Food for thought

Do you know these big hair grown ups with crazy hairspray? – 8 Dec 2015

Posted on December 8th, 2015 in Food for thought

If you grew up in the 90s and dig rock music, you would be familiar with rock stars who screamed like they wanna be girls, grew big scary hair, used more hairspray than your mother and wore pants that are way too tight. They all act macho, expose a lot of chest and for some, profanity was part of their live performances.

Yet their thumping music spoke to me. Powerful guitar rifts, bass lines, powerful vocals and melody notwithstanding, there was a certain honesty in their lyrics and the music. These rock performers gave stunning live performance without modern sound engineering aid that modern pop stars rely heavily on (auto tune). There was no need for these rockers to dance. They just sang and played instruments like they were extension of their souls.

Without a need for a backing track to mask imperfections, these rock stars of yesteryears gave it their all. Not all became wildly successful though. Some fell prey to substance abuse or suffered serious accidents during live shows.

Way less manufactured than today’s pop act, they struggled, practiced hard and performed. I was always impressed how the guitar gods played with such finesse and ease while the frontmen could sing in such sandpaper voices in crazy high keys. Undaunted, I would try to imitate how they sang. Many times, I ended up with a sore throat. Eventually I picked up the guitar and harmonica as I wanted to be more than just a vocalist. So motivated I was that my mother became concerned that I would quit my studies and join a rock and roll band!

I would always laugh at her unfounded fear. Much as music was and still is, a big part of my life, I was realistic about the music business in Singapore then. It was not easy to make a decent living as a music performer, let alone an english singing one. One would have a better shot singing and performing chinese pop!

Just to scare my mom, I would sometimes tell her I wanted to be a rock star. Her face would recoil in horror before I laughed and reassure her I was just jesting.

I’m delighted to share some songs that were a big part of my formative growing up years. Those were the years  where one grapple with newly-discovered emotions and become more aware of society issues and the challenges people face. I’ve realized that parents are not always the best people to turn to when you want to make sense of what you feel and what you see around you. Sometimes the lyrics in songs explain what parents cannot.

I would like to share the live performances (old and new) of some of these rockers so you can see how much passion and effort they put into their polished craft. Amazing indeed. Tattoos then were not quite the rage unlike today, where even boyband members still in their teens wear them for street creed.  The pop stars today can barely match up against the rocksters of yesteryear who had it tough, often having to ply the club circuit to hone their craft before hitting the big time. Enjoy these few selection I have picked. Maybe some would resonate with you!

Kix – Don’t close your eyes

Whatcha doing out in the night time
Why’d ya’ call me on the phone
Your mama can’t solve your problems
When’s daddy ever gonna get home
So you did your little move and cried
In the middle of a suicide

Don’t close your eyes
Don’t close your eyes
Don’t sing your last lullaby”

White snake – Is this love?

Is this love that I’m feeling,
Is this the love, that I’ve been searching for
Is this love or am I dreaming,
This must be love,
‘Cos it’s really got a hold on me,
A hold on me…

White snake – Here I go again

I’m just another heart in need of rescue,
Waiting on love’s sweet charity
An’ I’m gonna hold on
For the rest of my days,
‘Cause I know what it means
To walk along the lonely street of dreams

An’ here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a hobo I was born to walk alone
An’ I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time

Damn Yankees – Where you’re going now?

There’s a face in the mirror
And you close your eyes
Much easier to turn away
Than to take a look inside
So you’re thinking it’s over
Walking away
Let your little world crash and burn
Oh, what a price to pay

Skid Row – I remember you

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain
The wind would whisper and I’d think of you
And all the tears you cried – they called my name
And when you needed me I came through

Paint a picture of the days gone by
When love went blind and you would make me see
I’d stare a lifetime into your eyes
So that I knew that you were there for me
Time after time you were there for me

Kix – Tear down the Walls

Standing in the dark
Closin’ in, I think I’m going under
Fell down so fast
From the words I heard a crash like thunder

Never thought I’d feel the final blow
Like a shot it turned my heart to stone, we were
Livin’ in a dream, now it seems so far away

Why’d you tear down the walls
Tear down the walls
All the pieces were all in place
Why was it love you had to break

Steelheart – I’ll never let you go

Angel eyes, you have angel eyes, such a smile that lights up my life
You’re a dream come true, now I’m holding you
And I’ll never, never let you go, I will never let you go

Styx – All in a day’s work

She wakes up from a dream, checks the mirror for reality
She says “Come on girl, it’s all in a day’s work”
Gets herself dressed just in time, disappears on the 8:05
Oh the whistle blows and it’s all in a day’s work
‘Til she calls it a day

Oh she smiles as he glances up from the swimsuit issue
Oh she sighs as he walks away into the downtown day

Day after day night after night
Loneliness creeps in her window
She locks the door, turns off the light
Rehearsing a kiss on her pillow, she cries
It’s all in a day’s work

Steelheart – She’s gone

Lady, oh, lady.
My heart belongs to you.

