Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is Singapore Elections Department incompetent, or were there shenanigans?

I am surprised that our super-expensive PMO, under the close watch of the super-expensive PM, cannot devise and operate election procedures that are, and are clearly seen to be, clean and fair.

Running a free and fair election is neither brain surgery, nor rocket science, nor differential geometry.

The irregularities that SDP reported are a case of Elections Department's incompetence, if not worse.

Before the forthcoming Presidential Election, the Elections Department must get its procedures in order, so that all loopholes for shenanigans are closed.

It must make public how the loopholes are being closed, and how fairness is being achieved. It must be accountable to the people.


On the issue of transporting ballot boxes from the polling station to the counting place, Section 48(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (here) states that:
Every presiding officer of a polling station shall despatch each such packet and the ballot box or boxes in safe custody to the Returning Officer or an Assistant Returning Officer at the counting place where the votes cast at the polling station are to be counted in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
Comparing with other aspects of the elections such as polling and vote counting, the transportation of ballot boxes has received little attention in the Parliamentary Elections Act.

To convince everyone that ballot boxes are indeed in safe custody during transportation, and that any of the following shenanigans cannot happen:
  •  genuine ballot boxes being discarded
  •  fake ballot boxes being added
  •  ballot boxes being tampered with
I would suggest that during transportation:
  • the presiding officer of the polling station or his representative escort the ballot boxes (I don't know whether this was required during the recent elections)
  • candidates and polling agents be allowed to escort the ballot boxes
Such provisions are in keeping with an open and transparent, free and fair election.


    No Reply from Elections Department
    Friday, 17 June 2011
    Singapore Democrats

    ( source1, source2)

    The Singapore Democrats wrote to the Elections Department on 26 May 11, pointing out a series of inconsistent practices carried out by election officials on polling day during GE 2011. It has been three weeks and the ELD has yet to reply.

    The most serious concern is the fact that buses that were used to transport the ballot boxes to the counting centres had carried other ballot boxes.

    Our polling agents had observed that when the buses arrived at the polling stations to pick up ballot boxes there were other boxes on board. When our polling agents asked to inspect these boxes to verify their source and to make sure that they were valid, presiding officers refused to allow them to do so.
    The officers also refused to explain why the boxes were in the bus or where them had come from.

    Other problems include the inconsistent application of rules by different officers at different polling stations. Presiding officers did not follow these reulations which resulted in situations where our candidates were barred from entering the polling stations even though they were plainly authorised to do so.

    When it comes to elections one cannot be too careful and the ELD must take every measure to ensure that the process is completely transparent and not leave room for any questions.

    We have written to the ELD again and reminded them to respond to our queries. We append the letter that we wrote on 26 May:

    26 May 2011
    Ms Goh Jing Xian
    Manager (Public Education & Training)
    Elections Department, Prime Minister’s Office

    Dear Ms Goh,

    We thank you for your reply.

    Before I give you the names of the places where we encountered problems, I wish to bring to your attention another observation.

    Our polling agents stationed at Beacon Primary School said that when the bus arrived to pick up the ballot boxes, they noticed that there were already ballot boxes on board. We presume that these were ballot boxes that were picked up from another polling station.

    Our polling agents wanted to verify this by checking those boxes. Unfortunately they were prevented from doing so. How does one ensure that the boxes being transported are indeed the ones that were used for polling during the day from another polling station?

    With regards to the disallowance of candidates into the polling stations, we wish to bring to your attention that at the Hwa Chong Institution, Bukit Timah Primary School, and Raffles Girls Primary School our Holland-Bukit Timah GRC candidates were refused entry.

    This is in contravention of the Parliamentary Elections Act which, as you say, states that "candidates contesting at the election in a constituency and their authorised polling agents may enter a polling station during the poll in that constituency."

    With reference to food being consumed inside the polling stations, we wish to inform you that across the polling stations at the Sembawang and Holland-Bukit GRCs, we were allowed to deliver meals to our polling agents.

    However, at around 5pm when we were getting dinner for our polling agents at several polling stations across the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, we were suddenly prevented from going into the polling stations to handover the food. This was not the case for the polling stations in the other constituencies.

    We also note that in your letter you state that: "Polling agents are allowed to enter the polling station on condition that the election agent has informed the presiding officers of the names of the polling agents who are to be stationed at the polling station."

    We were told the day before by ELD

    Yet, without these lists our polling agents were allowed entry into all the polling stations except for one.

    You also say that, "Each time a candidate’s polling agent seeks entry to the polling station during the day, the presiding officer will ask to check the letter of appointment and to keep the oath of secrecy form."

    Apparently this is not the case as the polling stations at our Sembawang GRC did not insist on this procedure. Our polling agents at the Beascon Primary School at the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC was also not required to hand in the oath of secrecy form each time they entered the station.

    Finally, the schedule provided to us clearly stated that the main counting centre for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC was at the Zhenghua Secondary School. However, our candidates were told by the presiding officer there that the Zhenghua school was not the main counting centre. Asked where it was, your officials said that they did not know.

    Thank you.

    Chee Soon Juan
    Singapore Democratic Party

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Apology for imprisoning Tan Jing Quee? Teo Soh Lung's essay and Vincent Wijeysingha's call

    PAP's track record: Imprisoning dissenters without trial

    Dr Vincent Wijeysingha and Teo Soh Lung are calling for the PAP to apologize for the criminal imprisonment of Tan Jin Quee and many other innocent people detained under the Internal Security Act. (here)

    Will the PAP apologize for ruining many decent and intelligent men and women's lives, through detention without trial, and defamation suits, just simply because they questioned the government's policies (see Operation Spectrum against Catholic Church's social workers)?

    Will it account for and renounce its past wrongful actions?

    As long as PAP refuses to face the truth of its ugly past, all its members are tainted with the gross immorality of its ruthless persecution of innocent people, and its infliction of  pain and suffering on them and their loved ones.

    As long as PAP does not renounce and repent of its past evil acts, it will never have my vote, no matter how excellent its current leaders are.

    PAP's cynical and sadistic destruction of its perceived potential opponents (“I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy”: LKY's vow to fix JB Jeyaretnam) is the greatest hurdle to my voting for it, greater than its incompetence, its lack of transparency and accountability, its heartlessness towards the poor, its arrogance, and its naked greed.

      Tan Jing Quee

      • Tan Jing Quee's obituary is attached below. 
      • Tan Jing Quee's blog: here
      • In Memory of Linda Chen (1928-2002) [Operation Coldstore detainee], by Tan Jin Quee: here


      It is not too late

      by Teo Soh Lung on Friday, 17 June 2011 at 09:12 (source)

      I have known Tan Jing Quee since the 1970s. He was a successful, friendly and humble lawyer then. I didn’t know his past political history and imprisonment under the ISA. He and his friends used to meet up with my employer, G Raman and I was occasionally invited to have coffee with them. I enjoyed their company because their conversations were always interesting and stimulating. They never spoke of revolutions to overthrow the PAP government.

      Singapore in the ‘70s was a very safe and peaceful country. There was no violence, mobs or demonstrations. As a young lawyer, I used to walk from North Canal Road to the Supreme Court and the Subordinate Courts by the Singapore River without encountering any incident along the way. Thus in 1977 when G Raman was arrested and after him, Jing Quee, R Joethy and Ong Bock Chuan (all lawyers) and several well known journalists and professionals were also arrested under the ISA, I was stunned. They were accused of being “Euro-Communists” and pages of The Straits Times were splashed with news of clandestine activities that they were alleged to be involved in. I didn’t believe the horrendous stories spun by the PAP government against them. But I could not disprove anything except that I could vouch that they were and are good people.

      As a legal assistant to G Raman, I continued to attend matters in court. The entire legal profession was silent. No lawyer ever asked me about the arrests. Everyone went about their business as if nothing had happened. The Law Society did not issue any statement concerning the arrests, even though four of those imprisoned were lawyers. That was the climate then. Fear permeated the entire society. I think a certain section of the population also assumed that the government was right to carry out the arrests and it was best to leave national security to them.

