Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tan Jee Say: Prepare for a broad-based non-PAP Government

(source1, source2)
The following is the transcript of a speech by Tan Jee Say at the Thank-You Lunch for Volunteer Helpers of TJS Presidential Campaign 2011 on Sunday 25 September 2011:

Friends, fellow Singaporeans, good afternoon.

Thank you very much for coming to this lunch gathering to allow me to thank all of you for helping me in my recent Presidential Campaign.

Many of you had also helped me in the General Election held a few months earlier. Some even stood with me as fellow candidates in the GE. You have been wonderful and unstinting in your support. I would not have done as well as I did without your help. You have made all the difference in transforming a little-known political newbie into a national figure with command of a quarter of the national vote, all in the short span of four months and against senior experienced politicians who have been in the public eye for more than 25 to 35 years.

Some commentators tried to diminish your contribution by ascribing our showing as a hardcore opposition vote. You know which camp they probably come from. An assenter to Dr Tony Tan’s nomination, a good friend of mine no doubt, even described me as a much-hyped opposition. Do we detect more than a tinge of envy in their camp? Even in victory, they were not gracious. It is hardly a good start to a dignified Presidency whose declared intention is to unify a divided nation. Of course, we can understand their frustration and humiliation at the tiny margin of victory despite all the high-level endorsement and never-ending publicity. Seen in this light, our share of the national vote is a phenomenon, not a hype. The internet helped but it took more than on-line chat to bring about this phenomenon. It was your hardwork, dedication and imagination that fascinated and captivated more than half a million Singaporeans to cast their sacred vote for me. For this great and selfless effort of yours, I am eternally grateful.

A Vote for Diversity

I am glad that I had offered myself as a candidate in the Presidential Election. I believe I have contributed to a more robust debate about the role of the President and other national issues, and consequently helped Singaporeans understand these matters better. My candidature had also added to the diversity of choice for voters and made them think carefully about the issues and the candidates before them. Singaporeans were offered diversity and they responded with an overwhelming vote for diversity.

The PE results have given us a clearer indication of the feelings of Singapore voters. The May GE showed clearly a strong under-current of unhappiness among Singaporeans. The August PE clarified their feelings and sharpened our understanding of the divisions among Singaporeans.

Open Disapproval – Leadership Crisis

The first and foremost conclusion is that 65%, the vast majority Singaporeans, are not happy with the Government. They have resoundingly rejected the moral authority of key PAP and PAP-backed leaders in Government, the trade unions, clan associations and chambers of commerce, ignored the leadership’s endorsement of its preferred candidate and given their carefully considered votes to the others. Never has our nation seen such a clear and outright show of disapproval. The PAP leadership is in crisis. However much party leaders might deny in public, the party is split right through the middle. It is not just about the division between the elite on the one hand and the grassroots on the other. Even among many of their former Ministers and Members of Parliament, there is serious misgiving about the direction that the Government is embarking upon in its economic, political and social policies. They feel strongly that the Government has deviated from the original ideology of the PAP which had always put people first in everything that they did in the past. Alas, this is no longer so. The current leaders in their ivory towers are increasinlgy disengaged and insulated from their members. This is consistent with their elitist stance towards ordinary Singaporeans, with their tens of millions of dollars in salaries and pensions, good-class bungalows and elite lifestyles. A similar division is occurring in its affiliate and supporting organisations. The leaders can no longer muster the support of the rank and file and galvanise them to go to battle. They are like army generals who commanded their soldiers to charge forward but discovered on turning round that the soldiers were not following them.

Leadership vacuum

All these signs point to a serious leadership vacuum in Singapore today. The world has changed, society takes on new perspectives. Singaporeans particularly the young cry out for new ideas to take Singapore forward. Yet the PAP is stuck in its old ways. Before the PE, Dr Tony Tan spoke about the “new normal” in politics after the GE. But his first act after being elected President was to prove that nothing has changed, by re-appointing the previous chairman of the Presidential Council of Advisers. Similarly, following pressure from the last GE, some unpopular ministers were dropped from Cabinet, but PM missed one of them so much that he re-hired him to be his adviser on economic cooperation with China. Is Singapore so short of leadership talent that even leaders who have questionable talents have to be recycled for use? Or is it more a case of lack of confidence in trying out something new and different? How can a new generation of leaders be nurtured if the old continued to be re-used over and over again?

PM said he welcomes new ideas and views. But he missed his chance of showing original thinking and setting himself apart from the old when he failed to translate his 1991 statement on the Internal Security Act into reality; he had said he would seriously consider abolishing it if Malaysia were to do the same. While Malaysia has announced it will abolish the ISA, Singapore wants to keep it. By retaining the ISA, PM showed his diffidence as he hangs on to the Government’s main instrument of fear. If he cannot keep his promise on such a fundamental issue, what can we expect from the promises that he has made during and after the May General Election? Will he prove to be just another man of promises rather than a promising Prime Minister?

The Government is seriously short of new ideas and new leaders. Nature abhors a vacuum. The leadership vacuum has to be filled. A non-PAP Government is in sight. But much needs to be done to achieve it. We must understand what Singaporeans are telling us with their vote. The PE vote has shown that Singaporeans want a diversity of choice.

They have signalled that they want an end to a single dominant party that has been a distinctive feature of Singapore’s politics in the last 50 years.

Coalition Government

Diversity of views is the hallmark of a mature and developed society. Society and choices in life are simply not cast in just black and white. There is a multitude of colours in between. Different people have different circumstances in life and accordingly make different choices to suit their circumstances or beliefs. Singapore society is maturing and we want our diverse views to be respected and represented, not trampled upon or subordinated to others. These diverse views cannot be adequately represented by a single political party. In the PE, Singaporeans have shown their preference for three large distinct blocs of opinion. During the May GE, one PAP minister derided the notion of diversity among opposition parties and described it as rojak. I responded by saying that rojak was delicious; it was Singapore’s favourite national dish and we should not be ashamed or even make fun of it. Diverse views coming together in a coalition government will be far more representative of the diverse groups of people in society. To be a stable government, the partners in the coalition will need to accommodate each other’s interests and concerns and as a result will become a broad-based government that will take care of the interests of all partners and their supporters.

Coalition governments are common across the world today. More than 75 countries have some form of a coalition government. The experience of many developed countries with coalition governments has shown us that they can produce stable governments, social cohesion and credible economic performance. They have also nurtured great global companies and innovative thinkers. Finland has had coalition governments for 94 years and experienced its most stable government since independence under a “rainbow coalition” of 5 parties. Their rainbow coalition is not unlike our rojak but without the sprinkle of nuts and spice. It also boasts of one of the better known global companies Nokia. Denmark with a population of about 5 million has at least 13 Noble Prize winners, Singapore with a similar population, has none. Even the United Kingdom which has a coalition government since last year, has its share of great companies and has not seen them or investments leave the country. Only yesterday, we read that a Singaporean tycoon, my good old schoolmate from RI, has invested a few hundred million dollars in a British company. So be wary when PAP tells you that coalition governments will frighten away investments.