At the coming Empower Advisory Xmas tea buffet where you’re invited, I will perform one or two songs for ya. See ya! 


Coach Douglas

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A note to Singapore’s future Transport Minister about in-vehicle cameras – 27 Sep 2015

Posted on September 27th, 2015 in Food for thought

erp and road tax 20150927

SGD1.5 billion was collected in 2014 from ERP and Motor Vehicle taxes.

Singapore has approximately 978,000 vehicles (including motorcycles, taxis, rental cars and scooters). Going by this number, an average of $1,543 is collected per vehicle per year. It is not mentioned where this money goes to but it is logical to expect that this revenue goes towards motoring.

It’s timely to consider using some of this revenue to provide in-vehicle video cameras to make our roads safer. The cost of such cameras have gone down tremendously and for below $100, one can get a very decent unit. Having such a camera increases the chance of having video footages to resolve accident disputes and help in investigations. On 21 Sep 2015, a lorry driver was wrongly arrested for the death of a motorcycle on the Pan-Island Expressway. It was only by a stroke of luck, a video footage by a car motorist showed that the motorcyclist was bumped into the path of the lorry by an adjacent SUV. What if the video had not emerged? The lorry driver would have had a hard time proving his innocence.

Having such in-vehicle cameras will also help a motorist personally involved in a traffic accident to file a proper accident claim. Some motor insurance companies see the benefit of it and give a small premium discount to motorists who install an in-vehicle camera.

The challenge will be to ringfence profiteering so the government could consider providing a standardized in-vehicle camera. Motorists can choose to buy and install their preferred own in-vehicle cameras but no full or partial rebates should be given as it will only encourage mark ups by the sellers.

To sweeten such a mandatory requirement to have an in-vehicle camera, offer a reward to motorists who volunteer video information vital to aid in traffic accident investigations. Perhaps consider a goodwill partial rebate of road tax. The government will not go broke with such a gesture. Neither will GST have to be raised.

To Singapore’s future Transport Minister, Yay or Nay?

Update 29 Sep 2015: We got news that Minister Khaw is our new Transport Minister. Congratulations Minister Khaw and we believe you will do what is necessary no matter how inconvenient!

Transport Minister

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My Best Always,

Douglas Chow (Principal Coach)

Formerly served at the Ministry of Trade and Industry

Empower Advisory

How the PAP could have played it differently in Aljunied – 5 Sep 2015

Posted on September 5th, 2015 in Food for thought

WP in aljunied

1) In 2011, WP MP Low left his stronghold SMC in Hougang, putting his secure parliament seat on the line to run for Aljunied GRC with his team. People identify with such an act of conviction. That you were prepared to sacrifice for your cause and ideals. That year, the PAP lost Aljunied GRC with a voting support of 45.3% despite its entrenched grassroot network and greater resources.

2) In 2015, the PAP has decided to play safe. No ministers are fielded to wrest back Aljunied GRC from the Workers’ Party. It is no surprise then that the 45.3% who voted for PAP in 2011 would feel a sense of abandonment. The slogan that “No Singaporean will be left behind” rings hollow as they do not see in the PAP, the same conviction in MP Low, 4 years ago that compelled him to go for broke and assemble the best possible team.

3) How would the PAP have given serious competition to the WP to wrest back Aljunied by winning the hearts of the people? Simple. By fielding ministers but not just any minister. He or she has to be one who is well recognized and respected. Very few ministers of such standing come to mind rightaway. But one does. And he is DPM Tharman.

4) Fielding DPM Tharman in Aljunied would be in the same vein as what WP MP Low did 4 years ago. To show voters that you are prepared to go the distance and offer the best you can offer. What will people think when DPM Tharman is fielded in Aljunied GRC, away from his stronghold at Jurong GRC? That the PAP and its minsters take Aljunied seriously, not just in words, but in deed.  And this would be the crucial turning point.

5) Here comes the risk. What if the PAP loses? DPM Tharman loses his seat and hence his ministerial post? Should DPM Tharman want to continue to serve Singapore, leadership positions in the civil service and global institutions would be rolling out red carpets for him. Think MAS. Think IMF. For someone as brilliant as DPM Tharman, opportunities will be chasing after him. The civil service has capable leaders who can step into his shoes.

6) This is the worse case scenario. However, by fielding DPM Tharman as the anchor, the PAP will have a very high chance of winning back Aljunied, even if only by a slim margin. Because voters will see the conviction of the PAP, the very same that once poured out of the PAP old guards when they were not a major political party.

7) Today what is termed a kamikaze team has been assembled to try to take Aljunied GRC back from the WP. But dischanted PAP voters in Aljunied want to see a real effort. Not a safe play. Not a hologram extension of the real deal.

