Wednesday, January 9, 2013

PAP's self inflicted damage: next generation of big bullies threatening financial ruin?

Tan Chuan Jin should realise that an accusation of being dishonest, without sufficient plausible evidence, does not carry any weight  with any intelligent observer. It is all part of a robust debate. He should not imagine a gullible audience or readership.

However, being perceived as a high-handed bully intent on suppressing honest, probing and potentially embarrassing debate and on financially crippling political opponents (as exemplified by the cases of J.B. Jeyatretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan) is a far more odious, indelible, and damaging character stain.

We are watching, and forming our view of the character and quality of the next generation of PAP leaders, including Tan Chuan Jin.

PAP should wake up to the era of sophisticated and intelligent voters, and stop behaving as if public opinion in Singapore is still dominated by its party propaganda apparatus masquerading as neutral mass media.

It should examine how political debates are conducted everywhere else in the free and democratic world. Singaporeans today are utterly familiar with such debates without having lived overseas. We expect, and demand, such debates in Singapore.


Has Tan Chuan-Jin suffered greater damage through legal action?

by Faisal Wali

New Asia Republic, Jan 8, 2013 (source)

Quite a long time ago, I wrote an article reasoning why then Presidential-hopeful Mr Tan Kin Lian should not resort to legal action over supposedly defamatory remarks made online. Perhaps, Kin Lian might have read the article and decided against taking legal actions, but we don’t know what went through his mind.

My article titled “Why Tan Kin Lian should take heed of McLibel” argued that prominent politicians and organisations should not take legal actions if defamed for two reasons. One, is that the latter should have higher threshold of acceptable criticism than ordinary citizens. Given the nature of their jobs, they must accept the fact that they are subjected to greater scrutiny and criticisms. For this, I cited examples of how the European Court of Human Rights reverse judgements which originally ruled in favour of governments or politicans who won their cases against ordinary citizens who have defamed them.

The second reason is that pursuing the legal route will result in greater damage to the prominent entity on the public relations front, which explains my McLibel title. McDonald’s filed a law suit against an environmental activist organisation which distributed pamphlets containing false allegations against the company. Although McDonald’s were awarded damages of 40,000 pounds, it did not collect the money because it was by then a public relations disaster for the company. The reason for the public relations disaster is quite simple – it looks like a powerful entity bullying another smaller and powerless one, and of course sentiments will turn towards the former.

The latest case involved Vincent Wijeysingha vs Tan Chuan-Jin where the former apologised unreservedly for describing the latter as “dishonest”, “deceptive”, “untruthful” over the complaints and issues involving the striking SMRT drivers. Wijeysingha accepted in a Facebook post that his remarks were totally false and has since retracted his original Facebook post. It has also been reported that Chuan-Jin is seeking damages from Wijeysingha. Thus now, we are looking at another McLibel in the making. It is looking like a pyrrhic victory for Chuan-Jin. For a prominent politician taking legal action for defamation, it is akin to a dog biting its tail, he will end up for the worse as the tide of public sentiments turns against him.

Chuan-Jin could have countered Wijeysingha’s remarks in a prominent medium which is far less damaging. Yet, he chose a route which could bite him back in the tail.

If one does up a dossier of successful law suits won by PAP politicians over their opposition critics, there is a common recurring theme about them – they are won over allegations made over the honesty and integrity of the prominent PAP politicians. To really summarise, if you allege that a particular PAP politician is “dishonest” or a “liar”, you will probably be served a lawyer’s letter to take down your post or article and apologise or be told to pay a certain sum in damages.

One wonders if the PAP is even aware of the very stereotype of a politician, regardless of whether we are in Singapore, UK, Australia, US or any other part of the world. Using the Wijeysingha vs Chuan-Jin example, since the remarks were made in a Facebook medium, obviously readers of the said defamatory remarks have a level of technology savviness. It is not too hard for them and for the tech savvy PAP politicians to go to a Google search engine and type “Politicians are dishonest”/”Politicians are liars”. The reality is that we have members of the public who already possess a stereotypical view of politicians. This link talks about the stereotyping of American politicians as liars, and then this one talks about how politicians lie that a Queensland law (Australia) has to be made to make lying illegal in parliament. Mind you, laws are made in consideration of a society’s sentiments. Obviously, even Australians think politicians are liars and see fit to put such a law in place. Then, we have this Guardian article that states from the outset that “All politicians are liars” and that Britons have to “listen the lying bastards lying everyday”.