      Jing Quee was released several months after but not before he was severely tortured and humiliated. Thirty years later, he was able to put his painful experience in words. He wrote in his poem, ISA Detainee :

      How could I ever forget those Neanderthals
      Who roamed Whitley Holding Centre*,
      Under cover of darkness,
      Poured buckets of ice water
      Over my stripped, shivering nakedness,
      Slugged my struggling, painful agony
      Circling , sneering, snarling
      Over my freezing nudity,
      More animals than men:
      What induced this
      Vengeful venom, violent score
      To settle, not for a private grievance
      But a public, democratic dissidence;
      From whence sprang this barbarity?
      What made men turn into beasts
      In the dark, away from prying eyes,
      Protected by a code of dishonour and lies
      To ensure they survive and rise.

      I think it was in 1986 (at a time when the Law Society had become more active in commenting on unjust legislation), that Jing Quee visited me in my office in Geylang. I remember him asking me why I had set up my law practice in Geylang instead of being in the city. He warned that I was attracting unnecessary attention and that I may get into trouble. I replied that everything that I did or had done was in the open and that my life was an open book. I brushed away his concern, telling him that since I was acting openly, no trouble would come to me. He retorted “We didn’t do anything wrong too but we were arrested”.

      Jing Quee’s words puzzled me for a while. But I soon forgot about his warning. I was confident that I had done nothing wrong and that no trouble would ever come to me. I didn’t even put a thought to the ISA. I didn’t even bother to check out the Act. The Act was meant for terrorists and I was not one. So why should I bother about the ISA? Sadly, I had forgotten about the arrests of Jing Quee and his friends in 1977. The trauma suffered by them and their families had been forgotten. My memory of those harrowing days had been erased. And so it happened, the warning of Jing Quee became a reality a few months later. I was arrested under the ISA together with many of my innocent friends in May 1987.

      Jing Quee has passed on to a better place. But he has recorded his sufferings in his poem. The ISD and government officers who were responsible for his sufferings have not come clean. They have not apologised to him before his passing. It is not too late that they do so now, to his widow, Rose, his children and his siblings.

      *A relatively new detention center built in the 1970s located off Whitley Road, used to hold political prisoners for short and medium term, mainly for interrogation .



      The following is a poem by Mr Tan Jing Quee about his time in detention. (source)


      What was it like ‘inside’?

      A difficult question

      Could you, would you really listen

      Without sneer, to the end

      How should I begin?

      Should I start from the traumas of the raid

      How liberty was so capriciously enchained

      Without a warrant, without warning

      On the dark hours

      When even dogs slept undisturbed.

      You were hauled into a world ran amok:

      The mug shots, ‘turn out your pockets’

      the thumb and fingers impressions

      (Whatever for, I commit no crime!).

      No one bothered,

      The guard shoved you on,

      Along the corridor of despair;

      That first heavy thud of the iron door

      Sealing you incommunicado from the world –

      The wind, sun, moon, and the stars

      And all that was human and dear

      Should I recall the dark cell

      At Central Police Station[1]

      A purgatory of perpetual night

      The stone slab for the bed

      Sullied, soiled mattress, no sheets

      The pillow of tears and stains, no cover

      Blood smeared walls, cries of past agonies

      The rude, cruel hourly rip-rap of the shutters

      “To check your health”,

      So it was explained.

      Should I narrate

      The daily bath at the tap

      The squat pan, dank and putrid

      Meant to dehumanize, humiliate

      Should we be thankful

      For the daily ditch water

      Which passed for tea

      The stony crumbs for bread

      The rice so callously tossed with dust

      Should we be grateful

      For the censored books and news,

      To decontaminate our minds;

      Should we be grateful too

      For the unbearable heat

      The lonely insomnia of the day and night,

      Migraine and diarrhoeic fever

      And panadol as panacea?

      How could I ever forget those Neanderthals

      Who roamed Whitley Holding Centre, [2]

      Under cover of darkness,

      Poured buckets of ice water

      Over my stripped, shivering nakedness,

      Slugged my struggling, painful agony

      Circling , sneering, snarling

      Over my freezing nudity,

      More animals than men:

      What induced this

      Vengeful venom, violent score

      To settle, not for a private grievance

      But a public, democratic dissidence;

      From whence sprang this barbarity?

      What made men turn into beasts

      In the dark, away from prying eyes,

      Protected by a code of dishonour and lies

      To ensure they survive and rise.

      For sure, there were gentler souls

      Who tried to be decent, no more:

      The smiling guard who lightened the hours

      With a chance remark, a joke

      The barber who brought his scissors, cigarettes and news

      The interrogator who handed a bible

      Told him the elegant prose

      Contrasted strangely with my current state,

      How distant those beautiful thoughts were

      From the violence to our liberty.

      What then is the truth ?

      A generation trapped in lies

      Who rushed to defend, to justify

      Never to listen, see or speak out.

      Only when we open our hearts

      Confront this barbarism

      Can we truly exorcise our fears,

      Finally emerge as a free people,

      A liberated society.

      [1] Formerly at South Bridge Road, now demolished, which had several cells frequently used for interrogation of police prisoners, from a month to a year, before they were dispatched to normal prison conditions at Changi Prison.

      [2] A relatively new detention center built in the 1970s located off Whitley Road, used to hold political prisoners for short and medium term, mainly for interrogation .

      The poem is published in Our Thoughts Are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, edited by Tan Jing Quee Teo Soh Lung Koh Kay Yew Ethos Books Singapore


      Former detainee dies of cancer, aged 72
      Straits Times, 16 June 2011 (source)

      FORMER political detainee and lawyer Tan Jing Quee, arrested on Oct 8, 1963 (here) under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged pro-communist activities, died on June 14, 2011 (Tuesday) after a five-year battle with cancer.

      Mr Tan, who contested the 1963 election as a Barisan Sosialis candidate and lost to the late S. Rajaratnam in Kampong Glam by 220 votes, was 72.

      Released from detention in 1966, he left to study law in London. Returning in 1970, he set up the firm Jing Quee & Chin Joo with a fellow detainee, leftist unionist Lim Chin Joo, in 1973.

      He was arrested again and detained for about three months in February 1977 under the ISA for allegedly joining a group to revive pro-communist activities here.

      But Mr Tan, who researched, wrote and edited books on Singapore’s leftists in recent years, always maintained he was not involved in Communist United Front activities.

      He was most recently a contributor and editor of The May 13 Generation, a book of essays on the Chinese middle school student movement in the 1950s. It was launched here last month.

      His wife of 40 years, Mrs Rosemary Tan, 65, said yesterday that her husband, who had prostate cancer and was recovering from an operation to remove a tumour in his spine, was in Kuala Lumpur and Penang last month to promote the book with its two other editors, Dr Tan Kok Chiang and Dr Hong Lysa.

      He was not well after returning and was admitted to Singapore General Hospital on May 31, dying a fortnight later.

      Mr Tan was a leader of the University Socialist Club in the early 1960s, while a student at the University of Malaya in Singapore. He later worked as secretary of the now-defunct Singapore Business Houses Employees Union.

      Mr Tan and Mr Lim – younger brother of the late PAP founding leader Lim Chin Siong, who broke away to form the Barisan Sosialis in 1961 – retired from their law firm about 10 years ago.

      Mr Lim, 73, described his friend of nearly 40 years as a man ‘dedicated to the cause of improving the lot of Singaporeans, not someone who would create civil disorder and destabilise the country’.

      Mrs Tan also said allegations of his involvement in Communist United Front activities were untrue: ‘He was a brave man who fought for the rights of the people and who loved his family and friends.’

      The couple have three grown children. His wake is being held at his home at 3, Coronation Walk until tomorrow. His body will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium on Saturday at 1.30pm.