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My Best Always,

Douglas Chow (Principal Coach)

Formerly served at the Ministry of Trade and Industry

Empower Advisory

A Caring Singapore Government without Bankrupting the Nation – 5 Sep 2015

Posted on September 4th, 2015 in Food for thought

Prudent throne of empower advisory Singapore Inc


There’s a flurry of discussion on the internet on how the opposition will cripple Singapore by turning it into a welfare state and how it’s ultimately bad for Singapore and that the ruling government is compelled to go that way too, albeit reluctantly and unwisely so.

Where do you draw the middle line, some may ask.

Do Singaporeans really want to go that extreme way. No, not from my conversations with folks on the ground.

Singaporeans just want a more caring government. Let me explain through a few scenarios and take away the scary doomsday scenario that Singapore will become bankrupt this way. Very few people know the actual reserves of Singapore. I don’t. Official numbers don’t tell the whole figure just like how some spouse don’t tell their partner of their “secret” stash. So we cannot conclude if the “welfare” proposed by the opposition will bankrupt the nation.

Let there be a fictional government called Empower Advisory Singapore Inc ruled by that grinning chap up there and his band of merry people.  Let’s illustrate how this government can be caring without bankrupting  the country. There are many scenarios but I’ll just elaborate on 3 to drive home the point.

Scenario 1 – Mr Tan (Singaporean): I have just been retrenched! Here is my retrenchment letter.

Caring Government: Don’t worry Mr Tan, you can go for any of our free skill upgrading programme to retrain yourself to have more options.  In addition this period must be a very stressful time for you and your family. Do take care of your health. For the next 6 mths, or until you find a new job, whichever is earlier, you will get free medical attention at any of our polyclinics should you fall ill. You will also have free access to all public gyms and recreational facilities to keep fit and be in good mental health while looking for your next job.

By the way you will be going for many interviews. Here is a special biometric ezlink card that can only be activated with your fingerprint. You have up to 4 free trips a day for up to 6 mths , or until you find a new job, whichever comes first.

Extension will be considered on a case by case basis.

All the best in your job search, Mr Tan!

BIG HAIRY QUESTION: Will this bankrupt Singapore? Do people purposely fall sick to take advantage of free medical attention? Do people want to be retrenched just to get free public transport trips?

Scenario 2 – Ms Lee (Singaporean): I’m concerned about the cost of raising children in Singapore

Caring Government: Don’t worry Ms Lee, your children are the future of Singapore and will form the new core. We understand that your main concerns are the cost of education and healthcare for your children.

The first three children of yours will get heavily subsidised nursery childcare at our public facilities. They will be well run and be of a good standard.  Free education will be provided up till secondary level at any public school that he/she qualifies for. We hope that this will help you to save up for their tertiary education.

As for health care, we agree that your child’s health is of utmost importance. All basic medical attention will be provided free (up to 12 appointments per year) at all our public hospitals and polyclinics till your child is of the age of 12 when his/her immune system is stronger.

If surgery and hospital stay is required, your children will get heavily subsidized rates up to the age of 16. We hope this peace of mind will reassure you. Meanwhile do keep them fit and stay clear of avoidable accidents.

Delivery cost and regular gynealogical check ups for your first 3 births at our public hospitals will be heavily subsidized.

If your children do not use any of the free medical services, your family will be rewarded as a token of appreciation for your efforts to keep them healthy.

BIG HAIRY QUESTION: Will parents wish that their children be born with poor health just to take advantage of free basic medical treatment? Will parents wish that their children get into serious accidents just to enjoy surgery subsidies?  Will this bankrupt Singapore?

Subsidised nursery childcare will cost quite a bit but is this not worth government expenditure? Isn’t encouraging a sustainable core of Singaporean as important as military defence? When broad based services are operated on a common platform, cost savings can be achieved by economies of scale and standardisd procurement. We won’t be spending like there’s no tomorrow.

Mr Chan (Singaporean): I’m single and cannot get a flat bigger than a 2 room flat direct from HDB. It’s so unfair. 

Caring Government:  Mr Chan, this will change. We recognize that singles are no different from married couples who choose to be childless yet can buy bigger flats because the ultimate goal of having children is not met. Yes, you will now be allowed to buy bigger flats direct from HDB now as long as you don’t compete head-on with married couples. All unsold balanced flats leftover will be available for you to choose. Of course, we do hope that the bigger flat will help you start a family (with children) should you meet your life partner, saving the hassle to move to a bigger place.


And there you go. Scary “Singapore will go bankrupt fears” deflated. We need smarter regulations and policies that ringfence against abuse. We need to spend on what’s important wihout being wantonly wasteful. You can be a caring government without squandering your reserves. That’s what the chap smiling on his humble armrest will strive for.

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My Best Always,

Douglas Chow (Principal Coach)

Formerly served at the Ministry of Trade and Industry

Empower Advisory

Singaporeans, for GE2015, WHAT are you voting for ? – 8 Aug 2015

Posted on August 8th, 2015 in Food for thought

What are you voting for

Humans are creatures of habit. Designed this way, it takes something extraordinary to take a normal person out of his comfort zone. Here’s an analogy. If you have a good, cushy job, would you just jump to a competitor company with no track record for an extra $500? What if you join the company, and 6 months after a glitzy welcome party for you, the company folds?