Singaporeans should not fear but must be prepared for the eventuality of a coalition government. Like-minded individuals and political parties in the opposition will need to get together more often and build themselves into a cohesive and potent force. We should also reach out to members and supporters of the PAP who are disillusioned with their current party leadership and want to continue contributing to Singapore in a meaningful way. Together with them, we can forge a powerful combined majority to serve Singapore. In the next few years, I will dedicate my effort to building up this broad coalition of forces and strengthening our ranks with many more talented Singaporeans who have the passion to serve Singapore. We must work towards being in a position to offer ourselves as a credible alternative government in the next GE. It is our duty to do so. We owe it to the people of Singapore to fill the leadership vacuum.

A Book to Inspire

We live in exciting times. We have reached a critical turning point in our political history. We, you and me, have been a part of this process that stretched over the last two elections. We should write a book about our journey so that it can serve as an inspiration for future generations of Singaporeans. I have discussed this with some of the principal players and they all supported the idea. It is too good an opportunity to be missed. Few nations if any, have ever held two nation-wide elections in a span of four months. Fewer still are key players who took part in both. The book will be the story of extraordinary men and women who fought Singapore ‘s 2011 General Election in May and the Presidential Election in August. Together with their loyal and dedicated supporters, they displayed great courage and conviction, and in so doing changed the political landscape forever. It will be an inspirational book that provides an analysis of the GE and PE with a focus on the themes of Maturity and Courage, and what these 2 elections and the response of Singaporeans portend for the future of Singapore. It is a book written by players, not bystanders. Each player describes a personal journey in his or her own perspective. The book aims to inspire, inform and acknowledge Singaporeans for their role in positively changing the political landscape of Singapore and helping her move towards a more mature democracy. We target to launch the book before Christmas.

Engaging the community

We have a long and exciting road ahead. We must engage our supporters and the community on a continuing basis. In addition to the book, a group of us plan to organise a number of community outreach activities such as forum discussions, tuition centres, care-centres for children, the elderly and people with special needs, and legal and medical clinics for the poor. These activities need resources and volunteers. We are working out the plans now and will share them with you soon.

Meanwhile, please enjoy the rest of the lunch and the camaraderie of your friends and fellow travellers.

Once again, thank you for all your support in my Presidential campaign. I hope to see you again in the months and years ahead as we work together for a better Singapore for all Singaporeans.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

David Marshall on greedy self-serving politicians

It's time we start to clean up Singapore politics and get rid of the greedy self-serving politicians - David Marshall

by Vincent Wijeysingha on Saturday, 17 September 2011 at 22:26 (source)

A fine quote from first Chief Minister, David Marshall, in 1994, when PAP ministers started enjoying their high pay schemes:

I've got nothing against money. I'd like to have money myself! I'd like to have a house and a garden and dogs and a car and a chauffeur but, look, I've got a flat. I've got a swimming pool attached to the flat. I've not even got a car but I use taxis. I have a dignified way of life without being wealthy.

I don't see the necessity of owning a Mercedes-Benz and a swimming pool and a couple of mistresses. I think we've got our values all wrong.

You know $ 96,000 a month for a Prime Minister and $ 60,000 a month for a minister. What the hell do you do with all that money? You can't eat it! What do you do with it? Your children don't need all that money.

My children have had the best of education. In fact, I'm very proud of them. One of them is a senior registrar to two major hospitals in Oxford. Another of them is a consultant in European law to the Securities and Investment Board in the United Kingdom. They've had their education. There are no complaints.

I never earned $60,000 a month or $90,000 a month. When I was Chief Minister, I earned $8,000 a month.

Look, what is happening today is we are encouraged to and are becoming worshippers of the Golden Calf.

We have lost sight of the joy and excitement of public service, helping our fellow men. The joy and excitement of seeking and understanding the miracle of the living, the duty and the grandeur. We have lost taste for heroic action in the service of our people.

We have become good bourgeois seeking comfort, security. It's like seeking a crystal coffin and being fed by intravenous injections through pipes in the crystal coffin; crystal coffins stuck with certificates of your pragmatic abilities.

It's time we start to clean up Singapore politics and get rid of the greedy self-serving politicians.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Malaysia opens up. When will Singapore?

Friday, 16 September 2011
Singapore Democrats  (source)

The Malaysian Government took a decisive step towards democracy when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the notorious Internal Security Act would be repealed and laws restricting freedom of assembly would be changed to meet international standards.

This development is significant because the ISA and other anti-democratic laws are shared by Malaysia and Singapore. They were devised by the British during colonial rule to detain without trial independence fighters.

The ISA has since been repeatedly used by both the PAP and Barisan Nasional to imprison opposition leaders, trade unionists, journalists, and student activists who have opposed their rule.

In Singapore national leaders like Mr Chia Thye Poh, Dr Lim Hock Siew and Mr Said Zahari were cruelly snatched from their families and locked up without being given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. Mr Chia was imprisoned for 23 years, Dr Lim 20 and Mr Said 17 years.

In the early 1960s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had worked with the Malaysians and British to detain his archrival Mr Lim Chin Siong who was the PAP's popular leader and much loved by Singaporeans. (Read Lim Chin Siong vs Lee Kuan Yew: The true and shocking history)

Many others were not only locked up but also brutally beaten. The late Ho Piao, a trade union leader, was severely tortured by ISD officers. His ordeal is documented in the 1978 Amnesty International Report. According to the report, Ho was tied to a wooden chair, strangled, and repeatedly punched and kicked in the head.

Ho testified: "They pulled me from the floor and tied me to the chair. Another group came in to torture me. The torture went on for four days. I did not eat or sleep for four days."

More recently Mr Vincent Cheng, now SDP's Vice-Chairman, was acused of plotting to violently overthrow the PAP Government and detained under the ISA. During his incarceration, Mr Cheng was punched and slapped by ISD officers to get him to confess to acts he did not commit (watch Vincent Cheng's vidoes below).

You need a Flash Player enabled browser to view this YouTube video
You need a Flash Player enabled browser to view this YouTube video

His fellow ISA detainee Ms Teo Soh Lung, also a Singapore Democrat who stood as a candidate in the last elections, has now written a book Beyond the Blue Gate detailing her experience behind bars. She and other detainees have called for a commission of inquiry to look into the abuse of the law.

The Singapore Democrats have long called for the ISA to be abolished. The ISA and laws such as the Public Order Act which bans public protests are put in place solely to prop up PAP's undemocratic rule

The Malaysian Government has seen that trying to repress the people's aspirations to freedom in today's world is futile, serving only to keep the country backward and uncompetitive.

When will the PAP realise the same?

Malaysia to abolish unpopular security law
Eileen Ng
The Associated Press
16 Sept 2011

Malaysia will abolish an unpopular, colonial-era security law allowing detention without trial and relax other measures curbing the media and the right to free assembly, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Thursday.

The policy changes are the boldest by Najib since he took the helm in April 2009 and are seen as a move to bolster support for his ruling coalition ahead of general elections, which are not due until 2013 but are widely expected next year.

Najib said the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial, would be replaced with two new anti-terrorism laws that would ensure that basic human rights of suspects are protected. He pledged that no individuals would be detained for their political ideologies.

Critics have long called for the security law to be repealed, saying that the government has abused it to silence dissidents.

