The shadow ‘institution’.

Influenced by the laws, regulation and institutional visions and missions we, the people and labour, are the shadow ‘institutions’. Without laws, people’s behaviour will run amok; without regulations, people’s actions will be nonchalant; without the institutional visions and missions, the labour will be directionless. In the same way that these laws, regulations, vision and missions had illuminated lives, every one of us becomes its ‘shadows’ when we adopt the values and meanings of them without actually being the institutions. We are indirectly part of the institutions when we observed the values and meanings and are aware of them. We carried out these values and meanings when we are directly working in these institutions that carry out their duties as best as we can in the values and meanings of these observances. We are the ‘shadows’ because as long as they shine, we are affected by their illuminations. We are the shadow ‘institutions’ because the values and meanings will outlive us and had existed before us.

We are the shadow ‘institution’ only when the institutions in society perform their functions with dignity and integrity. When they no longer do so with dignity and integrity, the shadow ‘institution’ may take another form and then becoming it materially, if not changing those that failed in doing so. For the free-spirited, they may be influenced by another set of ideals that they deem fit but when it comes to the rule of law, they would probably agree that taking lives or belongings that do not own are not in line with their set of ideals. For others who are benighted, all they need to do is to make some effort to get acquainted with the rules and laws (perhaps also visions and missions) so that they can at least protect themselves or advice others. The craven when they know of any mis-doings can always try the route of whistle blowing if they feel that their lives are more important than innocent ones. The craven would be innocent themselves but if any wrong-doings happened to them, their inhibitions might stop them from finding a fair solution but their ‘blindness’ will reach a point – either they have a mental break-down or they gather enough courage to fight for themselves. Oppression can be a double-edge sword but ignorance is totally stupid.

Yesterday I had my ‘payback’ when I visited MOM for my appeal for reinstatement to my previous employment. I did not get re-instated but I got my notice salary after I presented my case to MOM. The matter was partly resolved as far as my knowledge goes – under the illumination of the Employment Act, I can only get a consolation prize from the contractual agreement between me and my employer. I was not able to get re-instated, much to my disappointment. The company I worked for has good potential to be what I considered as ethical employer. It is the management that has biased cultural inclination and inhibitions that I wish the end user will not be subjected and succumbed to. Furthermore, the contract agreement between my employer and I  limits my fight for reinstatement. The complication lies in the contractual agreement between my employer and my employer’s client as well as my employer’s client client. However, under the illuminations of the institution (in this case, MOM) the prospective employers on my case had their warnings – for better or worse. In the cultural landscape that is Singapore, it is better because things are kept under wraps in order to be manageable by the illumination of the PAP government. It can be bad, or become worse, when such ‘wraps’ are not being educated to the public and employers get bolder and nastier to get away with anything that they do. If faith is needed in any spiritual discipline, faith is also needed in the institutional system that builds a flourishing nation and people. Apart from faith, we still need the trust, convictions and work to follow through the challenges ahead of all these institutions for the welfare and betterment of the country.

In any modern society of the 21st century, there are always the different social classes. These social classes are not the same as the ancient Romans. We are not separated by the law in the social landscape. Our social classes are defined by the salary we earned. The laws and jurisdictions are defined by the democratic process. If some upper classes decided that they are above the law, they certainly can do whatever they want. However they are not the law because they cannot write the laws and passed down to the people for them to abide. They can be above the law as long as people remain ignorant, foolish and cowardice but they certainly are NOT the law. With regard to this, my appeal for reinstatement to my previous employment was a disappointment because it was not granted – the fight was fought on a separate ground and arena. That was how my faith comes into the governing system that is Singapore and I have my reservations about it.

Let’s take the gladiator fights of ancient Rome as an analogy to the labour market. The labour market is a free market. Some get hired and fired while others resigned and moved on for greener pastures. We offer our services in exchange for a salary. The competition for jobs is akin to the fights of the gladiators. The gladiator arena is the labour market and the audiences are the employers. The emperor will be the government because the government also competes with the employers for talents to run the efficient judiciary system. After we are employed, some unethical employers treat their employees like slaves when slavery has been abolished and made illegal in the present day. Of course there are willing ‘slaves’ in that they would rather subject themselves to the same ‘ethics’ that their employers have. Who is to blame them when the present day is so advanced that without wealth, one is perceived to be a ‘slave’ too?