The answer is almost always no.

When people vote against a government, aren’t they going against their comfort level? What then is that extraordinary motivation behind that?   Since the 2001 general election, votes for the ruling party, PAP has fallen from 75.3% to 60.1% over 3 elections. The 15.2% drop in support could be due to more voters going against their comfort level.

Whatever your choice, voting for different political parties is not voting for Singapore’s destruction. On the internet, spats have turned nasty with name calling traded among the different camps of supporters. Some facebookers have struck off friends from their list for disagreeing with their choice of political support. I do hope the spats stay and end online and not manifest as physical violence.

This is not a battle of me against you. All of us voters are Singaporeans.

If there were no government, no ruling political party, would Singapore still function? What will happen the very next day?  The civil service will run as usual. The traffic lights will still work. The ERP will continue to deduct from your cash cards.

The civil service and the rules of governance and legislation, structured by the British, and further entrenched by our pioneer leaders are the true backbone of Singapore.  The pioneer leaders understood early on that the durability of a country depends on the civil service and the rules of governance. You need intelligent people to run the civil service and so by convenience, grades and competence are the usual criteria of admission to top posts in the civil service. Ministers set strategic directions for Singapore after consulting with the leaders in civil service. It is not however necessary that Ministers take every suggestion from the civil service leaders. The Ministers ultimately decides after consulting among themselves and the Prime Minister.

Not everyone has the same vision for Singapore. Some want Singapore to be a tough warship that can sail through any waters. If some of the crew get sea-sick, they will be given some attention but the ship will not stop at its next port of call for fear a competitor overtakes it. Others want Singapore to be a cruise ship that will give all sea-sick crew full attention and to put anchor for a few days until everyone is good to sail again. There are merits to both visions. Rational folks want to see a balance. The majority of heartlanders want to see that balance.

Should the warship or cruise ship that is Singapore capsize, the wealthy will be affected too. But they can get a lifeboat, more easily than most. And they will be picked up with open arms by passing liners. What about the other passengers?

The government is not scaring us when they say that Singapore can become irrelevant. Singapore is enjoying a decent standard of living only because she is relevant to other countries and their people, both politically and economically. What happens when there is no more compelling reasons for companies to use our ports? What happens when tourists skip Singapore? What happens when companies see no good incentives to set up HQs or factories here?

But these doomsday scenarios won’t take place overnight. It will take a long period of negligence before it happens. Ultimately foreign countries and companies have no loyalty to Singapore when it comes to the crunch. If there is a competent industrial park that springs up in Iskandar with the same quality of workers and infrastructure as Singapore, yet cheaper, foreign MNCs will be tempted to relocate from Singapore for good. It will take many years of negligence by our economic agencies before this happens. But it won’t. Because our Civil Service which overlook our economic agencies won’t let it happen.  That’s why our Ministers do lots of PR work with their overseas counterparts to make sure that personal and nation level ties remain current and relevant. That is also why foreign workers are allowed into Singapore for strategic, besides economic reasons.

So what are we voting for if we can’t vote the civil service that is already doing the bulk of the work?

1) Singaporeans are voting for good policies, that are better implemented and better enforced by the agencies

2) Singaporeans are voting for unreasonable, unfair policies to be removed or recalibrated

3) Singaporeans are voting for less top down “trade off” and more scrutiny of current “trade offs”

4) Singaporeans are voting for a more level playing field especially for the disadvantaged

5) Singaporeans are voting that each and everyone is not regarded as a mere economic digit

6) Singaporeans recognize that individual success and happiness is ultimately our responsibility. But Singaporeans prefer to see themselves collectively competing against the world rather than each other. How’s that for unity?

7) Singaporeans are voting that their reasonable, well substantiated suggestions and counter-proposal matter

No matter, which party they vote for this coming election, Singaporeans are not voting against Singapore.

I have a real life case study

The Build-To-Order (BTO) system is lauded as a responsive system offering flexibility in location and timing for flat buyers. Tender for construction will be called only when most of the apartments in a specific contract have been booked. In reality, it led to a shortage of new flats and genuine couples can miss several chances due to the overwhelming response. Typically, such a couple had to wait a few years (up to 5 years in some cases), hence postponing other plans in life. This was because the government had overbuilt in advance under the previous Registration of Flat System (RFS). After the Asian financial crisis in 2001, HDB was left with about 20,000 unsold flats as buyer dropped out of the queue.

Instead of relooking critically how it could offload the 20,000 unsold flats, HDB decided on a new approach of selling and that is to build new flats under the BTO system only when a good majority of flats in a project are booked. On paper, it was sound. The BTO system would allow HDB to ramp up new flat supply quickly when demand is high. Conversely, when demand is low, HDB will scale back to avoid oversupply.  But it also meant that this system was slow to respond to demand. In reality, you can’t just ramp up and down your supply so smoothly. Singaporeans my age know what happened. HDB flats were underprovided for. Finally, after the unhappiness expressed at GE2011, HDB decided to ramp up new flat supply.