Najib said the government also would lift three emergency declarations and amend police laws to allow freedom of assembly according to international norms. He said a law requiring annual printing and publishing licenses would be repealed, giving more freedom to media groups.

The move to have a more open democracy is "risky but we are doing it for our survival," he said in speech on national television.

The speech was to mark Friday's anniversary of the 1963 union of peninsula Malaysia with Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo, six years after the country's independence from British rule.

"It is time for Malaysians to move forward with new hope," he said. "Let there be no doubt that the Malaysia we are creating is a Malaysia which has a functional and inclusive democracy."

Najib's National Front has been working to regain public support after suffering its worst performance in 2008 polls, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's alliance wrested more than one-third of Parliament's seats amid public allegations of government corruption and racial discrimination.

The National Front's popularity recently took a dip after authorities arrested more than 1,600 demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons against at least 20,000 people who marched for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

Read also: Francis Seow: A day of ignominy, Said Zahari's The Long Nightmare (2007), That We May Dream Again (2009) and Our Thoughts are Free (2009).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why expats will rule Singapore

(source: CNNGo)

January 5, 2010

Investment gurus and self-help coaches like to make controversial statements to attract the public's eye, but this one just about takes the cake. Adam Khoo, Singapore's self-professed self-made millionaire and investment author, made a sweeping prediction -- "that in a couple of years, the expatriates (from China, India, United States etc.) will rule Singapore. They will increasing take on more leadership roles of CEOs, directors, heads of organizations, award winners." The funny thing is, there's not that many dissenting voices in the blogsphere.

It's a open statement and post in his website, Adam Khoo's Philosophies and Investing Insights, which we reproduce portions of here.

"If you observe closely, it is already happening now. This year’s top PSLE (Primary School Leaving Exam) student is a China National. Most of the deans list students and first class honors students in the local universities are foreigners and more and more CEOs, even that of government linked corporations are expats. The top players in our National teams are expats.

The question I have been asking is, 'why are the expats beating the crap out of Singaporeans?' What I noticed is that these expats have a very important quality that many Singaporeans (especially the new Y generation lack). It is a quality that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers (who came from distant lands) had that turned Singapore from a fishing village to the third richest country in the world (according to GDP per capita). Unfortunately, I fear this quality is soon disappearing from the new generation of Singaporeans. This quality is the hunger for success and the fighting spirit!

I hate to say this but in a way, I prefer to hire expats for my own business than locals. Expats are willing to work long hours, go the extra mile, are fiercely loyal to you and don’t complain so much. They also come alot more qualified and do not ask the moon for the remuneration. Recently, I placed an ad for a marketing executive. Out of 100+ resumes, more than 60% came from expats. While locals fresh grads are asking for $2,500+ per month, I have expats with masters degrees from good universities willing to get less than $2,000! They know that if they can come in and learn and work hard, they will eventually climb up and earn alot more. They are willing to invest in themselves, pay the price for future rewards. Sometimes I wonder how some of the locals are going to compete with this."

For the full post, refer to his website here.

It's certainly meant to rake up the leaves, given the recent discussions on foreign talents and the increasing number of expats in Singapore, and comments have been coming in hot but not quite so bothered. jiaan posted on Adam's website he knows "of many people who still think that their job is an iron rice bowl & their wages will increase yearly. I do know of people who have the mindsets that their parents should be the one paying for their wedding or providing captial for them to start a business" but Spike didn't really agree that Singaporeans lack fighting spirit or are not hungry for success -- "Regarding your point that Singaporean kids do not ask questions or tend to be quiet, I believe this is more a result of their upbringing. Our past and current education system trains children to accept what their teachers, parents, etc tell them without questioning. This form of rote learning tends to produce kids who are like sponges; great for memorizing chunks of data but unable to analyze or articulate what they’ve learned."

The Online Citizen website member ken, who doesn't really follow Adam Khoo and his so-called 'investment philosophies', cannot fault him on the fact that Singapore needs the expats. "But how many of them could have have been replaced now by local talent if our education system and general mindset was different 20-30 years ago?" he asked. sloke believes that "the locals have their passion and fighting spirit doused out by the system. It took years of programming and it is now showing in the form of apathy towards most things except private pursuits of wealth and happiness. The locals are competing with both hands tied behind their backs."

On the SgForums site, angel7030 posed the notion that "it is better to let Singaporean a feel of the global market competition now rather than later, now they understand they are not worth that much to walk around, point and point there while earning a five-figure paid, these will motivate them work harder and smarter, so that in a long run, our Singaporean PMET or workers will be able to adapt to any condition set about in the global market."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jesus Camp in Singapore

(source: Wikipedia)

Jesus Camp (below) is a 2006 American documentary film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a charismatic Christian summer camp, where children spend their summers learning and practicing their prophetic gifts and being taught that they can "take back America for Christ."

The film was met with controversy that led to the closure of the camp.

Jseus Camp (film in 8 parts)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Are young PAPs "Marxist conspirators"?

Compare the complete lack of proof of guilt against the "Marxist conspirators" detained under ISA in Operation Spectrum, with the manifest close comradeship between the Young PAP and the Chinese Communist Youth League.

What hypocrisy. Operation Spectrum is a most blatant and cynical use of  detention without trial against the government's perceived and potential, not even real, political opponents.

Does any opposition party or politician in Singapore dare to associate with the Chinese Communist Party?


Source: Wikileaks (here)

created 2009-9-9


1.  (C) Summary.  The youth wing of Singapore's ruling party,
Young PAP (YP), is pursuing closer ties with the Chinese
Communist Youth League, two YP executive committee members
told PolOffs on August 27.  Recent YP "study visits" to China
have focused on political education and recruitment.  In
contrast, YP's relations with fraternal parties in Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Taiwan are less active.  Though YP membership
has recently increased by about 150% to approximately 9,000,
it remains a relatively small organization even by Singapore
standards.  It has never fulfilled its intended role of
cultivating new leadership for the ruling People's Action
Party (PAP), with only one former member in a cabinet-level
position.  Instead of influencing policy, YP appears geared
toward creating a positive image of the PAP for young
Singaporeans, with the ultimate goal of encouraging them to
become PAP members.  End summary.

Young PAP Pursues Ties with Communist Youth League...
--------------------------------------------- --------

2.  (C) Young PAP (YP), the youth wing of Singapore's ruling
People's Action Party (PAP), nurtures close ties with its
communist Chinese counterpart, two members of the
organization's executive committee told PolOffs on August 27.
Joel Leong, Chairperson of the International Relations
Sub-Committee, and Phyllis Chng, Executive Secretary,
explained that YP's "easiest" international relationship is
with China's Communist Youth League (CYL).  Leong said the
YP-CYL relationship dates back many years.  In keeping with
Singapore's growing ties with China, YP officials have made
two "study trips" there this year.  In February, they visited
a party school in Beijing to seek inspiration for their own
political education and training programs, and in July, they
received advice on recruitment strategies from their CYL
counterparts in Chengdu.  After the February trip, YP
chairman Teo Ser Luck told Singapore press that associating
with a Communist organization did not trouble him:  "We're
not worried because it's the governing party and
Singapore-China relations are so close.  We don't talk about
political philosophy."  (In a throwback to the PAP's early
days as a member of the Socialist International, YP members
still use the honorific "Comrade.")

