Thursday, December 08, 2005

Death of an ex-President

Former Singapore President Devan Nair died in Canada at age 82 on 7th November 2005. CV Devan Nair had resigned his presidency amidst tumultuous clouds of accusations and chose to live out his remaining years abroad.

Devan Nair was a member of the Anti-British League, a cover for the Malayan Communist Party, and in 1951 was detained on St John's Island. Out of prison, he continued with left-wing union activism.

In 1954, Lee Kuan Yew asked Nair to join him so the unions could provide the mass base for a new party. Although he was closer to the People's Action Party after it came into power in 1959, Nair was not willing to desert his communist friends. He went back to teaching, but was soon drawn back out into the political fray by Lee.

The two remained close after Singapore won its freedom from Britain. Together, they fought off an attempted communist takeover, weathered Singapore's ejection from the neighbouring federation of Malaysia and transformed their country from a run-down sea port to an economic dynamo bristling with skyscrapers. "I supported him because he was an eloquent champion of the dreams I had for Singapore," Nair said.

But as Singapore grew prosperous and stable and the communist threat faded, Nair began to have doubts about his captain's iron-fisted methods. Perhaps sensing his ally's doubts, Lee asked Nair to leave his power base as head of the trade union congress and move into the presidential palace. As Nair puts it, "He kicked me upstairs."

In 1985, a drinking problem led to Nair's resignation. Then-Prime Minister Lee said in Parliament proceedings on 28 March 1985, "Mr Speaker, honourable members will want to join me in wishing him fortitude in his task of rehabilitation. With the help of his wife and family, he must find the strength and stamina to break his dependency."

A few years later, Mr Devan Nair was to dispute the diagnosis of alcoholism and a nasty public exchange of letters ensued.

In an interview with Globe and Mail, Canada, March 29, 1999, Nair said he was the target of a rumour-mongering campaign that labelled him a drinker and womanizer. He said he was neither, and he suspected that Lee had government doctors slip him hallucinatory drugs to make him appear befuddled. According to him, "Lee Kuan Yew decided: This man is going to be a threat, so I'd better begin a total demolishment of his character. He's very good at that."

Lee sued the Globe and Mail and Nair for defamation, alleging that the article brought him into hatred, ridicule and contempt.

Nair countersued, seeking damages on the basis that Lee's lawsuit was an abuse of process. In turn, Lee brought a motion to have Nair's counterclaim thrown out of court. Lee argued that Nair's counterclaim disclosed no reasonable cause of action and constituted an inflammatory attack on the integrity of the government of Singapore.

In deciding whether to grant Lee's request to throw out the counterclaim, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice simply had to satisfy itself that Nair had a reasonable cause of action. Therefore, Nair was required to demonstrate that the two elements of the tort of abuse of process had been set out in his statement of claim.

They are:
(1) Lee was using the court process for an improper purpose; and
(2) Lee had made an overt threat, separate from the proceedings themselves, in furtherance of his improper purpose.

With respect to the first part of the test, Nair claimed that Lee did not really care what the readers of the Globe and Mail thought of him. Rather, the real purpose of the lawsuit was to silence, not only Nair, but all of Lee's critics and opposition in Singapore, a country in which freedom of political expression is not as valued as it is in Canada. In this regard, Nair alleged, Lee's action was part of a pattern of using the libel process to silence his critics and opposition and was "a mere stalking horse intended to further foster and continue a climate of fear and intimidation".

On the second part of the test, Nair claimed that Lee's lawsuit was just the latest in a series of acts and threats designed to intimidate his critics. In this regard, Nair alleged that when he spoke out politically against the Lee government in the late 1980's, Lee attempted to silence him by tabling a white paper in Singapore's parliament which included extracts of a confidential nature from Nair's personal medical records and correspondence. Nair claimed that Lee also arranged to have his pension withheld. Nair eventually left Singapore and came to Canada, where he did not speak out again until interviewed by the Globe and Mail. He claimed that Lee's latest libel action, brought in the country in which he sought freedom from political threats and overt legal actions, was intended to be a threat which was on-going and pervasive.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice refused to throw out Nair's counterclaim, holding that he had met both parts of the test necessary to plead the tort of abuse of process and had therefore disclosed a reasonable cause of action.