There are different types of fights in the gladiator arena. After getting a job we also fought for our rice bowl. It is a life and death matter because without a job, we are not able to live and play. It is similar to the gladiators when they fight themselves to death in the Roman Colosseum. With jobs, when the fight isn’t fair, we are able to make our claims against our employers. That was what I did with my previous employer. These days, the fights are almost like a war game, there are generals (managers) and different squadrons of soldiers (infantry, armour, jet fighters, navy, etc) in a company (human resource department, operations department, IT department, finance departments, etc). As a lone soldier, I can only fight for my own rights without the backings of any allies because this ‘war’ of mine has a complicated background dating back to 2010, or even before. Therefore, I am only a  grain of sand in this world and can only do so much for myself as well as to share with others about my life journey. One thing I always keep in mind is that any soldier or gladiator who fought with dignity, pride and courage will always have his honour or reward. I did not win the war against the big giants (employer) but I fought for my life (job) and got a little loot (reward) from it.

I am contented and hence is sharing the story of being the shadow ‘institution’. Moving forward I don’t think being a shadow warrior has much to gain in the long run and perhaps I would slowly, and surely, trained myself to be a soldier of love.

Life’s challenges are aplenty; there are always battles for us to overcome (winning or losing) but as long as we learn from them and keep going, the ‘war’ that is life itself is always for us to take – to live, to work and to play.

A dedication to the labourers of the world

This article comes a day late but it is dedicated to the workers of the world. Labour day in Singapore is on the 1st of May every year. Today is 2nd of May. Anyone who bothers about Labour day, read on.

There is no labour in this world that does not need any physical and mental activities regardless of whether there is machineries involved in the work. There is no work that is not paid for in this present day – slavery is history and should remain so.

Unethical employers and employees aside, for those who are good workers and industrious, and fortunate enough for their work to be recognised and rewarded (with fair assessment and appraisal) by their management can be the most gratifying moment any person can have. For those who are less fortunate, the work may continue but the dissatisfaction will persists – the going gets tougher but the toughness never goes away. What makes up good labour? Does the white-collar worker deserves more recognition than the blue-collar worker? Does the pink-collar worker deserves more scrutiny than any other collar workers simply because in the service industry, good customer service is ever more desirable and critical in the reputation of a company? Does labour always mean unhealthy competition and no deserved recognition from the management?

Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. For anyone who lives in any cosmopolitan city, we all know that eight hours is no longer just  for work, some might not even have eight hours of sleep while others work more so that they can spend more during their recreational hours – recreation does not mean family time though.

It is not that the title of being the employee-of-the-month gives someone the happiness equivalent to that of someone who is awarded the Nobel Prize. It is certainly not the rewards associated with the title, let alone being the Nobel prize winner. For those who feel that recognition is important in one’s work, they understand that each effort and idea made an impact in the company and positive changes can be felt. The recognition makes one feel that he is not just anybody that simply do without thinking or think without doing. If recognition of someone’s work is anything to go, it certainly fulfils the esteem needs of a person while making him/her feel valuable as a person and as a worker. The recognition and achievement are the means but the end is pride, but not conceitedness. It is pride for both the employee and the employer. Pride as defined by Aristotle in his Nicomachean ethics – balanced ambitiousness concerning smaller honour. Workers are not Nobel prize winners and does not have the same social status as the Nobel laureates but they are also humans who value dignity and hard work, and they are certainly not robots or animals that cannot feel (robots) or think (animals). They also do not enjoy the same social status as actors and actresses or those in the creative industry that are recognised for their popularity and successes.

What is labour? I shall define labour to the broader economic sense. Labour is the aggregate of all human physical and mental effort used in creation of goods and services. Labour is a primary factor of production. The size of a nation’s labor force is determined by the size of its adult population, and the extent to which the adults are either working or are prepared to offer their labor for wages.