...But Is Less Engaged with Other Regional Counterparts
--------------------------------------------- ----------

3.  (C) YP has more difficulty maintaining active
relationships with other fraternal parties in the region.
Leong described parties in Indonesia and Malaysia as more
"closed" to YP than the Chinese Communist Party.  He also
noted that the presence of active opposition parties in both
countries poses occasional dilemmas for YP.  For example, YP
received an invitation from the youth wing of Malaysia's
opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition but declined because of
concerns about the potential political ramifications of
accepting.  Leong reported that YP has some ongoing relations
with the DPP in Taiwan, but the youth wing there, like its
parent party, is focused on an internal split over the
direction of Taiwan's relations with mainland China.  YP has
no relations at all with the Republican or Democratic parties
in the United States, but it would be interested in
establishing some, Leong said.

Membership Surges, but Organization Remains Small
--------------------------------------------- ----

4.  (C) YP has recently focused on boosting recruitment.  YP
does not publish its rolls or membership figures, but press
accounts in early 2009 estimated membership at 6,000.
Phyllis Chng confirmed that the current figure is closer to
9,000, and she and Leong suggested that this reflects a
substantial increase over the past year.  Membership is open
to Singaporeans up to 40 years old.  In addition to regular
members, YP also registers "friends" - mainly, according to
Leong, civil servants who are forbidden by law to join
political parties but who may still want to signal an
affiliation with the dominant party.  Despite its recent
growth, YP remains a small organization in the context of
Singapore's 3.2 million citizens.

Young PAP Plays Limited Role in Cultivating PAP Leaders
--------------------------------------------- ----------

5.  (C) Although one of YP's original objectives since its
1986 founding was to help renew the PAP leadership over time,
Leong and Chng agreed that its success in this respect has
been limited.  YP has been one source of leadership and
technocratic talent for the PAP, they said, but the party has
drawn equally, if not more, on the youth wing of the National
Trades Union Council, the civil service, and sources
unconnected to the party or government.  Singapore's Foreign
Minister, George Yeo, is the only current cabinet-level
official who was a YP member.

For the Moment, Merely a Social Club and Recruiting Device
--------------------------------------------- -------------

6.  (C) Comment: YP appears focused on trying to make the
ruling party more attractive to young people and acting as
one of the many channels through which Singapore fosters
closer relations with China.  As a result, it currently
places little emphasis on substantive thinking or on trying
to influence public policy
.  For example, Leong, although in
charge of YP's international activities, claimed to have no
opinion about the state of bilateral relations between the
United States and Singapore; he merely commented that YP
leaves such things to the civil servants.  Likewise, though
Leong and Chng said YP is an effective conduit for
transmitting young people's feedback and ideas to the
government, they were unable to give a single concrete
example of this.  They also claimed that YP helps the PAP
change with the times by keeping "an ear to the ground," but
in support they offered only the vague and commonplace
observation that as young Singaporeans become better educated
and cosmopolitan, demands will grow for greater openness in
government.  Singapore will have to respond, they said, but
only incrementally over time.  Meanwhile, two other young
Singaporeans recently told PolOff in unrelated conversations
that they have considered joining YP - not out of affection
for the People's Action Party, but because they think it
would enhance their career prospects.
  End Comment.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Embassy Wikileaks: Pre GE 2006 assessment


Created 2006-4-27

1. (C) Summary: For the first time since 1988, the opposition
parties will contest more than half of the seats for
parliament in the May 6 general election, denying the ruling
People's Action Party (PAP) an automatic majority on
nomination day.  The economy and local issues will dominate
the nine-day election campaign and the PAP will benefit from
a booming economy and generous handouts in the recently
enacted budget.  Despite media hype about how "breathless"
one should be about the PAP's 24 new MP candidates, they are
a mixed lot.  Some are of ministerial caliber, but others
were drawn from the second or third tier, noted one PAP MP.
The opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party, have
put together a better set of candidates than in the past --
but can realistically hope only to begin the process of
improving their public image.  End Summary.

An Actual Contest

2. (SBU) For the first time since 1988, the opposition
parties will contest more than half of the seats for
parliament in the May 6 general election.  At the April 27
nomination deadline, the opposition put forward 47 candidates
for the 84 seats in parliament.  In the last three general
elections, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) was
automatically returned to power on nomination day as more
than half of its candidates won "walkovers" when the
opposition failed to field an opponent.  In addition, this
year, the Workers' Party (WP) decided to run a slate in Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong's electoral district -- giving the
PM his first electoral challenge in 18 years.  Institute of
Policy Studies Research Fellow Jeanne Conceicao characterized
it as a "suicide mission" for the WP slate, but should reduce
the time the PM can spend campaigning outside his district.

All Politics is Local

3. (SBU) The economy and local matters will be the central
issues in the nine-day election campaign.  The PAP will
benefit from the strong state of the economy, which has been
booming for the last few years.  Economic growth in 2005
exceeded 6 percent and should be 4-6 percent this year.
Furthermore, unemployment has fallen to a four-year low of
2.5 percent.  Nevertheless, Singapore faces growing income
inequality with the bottom 20 percent of households suffering
a real decline in income.  Opposition parties plan to focus
on this issue as well as on the rising cost of living in
general, Singapore People's Party (SPP) Chairman Sin Kek Tong
told us.  To deal with this, the PAP approved a government
budget for this year that included a S$2.6 billion giveaway
to voters -- dubbed the "Progress Package."  Singaporeans
will receive hundreds of dollars each and more money will be
targeted for the elderly and working poor.  The payouts are
timed for May 1, just five days before the election.

4. (U) The vast majority of Singaporeans live in
government-built apartments that they buy.  Over the last six
months, the PAP government has rolled out plans for housing
estate upgrades and new amenities in many key districts.  The
two opposition districts have generally been last in line for
any such upgrades.  For example, Foreign Minister Yeo's
electoral district received more than five times as much
grant money on a per-household basis than WP MP Low Thia
Khiang's, according to press reports.  The PAP has promised
to give the opposition wards far more assistance if they
elect PAP candidates this time.

5. (C) One concern for the PAP is a decline in the
maintenance standards in the housing estates, PAP MP Charles
Chong told us.  In order to create more jobs for
lower-skilled Singaporeans, the local town councils have had
to replace cheaper foreign labor with more expensive
Singaporeans to do the cleaning, painting, and repair work.

PAP "Self-Renewal"

6. (C) The new group of 24 PAP MP candidates has benefited
from extensive and glowing media coverage starting well
before the announcement of the election date, while
opposition candidates have been given cursory attention.
Despite the media hype and the fact that they still outshine
the opposition, the new PAP MP candidates are a mixed lot.  A
few of them look like they have ministerial potential,
notably former Chief of Navy Lui Tuck Yew and former
International Enterprises of Singapore CEO Lee Yi Shyan.
Some of the others we have met look quite weak, with limited
political skills or policy experience.  It looks as if the
PAP was trying to meet an overall profile -- so many
community activists, so many union officials, a few business
figures, commented Conceicao.