Why did it have to take a decade to realize that the BTO system was not the best way to go about it? Why the knee jerk panic when there were 20,000 orphaned flats? The 20,000 flats that were left unwanted could have been easily opened up to singles to buy. No one would have complained since the singles would not be depriving of a deserving family nucleus of a flat. At that time, singles were not allowed to buy a flat directly from the HDB at all. Did anyone in the Civil Service float this idea? I was still in NUS then and did not have the chance and influence to debate this to the policy decision makers.

A controversial policy maintained then was that singles cannot buy a flat directly from HDB and enjoy the subsidy. Why? Supposedly for not fulfilling the nation’s interest of marrying and starting families. If that is the case, shouldn’t couples who marry, get their subsidized HDB flat but don’t have children to repopulate Singapore return their unit? It is this kind of unchallenged policy that perplex many Singaporeans. Why is it implied that a single Singaporean who buys a flat directly from HDB stays single? Why is allowing such a single to buy a flat direct from HDB not seen as helping him/her to set up a family easily if he/she finds that match?

Trade-offs are done when you have limited supply to distribute. In that fateful year of 2001, supply was not an issue. It could have been a golden opportunity to revise certain policies. Not for the convenience of disposing 20,000 flats of course. But to comprehensively relook at policies in totality. Not in silos.

Few of us will know the debate behind closed doors regarding the 20,000 flats. But we all know how the BTO system failed to adequately provide enough housing for Singaporeans at a reasonable waiting time.

What would I have done if I were the Housing Minister? Tweak the singles polices to clear excess inventory first. Convince my minister colleagues that unfairly treating singles will not solve our baby woes anyway. If my minister colleagues are not happy that there is no differentiation between singles and non-singles, I’ll propose perhaps a longer Minimum Occupation Period. Don’t simply slap a higher price on them. People get sick treated like that.

Start the BTO system but have the RFS in the background at a reduced scale to cater to unexpected spike in demand. If the BTO is eventually working fabulous, then scrap the RFS or vice versa.  Is it so difficult to think of this and implement it?

Whoever is running Singapore cannot take voters’ understanding for granted. It’s not about pandering to their every wants. People generally have unlimited wants but limited needs.

In my ideal world, there would be no incumbent political party and opposition party. There would be just ONE Singapore party drawing the best ideas regardless of race, language, religion and party affiliation for the best of Singapore.  No one party has the best solution to every problem. Every party has a blindside. Every politician will be selected for integrity, purpose, competence and commitment to Singapore. Compensate them reasonably and give them their due privacy.

But yeah, it only exists in a fantasy world, so let the royal rumble begin!

Want to win the coming election? Read point (1) to (7) again.

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My Best Always,

Douglas Chow (Principal Coach)

Formerly served at the Ministry of Trade and Industry

Empower Advisory

Will you still talk to Breadtalk? – 7 Aug 2015

Posted on August 6th, 2015 in Food for thought


1) On 3rd August, after a photo of a Breadtalk employee pouring Yeo’s packet soya bean milk into Breadtalk bottles labelled “freshly-prepared” was posted, social media caught fire. Waves of online criticism swarmed Breadtalk over its “unethical” practice.

2) Almost immediately, Breadtalk pulled the drink from its menu and said it will sell the drink again but this time out of Yeo’s labelled drink dispensers “to prevent misunderstanding”.

3) Like jilted lovers, some Singaporeans swore never to talk to Breadtalk again. Why are people so upset over Breadtalk?

4) Did Singaporeans really misunderstand that the soya bean drink repackaged in very down to earth looking bottles was indeed the real McCoy? Apparently many did. Now they feel betrayed and silly, upon learning that they could have bought 1 litre of the same for $1.50 rather than 350ml of it for $1.80.

5) Yeo’s must be secretly cheering that its pasteurized packet drink could so easily pass for a freshly prepared version. Hopefully its R&D team gets a well deserved SG50 bonus.

6) Such practices are not new to me. When I was in banking, I was exposed to companies that supplied cookies and cakes to F&B chains such as Starbucks,. Do people who pay high prices for those cookies and cakes really think Starbucks makes them? Perhaps some do. And because Starbuck beverages are premium priced, the prices for the cookies and cakes seems ‘normal’. Will people flame Starbucks if they one day see a Starbuck employee transferring cakes from an aluminum carton bearing another F&B brand onto the display shelves at a markup?

7) Are Singaporeans upset then, with the markup of the soya bean drink by Breadtalk?