Physical and mental efforts. There is no labour in this world that does not require any physical and mental activities. This is regardless of the social classes within the society. There is labour that requires mostly physical work and some mental work (construction workers); there is labour that requires moderate physical work and moderate mental work (those in the retail have to stand most times); there is labour that requires some physical work and mostly mental work (scientists and researchers); and there is labour that requires   little or no physical work and mostly mental work (CEOs, politicians and actors). These physical and mental efforts are only considered to be productive when the work is being measured to be of useful output – productivity is the measure of efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system. etc, in producing the same amount of output by using lesser inputs or resources. Productivity is straightforward when measuring physical labour but it isn’t so when it comes to mental efforts. Mental efforts of a machine, factory or system can come from anybody in the structure of the work or system being measured. The CEO of a company overlooks the day-to-day operations but he still reports to the board of directors of the organisation. He is someone who provides mostly mental efforts and no physical labour in the organisation. Labour day is certainly not a tribute to mental efforts alone and has more to do with the origins of the labour union movement which everyone has taken for granted, it seems.

We all agree that labour in the economic sense is the physical and mental efforts used in creation of goods and services. There is hardly any dispute where the definition of productivity is concerned. However when it comes to the recognitions and achievements of the workers, there is always dispute of some form or another. In certain social milieu where the cultural values are deemed as more important than any other definition for ethics and labour (be it labour in creative or productive sense), Labour day doesn’t seem to be a day worth celebrating for those who truly contribute, much less for those who do not deserve the recognitions and achievements of the workers – public holidays is only a day of rest (from labour) and has less or nothing to do with the significance of the public holiday – National Day is not about the celebrating the independence of the nation but a day where the government make additional efforts to highlight the progress and prosperity of the nation; Valentine’s Day is not celebrating the meaning of romance but a day that the cost of roses is highest in the year; and Christmas Day is not a remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ and him being the son of God but a day for gift exchanges. My birthday is not a public holiday but a celebration of me getting older by a year without being any wiser!

What is the achievement of the workers? From the origins of the labour union movement, the eight-hour work day movement no longer seems to hold true or valid. When a person shows his discontent at work for working more than eight hours, he might be faced with unfriendly management and colleagues. When a person demands recognition at work, he might be seen as showing too much pride that perhaps is not deserving. When a person is being discriminated for doing good work, he might be seen as trying too hard to impress because the cultural values of the workers in the company is one that is slack and not flourishing. As mentioned earlier, unethical employers and employees aside, the achievement of the worker, in the 21st century, with a work schedule of more than eight hours a day, is his ability to master his responsibilities in his job and play a positive role in the function of the company (within and among all the departments). This is my definition of a good employee that deserves the honour of the labour union movement that celebrates Labour Day as a public holiday. This is on top, if not on par, with being what is productive as defined by the employer. Good employees are rare these days but good employers are also of the far and few. With such globalised economy, the educational qualifications of the employers, employees and workers seemed more and more professionally oriented and human goodness less and less of importance. Life seems more narrowly focused on the achievements of persons than the greater good of a society. Ethics are being forsaken at the cost of selfish personal gratification – this is so when someone’s contributions to the company is being deliberately attributed to the success of another simply because the person is not showing respect to the cultural values of the society regardless of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Ethics are not universal in that there isn’t an ISO standard for every human beings to follow a particular set of ethics. People follow ISO standard because there are particular economic benefits and social gains (of acquiring quality goods and services). People are not coerced to follow any religious beliefs or cultural social norms but there are those who discriminate others based on social status, cultural biases and social class.

Labour day is blind to such narrow discriminations but for those employees who know that they are contributing positively or those who are at least good employees (without feeling inappropriate or useless about not contributing positively but nonetheless provide certain positive symbiotic work relationship at the workplace), I feel and think that you are more worthy to live your life than those who scheme and plot to gain an unfair advantage for wealth and glory. And in the true spirit of Labour Day, all workers should take matters in their own hands and discourage those unethical employers or employees who thrived not on merits but selfish connivance.