7. (C) PAP MP Chong admitted that the party had not succeeded
in recruiting a number of "high-flying" business leaders to
run.  In fact, the party had to reach down to some of its
second and third tier candidates to fill out its ticket.
Those new candidates will all run in the Group Representative
Constituencies (GRCs) helmed by higher profile ministers --
for example, four of them will run in Senior Minister Goh
Chok Tong's uncontested district.
  Overall, the opposition will compete in only 7 of the 14 GRCs.

Opposition Hopes

8. (SBU) The opposition parties, especially the Workers
Party, have put together a better set of candidates than in
the past -- with more education and professional
qualifications.  Running on their resumes has long been a
foundation of PAP campaigning, but it has acknowledged that
the WP has done a better recruiting job this time.  In what
will undoubtedly be one of the most watched districts, the WP
Chairman Sylvia Lim is leading a slate against Foreign
Minister George Yeo in the Aljunied GRC.  Although several
political observers say FM Yeo's frequent travels have
affected his support at the grassroots level, the WP slate
looks doomed.

9. (C) Most opposition leaders are not sanguine about their
chances this year.  Non-Constituency MP Steven Chia said he
will likely abandon politics if he loses again.  SPP Chairman
Sin told us he thinks the PAP might win a clean sweep of all
84 seats.  Dr. Chee Soon Juan's Singapore Democratic Party
(SDP) appears on the verge of collapse (Ref A.)  The
heavy-handed defamation suit brought by PM Lee and Minister
Mentor Lee Kuan Yew against the SDP and the printer of its
newspaper has fractured the party's leadership.  It is
unclear if the SDP will even be able to print campaign
posters and flyers for the election after its part-time
printer (and part-time taxi driver) promised to not do any
work for them when he settled with the PM and MM.

10. (C) The opposition should focus on changing the public's
impression of them, observed National University of Singapore
(NUS) Professor Kenneth Tan.  Opposition politicians have a
reputation for being "clowns" or pursuing "vendettas" against
the PAP.  By demonstrating their professionalism this time,
the opposition could lay the groundwork for electoral gains
down the road.

11. (C) Comment: The PAP enters the campaign period confident
of victory.  At the same time, it is eager to talk down
expectations for its final vote total -- to ensure that PM
Lee is seen as securing a mandate -- and continues to put
forth that 65 percent of the popular vote is a stirring
victory.  Winning a GRC would be a major breakthrough for the
opposition, but remains a long shot.  A more realistic goal
would be to win two or three seats and leave the voters with
a more positive impression.  End Comment.

A compendium of embassy Wikileaks (Diary of a Singaporean mind)

Interesting Wikileaks revelations about Singapore: here

Embassy Wikileaks: Creativity stifled in Singapore


created: 2007-2-27

1. (SBU) Summary: The Government of Singapore (GOS) is
attempting to steer the economy to become more
knowledge-based and entrepreneurial to counter the
competitive challenges China, India and other lower-cost
exporters pose.  Characteristically, the GOS is taking the
lead, putting schemes in place to encourage creativity and
entrepreneurship, particularly in "strategic" sectors.  It
has even tinkered around the edges of its tight political
controls, mandating a relaxation in social mores in order to
give Singapore "buzz."  But the dominance of
government-linked corporations in Singapore's economy, an
educational system that stifles independent thinking, and the
continued presence of the government in many aspects of
Singaporean life perpetuate "habits of constraint" that may
hinder the development of entrepreneurship in Singapore.  The
recent failure of a French topless revue franchise, part of a
GOS-led effort to pump up Singapore's nightlife, has laid
bare the limits of such top-down efforts.  End Summary.

Creativity by Fiat

2. (U) A strong record of economic success notwithstanding,
Singapore's leadership recognizes that further growth will
depend on finding economic advantages over the rapidly
growing and low-cost economies of China, India, and ASEAN
neighbors.  As a developed nation, Singapore must also
compete with other developed economies.  To continue
thriving, the GOS believes that Singapore must transform
itself from an efficient platform for manufacturing and
logistics into a global, knowledge-based and more
entrepreneurial economy.  With a small population, no natural
resources, and a trade-heavy economy, the GOS is acutely
aware of the need for Singapore to develop a strong
entrepreneurial class that can adapt.

3. (SBU) Pursuing the objective with its usual vigor, the
government is pouring in resources.  Prime Minister Lee Hsien
Loong chairs a Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council
(RIEC), established in 2005 to promote R&D and innovation in
"strategic" sectors of the economy.  In 2006, the RIEC
announced it would provide $916 million (SGD1.4 billion) over
the next five years to fund entrepreneurs.  Also in 2006, the
Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) unveiled its Science and
Technology 2010 Plan (STP2010) which commits $4.9 billion
(SGD7.5 billion) over the next five years to encourage
raising R&D spending to 3 percent of Singapore's GDP by 2010.

The Challenge

4. (SBU) GOS efforts to promote entrepreneurship continue to
encounter a risk-averse Singaporean mindset, government
domination of the economy, and discouragement of critical
thinking and inflexibility in the educational system.  The
2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report (GEM) showed
that, among the surveyed OECD and developed economies,
Singapore was consistently below the mean for all indicators
of social and cultural attitudes toward entrepreneurship.
For example, only 57.8 percent of Singaporeans believed that
new business success was accorded high status in their
country, compared to an average of 66.2 percent among all the
countries in the survey, ranking Singapore 21st of 24.

Government Itself a Cause

5. (C) Entrepreneurs continue to face obstacles in a number
of sectors in the form of Government-Linked Corporations
(GLCs), which account for nearly 60 percent of the national
GDP.  Temasek Holdings, the government's investment arm, is
by far the largest investor in Singapore, with an estimated
50-percent stake in Singapore's GLCs.  GLCs often compete
against each other in key markets, making entry by an
independently-held company difficult.  For example, SingTel
and Starhub, both Temasek Holdings companies, compete
directly in the wireless service market and will soon do the
same in the cable television market.  The strong GOS role in
directing the economy likely has the unintended result of
"crowding out" natural economic development, according Dr.
Sha Reilly, Chief Knowledge Officer at the National Library
Board (NLB), which has a mandate to encourage creativity and
entrepreneurship among young Singaporeans.  She believes
Singaporeans look first to the government, rather than the
private sector, to be the innovation leader.

6. (C) Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) -- a
potential source of innovation and commercial nimbleness --
find it difficult to secure financing for their businesses
since financial institutions, accustomed to an abundance of
large corporate customers, are reluctant to lend to riskier
SMEs.  The 2007 GEM report ranked Singapore 17 out of 21
countries for venture capital availability.  The Singapore
Stock Exchange (SGX) is similarly inhospitable to SMEs, with
many Singaporean entrepreneurs opting to list in other
countries.  SGX Executive Vice President Lawrence Wong told
us that the SGX targets SMEs with a capitalization of SG$500
million to SG$5 billion ($327 million - $3.27 billion).  Wong
characterized the amount as "not a lot," but it does put SGX
listing out of the range of many SMEs.  He says a GOS
proposal to develop an exchange catering to smaller firms was
"still under discussion."