      May 13 generation shares its stories

      Ex-political detainee's book highlights 1950s student movement

      By Leong Weng Kam, Straits Times (source)

      Former Singapore political detainee Tan Jing Quee, who was battling cancer, was promoting his latest book up to the last days of his life.

      He had been across the Causeway last month, in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, to launch The May 13 Generation, an essay collection on the Chinese middle school student movement in Singapore in the 1950s, which he co-edited.

      Mr Tan, 72, returned home ill on May 25, and was admitted to Singapore General Hospital a week later. He died just five days ago.

      The retired lawyer and former Barisan Sosialis politician, detained under the Internal Security Act for alleged pro-communist activities soon after his failed bid at the 1963 General Election, was cremated at Mandai Crematorium yesterday.

      Released in 1966, he went to London to study law and returned in 1970 to practise till he retired about 10 years ago.

      His two co-editors - Professor Emeritus Tan Kok Chiang, 74, a former Chinese middle school student leader; and Dr Hong Lysa, 58, a historian - were also at the book launches in Malaysia.
      Recalling their trip, Prof Tan who now lives in Ontario, Canada, said: 'I could see Jing Quee feeling the pressure of long distance travel. But his spirits were very high, meeting friends and comrades whom he had not seen for a while.'

      Mr Tan's wife, Rosemary, 65, said her husband of 40 years had wanted to go on the journey very much, to meet his many old friends in Malaysia, including former politician Lim Kean Chye, as well as to launch the book which took him two years to do.

      In an interview he gave to The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao following the book's earlier launch in Singapore, also last month, he said the idea for the collection came when he was translating the Chinese novel Ju Lang (Mighty Wave), by leftist writer Lim Kim Chuan, into English two years ago.

      Helping him with the translation was Dr Hong and another former political detainee and Barisan MP, Madam Loh Miao Gong, 76, who was arrested after the 1963 polls for alleged pro-communist activities.

      Ju Lang, set in Singapore in the 1950s, was first published in Chinese in 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the mass anti-colonial movement started after Chinese middle school students had clashed with riot policemen.

      The students were on their way to hand their petition for exemption from conscription to the then Singapore Governor at the former Government House, now the Istana, on May 13, 1954.
      The novel's English translation was launched as a companion volume to The May 13 Generation, which also has a Chinese edition.

      'Halfway through our translation, we felt a novel may not appeal to younger readers and it may not be able to highlight the significance of the historical event. So we started to invite scholars and those involved in the May 13 incident to write essays and their recollections,' Mr Tan recalled during the interview last month before his death.

      He had been actively researching, writing and editing books on Singapore's leftist history for the past 10 years.

      His last effort was The May 13 Generation, comprising 15 essays which include those on the arts in the 1950s. The preface, introduction and first four chapters were written by Mr Tan, Dr Hong and researcher Khe Su Lin.

      In their essays, they gave the social and political background, examined the historical framework and explained the context of the period in which the Chinese middle school student movement was inspired and later grew.

      The students formed a united, open and legal movement, the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union (SCMSSU), a year after the May 13 incident but it was banned barely a year later by the colonial government for engaging in pro-communist activities.

      Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, a young Cambridge-trained lawyer then, was SCMSSU's legal counsel.

      It was through the students that Mr Lee got to know young Chinese-educated leftist trade unionists like Fong Swee Suan and rural dwellers' association leaders such as Chan Chiaw Thor. Together with other like-minded people, including several of Mr Lee's English-educated friends, they secured a mass base for a political party and formed the People's Action Party (PAP) in November 1954.

      It was student support that helped the PAP win the municipal and legislative elections in the 1950s, leading to its landslide election victory in 1959 when it became the ruling party.

      Many scholars have said that PAP and the Singapore story would have turned out quite differently if not for the May 13 incident.

      Former leftists and alternative history writers often said the role and significance of the student movement were insufficiently told in the dominant, official narrative.

      'This volume, The May 13 Generation, marks the breaking of that silence,' said Prof Tan, who was SCMSSU's English secretary when he was a Chung Cheng High student in the 1950s.

      Prof Tan, a graduate of the former Nanyang University in 1960 who later left for his postgraduate studies overseas, is among those who have broken their silence. He wrote about his involvement in the student movement for the first time after nearly 60 years in the chapter, My Story, in the book.

      Also sharing her story for the first time is Madam Loh, who was among the arrested students when the colonial government cracked down on them on Oct 10, 1956. Her chapter is entitled The Two Faces Of Men In White.

      Other contributors include retired lawyer Lim Chin Joo and former Barisan MP Lim Huan Boon.
      'The telling of the story of the Chinese middle school students of the 1950s now begins,' said Prof Tan.

      The May 13 Generation and the English translation of Mighty Wave are available at Select Books for $34.25 and $28.46 each respectively.

      Related: 情系五一三 华校学生运动 (in Chinese) (source1, source2)

      Thursday, June 16, 2011

      Election expenses

      How much money did the opposition parties (and often it's the opposition candidates, spending their personal money) spend during the 2011 election campaigns?

      How much of a financial advantage did PAP have against the oppositions?

      For the record:

      Saturday, June 11, 2011

      Do we want a "political" or a docile President for Singapore?

      The President has clearly defined custodial roles, as outlined in the Law Minister's statement (below).

      However, the Constitution does not prohibit him/her from freely expressing his/her views on public and political issues, and advocating worthy social causes. 

      The President is the only public figure in Singapore who is elected with a mandate from the entire electorate, whereas the PM, being a MP of Ang Mo Kio GRC, has a mandate from a mere 7.6% (=179024/2350873) of the electorate.

      The President, in one person, is therefore as much a representative of the people as the Parliament, as a body, is.

      If the President has clearly proclaimed his views concerning public policies prior to the election, then, upon election, he has the moral authority, derived from the popular mandate, to express those views, and advocate policies in accord with those views. [I am using the phrase "moral authority" in the following sense: "Moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be."  (source)] 

      Such a "political" President serves as an independent political voice (without legislative power) which the government has established the NMP (Nominated MP) and NCMP (Non-constituency MP) schemes to encourage.

      The crucial point is that, having a plurality, if not a majority, of the national votes, the President can speak with a moral authority that NMPs and NCMPs sadly lack.

      I would argue that, given PAP's monopoly of power since 1959, we are better served by such a "political" President, with moral, but no executive, authority, than by a timid and mute non-political President.

      Whether we want such a "political" President should be a matter for Singaporeans to decide.

      Let the Presidential candidates declare whether they intend to be mute on all political and social issues (except those that impinge on his custodial duties), and if not, what their platforms are.

      If a mute candidate gets elected, then, during his term of office, he must remain mute.

      If a "political" candidate gets elected, then he has the people's mandate to speak his mind. If he, as a President, incurs the wrath of the people through his words or deeds, he can be voted out after six years. There is little damage that a loudmouthed President, compared with an incompetent government, can inflict on Singapore.

      Of course, the PAP can amend the Constitution to explicitly prohibit the President from commenting on all political matters not directly related to his custodial duties.

      [Suppose that the President disagrees with the government on the spending of reserves or the appointment of some key personnel. Then the President surely must explain his reasons to the people. 

      Therefore the President must be free to express his political views pertaining to his custodial duties.]

      At this stage, though the people of Singapore can debate such a Constitutional Amendment, there is insufficient opposition votes in Parliament to stop it.

      If the PAP wants to, it can impose a gag order on the President, making him/her as docile and servile as the PAP-controlled media.

      But it will be a mistake for which the PAP will pay a heavy price at the next elections, as the people will then have realised the danger of granting PAP the power (which comes with two-thirds of the Parliamentary seats) to amend the Constitution at will.