Know your rights as an employees and employer. Here are two websites that I recently visited personally about my previous employment – Ministry of Manpower (for the Employment Act) and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (for my unfair dismissal). I seriously wondered how MOM or TAFEP is able to differentiate a true story from a cock and bull one.

What does ‘S’ stand for?

I would love to say that ‘S’ stand for ‘Singapore’. However despite being a Singaporean, I am disappointed and dismayed (often also distressed) about being a Singaporean.

‘S’ also stand for many other words or even mean ‘ass hole’ in the derogatory slang of the English language. Sure there are many ass holes around if we care to publicly shamed and disgraced them. When the letter ‘S’ becomes so ingrained in the arrogance, if not ignorance, of this country that begins with the same letter. ‘S’ stands for ‘Singapore’ and ‘Singaporeans’. When ‘S’ has the same synonyms as ‘Singapore’, that can only be the case when arrogance and ignorance really become a pain in the ‘S’ for me.

Let me share with you this story. I did want to share this when I became the President of some big shot bank, but now that it is not possible, I can only share it online with anyone who bothers. ‘S’ stands for ‘Speaker’s Corner’. That was the place I had lunch at during my time as an IT Support staff. ‘S’ stands for ‘speech’, something I always practiced when I am alone, at home or at work. Speaker’s Corner is a public space for any Singaporean to have a speech. It may or may not be political in nature but any speaker would have to apply for a license in order to give speech there. The place was exceptionally filled with buzz during the 2009 Lehman financial crisis when 600 Singaporeans that invested in the Lehman mini bonds gather to discuss about the Lehman financial crisis (which affects the Minibonds) and tried to help each other out. That’s about the only time that the Speaker’s Corner is able to gather anyone at all.

Well, back to my ‘S’say about what ‘S’ stands for. ‘S’ stands for ‘Singapore’ and ‘Singaporeans’ and I certainly tasted their ‘S’ lately. I receive a call from an unknown caller. He wanted me to *unlocked the computer of Mr Soh&Soh (another word with the letter ‘S’). In the beginning, he sounded patient. Then when i managed to pulled the records from the computer for Mr Soh&Soh, the account was not locked. He was holding on the line and speaking to someone in mandarin. I interrupted him and asked him whether he has his old password since it was not locked ,while withholding the information the account was not locked. he replied he does not have the password. I proceed to asked the unknown caller whether he is the user of the computer account (The phone has a caller ID and displayed the name of the user, who is Mr Soh&Soh). Then he started to get impatient with me and raised his voice at me. In addition he questioned me, in a reprimanding tone, whether I can perform the simple task of unlocking the computer. Feeling that I had been challenged, I did not raise my voice or scream at him but replied him in a tone that is not guilty but instead sounded more puzzled. “Could you please calm down sir. I am trying to establish whether you are Mr Soh&Soh.” I asked him in a sangfroid way. He further raised his voice and replied, “I am not Mr Soh&Soh”, “Do I have to call Ms Scary to do this?” For the ignorant public, Ms Scary is the overall in-charge of the IT department. I replied, “If you want to call Ms Scary, please do so.” I also added, “This is not in accordance with the company’s compliance policy and since you are not Mr Soh&Soh, why don’t you login using your username and password.” I was still unable to identify the caller and at the same time, he is trying to access another user’s computer. The next thing I know, the phone got cut off and I hang up the phone feeling unjustified and puzzled. After hanging up, I told myself, “Even if you are the President, you are not allowed to access the computer means that you are not able to access.” I was simply following the company’s compliant policy. Allow me to inform the readers that the IT Support of the industry that I worked in has many secrets which could lead to a breach of trust or any other laws. The caller did not identify himself and at the same time, he was trying to access someone else’s computer by asking me to unlock the computer access for him. Doesn’t that sound strange? Would you have given in under that kind of reprimanding tone and using Ms Scary as a threat?

