Home News Featured News 2019’s top headline phrases: From “POFMA” to “Malu apa, bossku”

2019’s top headline phrases: From “POFMA” to “Malu apa, bossku”

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah




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Here’s my personal selection of words or phrases that have dominated the headlines in 2019, both in Singapore and abroad:


Before the AHTC trial, many people have probably not heard of the word.  A fiduciary is a person or organisation that acts on behalf of another person or persons to manage assets. Essentially, a fiduciary owes to that other entity the duties of good faith and trust. Justice Kannan Ramesh said Workers’ Party’s Aljunied-Hougang GRC MPs Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim have failed in their fiduciary duties as officers of the town council. The MPs have appealed against his judgement.


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Of course, it is not a new word. There are 4G phones, computers or whatever. But 4G has found its way into the local political lexicon.  Already not entirely convinced that any of the so-called 4G leaders were up to the mark, local sceptics were disappointed by DPM Heng Swee Keat’s lacklustre performance in Parliament last month. Hope he finds his mojo and comes back with his 4G battery recharged.

Quid pro quo

The Latin phrase is everywhere in reports on the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump. It means “something for something”  and made the headlines when a key witness, US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, told lawmakers Trump had sought such a deal with Ukraine. The president allegedly wanted Ukraine to open a corruption probe into former US Vice-President Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for a coveted White House summit and/or US$391 million of military aid – in other words a “quid pro quo”, according to an AFP report.


Prime  Minister Lee Hsien Loong has used the term “nativist” quite a few times. In December 2016, he said: “The trend of developed countries turning inwards and adopting a more ‘protectionist, nativist’, approach would have an impact not only on economics and trade. Security and the international order will be affected as well, and there will be major consequences, especially for small and open countries like Singapore.” He repeated the message’s theme about the need to be less nativist and be more forward-looking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in May 2019 and the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

Basically what he is saying: Stop complaining about foreigners. They are the ones who will help Singapore. Will they, dear true-blue Singaporeans? LOL.

Tan Cheng Bock/PSP

A familiar name has re-entered the political scene.  Dr Adrian Tan Cheng Bock, former PAP MP and He Who Could Have Been President But Was Pipped By Tony Tan And Later Snooked By Halimah, has formed a political party. Why? There was an “erosion of trust” between the government and citizens due to lack of transparency, independence and accountability. The ruling PAP has lost its way, he said. Amen. With that, enters a new party  – PSP (Progress Singapore Party), all ready to contest the forthcoming general elections.


Yes, we now have a new insecticide, POFMA, to prevent the fake news virus from causing harm and hurt. Fragile ignorant Singaporeans, including the gahmen, must be protected or the body politic will suffer a fatal blow.

And the insecticide has already claimed two “pests”. Zap, wham, pooof!

Monica Baey

The victim of sexual misconduct/harassment in the NUS forced a slow-moving institution to stop dragging its feet and deal with her case. She made headlines when she courageously posted her comments on Facebook. Pandemonium ensued. No less than Education Minister Ong Ye Kung had to urge the varsity to take action so that the university will be a safer place for young women.

AWARE has given Baey the “Woman of Courage” award.


Suddenly, there is a new super shopping mall at Changi Airport. Poor former President Ong Teng Cheong’s once iconic control tower, which he helped to design, is now overshadowed by a structure resembling an enlarged dome a la the Durian (Esplanade at the Bay). But once inside, you will be struck by the indoor waterfall (sort of) and the sheer number of mostly non-flying Singaporeans (I think) – and not passengers – patronising outlets which they could easily find elsewhere.

But to be fair, I do find the prices at the eateries and coffee joints at Jewel quite reasonable. Considering the spectacular backdrop and the absolute cleanliness of the whole place. Try KLIA in Sepang, Selangor and you will see and smell the difference, toilets especially. So, two cheers, Jewel? Or three?

Malu apa, bossku

I quote The Star:

“The infamous phrase ‘malu apa, bossku’ found its way to the Kuala Lumpur High Court when an Umno leader used it to identify former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Johor Baru Umno secretary Abu Talib Alias was being cross-examined by DPP Muhammad Saifuddin Hashim Musaimi over a RM300,000 cheque that he received from Najib in 2015, through one of Najib’s officers, the late Datuk Azlin Alias from the Prime Minister’s Office. When he was told to identify Najib in court, Abu Talib looked at the dock, where Najib was seated, and said: “There he is. Malu apa, bossku”, which sent the courtroom bursting into laughter. Najib, who is facing charges related to SRC International fund mismanagement and money laundering, chuckled.”

BTW, the phrase means: What’s there to be shamed, my boss

You can now buy T-shirts bearing this phrase. Najib himself wears one. Just don’t flaunt it at any Pakatan Harapan rally. And you know the other boss T-shirt joke, don’t you: Anwar Ibrahim wears a BOSS T-shirt, kind of proudly. But around the corner is Dr Mahathir Mohamad spotting another BOSS T-shirt which says: BOS-SINI.

Finally, a simple one-fist salute to the most courageous group of Asians fighting for their freedom and rights. We thought we know who they are. We don’t. But we now do.

The phrase is on everyone’s lips. All respect to the Hong Kongers. The year 2019 is yours.

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of The Independent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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