Nair, who migrated to Canada with his wife, was philosophical about his place in Singapore's history.

He once said his only regret in life was to allow himself to be persuaded to occupy a highly ceremonial office so contradicted by his temperament. But he blamed no one. And after he had said his piece for what it was worth, Nair added that he expected "to fade away, like all old warriors, into the past." Some verdicts, he said, "are best left to history."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Picture Says It All

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, bows in front of the German flag during the welcoming ceremony.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, walks in front of the honour guard as Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, right, is stopped by a member of the protocol, center, in the Chancellory in Berlin on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005. Instead of bowing in front of the German flag according to the international protocol Singapore's Prime Minister kept on walking and left Chancellor Merkel behind. It was Merkel's first welcoming ceremony with military honours for an international guest after being elected Chancellor.
(AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Under Arrest

A one-minute mobile phone video clip showing a woman forced to strip naked and do ear squats inside a Malaysian police station has sparked an uproar with both the Malaysian government and opposition calling for the police to be taken to task. “This should not have happened. If police personnel are really involved, then this is police abuse,” Malaysian Home Minister Azmi Khalid told a press conference in Parliament after viewing the clip.

Ear squatThe 71-second video clip shot in a Multimedia Messaging (MMS) format was shown to several MPs as well as reporters by DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok at the Parliament lobby.

Kok, at a separate press conference with Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang said she believed the woman in the video clip was not one of the Chinese women nationals who had lodged reports recently against Petaling Jaya police for being falsely detained, stripped and abused. “Nevertheless, is it standard practice for police to ask detainees to strip naked and to do ear squats?” she asked.

"Squatting is a form of body-cavity strip search which women undergo before being confined at an immigration detention centre, police lock-up or prison cell," a source said. The repeated squats are supposed to "force" women detainees to discharge concealed objects. "Some may argue it is improper, but it applies to the daily operations at prisons."

Ear squatStripping a woman detainee in a police lock-up and making her do ear squats in the nude may be "standard operating procedure" to the police, but is it legal?

"No," said human rights lawyers. "Where in the Lock-up Rules 1953 does it say that a body cavity search can be done?

"While the police claim that such searches are part of their standard operating procedures (SOPs), they must realise that their SOPs are not the law of the land. Any SOP has to be based on valid laws," said lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad.

"Ear squats and body cavity searches are not written in the Lock-up Rules 1953, which govern the custody of the prisoner," said lawyer M. Puravalen.

Amer Hamzah added: "The mere fact that the police had conducted such searches previously as part of their SOPs does not make such searches legal, if in the first place there is no law to allow such searches."

He said that although the Police Act allowed the Inspector-General of Police to issue administrative orders which are known as "Standing Orders", they must not be contrary to the existing laws of the country.

Furthermore, he said Standing Orders had no force of law.

Amer Hamzah pointed out that the only law which allowed for a search to be conducted was in the Criminal Procedure Code, which in Section 20 says that "the police may search the body of such person and place in safe custody all articles other than the necessary apparel found on the person".

However, the law did not require detainees to be stripped naked before they could be placed in the lock-up.

Furthermore, Rule 7 of the Lock-up Rules 1953 states: "Every prisoner shall be searched on admission and all clothing and property, other than one set of clothing, shall be removed."

"The rule is silent as to whether a detainee can be subjected to a strip search or cavity search. In my view, the rule then must be read in conjunction with Section 20 of the CPC," he said.

"If the law is silent on the matter, this does not make strip searches legal. If there is any doubt in the law, the doubt is supposed to go in favour of the prisoner," Amer Hamzah said.

Both lawyers said that if strip or cavity searches were necessary, then clear and express provisions should be made, like in the Prison Regulations 2000, which spell out how searches are to be conducted in prisons.

In that regulation, the search has to be made "with due regard to decency and self-respect", and "no prisoner shall be stripped and searched in the presence of another prisoner".

However, these regulations are only applicable to prisons, not police lock-ups.

“If the orang asing (foreigners) think we are zalim (cruel), ask them to go back to their own country,” Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Noh Omar declared during a Press conference in the Parliament lobby.