‘S’ also stand for ‘severity’. On my first day of work at the company, I was told that we only response to severity and not seniority or our superior at work. The caller did not state his reasons to unlock the computer. The caller also did not share with me the severity of unlocking the computer. Up to the point of our conversation (before the phone got mysteriously cut off) I was not able to identify the caller as well as the severity of the issue. However, I was strictly following the company’s compliance and stood up for what I thought is the right thing to do – security of the user’s computer was at stake. In addition I also do not know who Mr Soh&Soh is. For all I know, Mr Soh&Soh could be the CEO or even the Chairman and the caller was trying to access his computer without permission. Am I right to say this?

‘S’ it turns out, the next thing I know, I was summoned to the meeting room and was questioned by Team Lead (TL). Another general information to fill in for the readers, we are contracted staff by the company. I was working in the company for about a month. The company has many secrets and only disseminate information on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. If there was any protocol, I certainly am not aware of it. My TL questioned about my tone. He also reprimanded me for my tone, so I asked him what about my tone? I did not scream at the caller while he was raising his. I also went on to challenge him that questioning my tone leads to questioning my competency which in turn is also question my job as an IT Support staff. The whole discussion was not friendly. Nothing was friendly from my TL ever since day 1. It was as if he knew me before I met him and he had a very deep biased against me. Most of the time, I picked up the work on my own while he never consistently impart the work during my on-the-job training (OJT). Then I found out that the run book which he always asked me to refer to is not perfect. That is ok but he wanted to covered up and at the same time tried to mislead me or even confused me (which perhaps also explain why he never consistently tell me my core responsibilities). I have no prior experience with IT support and I switched from electronics. But I was willing to take up the challenge. The meeting and discussion did not go well. I defended my position and we left the room.

After lunch, the person-in-charge of the company’s outsourced contract came to visit me. He told me of the bad news that I was no longer needed by the company. He then told me the reason – I had offended a top executive from Hong Kong. Yes! The caller turns out to be the Chairman of the company! That explains a lot! That was why I was told to leave (not dismissed) by the company (the contract ended because of mutual agreement). I felt unjust since then. It was last Thursday. I wrote down all the possible reasons of my ‘dismissal’ in my computer journal and even raise it to TAFEP for possibility of discrimination. I was simply doing my job and was ‘dismissed’ because I did my job? To me, there was more than meets the eye. It smells of discrimination from a higher social class.

What does ‘S’ stand for? The management of the company is Singaporean. The company is a multi-national from South Africa. ‘S’ certainly stands for ‘Singapore’, ‘Singaporeans’ and ‘South Africans’. In the hierarchy of the company, the caller is certainly from a higher position as compared to mine. When he asked me to do a simple tasked and I was dismissed, ‘S’ to me would stand for ‘ass hole’ since when I looked up the corporate ladder as I was climbing it, his ‘S’ certainly was right in my face! His dismissal of me shows his flawed character and his biased against someone from a lower social class. This is discrimination and I do hope I get a reply from TAFEP.

This is the story I hope to give in my speech should I become a top executive in the company in the years to come. Well, I guess it will not happen and hence the story is published here instead. If story can make the heart grows bigger, I hope this story will make all ‘ass holes’ think and feel like a human.

Singapore is a Republic but it behaves like a democracy and rules like an oligarchy yet many times it pretends to be a monarchy. If Singapore borderline between tyranny and timocracy, it certainly isn’t so for if it was timocracy, it hardly has any honour and if it was tyranny, it failed to be dictatorial.

‘Singapura, Oh Singapura, sunny island set in the sea’…for those who had visited Singapore before, the sunny island surely makes the place tropical and filled with buzz. I do not know anyone had described Singapore as ‘Sexy’ but should the day come, I do hope the ‘sexiness’ does not refer to the ‘ass holes’ I have written in my blog. Right now ‘S’ certainly stands for ‘sordid’, for yours truly.

*Note: As an IT Support, unlocking a computer means that the user is unable to access (login) to his computer because the account was locked.

Food: from farm to fork and also waste.

