one thing they will never do because it means the market being possibly able to guess what the singapore govt's reserves are! to date, no one publicly knows how much money they manage let alone the risk profile of the portfolio. they will never change that. in any case, there is no need for GIC to issue bonds because...

...GIC is a fund manager, ie they (should) realise revenue like any other fund manager from two things:

1. some % of assets under management (because the assets don't belong to them). this is meant to reimburse them for their basic running costs (salaries, keeping lights on, whatever). so they don't need to issue bonds to finance their operations.


2. a proportion of the profits generated on those AUM above a certain minimum threshold, the rest of which goes back to the owner of those assets (ie MAS, CPF, MOF, whoever). this is meant to incentivise the fund manager to make a profit at least equal to the threshold rate.

that's the theory, of course, and is how ALL fund managers globally work (check the terms of your mutual funds). the standard percentages for hedge funds and private equity firms are 2% of AUM for (1) and 20% of profits above the threshold for (2) though these percentages can vary from one manager to the next and can be considerably lower for large AUMs.

whether GIC's fund management mandate is actually structured in this manner is a matter for speculation because afaik there's no public disclosure on this. how they spend the management fee is also up for speculation.

btw, in temasek's case, they do keep 100% of the profits they make. that's because the assets they use to generate those profits are on their balance sheet. at the same time, they don't receive any asset management fees and they do pay out dividends to their shareholder ie they are a company not a fund manager. of course, there is always the argument about where the initial corpus for temasek came from in the first place and what temasek "paid" for it (ie nothing). i think there's not much value in talking about that because it is a case of from-one-pocket-to-another within the same family ie MOF created temasek by lumping a few assets together and calling it a company and MOF gets the benefit of the growth (or lack thereof!) of those assets.

also unlike GIC, temasek has issued bonds with the idea, funnily enough, of creating market scrutiny. their bonds are publicly traded and follow the required public disclosures imposed on any other publicly traded bond.

perfectly okay to argue that these two companies haven't always made profitable investments. perfectly okay to question any conflicts of interest or mismanagement. perfectly okay to argue that there should be more disclosure. heck, i'd like to know more too. but not much point basing those arguments on wrong data.

expat@large said...

Sorry my link was to either Singapore Dissident or The Online Citizen, and it was broken - fucked if I can find it now... Anyway Mr Gopalan Nair never lies...


OK Mr Smarty-bottoms, how do you know so much about this, are you a Gahmen spy?

Anyway I was just quoting the taxi-drive, and the fact that he doesn't know is significant in itself - the average Singaporean doesn't know what is going on! (Let alone the average expat!)

p.s. I am disinterested here because I am not PR and don't pay into CPF.

knobby said...

i know because it's my job to know :) don't you remember where i used to work? i told you once.

yeah, know about the lack of awareness. GIC doesn't care or at least doesn't show that they care about public opinion much. Temasek does and tries to get its point across but often have to choose between correcting people and looking defensive. they have managed to educate many sectors of the press over the past few years. ironically, the singapore press usually misrepresents them!

but, yes, awareness of the general public in singapore of GIC and Temasek is woefully low. possibly a result of the patriarchal (or do i mean patronising?) approach of the government all these years -- maybe they never expected these questions to come up.

re your PS, actually you are at least slightly interested. the taxes you pay (income tax, gst, etc) go to the government via the IRAS, which i think is part of the ministry of finance. i don't know how they allocate these revenues but i'd be surprised if at least some wasn't saved for a rainy day by giving it to GIC to manage. none of it goes to Temasek.

expat@large said...


knobby said...

yeah, you know, that stuff in every bill you pay that reads GST @ 7%. as a non-singaporean who could leave any day, you could argue that you don't want that to be used to finance singaporeans' future and that it should be used for the here and now so that you benefit. or you could even argue that the tax dollars they do spend aren't spent correctly. for instance, you might argue that most of it should be used for teaching taxi drivers what LEFT and RIGHT mean ;)

expat@large said...

Don't I get that 7% back at the airport?

Yes, taxi drivers' directional skills (go straight meant turn right last night) are up there with their political knowledge. And mine.

knobby said...

Only if you're a tourist and only if you kept all your receipts and you might be subject to an "admin fee" and only on products not services and you have to take the products with you not consume them in Singapore and...

knobby said...

"straight" means "right" because you're from ozland and pronounce it "strite"!

expat@large said...

Mmm... you may be rite.

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