8) Maybe. Maybe not. Singaporeans know that beverages sold at fast food chains like McDonald’s are marked up tremendously. They may not know the exact markup but they know they can get it cheaper at a supermarket anytime. Well here’s the spoiler. A soft drink at your regular fast food chain is typically marked up 800% and more. Astounding but true.  Similarly, we know we are overpaying at any coffeeshop for a can of soft drink. You’ll be charged about $1.30 for a can of soft drink with a complimentary ice filled cup. The mark up is 300% and above.

9) So why aren’t Singaporeans fuming and kicking up a fuss like they did over Breadtalk’s soya bean milk boo boo? After all, Breadtalk is not making a 800% profit on the soya bean drink.

10) Because nobody likes to be deceived, whether intentionally or unintentionally. You suggest to me your soya bean is freshly prepared when it could have been squatting in Yeo’s warehouse for weeks or months? I pay a premium thinking it’s fresh when it’s not? It is the same feeling of betrayal one gets when one pay top dollars for an expensive apartment only to be greeted by an extraordinary long list of defects. Or to pay crazy money for a seminar/course only to walk away feeling severely shortchanged.

11) Why couldn’t people differentiate freshly prepared soya bean drink from a pasteurized version? Even if they could and had lingering suspicion that it tasted like a packet pretender, why did some continue to buy? Perhaps, because they believed in the brand. Perhaps, they believed that if the sticker says freshly prepared, it must be so.

12) This whole saga will soon blow over. Like how some lovers get together as many times as they break up, customers who swear never to patronize Breadtalk again, may once more, queue up at its cashiers.

13) Nevertheless, don’t bet on F&B chains volunteering to disclose how many of their products you think is authentically made by them is not. They’ll probably be telling their operation staff to be more careful.

14) As for me, I’m sticking to water and traditional drinks from Hock Hua. Are herbal drinks from Hock Hua freshly brewed? I cannot be 100% sure even though they taste very authentic to me as I’ve been drinking such home brewed drinks from young thanks to my grandmother and mother. But one thing’s for sure. I can’t find anything that taste like Hock Hua’s in the supermarkets. If a good pretender can be found in supermarkets, it must have “preservatives” for a longer shelf life.  So if I can’t find such a pretender in the supermarkets, it’s highly likely that what Hock Hua sells is not from a shelf product and so it must be freshly brewed! I stand to be corrected, so if anyone can point out evidence that what Hock Hua sells is actually from shelf products, please let me know. My grandma would surely appear in my dream to chide, “Ah Kheong, how come you cannot differentiate after drinking for so many years. All my efforts wasted!!!”

15) As a parting note, sugary drinks, especially soda based ones are no friends of us. Weight gain, fatty liver, diabetes, insulin resistance. The scary list runs on. Life is short enough. Let’s not hasten it. If you can’t wean yourself off it, do junior a favour and don’t start him/her on it.

16) Happy long weekends, all! Get yourself a Hockhua herbal drink, especially if you’re gonna karaoke SG50 songs all day long. And no, I don’t get paid for saying this. I just want you to be healthy and happy so you can celebrate many, many more National Days!

My Best Always,

Douglas Chow

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Why enforcement officers secretly love 4 feet corridors – 29 Jun 2015

Posted on June 29th, 2015 in Food for thought


By now, after the unhappiness over the too-narrow-for-comfort corridors of Pasir Ris One DBSS, many of you now know that the corridor width of 1.2 m meets the minimum width required by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to prevent obstruction to common corridors and fire fighting equipment, which may endanger lives during emergency evacuation.

Having previously served in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the area of regulations (The only non-financial stint in my mainly finance career), I would like to share how our government think  about regulations and enforcement.

How does one strike a balance between enforcement and regulation? Everybody knows it is not possible to catch every single person who runs foul of a regulation. Is the National Environment Agency able to catch everyone who litters? No. Can the police catch every single loanshark or vice operator using a HDB flat? Again, no, as much as the government wish it possible.

Enforcement is a very labour intensive activity. Imagine checking every HDB unit for vice activity (assuming no reliance on tip offs). There are about 1,000,000 HDB units in Singapore versus about 40,000 people in the entire police force . Just covering all HDB units will take everyone in the police force one full day assuming each personnel is assigned to 25 different HDB unit inspection a day. What about the other duties of the police? Will they be neglected? Yet, a HDB unit that passes an inspection today could house a vice den the very next day. Do we then have to check every HDB unit every day? What about non-HDB units?

The question our government ask internally all the time, is how best to influence and shape the conduct of the regulated –through enforcement, regulation, guidelines or by doing nothing and hope that people behave in a a scocially responsible way?

Nobody likes being regulated. Yet by allowing them to go about inhibited, will everyone behave sensibly?

Most officers do not like enforcement work. It involves a degree of controntation and can get pretty ugly. An officer trying to enforce a regulation or guideline may be scolded or even attacked. Checking for a breach as previously mentioned is labour intensive. In reality, spot checks are made, supplemented by tip offs.