Some of us live to eat and the lucky ones taste the finest cuisines humanity has to offer. On the other hand, there are also people who eat to live and the unfortunate ones suffers from malnutrition. Perhaps the majority of us are able to nourish ourselves with good balanced diet based on the food pyramid. Importantly, we know that food is essential for our physiological growth – a balance that is required to achieve a healthy body.

With world population reaching 7.2 billion on Jul 11, 2013 (World Population day) and could reach 11 billion by 2100, it seems very crucial that the human race is able to continue to feed itself. What can we, as conscious individuals, do to help ourselves and planet earth?

A report by Scientific America suggests a five-step global plan to double food production by 2050 while reducing environmental damage. This five pronged approach can achieve these goals: stop agriculture from consuming more tropical land, boost the productivity of farms that have the lowest yields, raise the efficiency of water and fertilizer use worldwide, reduce per capita meat consumption and reduce waste in food production and distribution. Please spread the news. You can refer to Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition about how to combat the paradox of food waste.

This is a good short film on food wasting, it is very educational and enlightening. Food wasting is as important as how to increase food production. They are both indirectly related to climate change and sustainability. This will affect us, if not our posterity, when we continue to ignore the signs and symptoms of an ailing mother earth. We should enlarge our love and belonging needs to include the earth so that we are able to continue to live as one human race in order to fulfil our physiological and safely needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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The curious case for bitcoin: Argentine’s friend or foe?

The merits of bitcoin lie not in the Winklevoss brother’s bid for a bitcoin ETF, which was met with scepticism from industry. If the brothers had it their way, which is still quite possible, they could well be the next multi-billionaires in a class of their own.

That’s the news for the $2tn market for exchange traded funds recently. However, over in South America, there is a tidal wave of capital flight out of Argentina that is causing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to implement her “laundering laws” for those undeclared dollars (see related article “a fistful of financial instrument”). This is because many of Argentines are flocking to the greenback in the black market. They have a preference (AIP) for the dollar more than the pesos due to the high inflation – ~20% to 25%. Some have even resort to using bitcoin for alternative measures. But what is the difference?

For the uninitiated, bitcoin is a digital currency. The supporters of bitcoin are dreaming to reinvent the financial system based around a currency not issued by governments and not subject to the whims of central banks, while the authorities (mostly governments) are calling the alternative currency a bank for global criminals. However if you probe into the plight of the Argentines, law-abiding or criminals, I would probably do the same when my country’s inflation rate skyrocketed. The short film below will probably tell you more about the merits of the digital currency.

For beginners, this is a good website to start if you want to get acquainted with bitcoin. For those who are more technically inclined (smarter), the Khan Academy offers a good site for you to study what bitcoin is.

Forward thinking: Aiming for zero emission

Emitting zero emission had never been this sexy for me. Tesla Motor’s electric vehicles would be my ideal transport if Singapore can do away with its COE system. Owning a vehicle is possible but doing away with the COE system seems improbable – the key issues about the COE system is traffic congestion, car ownership affordability and a need for a car.

COE aside, Tesla’s electric vehicles are making inroads and creating values for consumers — the Model S, solar-powered supercharging stations, and now battery swapping stations. Even Tesla’s financing scheme sounds attractive,

If you do your financing with Tesla, we guarantee that the Model S will have the top residual value of any high volume premium sedan brand (Audi, BMW, Mercedes or Lexus) after three years of ownership. This means you will receive cash back in three years that exceeds the principal remaining on your loan.”


The forthcoming Tesla Model X- releasing in late 2014.

Another aspect of Tesla that impresses me would be its robotic factory. It boasts of exuberance in automation that any would dream of. It would be great if Singapore is able to lure Tesla to set up its factory in Singapore. It would provide employment with value, boost economy and keep our carbon emission low (though not energy consumption).

When Elon Musk took over Tesla Motors, he set out to create not just a different kind of electric car, but a different kind of car company. If Tesla Motors were to set up a factory here, Singapore will set out to create not just a viable business model for its economy, but also would help to create a zero carbon emission city-state.