      [Related: Will a President that speaks up cause a Singapore Constitutional Crisis? (Thoughts of a Singapore Statistician): here]

      Clarifying the President's role (Law Minister's Statement)
      Today Online (source)

      Recent comments in the media suggest some confusion over what the President can and cannot do. As the Presidential Elections approach, it is important for Singaporeans to understand what the President is elected and empowered to do under the Singapore Constitution. The Attorney-General has confirmed that the following is the Constitutional position.


      Singapore has a Parliamentary system of government, not a Presidential one. The President is the Head of State, not the Head of Government. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and has the authority and responsibility to govern Singapore.

      The Constitution clearly defines the role and scope of the President. He has custodial powers, not executive powers. In other words, he can veto or block Government actions in specified areas, but he has no role to advance his own policy agenda. National policies and running the Government are the responsibility of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is so for all policies, whether they concern security and defence, immigration and population, or housing and social safety nets. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are accountable to Parliament, where policies are debated and endorsed, and ultimately to voters, who decide every five years who to elect to Parliament and to govern Singapore.

      The President's veto powers over the Government are limited to specific areas:

      (a) Protection of past reserves, i.e. reserves accumulated during previous terms of office of Government;

      (b) Appointment of key personnel; and

      (c) ISA detentions, CPIB investigations and any restraining order in connection with the maintenance of religious harmony.

      On all other matters, under the Constitution the President must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet. In addition, the President is required to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) when exercising his veto powers in connection with reserves and appointments.

      The President's veto powers are an important check against a profligate government squandering the nation's reserves, or undermining the integrity of the public service. That is why the President is directly elected by the people: To have the mandate to carry out his custodial role, and the moral authority to say no if necessary to the elected government.


      The Constitution protects the past reserves of the Government and key statutory boards and government companies ("5th Schedule" entities) like the CPF Board, MAS, HDB, GIC and Temasek. The reserves include physical assets like land and buildings as well as financial assets like cash, securities and bonds. The Government of the day can only spend past reserves with the approval of the President.

      However, the President does not direct the operations of these statutory boards and Government companies. In particular, he is not empowered to direct the investment strategies of GIC and TemasekGIC and TemasekGIC and Temasek, and has access to any of the information that is available to their boards. This system of governance has allowed the GIC and Temasek to operate professionally and to achieve good returns over time, comparable to other reputable global investors.


      These include the Attorney-General, Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, the Auditor-General, and the chiefs of the Armed Forces and Police. The President has similar veto powers over the appointment of the Chief Justice and Judges, and board members and CEOs of the 5th Schedule entities.


      His concurrence also allows the Director of the Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau to continue with investigations even if the Prime Minister has refused permission to conduct the investigations. The President can cancel, vary or confirm any restraining order made under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, if the decision of Cabinet is against the recommendations of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.


      The custodial and non-executive nature of the President's role is not new. It was clearly explained by Mr Goh Chok Tong (as First Deputy Prime Minister) when he moved the Constitutional Amendment creating the elected Presidency in 1990, and reiterated by Mr Goh (as Prime Minister) in a statement to Parliament in 1999.

      This clarification should help Singaporeans better understand the role of the elected President, as set out in the Constitution.

      MIT Professor criticizes Singapore government's dominance in economy

      Straits Times, Feb 12, 2010 (source)

      HOW far should the Government extend its long arm into the private sector?

      The Economic Strategies Committee last week proposed that the Government, aided by private sector fund managers, invest up to $1.5 billion in Singapore-based enterprises to help them grow and even take a stake in them.

      The idea raised few eyebrows here but would have caused renowned political economist Huang Yasheng (personal website) to do a double-take.

      To the Beijing-born Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, who was in town recently to address the Civil Service College, state-linked enterprise models are a sure-fire way to stifle the economy in the long run.

      Known for his critical view of China's bias towards state-linked enterprises at the expense of its home-grown businesses, he expressed the same scepticism about how far state intervention can help private enterprise here.

      Singapore should 'rethink' the 'Temasek model', he says, referring to the state investment company Temasek Holdings, which has major stakes in large local corporations such as telecommunications player SingTel and developer CapitaLand.

      'The private sector is the best way to grow the economy. It has the most productive, most innovative and entrepreneurial culture. The state-owned enterprise system doesn't give you that.'

      He acknowledges that Singapore has 'the most streamlined state management model' worldwide among the countries which adopt this method, but it has milked this system for all it is worth.

      'You are already hitting the wall,' he warns. Retaining this strategy could mean sacrificing future growth that is possible only through a bigger, more dynamic private sector.

      When governments get involved in venture financing, they risk getting tangled in a whole host of issues. Few taxpayers, he reckons, can stomach the inherent risks of funding technology start-ups.

      'Nine out of 10 investment projects fail. Does the government have such a high tolerance for risk? It's taxpayers' money, right? I don't think, politically, it's legitimate for the government to keep investing in failing individuals and failing projects. How do you defend these decisions?'

      Those who fund these start-ups need to understand that risk-taking is part and parcel of the whole process.

      'But does the average Singaporean understand that?'

      Even if a project does succeed, other thorny issues crop up.

      'The entrepreneur gets a disproportionate share of the benefits. Why should I, as a taxpayer, fund these projects? What do I get? There's a basic illogic to the government being involved in venture financing, at a political level and operational level.'

      In most other countries, government funding typically goes into basic research without direct commercial applications.

      'Maybe a better way is for the government to fund more basic research and then allow universities, private equity firms, venture capital firms and rich individuals to take care of the rest.'

      That is because even when the state sector is well managed, it is not as innovative as the private sector, he says.

      'From a technological development point of view, you need a bigger private sector to compete, to come up with new products, processes and technologies, to better compete with India and China.'

      The case for private entrepreneurship is strong even when applied to these two Asian giants. In a 2006 Financial Times article, he compared the two economies, concluding that India was achieving a high level of economic growth with just a fraction of what China was receiving in foreign direct investment.

      The difference boiled down to the level of support for local entrepreneurs.

      'An economic litmus test is not whether a country can attract a lot of foreign direct investment, but whether it has a business environment that nurtures entrepreneurship, supports healthy competition and is relatively free of heavy-handed political intervention. In this regard, India has done a better job than China,' he wrote.

      The trouble with civil servants leading the charge, he says, is that creative thinking is often in short supply.

      'Civil service culture is about discipline. It's about execution. It's about efficiency. Entrepreneurial culture is about challenging the authorities, questioning the existing ways of doing businesses, moving away from the routines and norms. It's about the unconventional, rebellious and diverse. These values are almost polar opposites.'

      He stops himself for a moment. 'I want to be very clear, Singapore has one of the best civil services in the whole world, and that's a very precious asset. The issue is, whether you want the civil service to play such a big role (in enterprise) or not.'

      State-linked enterprises, he acknowledges, served Singapore very well before the rise of cheap labour in China and India, when growing the economy required merely ramping up production through higher efficiency. But today, the challenge is constant innovation.

      'You can increase scale economy with government funding. But when it comes to new products, processes and technologies, it's very different. It's not just about money, it's culture.'

      But growing up in the big shadow of state intervention has dwarfed the entrepreneurial culture here, he says. The 'orderly' environment here dulls the incentive to think out of the box. 'Everything is very well organised. Entrepreneurship typically happens in a more chaotic environment,' he observes.

      Even Singapore's 'top-down' education system gets in the way.

      'While producing excellent maths scores, it is not producing diversity in ideas and unconventional ways of solving problems,' he notes.

      The new game is not about high averages, but outliers. Nor is it about size, but nimbleness.

      He scoffs at the widely held view here that local firms are too small to compete outside Singapore without help from the government or government-linked firms.

      'This idea that size gives you advantage is an extraordinarily strange view. Was Microsoft a big company in 1975? Was Google a big company in 1998?

      'The key thing is whether or not you can grow, and how you grow. If government support is behind the growth of a company, that means the company has not survived the competition test. It may fail in a different environment.

      Worse still, 'if the government support is strong, it dilutes the incentive to innovate'.