I am not sure if the PAP subscribes to the idealised/utopian view that all politicians are whiter than white, but the truth of the matter on the ground is that the stereotypical view of a typical politician tend to be more cynical – “all politicians are liars”. However, of course, stereotypes remain as stereotypes, and there are exceptions to the norm – the clean, honest politicians, optimistically speaking, though the PAP surely promotes the fact that its politicians remain in this category.

However, if the stereotypical view of a politician is more cynical, i.e. “all politicians are liars”, then there should be greater threshold of acceptable criticism for any politician in this country, regardless of PAP or opposition. Any allegations that point out to the effect that a “politician is a liar” should be within the threshold of acceptable criticism since this already reflects the stereotypical, albeit cynical view. If the PAP needs any convincing, may I cordially invite the party members to go to the Google search engine and type “All politicians are liars”, “All politicians are dishonest”, etc. Maybe, the Google search results will change the Men in White’s perception of how a politician is stereotypically perceived, even for one from within their ranks. That will shatter the rose-tinted lenses…

Lawsuit threats put muzzle on diverse views
Braema Mathi
Jan 9. 2013, Today online (source)
MARUAH, a human rights organisation, is concerned over the Prime Minister's approach in demanding an apology and removal of the article and subsequent posts on the Action Information Management (AIM) and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) matter on Mr Alex Au's website.

These demands were made under threat of a defamation suit ("Blogger Au to remove post after PM Lee takes legal action"; Jan 5). In the recent past, defamation suits by political leaders have exacted high monetary compensations from the affected individuals.

As the AIM-AHTC matter is an issue of national interest, threatening a defamation suit at this juncture on the matter is, firstly, untimely. It is not calibrated to meet the need for deeper discussions on what is seen as an issue with many unanswered questions.

The Prime Minister's action will have the attendant chilling effect on public debate and increase the cynicism among the citizenry at a time when there seems to be more political space for interaction, which will not always remain sane and palatable.

This defamation threat is also regrettable as there are avenues - Parliament, mainstream media, social media - available to politicians to address the AIM-AHTC matter and let the facts speak for themselves.

Secondly, Law Minister K Shanmugam recently likened defamation to stealing one's reputation. We say that reputation is not property that can be stolen or reinstated with defamation suits and monetary compensation alone. Anyone defamed does not automatically have his/her honour reinstated because an apology and/or compensation had been secured. 

Reputation is an issue of honour that can and should be protected by encouraging open, robust and transparent debates. 

There must also be a case to show the ill-will was highly prejudicial, based on malice and/or baseless.

Defamation suits in themselves are limiting and political figures, more than anyone else, will remain vulnerable to aspersions; it will be the merits of the case that will speak volumes. In this case, the AIM-AHTC matter merits a thorough sharing of information by both the ruling and opposition parties.

Thirdly, Singaporeans are discerning and capable of discarding baseless and nonsensical views. What is important is to develop higher thresholds of dealing with diverse views expressed in myriad ways and to use the available avenues to right one's reputation.

We, the Government and public, are on a journey towards greater political space. Threats of defamation suits can silence discussions of national interest, freeze our expressions and stunt our growth. That would be the greater pity.


Monday, January 7, 2013

PAP's transparent figleaf: Threatening Alex Au with legal action

Source: Occupy Singapore (here)

News of PM Lee Hsien Loong sending a lawyer’s letter to activist blogger Alex Au is going viral fast and, ironically, building even greater global awareness of the whole shameful PAP-AIM saga. Our dear leader had his fave lawyer demand that Alex remove his post and apologise for defaming him. Alex’s post “PAP mis-AIMed, faces blowback” had questioned the computer systems deal involving People’s Action Party (PAP), 14 town councils and Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) a $2 company owned by the party.

I shall not repeat the PAP-AIM issues and Teo Ho Pin’s pathetic salvage letters which have been picked apart by numerous netizens and well-respected bloggers. For more info, please visit these blogs which provide incisive analyses and which ask sharp questions over the AIM deal that comes in 50 shades of grey.