This will definitely help curb climate change. Who knows one day Elon Musk would direct sunlight using his SpaceX project to his solar power stations?

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To be or not to be…corrupt.


Corruption has always been a disease plaguing humanity and it is more so today, as can be seen in the related articles at the bottom of this blog. In a poll of public opinion done by Transparency International (TI), more than one in two people think corruption has worsened over the last two years. TI’s annual Global Corruption Barometer found 27% of respondents said they had paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions in the last year.


In the ancient past, in the Greek story of 300, it was Ephialtes of Trachis and his corrupted mind that made him pledged his services to King Xerxes of Persia. In the process, he betrayed Leonidas, King of Sparta, in exchange for land, wealth, women and a uniform – a Persian uniform for that matter. In exposing to King Xerxes the hidden goat path behind Leonidas’ brave warriors, he allowed Xerxes’ immortals to outnumbered Leonidas and his men in the battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas and all of the 300 brave Spartan warriors fought to their last breath in the name of Spartan honour and courage.

Corruption is a disease. Corruption hinders justice. Corruption seems timeless. Corruption is prevalent indeed.

Is corruption a function of human nature or a function of systems of ideologies, in particular, a function of institutional system (political, corporations or religious)? I shall examine corruption in this manner of functional institutional systems.

Suppose a function is defined as f(x). A function f(x) receives an input and produces an output, y.

In the case of Ephialtes of Trachis, a certain input (i.e. land, wealth, women and a uniform) produces an output (his pledge of allegiance to King Xerxes of Persia). We have just defined Ephialtes of Trachis to be a function, f(x), with an output that is clearly known as corruption. Relatively speaking, the input of land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform by Xerxes produces a desired output, to crush Leonidas’ army and conquer the city of Sparta, Ephialtes being the function f(x), and x being land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform to produce the desired output of y (y being corruption). As we know, Ephialtes was a Greek (a human) and had out of his own free will, pledge allegiance to King Xerxes. This function can be seen in the following expression,

f(x) = Ephialtes (land, wealth, women and a Persian uniform) = y = corruption.

Next, if we now expressed the function g(x) to be a nation, and x as the political party, or forms of government (autocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny and communism), what do we get?

If g(x) is a nation, what will be the value of x to produce an output of y, where y = corruption?

If is a political party, then g(Political party A) = y = corruption.

If x is a form of government, then g(autocracy) = y = corruption; and similarly,

g(timocracy) = y = corruption;

g(oligarchy) = y = corruption;

g(democracy) = y = corruption;

g(tyranny) = y = corruption;

g(communism) = y = corruption.

From the above, it does not seem to suggest that forms of government or political parties are conditions for corruption to happen though one can argue that it facilitates corruption. Let’s examine closer in each system. Suppose now k(x) is the forms of government or political parties, and x is now the people managing or governing these systems.

In the case of autocracy,

k(Mr. Autocrat) = y = corruption.

In the case of a political party of any forms of government,

k(Mr. Vice President of Political Party G) = y = corruption.

In the case of female in a communist state,

k(Ms. Secretary of communism) = y = corruption.

In the case of a CFO in a banking corporation of any nation,

k(Mr. CFO of Bank $$$) = y = corruption.

In the case of a Buddhist abbot of a monastery,

k(Venerable Abbott of Monastery Chanting) = y = corruption.

Finally, referring back to Ephialtes of Trachis from Greece,

k(Ephialtes of Trachis) = y = corruption.

In all of the above, a closer examination of various functional institutional systems (political, corporation or religious), it suggests that it is the people in each system that causes corruption to happen. We have shown that human beings are prone to corruption rather than systems (political, corporation or religious) or ideologies.

What about humans that made us prone to corruption? Is it because of poverty? Is it because of nationality? Is it because of gender? Is it because of ignorance? Is it because of political systems (forms of government)? Is it because of human nature?