By building narrow corridors that meet the bare minimum width required by SCDF, the Pasir Ris One DBSS developer has makes the job of enforcement officers much easier. Do not misunderstand that SCDF regulates the width of the corridors in HDB estates. The corridor can be of any width and residents can clutter the corridor all they want, as long as a minimum escape passage of 1.2 m clearance is maintained.

Can you imagine if residents clutter the corridors in different degree such that at some streches it is 1.1 m and at others, it is 1.6 m depending on what flower racks, shoe cabinets, bicycles etc are placed along the corridor? The enforcement officer would have to measure the width at different length. It would be a very labourious inspection. If there are about 1,000,000 HDB flats, can you imagine the number of corridors to be inspected for measurement? Any enforcement officer would go crazy and resign the next day.

Now, imagine having to inspect only 1.2 m wide corridors. An enforcement officer woud need just a quick glance to see if the corridor is free of clutter such as flower pots or shoe racks. If the corridor is clear and empty, pass. If there are obstructions on one or both sides, fail. 100% inspection efficiency.

Of course, there are easier ways to go about it too for a  wide corridor.  Just make sure a line is drawn at one side so that residents know the limit that they can place their plants and shoe racks. This would also allow for a quick visual inspection.

The good news is that, as per the latest building code guidelines in Singapore, the minimum corridor width will be set to 1.5 m as shown in the Building and Constrution Authority slides below. Narrow corridors will be a thing of the past!

updated corridor width

New Width Guidelines

My Best Always,

Douglas Chow

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Thank You for 2 Wonderful Years – 22 Jun 2015

Posted on June 22nd, 2015 in Food for thought

Empower 2nd Anniversary

1) It’s been an eventful, fulfulling and wonderful two years for Empower Advisory.

2) We have been threatened with lawsuits (that never materialised) from scammers and dodgy investment gurus and operators that we have warned the public about.

3) We are the ONLY private platform in Singapore that continues to steer the public away from hurtful scams through self funded outreaches.

4) We are the ONLY provider of the the most affordable and cost-effective personalised investment bootcamps in Singapore.

5) With Profits never our focus, we are the ONLY investment bootcamp provider that sacrifice profits by capping investment bootcamp participants to only 6 per session. Why? Because we can and want to put our bootcamp graduates’ interest first.

6) All these would not be possible without supporters of Empower Advisory and our investment bootcamp graduates who chose Empower Advisory over smoke and mirrors operators out there. We are nowhere as big as these other operators but we continue with our small class approach because we are foolish enough to believe it’s the right thing to do. No other operators can and want to do what we do because it’s not a lucrative way to go about it.

7) We rather our bootcamp participants pay much less for our investment bootcamps and use the savings to start investing profitably rightaway!

8) To all our equally foolish supporters and friends (existing and future) of Empower Advisory, this will not be possible without you. Thank you. And to celebrate two years (and many more) of Empower Advisory, we are giving away a pair of Innovatio Suckies to all those who believed and continue to believe in us. (Limited to 300 pieces in all). These Suckies are immensely useful with lots of fun application. They remind all of us at Empower Advisory that value NEED NOT always be expensive.

9) Just email your residential/office address to and we’ll get it dispatched via Singpost. (Fingers crossed, no lost mail). We look forward to your email in our inbox!

Thank you Coach

Empower Advisory Team
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The Battle between Taxi Operators and Transport App Providers – 4 Jun 2015

Posted on June 4th, 2015 in Food for thought

LTA has acknowledged that third-party taxi booking services facilitate more efficient matching of taxis with commuters and have become popular and beneficial. A basic regulatory framework is expected to be rolled out soon.

We take you through the debate that has been going on. The points raised are not exhaustive. But utimately, Transport App Providers have become popular over the past year or so because they seem to finally solve the long standing woe of not being able to secure a taxi when one needs a ride, especially during peak hours. Playing hide and seek with taxis is a game nobody enjoys.

As a supporter of Smart Regulation, I welcome the disruption of these transport app providers to the frustrating status quo and am confident LTA will be sensible about regulating these new solution providers.

Homer fires first shot

Taxi business cannot be protected artificially forever


He insists on taxi

Apps are making traditional booking systems obsolete

Taxi drivers know the best way

With GPS, private drivers can do it too

taxis might not break down so frequently

Not true. Some owners maintain their cars better than public transport

Are taxi drivers really safer?

Any bad guy can be tracked down

Regulated drivers have to maintain standards

Taxi standards mean nothing if the customer is not well served

LTA? Over to you!

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Challenges for leadership in Singapore post Lee Kuan Yew – 24 Mar 2015

Posted on March 23rd, 2015 in Food for thought



1) The passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister and a titan in Singapore’s nation building history throws up questions about Singapore’s future. What are the challenges ahead? There are many I have identified but would put pen to paper for just two.

Wining the Hearts of the People.