7.(C) While the government has allocated various funds to
encourage SMEs, a number of business leaders told us that
funding is still inadequate.  They suggested that even if
sufficient funding were available, it would still take at
least a generation before an entrepreneurial culture would
truly take root.  Of the $4.9 billion STP2010 budget, less
then two percent has been allocated for SME financing.
Inderjit Singh, a Member of Parliament and an entrepreneur,
told us that the proliferation of entrepreneurial schemes for
SMEs was "government lip-service that fails to address the
critical need to divest GLCs and open markets."

Political System Discourages Risk-Taking

8. (SBU) The GOS's tight political control and the "habits of
constraint" it fosters have inhibited the development of an
entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking culture, according to
Nominated Member of Parliament Kum Hong Siew and others.  G.
Jahyakrishan, Assistant Director of International Enterprise
Singapore (IE), a government entity responsible for helping
Singaporean companies grow globally, believes that a
prevailing atmosphere of restraint "subtly" leads to less
risk-taking behavior by firms and individuals.  Siew believes
the government's attempt to encourage economic risk-taking
while limiting political and social freedoms is unsustainable
because it discourages the kind of critical thinking required
for entrepreneurship.

Education System Not Helping

9. (C) Singapore boasts a highly competitive and
well-regarded primary and secondary education system, but the
number of Singaporeans completing a tertiary education is
relatively low.  Only 23 percent of Singaporean students
entering primary school complete a degree at a local
four-year university.  In other knowledge-economies such as
Japan's, around 50 percent of students complete a university
degree.  However, according to Cheryl Chan, Assistant
Director of the Planning Division at the Ministry of
Education (MOE), the government does not plan to encourage
more students to get a higher education.  The university
enrollment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25
percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need
everyone to get a four-year degree, she asserted.

10. (SBU) Singapore's education system has been criticized
for being heavy on memorization and light on critical
thinking and creativity.  Based on the British model, the
system is highly test-focused and separates students (a
process referred to as "streaming") at an early age between
high, middle, and low achievers.  The GOS has slowly begun to
introduce greater flexibility into the system by allowing
"streaming" in subjects (rather than based on total average
scores) and has created new magnet schools focused on
mathematics, the arts, and sports.  But there are only three
such schools, and the overall education system has changed

Some "Strategic" Sectors Suffer

11. (SBU) Growth in the "strategic" media sector may be
hampered by limits the government sets on freedom of speech
and expression.   Filmmakers such as Martyn See (reftels) or
productions that touch on sensitive issues often find their
distribution and broadcasting rights disapproved by the Media
Development Board (MDA), a governmental agency responsible
for regulating and promoting media industries.  Cheah Sin
Liang, Deputy Director of International Relations at MDA,
admitted to us that the GOS's tight control over
controversial political, religious, or social topics does
limit growth in the media sector, but argued that such
controls are necessary to prevent negative social

12. (SBU) Singapore's approach to promoting R&D development
in the biomedical field, another government-identified
"strategic" sector, has also been criticized by foreign
education specialists as too focused on quick economic gains
rather than fostering the "holistic approach" necessary for
sustained innovation in science and technology.  Dr. William
Broady, President of Johns Hopkins University, told the local
press in January that in order to be a leading center for
R&D, Singapore had to get away from "trying to measure
short-term economic returns.  There has to be a mindset
change... in tolerating and being comfortable with failure
and ideas that don't seem to be going anywhere."  (Note:
Johns Hopkins stopped development of a $53 million (SGD82
million) Biomedical Sciences research unit after its
Singapore Government partner, A*Star, accused Johns Hopkins
of not meeting performance benchmarks. End Note.)

Casinos, Kumar and the Crazy Horse

13. (SBU) The GOS appears to recognize the need to give
citizens freer rein in order to foster creativity and
entrepreneurship.  Unwilling to loosen political controls, it
has focused so far on easing social restrictions.  The
government made a highly controversial decision to allow
casinos, and has awarded contracts to open two integrated
resorts in 2009.  Kumar, a popular transvestite nightclub
comedian whose material focuses on taboo subjects including
race, sex and the foibles of government personalities, has
been allowed to perform on television and in public venues.
Singaporeans returning from long stays overseas have told us
of being shocked at the mushrooming of racy billboard
advertising.  MDA's Cheah pointed to the opening of the Crazy
Horse French Burlesque in December 2005 (which subsequently
closed in January 2007 due to poor attendance), and to the
"success" of the Singapore Biennale (an arts festival) as
further signs of greater social openness.


14. (C) Ever thinking strategically, Singapore's leadership
will keep pushing innovation in order to stay competitive in
a rapidly changing Asia.  To its credit, the government
appears to recognize that its own penchant for control --
however enlightened its policy choices or soft its
authoritarian touch -- may be at odds with the kind of
free-wheeling atmosphere it needs to achieve its economic
objectives.  Time will tell whether it can promote
creativity, critical-thinking, and innovation in society by
loosening up on social issues and tinkering with the
education system while keeping politics in quarantine.  One
way or another, Singapore's flirtation with openness will
provide another interesting chapter in its unique history as
a social-engineering petri dish.

Embassy Wikileaks: US assessment of GE 2006


created 2006-5-8

C) Summary:

 In the May 6 general election for parliament,
the ruling People's Action Party won another landslide
victory with 82 out of 84 seats.  The election is another
mandate for the PAP to continue its successful economic and
security policies.  It is not a mandate for Prime Minister
Lee Hsien Loong, who frequently failed to take center stage
in the campaign and did relatively poorly in his own
district.  The PAP continued to rely on old style tactics,
from threats of defamation suits to ad hominem attacks, to
defeat opposition politicians.  Despite winning only two
seats, the opposition parties performed credibly, improved
their tattered reputations, and laid the groundwork for the
future.  PM Lee lost a golden opportunity to put his own mark
on the PAP and change its style -- and get out from the
shadow of his father, Lee Kuan Yew.  End Summary.

Final Tally

3. (U) In the May 6 general election for parliament, the
ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won another landslide with
66.6 percent of the vote and 82 seats.  This gives the PAP
the same 82-2 majority it had in the last parliament.  The
Workers' Party won one seat and 16.3 percent of the vote.
The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) also won one seat and
13 percent of the vote.  The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)
failed to win any seats and received 4.1 percent of the vote.

Is it a Mandate?