      A small company, he says, can be 'extremely competitive' by occupying a strategic niche.

      'Academic research shows overwhelmingly it is the small companies that create new technologies and new products. Big companies are innovative only when they acquire small companies.'

      Hence, the critical question for Singapore is whether its big firms have enough small companies to acquire.

      To help smaller players flourish, he believes local entrepreneurs should have easier access to private funds. The Central Provident Fund system, he points out, is worth a relook. While it builds up retirement nest eggs by enforcing savings that can run up to about 40 per cent of an employee's total wage, it also channels away a sizeable sum from the hands of potential entrepreneurs to government investments.

      Putting some of these funds back in the hands of more nimble local entrepreneurs could be Singapore's best bet to stay ahead in this fast moving global economy. Failing to exploit the potential of its private sector could mean the country, once labelled an 'Asian Tiger' for its sparkling growth rates, might go down in history as an economic has-been, he says.

      'I think Singapore has done a remarkable job in the last 50 years. The logic of its system is very powerful. But the issue now is that we have a very different environment.

      'And the ultimate success of a system depends on its ability to adapt to new situations,' he adds.

      Thursday, June 9, 2011

      Do casinos cause Singaporeans to gamble away more money?

      According to the following report, prior to 2010 when the casinos opened, the Singapore government (i.e. the Tote Board) collected S$500 million annually  in gambling surplus (which I take to be gambling revenue (after subtracting payouts) less operating and other expenses). In the absence of financial statements from the Tote Board, this serves as an indicator of the magnitude of the pre-casino gambling economy in Singapore.

      The reductioin in the Tote Board's gambling surplus due to the newly opened casinos was more than made up for by the casino entry levy. This implies that the money that the locals saved through the reduced playing of 4D, Toto, etc, went to the casino entry levy (and not to their gambling losses at the casinos).

      Therefore the gambling revenue (estimated at US$3.06 billion, or S$4.3 billion, in 2010; here) that the casinos collected from the locals is money that, in the absence of the casinos, would not have gone into gambling. Casinos cause Singaporeans to gamble away a great deal more money (S$4.3 billion).

      Contrary to the following report, the casinos and the Tote Board are not in a zero-sum game, competing for a greater share of a fixed-size local gambling pie. The local gambling pie has in fact been growing at a furious pace since the casinos opened.

      The casinos serve to significantly expand Singapore's local gambling economy.

      I have previously tried to estimate the magnitude of local casino gambling (here). The following report provided some data for further analysis.

      My estimate is that 26% (1 in 4) of the local adults gambled at the casinos in 2010. On average, each of them lost S$6000 at the casinos, and S$195 in entry levy, in 2010.

      How I estimated

      The casino entry levy (S$100 a day, S$2000 a year) in 2010 amounted to S$140 million.

      According to the government, casino entry levy amounted to about S$70 million as of May 10, 2010 (after the operation for 3 months of one casino, and 2 weeks of the other) (source). The figure of S$140 million for 10.5 months (in 2010) of casino operation is therefore suspiciously low. ]

      If every local gambler paid the daily levy (and none paid the yearly levy), then 1.4 million locals gambled in 2010.

      However, let's assume that, of the local gamblers, 5% are serious gamblers and paid the yearly levy, and the remaining 95% paid the daily levy once in 2010.

      Thus, on average, each local gambler paid S$195 in entry levy (5%x2000+95%x100=$195).

      Therefore, there were 720,000 local casino gamblers in 2010. (To verify: 717950x$195=$140,000,250) This amounts to 26% of the 2.8 million local residents (citizens and PR) aged 21 and above.

      (Since there are gamblers who paid the daily levy more than once, 720,000 is an overestimate. For simplicity, I did not further refine this estimate.)

      The locals account for US$3.06 billion in casino gambling revenue, and 15.6 million casino visits in 2010 (here).

      Thus, on average, each of the 720,000 local gamblers made 21.7 casino visits and lost US$4250 (S$6000, or S$570 a month, for 10.5 months) at the casinos, and S$195 in entry levy, in 2010.

      The very high number (21.7) of casino visits is explained by the fact that, even with a daily levy (valid for 24 hours), a local can account for multiple casino visits, with each re-entry counted as a separate visit.


      Casino levies boost Tote Board’s surplus
        –Angela Lim, Yahoo Fit to Post, February 11th, 2011 (source)

      The Singapore Tote Board will be giving away S$625 million to beneficiaries.

      It seems gamblers in Singapore have left their old favourites behind for the latest game in town.

      Toto, 4D and horse-racing have seen a drop in takings since the opening of the two integrated resorts (IRs) in February and April last year.

      Takings from the Singapore Turf Club were the hardest hit, suffering a 30 per cent drop while Singapore Pools’ takings dipped by 3 to 5 per cent, according to the chairman of the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board), Bobby Chin.

      And yet, this has not stopped the Tote Board from doubling its financial commitment to charities.

      Its collections from casino levies more than made up for the shortfall, prompting it to announce on Thursday that it will be giving away S$625 million, according to a Straits Times report.

      Two of the Tote Board’s major beneficiaries — the Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund and the Community Chest – received S$100 million and S$50 million respectively. The cheque presentation ceremony was held at the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) auditorium on Thursday.

      “We have been affected in some ways by the casinos, but nevertheless, because the Government has directed the levy to the Tote Board, it means additional quantum and additional ability and capability to help fund-worthy projects,” Mr Chin said.

      Collections from casino levies made up around S$140 million of the Tote Board’s gaming surpluses between April and December last year. This amount is expected to rise at the end of the financial year 2010 in March 31.

      The entry levy is what Singapore citizens and permanent residents have to pay to enter the two casinos — S$100 a day or S$2,000 a year.

      Ministers of Parliament (MPs) and industry watchers have since raised concerns about the effectiveness of the current levy and are proposing a review of current casino levies.

      Before the casinos opened, the Tote Board made about S$500 million on average in annual gambling surpluses. The surplus was used to fund community projects.

      But industry experts say the drop in forms of gambling like horse betting, 4D and lotteries was not unexpected.

      Dr Derek da Cunha, author of Singapore Places Its Bets, a book about the two IRs and their economic and social impact, said,”I’ve always said that it’s a . The casinos will inevitably affect and cannibalise some other forms of gambling.”

      He added that, in comparison to games like 4D and Toto, casino table games offer gamblers better odds.

      “Some casino table games offer better odds. This explains why a proportion of people have migrated from the turf club to the table games at the two IRsda Cunha explained.

      Mr Carey Wong, an analyst with OCBC Investment Research, said, “The integrated resorts are meant for foreigners — and the Government has said so many times — but the numbers show that Singaporeans have been going to the casinos.”

      Although the surplus last year was boosted by the casino levies, Mr Chin said it is too early to tell if the trend will continue.

      “We hope to maintain the same level of commitment, but you have to assess the quantum at a steady state. The initial six months to a year, there is a novelty effect. It is not reflective of what is going to happen in the future,” he said.

      NCSS, which will receive an undisclosed sum from Community Chest’s S$50 million kitty, plans to increase the number of family service centres (FSC) from 37 to 42 by 2015, and improving the human aspects of the FSCs to provide the same standard of service across its centres.

      The organisation’s chief executive officer, Ang Bee Lian, said,”We are quite clear that we want to position FSCs as, what I sometimes call, social polyclinics. We want FSCs to be your first stop, a convenient stop, for social issues that families face.”

      Stressing the importance of the quality of intervention, Ms Ang said, “It’s intervention that counts. It’s not about the facility but really the quality of the interaction with the social worker, the counsellor, even the receptionists.”

      Monday, June 6, 2011

      Political landscape, media coverage, and polling process examined

      Forum on Post-election Analysis (source)

      (Brief extract)

      One week after the General Elections of 2011, Singapore human rights NGO MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore) and socio-political community blog The Online Citizen (TOC) jointly presented a post-elections forum at the Post-Museum on 15 May 2011.