Coincidentally, PM’s New Year present to Alex, comes just four days after I wrote my commentary which had contained an imaginary conversation between PM Lee and his father Lee Kuan Yew. This conversation had concluded with Papa Lee telling Ah Boy:”You know what I think Loong? I think you have been too soft. Stick some spurs into their hides and show them who is boss and tell them to stop complaining! They will live and repent if they keep harping on the unimportant stuff…”

PM’s action of sending a lawyer’s letter to Alex, who had asked very valid and serious questions in the interest of the public, makes one wonder if he did it wholly of his own accord or if it was with a nudge (shove?) from his old man who is known for his fast and furious responses at the slightest sign of dissent.

The other question that I want to ask is just why did the PM suddenly step forward into this AIM maelstrom? After all, Teo Ho Pin the coordinating chairman of the of 14 PAP town councils, had been the one issuing the media statements to explain the sale of the town council computer system to AIM, a dormant company owned by PAP.

I had read Alex’s allegedly defamatory post before it was removed (search online and you can still find it here), and no where did he mention the PM nor accuse him of being corrupt! And yet, PM’s lawyer cleverly put up a case by sewing bits and pieces together. Alex’s post was said to contain “very serious suggestions of criminal breach of trust”, and because he referred to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, “of corruption” as well, reported TODAY.

According to the papers, the lawyer had highlighted 21 comments on Alex’s post that he said, when either taken together with the blog post or read on their own, would suggest that PM Lee “is guilty of corruption in relation to the AIM transaction and will abuse his powers to cover up the matter or prevent any investigation into his corruption”.

Well, well, so now it looks like the big guns will fire even if they are not mentioned and even if the comments that they find offensive were not made by the blogger but by those who comment on the blog!

Is PM being infantile in his reaction as admonished by activist Andrew Loh in his commentary “Stop being so childish Prime Minister” (see below)? Yes, I think PM is being immature and unpolished as a political leader in how he has responded given that no corruption accusations were made about him although very valid concerns were raised by many citizens over the AIM saga.

Instead of responding like a courageous and dignified leader should, he chose to respond with a cheap low blow – the bad habit of threatening people with legal letters. Such quick-to-sue actions remind me of the foul-tempered childish Red Queen in the story ‘Alice in Wonderland’ who loved to yell “Off with their heads!” at those who offended her!

Perhaps PM & Company believe that by using the bazooka to kill an ant, it will scatter and scare off the rest. I have news for them. Ants that scatter tend to regroup very fast and they become more ferocious when angered.

What PM needs to learn is that as the country’s political leader, we expect the highest level of accountability and honourable behaviour from him. What kind of values is he exhibiting when he does things like this? Shouldn’t he answer pertinent questions such as why PAP awarded the contract to AIM when there was a clear conflict of interest in awarding and selling the rights of the computer system to a PAP-owned company?

As the head of our country, he owes the people an honest explanation and not a lawyer’s letter.


Stop being so childish, prime minister

Andrew Loh  (source)

It is barely the first week of the new year and we already have a threat of legal action from the People’s Action Party (PAP) / Government. PM Lee Hsien Loong had sent a lawyer’s letter to well known and very much respected blogger, activist and writer, Alex Au, demanding Alex removed his blog posts about Action Information Management, the PAP-owned company embroiled in the controversy over a certain computer system.

It is unclear whether PM Lee had sent the letter in his personal capacity, or as the prime minister or secretary general of the PAP. Whatever it is, the demand was clear – remove the allegedly offending post, and publish an apology, or else.

It is the same old tiring, tiresome, and tired tactic of issuing threats instead of engaging the issue or the alleged allegations. Threatening to take legal action over blog postings is, to be honest, infantile. It is childish because it does not befit the office of the prime minister to take offence so easily, when he has in his power all the resources to engage the issue, clarify any perceived falsehoods, or lay out the facts of the issue at hand. In short, he could very well take some time, have a bit of patience, and debate or discuss the issues and in the process enlighten everyone – and maybe gain a bit more respect too from his detractors.

But no. A lawyer’s letter was obviously deemed the better option.

Nonetheless, lets not let this threat of legal action distract us from the very important matter of the AIM/PAP controversy – for there are still many questions, serious questions, left unanswered, even after some 3 weeks since the matter came into the public spotlight.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman of the 14 PAP town councils, have yet to explain, for example, why he and the chairmen of the town councils, did not see the conflict of interest of awarding and selling the rights of the computer system to a PAP-owned company. If they did, why did they still choose to go ahead in awarding the contract to AIM?

He has also not disclosed how much was used to develop the software in the first place. Or indeed, how much AIM paid for the software. Why was AIM’s bid for the contract submitted, apparently, one week after the closing date of the tender – and accepted?