4. (C) Is this election a mandate for the PAP?  In a word,
yes.  The PAP won roughly as many seats and votes as it
usually has over the last two decades.  With its strong team
of technocratic ministers, the PAP has continued to deliver
robust economic growth and job creation and to steer the
economy through external shocks such as SARS.  The PAP also
showed its pragmatic side in ending its ban on casinos in
2005 in order to stimulate growth in the tourism sector.
While the bottom 20 percent of wage earners have seen their
incomes stagnate over the last five years, the government
targeted many of the handouts in its pre-election "Progress
Package" budget this year to low-income households.  In
addition, SingTel (which has more than a million Singaporean
stockholders according to press reports) announced a special
USD 2.4 billion dividend just two days before polling day.
The CEO of SingTel is Lee Hsien Yang, brother of Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

5. (C) Since he became Prime Minister in August 2004, PM Lee
and the local media have characterized this election as his
opportunity to secure a personal mandate from the people.
Did he get it?  In a word, no.  One would have expected PM
Lee to be the focal point of the PAP campaign to show that he
was his own man and to highlight a softer, more "modern"
political style.  But, in the run up to the campaign and
during it, however, PM Lee frequently ceded center stage to
his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and Senior Minister
Goh Chok Tong.  MM Lee and SM Goh made the strong statements
and dominated the attacks on the opposition.  The PM did not
project a strong leadership image when he did talk tough.  It
made even PAP supporters uncomfortable when, in one rally, he
claimed that he wouldn't be able to run the government
effectively if there were ten opposition MPs -- he would have
to "fix" the opposition.  PM Lee did relatively poorly in his
own electoral district.  Facing his first opponents in 18
years -- a group of twenty- and thirty-something nobodies in
the WP's weakest slate -- PM Lee failed to win as high a
percentage of the vote (66.1 percent) as his party did
overall (66.6 percent.)

6. (C) SM Goh also emerges from the election diminished.  PM
Lee gave him the high-profile task of helping the PAP win
back the two opposition-controlled districts.  The evening
news dutifully showed SM Goh working the two wards with the
PAP candidates in tow.  He warned residents in one
neighborhood that it might turn into a "slum" if it stayed
with the opposition and offered USD 100 million (over USD
2500 per eligible voter) in public works projects to both
districts if they would vote for the PAP.  Despite SM Goh's
threats and blandishments, the opposition won both seats with
significantly higher margins of victory than in past races.

Politics of Personal Destruction: Old Business
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (C) In previous elections, the PAP has singled out one
opposition politician and attacked his integrity
relentlessly, commented Institute of Policy Studies
Researcher Gillian Koh.  In 2001, for example, the PAP
targeted Dr. Chee Soon Juan of the SDP and hit him with a
defamation suit during the election campaign.  This year, as
soon as the campaign started, the PAP threatened defamation
suits to demolish the SDP (Ref B).  All of the SDP's Central
Executive Committee members except Dr. Chee and his sister
Chee Siok Chin publicly apologized to PM Lee and MM Lee.
Himself already bankrupted from an earlier defamation suit,
Dr. Chee told us that he completely understood why his fellow
party members apologized, since they had to protect their
livelihoods in the face of a potential financially-ruinous
defamation suit.

Politics of Personal Destruction: New Business
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (C) Turning to a new target, the PAP spent the first week
of the nine-day campaign launching vitriolic attacks against
WP MP candidate James Gomez over, bizarrely, an election form
he didn't submit and didn't need to submit.  Gomez claimed to
have submitted a registration form to be a minority
candidate, but security tapes showed he failed to do so.  MM
Lee called Gomez a "liar" over the non-submission of the
form; Deputy Prime Minister Wang Kan Seng said Gomez had
shown "blatant dishonesty"; and PM Lee accused Gomez of
perpetrating a "dastardly trick."  The local media also
played up the "story" -- on one day, the Straits Times
newspaper ran more than a dozen stories that discussed Gomez.
Eventually, some PAP officials realized that the personal
attacks on Gomez were creating a backlash, as PAP
Headquarters Executive Director Lau Ping Sum told us on May
2.  It took several more days, however, for it to stop.
After the election, the GOS continued to harass Gomez.  On
May 7, immigration authorities seized his passport when he
tried to return to his job in Sweden and police questioned
him for eight hours, according to press reports.

A New Hope and a Lost Opportunity

9. (C) Comment: By performing credibly in this election and
avoiding the buffoonery that damaged its chances in the past,
the opposition laid the groundwork for future electoral
gains.  In particular, the WP fielded a better qualified
slate than it has in the past and ran a capable issues-based
campaign.  It refused to rise to the bait of the PAP's ad
hominem attacks on James Gomez.  The task for the opposition
now is to sustain its energy and commitment over the years
until the next election.

10. (C) For PM Lee, the election was an opportunity missed.
The PAP could have run on its superior policies, experience,
and candidates and eschewed the old-school
hit-them-when-they-are-down tactics.  Its candidates could
have asked voters if they wanted to be governed by someone
(James Gomez) who didn't even live in Singapore instead of
launching a phony attack that extended to opening a
"criminal" investigation as the defeated candidate was trying
to return home to Sweden.  Instead, the PAP's hardball
tactics -- vintage Lee Kuan Yew -- cost them some votes and
contradicted the PM's stated interest in a more open society.

11. (C) While the MM's abrasive style may appeal to older
"heartland" Singaporeans, it does not work well with younger,
better-educated voters.  He appeared a cranky and sour old
man and was only a liability to the PAP's campaign.  The
extensive reporting in the government-controlled press may
have backfired for the PAP as voters found the vindictiveness
against Chee and his party distasteful and tired of the
overwrought Gomez affaire.  The MM's role in the 2006
election may have accelerated Singaporeans' reaching an
emotional turning point.  Many of the younger voters do not
recall Singapore's early, precarious days.  They are less
willing to accept the PAP's fundamental premise that
opposition and choice lead inexorably to disunity and chaos.

Suggested Press Guidance

12. (U) Below is suggested press guidance for the
Department's use on the election campaign:

Q. What is your reaction to the May 6 general election in

A. The People's Action Party (PAP) was returned to power with
82 of 84 seats in parliament.

We will continue to work with the Government of Singapore to
promote United States interests in free trade, security ties,
law enforcement cooperation, and efforts to combat terrorism
and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Q. Were the elections free and fair?

A. The election took place in accordance with the relevant
legal and constitutional mandates.  Voting and ballot
counting took place without any incidents.

The Government used its powers to limit freedom of assembly
and speech to handicap the political opposition:

-- The government restricted political rallies to times and
locations of its designation.
-- Government regulations curtailed dissemination of
political speech, including via the internet.
-- Government leaders used the threat of defamation suits
against opposition politicians to chill political speech and
-- Local media coverage closely reflected the views of the
ruling party.

Q. Do you have any comment on the "criminal" investigation of
Workers' Party candidate James Gomez?

A. As this is an on-going investigation, it would be
inappropriate to comment at this time.  We will follow the
case closely.

Background: In the May 6 general election for parliament, the
ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won another overwhelming
victory, as it has in every election since independence in
1965.  It won 82 seats and 66.6 percent of the vote while
opposition parties won 2 seats and 33.4 percent of the vote.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

WikiLeaks: Significant government pressure put on ST editors

Source: Yahoo!News

 A senior editorial staff member of Singapore's largest newspaper has said there's "significant pressure" on its editors to follow the government line, according to a newly-released WikiLeaks document.

As a result, reporters within the paper are "increasingly frustrated" with the restrictions on what they can report and often seek overseas postings where restrictions are fewer.

The leaked document, titled "Journalists frustrated by press controls", is a confidential diplomatic cable that recorded the private views of two Straits Times journalists and a then-journalism student at the U.S. embassy in Singapore in early 2009.

Chua Chin Hon, who is currently the paper's U.S. bureau chief, was reported as saying that reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore's leaders will "likely come down hard" on anyone who reports negatively about the government or its leadership.