      Associate Professor Cherian George (from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University) offered attendees some perspectives on what GE2011 would mean for democratisation in Singapore.

      He highlighted that “the mathematical results are less important than how the numbers are interpreted”, and cited the shock announcement of MM Lee and SM Goh from the Cabinet. This showed that the People’s Action Party (PAP) had interpreted the election results as a signal that it had to change.

      A/Prof George argued that “although the political culture has evolved to be less amenable to top-down government, Singapore remains inhospitable to progressive causes and has yet to develop spaces for mature debate”.

      On political culture, he felt that voters are now increasingly more likely to reject rules which are unfair, e.g. the GRC system. He noted: “To the extent that the public sees unfairness, it will apply a kind of electoral affirmative action: it will give the opposition a discount and judge the PAP more harshly. Thus, people crucified PAP candidates for saying silly things, but politely pretended not to notice when opposition candidates did the same.”



      Next up was Associate Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah, a member of MARUAH.

      MARUAH had conducted a media monitoring project during the elections. Due to limited resources, the scope of the project had to be limited to the three main English-language daily newspapers in Singapore, namely the New Paper, the Straits Times and TODAY.

      The media monitoring project sought to measure the relative impartiality of the print media during GE2011, and in doing so contribute to the process of free and fair elections in Singapore.

      A/Prof Tambyah introduced the different measurements used, from the column inches of coverage, to the type of photos published, and the placement of articles.

      In terms of coverage, the PAP received an overwhelming amount of column-inches of articles, as compared to other opposition parties or even the opposition as a whole. The disparity was more distinct in the Straits Times, as compared to TODAY or the New Paper.



      The third speaker was Ms Braema Mathi, President of MARUAH. She briefly described the election monitoring project conducted by MARUAH.


      Ms Mathi noted that many respondents had highlighted the lack of privacy at the voting booths, with some voters feeling that it was too open. This, coupled with the close presence of some election officials, was the source of some unease.

      The presence of a serial number on the ballot paper, and the practice of writing one’s polling number on the counterfoil of the ballot paper, also appeared to discomfort many respondents.

      But overall, respondents did not report any major irregularities, and the election regulations (e.g. no campaign materials within 200m of a polling station) appeared to have been adhered to. Finally, over 80% of respondents felt that their vote was secret.


      Mr Alex Au, who blogs at Yawning Bread (, primarily focused on an online survey on voter preference that he conducted, and the positioning of the various political parties and how that may have affected voter appeal.

      (Note: Mr Au’s presentation can be found here:

      He first highlighted the limitations of an online survey, but suggested that the limitations could be mitigated with a high number of respondents. 2,051 responded to his survey, of which 1,756 voted, and of which 1,609 voted for an opposition party. With such a skewed sample, he decided to focus his survey analysis on respondents who voted for an opposition party.

      Mr Au found that the breakdown of respondents in the sample closely matched the vote share obtained by the various opposition parties. With that, he proceeded to describe the results of his survey.

      Among those whose 1st choice was an opposition party, 71.5% chose the Workers’ Party (WP), followed by the SDP with 24.6%. The survey also indicated that respondents rated both the WP and the SDP highly for their principles and proposals, and also the quality/likability of their candidates, when deciding their vote. However, he noted that the SDP’s vote share was lower than the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Singapore People’s Party (SPP), even though the 2 parties had a lower rating than the SDP in the earlier survey questions.

      He next placed the different political parties on a chart with two axes, representing the attributes of free-market/socialism and liberalism/conservatism. His hypothesis was that the SDP had a lower vote share, as it was ideologically furthest away from the PAP, which was also where most voters were located. With voters not keen to change too much at one go, it meant that fewer voters were keen to vote for SDP.


      For a full report, and links to videos, texts and powerpoint views of the talks, see here.

      Saturday, June 4, 2011

      Has Singapore been cheated? A speech by Dr Chee Soon Juan


      Dr Chee Soon Juan launched his book A Nation Cheated on 31 Aug 08 during which he spoke to the more than 150 guests.

      Buy here

      Extract of Dr Chee's speech

      When I was in jail in 2006, I re-read the book Comet In Our Sky, a compilation of essays written by friends and associates of the late Lim Chin Siong (Wikipedia). I will assume most of you here know Lim Chin Siong and will not endeavour to go into detail how he was seen by the majority of Singaporeans as the natural leader of our then fledgling republic in the 1950s and 60s, other than to say that his charisma and compassionate style of leadership won the hearts and minds of many.

      The book includes a chapter written by Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, Tim Harper, from Cambridge University. Professor Harper documented his research after poring through bundles of de-classified papers, memos, letters, etc. written by Britsh colonial officials during the turbulent period leading up to Singapore's independence (see links on Lim Chin Siong vs LKY at the end of this post).

      The picture that emerged was one not quite the story that I heard and read growing up. In a nutshell, the Professor's account was that the people of Singapore wanted Lim Chin Siong as their leader but the British would not allow it and wanted Lee Kuan Yew instead.

      So we have two versions of what happened: one written by a disinterested, third-party academic and based on verifiable de-classifed papers, and the other by Lee Kuan Yew who still has vested personal interests in telling these events. I do not think I would be far wrong if I say that the majority of people would look to the former for a more accurate and objective account of that part of history.

      This is what I tried to do in the first part of A Nation Cheated, that is, summarise Professor Harper's research findings.

      But my nerves are rubbed raw when I keep hearing Lee Kuan Yew, who came to power backed by the colonialists, rant about how the West should not foist its system on an Asian people, meaning us. Somehow the democratic practices that allowed Lee Kuan Yew to become prime minister suddenly become Western and not suited for us Singaporeans.

      Today the propaganda continues unabated, that Singaporeans are not interest in human rights and democracy. I will come to this subject in a moment and show you how this lie has now been exposed.

      For now, let me dwell a little on the notion that things have worked wonderfully for Singaporeans.

      Whether it is our CPF or healthcare costs or wages or our financial reserves, I have presented evidence in the book to show how things are not quite what they seem. I have tried to stay away from polemics especially in part two of the book and concentrated on putting together the data from alternative sources to make my case. I will leave it to you the reader to decide for yourself whether I have done my job or not.

      To illustrate what I really set out to say in this book, I want to relate a story. It is about a man whom I met when I went for my jog one morning. He is in his mid-seventies and works for the town council as a cleaner. He starts work at 7 am and knocks off at about one or two in the afternoon depending on how much work there is that day. He works six days a week. His salary? $400 a month.

      When he was a young man in his 20s, he was told that if he just stayed disciplined, didn't support independent unions, didn't clamour for his rights and trusted the PAP to govern in his best interest, he would be better off. He did that, or at least he wasn't given a choice.

      Today, he is told that he must not think of retiring. In fact he is told that he needs to work for less pay. He is told that part of his savings is in Merill Lynch and in about 15 to 20 years, he should be able to start seeing returns on the investment, that is if the bank doesn't go belly up first.

      Doesn't the word "cheated" come to mind?

      This old man's story is not an aberration. Statistics tell us that our poorest segment of society continue to see their wages shrink. Fifty percent of the people haven't seen their incomes grow over the past ten years.

      But then our ministers increased the salaries in 2007 by a heart-stopping 85 percent. The president is paid $4 million a year, for what no one quite knows. The Senior Minister and Minister Mentor are also paid close to that amount, again for what no one quite understands. The Prime Minister is paid $3.8 million which works out to be about $10,000 a day.