Alex raised some very pertinent matters too – such as the danger that there is nothing to stop the PAP from selling out other services to PAP-owned companies. By the way, the PAP has declined to reveal how many companies it owns. This too is a problem because any opposition party which wins a constituency may find itself having to deal with PAP-owned companies, as the Workers’ Party did with AIM in Aljunied.

It is thus important, in the name of full accountability, that the PAP disclose the number of companies it has, and the nature of their business.

In the case of AIM, the PAP declined to disclose its past business dealings, or other details about the company.

So, in spite of the threat of legal action by the prime minister, these questions are being asked even more loudly now – and it would do the PAP a whole lot of good if it addressed each one openly.

And the best way to do so is in a “live” press conference in the presence of the mainstream media and the alternative media. Take the matter head-on, clear all doubts, lay out all facts.

That is, if the PAP has nothing to hide, which I am sure is the case.

And it really – I mean, really – is time to lay down the hatchet.

Engage Singaporeans. Engage the issue. Engage the questions – and not engage lawyers to issue threats.

Stop being so childish, prime minister.


Read Ravi Philemon’s letter to PAP chairman, Khaw Boon Wan, here.

Does PAP pass the "smell" test?

by Tan Jee Say on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 00:05 (source)

If the PM hopes to stop social media talk (and coffeeshop talk) on the AIM saga with his lawyer's defamation letter to well-known blogger Alex Au, he will be sorely disappointed. In fact, Alex has just posted Part 6 of his legendary "PAP''s misAIMed blow" series of blogs as he had promised when he posted his apology. I admire Alex for his persistence and tenacity which can only mean one thing - that he truly believes in what he has written and done to expose questionable deeds and do society good. Well done Alex! Many other bloggers have joined in too, adding greater clarity.

Most postings have so far concentrated on the transaction itself, its propriety or lack thereof, the conflict of interest, the sale of a public-funded asset to a partisan body and many other related aspects. I have not noticed much being written about the supervisory aspects, the rules and regulations of governance which if properly and duly followed could have prevented this misAIMed episode. I hope to fill the gap with this posting.

What are these rules and who are responsible for supervising them? The official website states :

"MND sets the broad legislative framework and financial guidelines under the Town Councils Act and Town Council Financial Rules to ensure proper governance and accountability by Town Councils. As the public housing authority, HDB advises and assists MND in its regulatory duties. HDB also works closely with Town Councils in its capacity as the owner of common property in HDB estates."

So there is a close working relationship between MND, HDB and the town councils, and the Minister for National Development has a lot to answer for in this particular issue; however, he has been unusually quiet these days, which is so uncharacteristic of him; remember the Yaw Shin Leong affair when he was all guns blazing in Parliament, demanding WP to come clean on all aspects, yet was quiet as a mouse when confronted with his fellow PAP MP Michael Palmer's fling? Did HDB officers bring this matter to the minister and if so, what was his response? Did he declare that he was an interested party by virtue of the fact that the bidder was a PAP company? Were the procedures followed? The public tender announcement stated that the closing date of tender was 14 July 2010, but AIM submitted its bid on 20 July, six days after the closing date and was accepted. Was the tender period extended and if so, why and how was this communicated?

Note the tender's closing date of 14 July 2010 - AIM's bid was submitted on 20 July 2010.

Since it was a single bid, did MND/HDB officers ensure that MOF's financial guidelines on single bids were followed? DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told Parliament on 13 August 2012 that "for procurements where only a single bid is received, MOF will require the officers responsible to provide additional justifications to the Approving Authority within each agency, setting out why they consider the single bid competitive or reflective of market prices, before a decision is made to award the contract." Did the MND/HDB officers set out the additional justifications as required of them before AIM was awarded the contract, and if so what were these justifications particularly in light of the basic eligibility requirement stated in the tender announcement that the bidder be "an experienced and reputable company with relevant track record"? Was the MND satisfied with these justifications? Was the opinion of the MOF sought on this matter? If so, what was MOF's response?

So there are more parties involved in this issue of governance than just the bidder and town councils. This should be the case as public money is involved and proper checks and balances need to be in place. The all-important question is whether the gatekeeper is doing his job. The ultimate gatekeeper of the nation's finance is of course the President, but should his office be involved in this matter? Yes I believe so as the sole bidder was a company owned by the ruling party and only someone above party politics can be a judge of its propriety.