Without naming names, he recounted how several ministers at the time "routinely call editors" to ensure that media coverage of an issue "comes out the way they want it." Getting "tough with the media" was one way in which younger ministers tried to boost their credentials with the old guard, he added.

Chua also said all the newspaper's editors have been vetted to ensure their "pro-government leanings" and that while local reporters are "eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting... they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to toe the line."

In the one-page WikiLeaks cable, Chua pointed out how there is extensive media coverage before the government intends to push out a certain policy.

He added that the government has an "established track record" of using the media to "shape public opinion" so much so that some articles read like "Public Service Announcements".

He cited how during the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, there was a spate of sympathetic articles about the retirees who lost money in the mini-bonds, which was followed soon after by the government's decision to assist those retirees.

Another reporter, Lynn Lee, who is currently the paper's Indonesian bureau chief, confirmed the restrictions on local media, highlighting the internal editorial debate over the coverage of Singapore's political opposition. (Lynn Lee claims she was misrepresented: here)

An example she gave was the conflict over the amount of coverage that the paper would dedicate to opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) following his death in September 2008, saying that while editors agreed with reporters' demand for extensive coverage of his funeral, they rejected reporters' suggestions to limit the amount of coverage devoted to eulogies provided by Singapore's leaders.

In the end, the leaders' statements took up a significant portion of the allotted space, Lee said.

In addition, Lee revealed that self-censorship was a common practice for reporters.

She said that she would never write about any racially sensitive issues, citing the case of a journalist in Malaysia who was arrested for reprinting a politician's racially charged comments.

In contrast to the limitations imposed on local reports, Chua said that the paper's reporters are more free to write about international events. Chua said he enjoyed a great deal of freedom during his stint as China bureau chief.

The leaked cable also contained the views of then-journalism student Chong Zi Liang, who said he could see himself working locally for one or two years before venturing abroad, because he thought it was too "stifling" to remain in the country.

The latest leaked document is among the full archive of 250,000 unedited and confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that has recently been published online by the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, founded by Julian Assange.

Over 700 of them, dating back from 2003 to last year and covering a range of issues, concern Singapore. Among them, one talks about the state of Singapore's opposition in 2004 and another on how the government co-opts talented Muslims to become Members of Parliament.

Last year, another WikiLeaks leak revealed what key Singapore diplomats thought of neighbouring Asian leaders as well as what former leader Lee Kuan Yew thinks about North Korea.

Former Today chief editor P N Balji, who has spent 35 years in Singapore journalism and is now a media consultant, said the leaks "tell an old story", and there is a need now to study how the old media is trying to meet the challenges of the new media.

"There is enough evidence to show how the old media is forced to come out of its comfort zone and publish stories which broke in the online world. Something we never saw, say five years ago," he said.

"A new relationship is developing between the government and media. The biggest loser, if The Straits Times continues to lose eyeballs, is the government. Then it will be without a pervasive platform to get across its message," he pointed out.

"How this relationship will play out will depend a lot on whether editors can make the big switch to the new normal in Singapore journalism and how the government will respond to such efforts," he added.

Related news: Uncensored WikiLeaks cables spark anger

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are we rich or are we bankrupt?

The Singapore Democrats (source)

11 July 2011

With the Presidential Elections just weeks away and the fact that the president is supposed to act as a custodian of our financial reserves, it is amazing that the state of our reserves and hence our nation's fiscal health is not more a subject of national debate.

How these reserves are deployed has a bearing on our financial well-being – a bearing much more direct and serious than people think.

The SDP has in the past raised concerns about the high level of public debt incurred by the Government. At 102.4 percent of GDP, this amount is the ninth highest in the world. In fact, Greece which is facing severe economic troubles is placed only slightly higher at fifth spot with 144 percent of GDP.

The public debt-to-GDP ratio is a measure of what a country owes as a proportion to what it produces. A high ratio means that it is harder for a country to pay off what it owes and that it is more likely that the country will default on its payments. This is the financial predicament that Greece currently finds itself.

What about Singapore? Is Singapore's situation as bad as it looks? Despite our high public debt, analysts say that Singapore is in a different category. This is because our economy generates budget surpluses most years and this surplus counter-balances the debt incurred. Therefore, on balance, our books show a surplus and not debt.

Borrower calling the shots

But why, if we are generating budget surpluses, would the Government need to borrow money and go into debt? At last count the amount of debt is upwards of $200 billion. And, equally important, who are we borrowing from?

Let's tackle the second question first. From whom is the PAP Government borrowing these large amounts of money?

The answer is us, the people. The Government issues debt instruments in the form of bonds, securities, Treasury bills, and deposits with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) which financial institutions buy.

One of these financial institutions is, of course, the CPF which uses almost all of our savings to buy these instruments making it the single biggest holder of Government debt.

So we have a situation where the Government is the debtor and we the people are, collectively, the creditor. With a twist, of course. A big one. In our case, instead of the lender setting the terms on when and how the debt will be repaid, in this case it is the borrower who decides the terms. And to add insult, the debtor keeps changing the terms of repayment.

Years ago when the CPF scheme started, we were able to withdraw our CPF funds at age 55. But the Government changed the law in the late 1990s, introducing the Minimum Sum Scheme which gave it the power to retain a portion - a huge portion - of our savings even beyond the age-55 limit. The amount started off at $80,000 and has been increasing every year. As of July 2011, the Minimum Sum is set at $131,000.

Singaporeans reaching 55 will only be able to withdraw any savings in excess of $131,000 (which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans do not have).

It is only when one reaches 62 will one be able to start withdrawing one's savings – in monthly instalments of a couple of hundred dollars depending on how much one has in one's account. Of course, this is after the Government deducts another $27,500 more (as of January 2011) for Medisave.

After "borrowing" our savings, issuing debt as a collateral, the Government is now free to use the funds for whatever it deems fit. It invests this money mainly through the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings.

Through the years, these two conglomerates have invested in industries ranging from telecommunications to banks to hotels and everything in between. Domestically, it uses the funds to set up companies that deal with all kinds of businesses. To what extent and where these funds are parked no one quite knows because they are hidden from public view, especially those of the GIC.

The perfect arrangement

There is still the question of why the Government needs to borrow our CPF funds when it generates a healthy budget surplus annually. The simple answer is that the money is there. By issuing securities and bonds at low interest rates, the Government avails itself to more than a hundred billion dollars of CPF funds.

With such a vast amount of money at its disposal for investments, Government officials can strut the world's stage and command fawning attention from the international business community that few politicians can.

Domestically, it places itself as employer, CEO and landlord to all that Singaporeans do. The next time you buy a house, watch cable TV, or buy your groceries chances are that you are giving your business to the Government. Not that you have much of a choice as a customer because most big local businesses are run, directly or indirectly, by the Government through GLCs.

The political control that the PAP derives from such economic dominance is what has kept it in unchecked power all these decades. For the PAP it is the perfect arrangement. It borrows money at low interest rates from the CPF at little or no risk. If it incurs losses, it doesn't have to tell the people. It simply changes the rules governing the return of the savings to CPF members. If it turns over a profit, it pays to the CPF an artficially depressed rate of around 2 percent.

Heads the Government wins, tails the people lose.

Part 2:  How all this affects the average citizen  .