      They tell you that they must be amply rewarded for building such a fine country. Really? Let's see what Singaporeans think:

      • Despite having gone through national education at school, 37 percent of Singaporean youths say they are not patriotic. More than 50 percent want to emigrate overseas if given a chance. (Channel News Asia, 17 January 2007)
      • Another survey of older Singaporeans showed that two-thirds said they have considered retiring in another country. (Straits Times, 20 August 2008)
      • A few weeks ago, the Government confirmed that an average of 1,000 Singaporeans had given up their citizenship annually over the last three years. (Asia Times, 21 August 2008)

      Have you thought of this number before, ladies and gentlemen? These are astounding figures. I cannot think of another country where after 50 years of uninterrupted rule, we produce a nation where its people profess no love for it and can't wait to get out?

      Tell me, hand on heart, that you still think that the PAP has governed in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. Tell me that we have not been cheated.

      [continue to read: here]

      Lim Chin Siong vs LKYPart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

      Friday, June 3, 2011

      LKY's mindless vindictiveness: ex-President Devan Nair's insight

      In order to combat the servile idolizing of LKY prevalent in the main stream media, let us revisit what former President Devan Nair revealed about the character of LKY.

      Requiem for an unbending Singaporean (source 1, source 2)

      C.V. Devan Nair
      Former President
      Republic of Singapore.
      March 26, 1999

      A SERIOUS threat of closure faces the Workers’ Party led by Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam because of failure to pay the forbidding damages awarded against the Party by a court in Singapore.

      One hopes against hope that this might be avoided at the last minute. It is a slim hope.

      The world has come to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the political tactics used by the governing PAP against opposition politicians have for some time come to include suing their pants off, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their seats in parliament as a result. Now the same device is resorted to against opposition political parties themselves, as registered institutions.

      The onus of proof is on the government of Singapore – not on global public opinion.

      Nothing that smacks of opposition seems safe in Singapore any longer. Singaporeans must sooner or later come to realise the harsh truth that nobody in Singapore is truly saved unless ALL are SEEN to be saved.

      The post of no return has long passed for Singaporeans, and one fears they will perforce learn this lesson the hard way. In the ultimate analysis, this is probably best. The more painful the price paid to learn basic human lessons, the more firmly might they become embedded in the national fibre.

      A free Singapore will arise and justify the sacrifices and efforts of undaunted Singaporeans, now including the courageous Chee Soon Juan, who had immolated themselves on the altar of freedom.

      Phoenix-like, their dreams will rise once again from their ashes. Were this process not true, the world would have come to an end long ago.

      It is just as well that I release this requiem now. If not timely yet, it will be soon enough. Here goes, for good or ill to myself:

      Some months after I was kicked upstairs to the presidency of the republic of Singapore in October 1981, there was a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Anson, which I had held prior to my ill-fated elevation. I had won that seat with a comfortable majority of some 80 percent of the votes cast. The PAP’s candidate in the by-election was a relative unknown, while the Workers Party put up J.B Jeyaretnam. To the consternation of the PAP, Jeyaretnam won.

      The day after the by-election verdict was declared, I had lunch with the Prime Minister. I was amazed at how he fretted and fumed like a caged fury. As I saw it, Jeyaretnam constituted no threat at all to the PAP whether in parliament or outside it. For one thing, despite Jeyas courage, he displayed a woeful lack of economics. He clearly never knew at any point of time how Singapore clicked economically. And it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that in five years of free performance in ‘parliament against the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lim Kim San et al, he would stand exposed in public for his abysmal ignorance of economics.

      In truth, if I had to cope with J.B Jeyaretnam as a hostile delegate at regular National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) Delegates Conferences, I would have given him all the rope and more he wanted to hang himself with. And after free and open arguments over three days of conferencing, I would have beaten him hands down at the ballot box. I knew this, as did the workers. For they knew that in the colonial days, Jeyaretnam had never stood on a picket line. I had, not once but several times, not only stood on picket lines, but also bedded down for the night on the gravel with the workers whom I led.

      I told all this to Kuan Yew. Nothing I said sank in. He fretted about a potential critical percentage drop in PAP votes across all the constituencies that could eventually bring the PAP government down, and he wouldn’t stand for it. Only later did I realise that this was the moment that started his formidable brain box ticking away furiously at the fecund gerrymandering schemes he was to introduce later to ensure that all opposition parties would be put in a Gordian bind that would make it impossible for them to ever achieve control of parliament, unless an Alexander came along. Such a possibility appears impossible now, unless it takes the awesome shape of shattering geo-political circumstances already building up around Singapore.

      Immediately, however, Kuan Yew’s attention was concentrated on how he would deal with J.B Jeyaretnam in parliament. I was quite alarmed at some of the things he told me at that lunch. “Look,” he said, “Jeyaretnam can't win the infighting. I’ll tell you why. WE are in charge. Every government ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time.” And I will never forget his last words. “I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy.”

      Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy. And it is to Lee Kuan Yew’s eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee. Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that Jeya more than deserves the crown of the martyr for his indomitable courage and dignity in the face of the vilest persecution.

      Even greater human spirits than Jeyaretnam had refused to bend their knees to Lee Kuan Yew. It is my considered view that the greatest human being living in Singapore today is one who declined to surrender to the intimidation of prolonged incarceration and restrictions imposed on him without trial for a total period which exceeds that suffered by Nelson Mandela. And here was the mark of true greatness. He emerged from the experience like a god unembittered. His name is Chia Thye Poh.

      And it is Lee Kuan Yew who emerged from the episode as the knave and fool of his own mindless vindictiveness, while the real conqueror smiles benignly – unnoted, of course, by the local media. For only sound waves from the Istana Annexe are picked up and regurgitated by His Master¹s Voice.

      There is no political justification for obliging the Workers’ Party to close down. And not a shred of moral justification. What lies behind the move is among the most brazen vindictiveness ever shown in the political life of Singapore. It merely adds one more nail in the coffin of the PAP’s reputation when the true history of the party will be exposed to the world, as it surely will be one day in the coming decades of the third millennium. As mankind accelerates to the abyss, the shining memories of the past will certainly not include Lee Kuan Yew and the department store dummies he boasts today as his acolytes. He clearly does not possess the foresight to avoid such a fate.

      I gladly salute J.B. Jeyaretnam and the Worker’s Party at this highly deserved requiem, even if I never once had shared their platform.

      Thursday, June 2, 2011

      PN Balji, formerly of ST: Paid spin doctor for Dr Susan Lim, or respected journalist-commentator?

      PN Balji

      1306870195849206970 Dr Susan Lim

       Dr Susan Lim

      While I applaud PN Balji (see below for all relevant news and his bio) for questioning the conduct of Singapore's Attorney-General's Chamber (regardless of the merit of his case), he certainly should have declared his financial interest, being a PR consultant for the immensely expensive Dr Susan Lim, in the judiciary's decision concerning Singapore Medical Council vs. Susan Lim.

      Being a veteran journalist, he surely understands conflict of interest (the very issue that he raised concerning the actions of Singapore's Director of Medical Services): that posing as an independent commentator, while advancing one's personal gain, is deceitful and unethical.

      He should promptly apologize for his deception, to salvage his credibility.

      Presumably he has used his close association with The Straits Times, The New Paper, Today, SPH, Channel News Asia, and MediaCorp to promote favourable coverage and views of Susan Lim (which is what he has been paid to do, after all).

      How much success did he have?  Did he declare his personal financial interest to those editors and journalists whom he sought to influence?


      The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism (source)

      The above policy serves as a sound ethical standard for journalists, columnists and commentators. The following extracts are pertinent:

      Steering Clear of Advice Roles

      40. It is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid. Staff members may not counsel individuals or organizations on how to deal successfully with the news media. They may not, for example, advise candidates for public office, write or edit annual reports, or contribute to the programs of sports teams.

      Outside Contributors [PN Balji is an outside contributor to The Jakarta Globe]

      136. Our audience applies exacting standards to all of our journalism. It does not normally distinguish between the work of staff members and that of outside freelancers. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to the Times Company's journalism, while not its employees, should accept the same ethical standards as staff members as a condition of their assignments for us. If they violate these standards, they should be denied further assignments.