Transparency International Corruption Perception Indexed showed that corruption happens globally (in particular, countries that are in conflict and poverty.) Countries that scored 0 are considered highly corrupt and countries that scored a 10 are very clean. No country scored a perfect ten.  Suggesting that corruption is a problem in every country. Majority of the countries scored poorly, indicating that corruption is a serious problem. Corruption in countries plagued by conflict and poverty does not fuel the problem but makes conflict and poverty difficult to stop – suggesting that poverty highly facilitates corruption. TI’s goals include helping the citizens to demand accountability from their leaders and also teaching them to stop corruption. The report of the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 can be found here.

People who are corrupted make decisions that affect our lives, instead of benefiting the public; corruption caused people to receive benefits for private gain. Greed makes people corrupt regardless of nationality or educational level, because it is for private gain. Selfishness makes people corrupt regardless of nationality or educational level, because it is for private gain. Education makes people less corrupt, because with education and knowledge people understand the ills of corruption and consciously stop themselves from being greedy, selfish and ignorant. At the same time, some highly educated people can also be corrupted, suggesting that corruption is more than being educated. Transparency and accountability make people less corrupt because they show to the public that their actions are for the good of the public rather than for private gain. When monetary affairs and decision-making are transparent and accountable, fewer people would do ills since they know they will not get away with their ill doings. Thus it is virtuous people who will encourage others to not be corrupted because virtues beget virtues. It is with virtues that educate others about the ills of being corrupted. It is with virtues that allow ignorance, greed and selfishness to die. It is with virtues that transparency and accountability are able to illuminate to the public that no one is corrupted. It is also in human nature that Aristotle says that virtues can be taught by pointing to people who are virtuous and ethical.

Different forms of corruption happen around the world. In Singapore, in the sex-for-contract cases of Peter Lim and Ng Boon Gay, sex was the input for Lim and Ng to offer contracts (corruption) to the respective agencies. Lim was convicted of corruption while Ng proved his innocence and was acquitted. In Ng’s case, the judge shows that no corrupt intend was presence (Ng was found not guilty of corruption and prosecution not appealing when he issued the contract for Cecilia Sue, who offered oral sex to further the business interest of her then employers Hitachi Data System and Oracle Corporation Singapore.) Lim was convicted for corruption and sentenced to six months’ jail. Ng was fortunate that he was found innocence but nonetheless there is a hint of Ng being bias considering the fact that government contracts are in the spirit of open tender. In addition, adultery was present though it is not the jurisdiction’s duty to police marriage vows.

Regardless of the forms of government, types of organizations, types of corporations, rich or poor nations, corruption has always plague humanity and everyone is prone to it. It is only with conscious, virtuous and ethical living that we are able to fight and deter corruption from happening. No matter how tempting the situation may be, corruption will affect our lives, in greater or lesser degrees. We can only be vigilant about others and ourselves so that corruption become a question of to be or not to be corrupt (emphasis mine). In the battle of Thermopylae, both King Xerxes and Ephialtes are guilty of corruption since there are mutual benefits between their agreement – luxury and honour in exchange for the defeat of Leonidas and his men in the battle of Thermopylae.

To conclude, if we take a human as the function z(x), where x is the ethical values (Aristotelian ethics to be precise), transparency, accountability and a reasonably competent person, then y would be,

z(ethics, competency, transparency and accountability) = y = zero corruption.

If our convictions are strong and firm in the above function z(x), no amount of temptations in whatever form (land, wealth, women and citizenship for another country) will influence our beliefs. Our preference will not be corruption regardless of our affluence (as with my Affluence-Influence-Preference theory). Therefore I conclude that corruption is a function of human nature and only with ethics and virtues are we then able to fight and deter corruption, for the benefit of the greater good in the social milieu.

Corruption is a disease. Corruption is prevalent. Corruption is a killer. Corruption has to be stopped.

P.S: To be fair to Ephialtes, he did offer his services to Leonidas but was rejected because Leonidas told him that he will be more of a liability than an asset in the battle of Themopylae due to his impaired physique. Due to this Ephialtes was not able to fulfil his dream of being an honourable warrior and thus decided to betray Leonidas. In ancient Greece, particularly Sparta, only by becoming a good warrior can one acquire prestige.

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