2) Extraordinary men do not need extraordinary pay to do extraordinary work. Just look at the Old Guards. Their salary then, for that era, was modest to say the least. The working class could relate to them. These Old Guards were not leaders out to make a comfortable living. Some already came from well to do or middle class families. Lim Kim San was one such man. Already a self-made millionaire, he volunteered to work in the civil service and for three years, did not draw a salary. He first served in the Housing and Development Board where he oversaw the construction of high-rise, affordable apartments for the masses. Later, due to his capability he was tasked to helm other important ministries and statutory boards such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Interior and Defence, the Public Utilities Board and the Port of Singapore Authority. The Old Guards were a bunch of people who came together to bring Singapore forward.  That they were in the nation building mission to make their personal fotune hardly crossed the people’s mind.

3) Today, many working class Singaporeans opine that the high salaries drawn by ministers and top civil servants have made them elitist, and unable to relate to their hopes and fears.

4) Typically, a minister’s salary is benchmarked against the median income of the top 1,000 earners among Singapore citizens, but with a 40 per cent discount to signal the sacrifice in public service. Yet this median is easily distorted by newly minted Singaporean citizens who can easily draw millions in income.  Currently, an entry level minister start at about S$935,000 in annual salary, which is more than 20 times the median salary drawn by Singaporeans.

5) While the very attractive salary has no doubt helped to attract good people into leadership positions within the government, it has the unfortunate effect of eroding the moral currency of leadership. And that is worrying.

6) This is not an argument on salary. Singapore is wealthy enough to pay its ministers and civil service leaders $10 million a year each if she wanted to. This is an argument for any government of the day to reclaim the high moral ground ethos; that its ministers and top ranking public officers regard public service as a higher calling and not as a calculative “to the last decimal place analysis” of lost opportunity cost; that their decisions are always for the greater good of the nation and not for personal gains.

7) My view is that if there is one person who will refuse an important government job for $1 million a year, there will be many others, willing to take on the responsibility for perhaps $500,000 a year or $42,000 a month. Not because he is less capable, but because he has no need for the extra $500,000.

8) Ministers and top public officers do not live and perish by KPIs. It is a more forgiving environment that they operate in and rightly so, as it sometimes take policies longer than expected to show the intended results. Even if they do not deliver, they are easily rotated elsewhere where the job scope is better calibrated for their abilities and temperament. However, when their remunerations are compared to corporate CEOs who often get dumped unceremoniously when KPIs are not met, the general consensus is that ministers or senior public officers who do not perform should also be let go. When they are allowed to remain, conspiracy theories take a life of their own. Accountability is questioned and trust takes a beating.

9) I do not believe that a less than hefty compensation package belittles the work of a minister and top civil servants. I do not believe that a less than hefty compensation package give them less clout when having to deal with corporate honchos with fatter paychecks.  Mr Lee and his team of Old Guards were drawing way less than the world leaders and corporate honchos of their generation when they successfully convinced them to invest in Singapore and set up companies and factories.

10) The moral authority bestowed by the willingness to decline world class pay to serve Singapore cannot be belittled. On the contrary, it boost one’s moral standing and gives leaders more conviction when they say that they can relate to the angst of common Singaporeans’ struggle with the costs of living or empathize with concerns of overcrowdedness and CPF withdrawal restrictions among many other issues.

11) If you lose the moral currency of leadership, you run the risk of losing the hearts of the people who will then begin to assess you like cold calculative shareholders. And what do such shareholders do? They will vote in a new CEO and team if results are not delivered by the incumbent leadership, in time or up to expectations.  Such leadership changes can be very disruptive to long-term plans where results can be uncertain or take longer to achieve. Is this good for Singapore? To have the people go through thick and thin with you, for the good of the country, the leadership needs a large reserve of moral currency and not eroding this intangible asset is something all leaderships have to consider.

Recruiting  enough talented people to run the Government.

12) Do we have enough good people to fill important government positions? Yes, if the criteria is that they need not be affiliated to the ruling political party of the day. But is this realistic? Is it possible for a party outsider to run an important ministerial position inside government? Sadly, the answer is No. Would any incumbent political party allow that and risk that the non-party individual leak “vital information” and cause the incumbent political party’s downfall at the next general election?

13) And that explains what I think debunks the lament so often repeated – that we have a shortage of talent to serve in Government. There is not a shortage of dedicated and talented Singaporeans to serve. There is just a shortage of them who also co-incidentally have to be affiliated to the incumbent political party. This is the part where politics plays a destructive part in choosing the best man for the job. And this is something where the current political governance structure needs to be re-examined to assess if it is making the best use of available Singaporean talents in the country, willing to serve with heart and ability.


14) As a Singaporean, I have known only one home as mine and have no plans to migrate. It’s in every Singaporean’s interest that Singapore continues to thrive and the leadership retains the support of the people, especially during trying times. Tough questions need to be asked and even if there are no immediate responses, the intent is to provoke constructive debate and honest reflection if things need to be done differently.

Douglas Chow


* Douglas is an ex-public officer who served in the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 2010 to 2013 before founding Empower Advisory.

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