      137. Before being given an assignment, freelance contributors must sign a contract with the Times Company or one of its units. Such a contract obliges them to take care to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflict. Specifically, in connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources. ...

      Straits Times, Jun 1, 2011 (source)

      THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on Tuesday said it disagreed with an Indonesian newspaper article on the disciplinary proceedings against Dr Susan Lim.

      The Jakarta Globe column was written by Mr P.N. Balji [also a consultant to The Jakarta Post]. But it failed to mention that he acted as a public relations consultant for the surgeon accused of overcharging a royal patient from Brunei.

      It said that 'a seemingly straightforward case of a private fee agreement... has thrown open serious issues of conflict of interest, prejudging by a medical tribunal against a doctor and re-writing rules midway through the disciplinary inquiry process'.

      The article, headlined 'Surgeon's case casts doubts on Singapore's legal system', was published last Wednesday.

      A day later, High Court judge Philip Pillai dismissed Dr Lim's application for a judicial review, in which she had argued that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) was biased against her.

      Yesterday, in response to questions from The Straits Times, the AGC said it disagreed with Mr Balji's views. 'The judgment of Justice Pillai speaks for itself and he has found that all the allegations that were made by Dr Susan Lim were of no merit,' said a spokesman.


      PN Balji's article (source)

      Surgeon’s Case Casts Doubt on Singapore’s Legal System
      PN Balji | May 25, 2011

      Singapore. Beyond the sensational headlines and some below-the-belt tactics used by a government lawyer, the Singapore High Court case of a history-making transplant surgeon has exposed an underside of Singapore’s squeaky clean and upright image.

      Whichever way the verdict — expected on Wednesday — goes in the case against surgeon Susan Lim, a seemingly straightforward case of a private fee agreement in the city-state has thrown open serious issues of conflict of interest, prejudging by a medical tribunal against a doctor and re-writing rules midway through the disciplinary inquiry process.

      The case revolves around fees charged by Lim, who in 1990 became the first doctor to perform a liver transplant in Asia, for services provided by her team of doctors and nurses treating a cancer patient from the Brunei royal family in 2007. The final bill came up to 12.1 million Singapore dollars, 3.3 million Singapore dollars of which was for third-party costs and for other doctors who helped treat the patient.

      After the patient, Pangiran Damit, died in August 2007 after six months of treatment and a six-year battle with breast cancer, Brunei’s Health Ministry went to its Singapore counterpart to seek a discount. All the other bills before 2007, amounting to about 14 million Singapore dollars, had been paid without a fuss.

      On receiving the request for discount from Brunei, Singapore’s director of medical services, K. Satku, filed a complaint against Lim to the Singapore Medical Council, of which he was the registrar, and sought to begin a disciplinary inquiry into “overcharging by a medical practitioner.”

      At the same time, he ordered five raids on the surgeon’s clinic at Gleneagles Hospital. He also told Brunei not to pay Lim.

      He thus played three roles at one time — complainant, raider and prosecutor — presenting a conflict of interest that Lim’s lawyers hammered home during a High Court hearing in March.

      The case saw another twist when the three panel members of the disciplinary committee stepped down during the first day of a closed-door hearing in July 2010 following accusations that they had pre-judged the case, a first in the history of medicine in Singapore.

      The inquiry was suspended, and rules were rewritten to say there was no longer an obligation on the part of the committee to inform the defendant of advice given by the legal assessor to the disciplinary committee regarding the charge.

      The Attorney General’s Chambers denied in court that it was done to target Lim, but then it performed an about-face after saying the change did not apply to her case.

      The order to start a second inquiry was given. In the face of those actions by a regulatory body, Lim took her case to the High Court to expose what her lawyer deemed “blatantly unlawful actions.”

      In the High Court in March, details of the painstaking nature of Lim’s medical services came to light. Pengiran Damit, the queen’s sister, was presented as someone whose demands on Lim and her team were far from ordinary. She had refused to return to Singapore for treatment on one occasion, forcing Lim to set up an intensive care unit and fly it by private jet to Brunei.

      Lim was required to be on 24/7 standby for six months. This extended to the time when Lim had undergone eye surgery and was recovering in a hospital bed. Pengiran Damit insisted the doctor be by her side, despite the possibility that Lim could be blinded in one eye if she moved around too much. Lim had to be transported from her own hospital bed to attend to her.

      There was also an attempt by government lawyer Alvin Yeo to accuse Lim of marking up the bills of other doctors who had helped her in treating the patient. This was fiercely denied by the doctors involved, who submitted sworn affidavits refuting the accusation immediately.

      Suok Kai as its deputy registrar and said he would be taking over K. Saktu’s duties. That post did not previously exist. A provision was made in the law and sanctioned in the Singapore Parliament in January 2010.

      All of this has made the case embarrassing for the government, which has already come under attack for a series of missteps that turned into hot-button issues during the recent general elections.

      For those in the medical profession and beyond, all eyes will be on the court today.

      Goh Seng Heng, medical director of the Aesthetic Medical Partners, said: “This case is very important to all of us in the profession. It has thrown into doubt the way the medical council conducts its inquiry process.”

      Another doctor said: “Very seldom do doctors take the medical tribunal to court. Dr. Lim has taken that bold step. We are all waiting to see which way the verdict will go.”

      PN Balji is former deputy editor of the Straits Times.


      Article reader's online comment

      PN Balji's article is a shoddy piece of work and not worthy of any journalistic merits.

      Balji does not understand what is conflict of interest.

      There is no conflict of interest for the Director of Medical Services (DMS) Professor Saku to initiate the displinary inquiry. He is not part of the disciplinary committee who will decide whether disciplinary action should be taken against Dr Susan Lim. He is therefore not acting as the prosecutor and the judge at the same time.

      The roles of a complainant, raider and prosecutors are not conflict of interest roles and Dr Susan Lim will not be prejudiced by Prof Saku complaining, raiding and prosecuting her. He is not the judge of her guilt or otherwise.

      Secondly, the fact that members of the first DC stepped down on allegation of pre-judging shows the integrity of members in avoiding allegations of bias on the outcome. There is nothing sinister or unbecoming of this fact.

      Thirdly, it is factually wrong to allege that the Attorney-General's Chambers performed an about face for saying that the changes to rules did not apply to Dr Susan Lim's case. The changes did not apply because the changes were made AFTER her case had commenced at the DC level. This is entirely consistent with and supports the AGC's insistence that the changes in rules were not targeted at Dr Susan Lim.

      PN Balji's bio (source, Nov 2008)

      After spending the last 20 years building two of Singapore’s most successful newspaper start-ups, veteran editor P. N. Balji is turning his attention to professional development as the Director of the new Asia Journalism Fellowship at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

      Mr Balji entered journalism in 1970 when he joined the Straits Times group in Malaysia as a cadet journalist for the Malay Mail. He moved to the group’s New Nation paper in Singapore the following year, rising steadily up the editorial ranks. From 1982 to 1988, he was deputy editor of the The Straits Times, the country’s national daily and the largest English-language paper in Southeast Asia.

      However, it was his leadership of underdog titles that sealed his reputation as one of the sharpest news men in the business. He helped Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) launch The New Paper in 1988, serving as the deputy editor of the afternoon tabloid. As its editor from 1991 to 2000, he pushed its circulation up to the 100,000 mark.

      In 2000, he embarked on an even riskier project. He joined MediaCorp to help the national broadcaster, enter the newspaper market. As its chief executive officer and editor in chief from 2000 to 2003, Mr Balji achieved with TODAY what no newspaper had done in a century: challenge the formidable Straits Times for a share of the daily morning market, and survive.

      Mr Balji will continue his involvement with industry as a consultant to The Jakarta Post and to MediaCorp’s integrated advertising sales arm. His new and diversified portfolio of projects also includes recently becoming a grandfather.

      [my note] PN Balji is also the co-host on Channel News Asia's Talking Point (a talk show) (here).