Nearly 20 years ago across the Causeway, another female was also subject to abuse by "law enforcement" agents. Following is an extract from the abridged version of lawyer Tang Fong Har's experience while detained for 87 days without being charged at the infamous Singapore Whitley Road Detention Centre, first published in the August 1989 issue of Index on Censorship, a UK-based non-government organisation. Tang was one of 22 people held in 1987 for "communist conspiracy to overthrow the Singapore government." In April that year the author, a lawyer aged then 31, together with eight other former detainees issued a declaration of innocence. All were at once rearrested, except Tang Fong Har, who was out of the country:

I FELT really frightened, cold, angry and sleepy. It was the longest night in my life. After my 'medical' examination, I was led out of the room and down a passage. After some turns, I reached a door, which opened onto a flight of stairs leading to the basement.

As I walked, without my glasses, I heard noises everywhere. I was approached several times by different men, each of whom said in a haughty manner, "So you are Tang Fong Har'" and then walked off. The basement was pitch-black except for the glaring lights. I was led into a room.

It was very dark except for the two spotlights, and it was filled with cigarette smoke - there seemed to be about seven or eight people there. The air-conditioning was very strong, and the floor was bare concrete. I felt cold and fearful.

After what seemed an eternity of eerie of silence, a voice boomed - "So, Tang Fong Har, at last you are here.' Then there began a series of questions and outrageous allegations. I could not hear properly as I was disoriented and I was not allowed to wear my glasses.

The hurling of questions, allegations, and loud noises went on for some time. I was so stupefied that I kept quiet. When I felt that I could not keep quiet anymore, I told them I needed my glasses as they affected my hearing.

My glasses were then returned. I saw four people seated at the table, which I was standing fairly near. Two or three other people were standing nearby in sports jackets, shoes and socks. Barefoot and in prison garb, I felt humiliated and very cold. I was shivering and I tried very hard to stop my teeth from chattering but I could not, and the interrogators just watched me as I was in near-spasms trying to control the cold.

At one point during the interrogation I was threatened with indefinite detention and asked whether I intended to emulate Chia Thye Poh. They warned me that if I chose to remain quiet, they could wait for 20 years or more, just as they had waited for Chia Thye Poh.

I refused to believe it but somehow my heart went cold. I felt I could not stay in this place for another minute, let alone 20 years. I also felt immense admiration for Chia Thye Poh. The male interrogator throughout made snide remarks about lawyers and the legal profession and belittled my work in the Law Society.

In the midst of the accusations being hurled at me, I retorted "Now, look here..." or words to that effect. I never completed my sentence: one of the interrogators slapped me across my left cheek, not with a flick of his wrist but with the full force of his body.

I fell to the ground and my glasses landed on my chest. I was completely shocked by the assault and wished that I could faint as I felt that I could not take any more. I had never felt more humiliated in my life.

The female Chinese then made a show of helping me to stand and said something like "It's ok. Take it easy. Why don't you co-operate?" I can't remember whether the interrogator who slapped me remained in the room after this. However, I remembered his face and subsequently I came to know his name: S. K. Tan.

I was then questioned on my 'escape' from Singapore on May 21 and my whereabouts from then until my return on June 8. I also had to account for my movements since my return. They assured me that I had not been arrested because of my work in the Law Society or for helping Mr Corera, the Workers Party candidate for the Alexandria constituency in the 1984 general election.

However, I was not informed about the allegations and charges against me until the detention order was served on me. The circle of questions/statements/allegations went on for some hours. Every time I went to the lavatory, I vomited and I felt even colder when I returned. I had looked at myself in the toilet mirror and I was a ghastly sight.

This was the first time in public that I was bra-less and I stooped whenever I walked so as to hide my breasts. My posture was a semi-permanent curve soon after. I could not stop the trembling. I vomited countless times, and by the morning of the third day I had my period and I stained the prison pants.

I continued vomiting until the fourth day, by which time I felt quite famished. I had never felt more terrible in my life. Some 10 hours later, I was led out of the basement and into one of the rooms off the passage, and was given a chair.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Setting A Price On National Service

Straits Times
Nov 20, 2005
Pianist pays NS dues - 28 years later
He is fined for defaulting on his NS after he decides to return, as his aged parents are finding it difficult to visit him in London

By Kristina Tom

AFTER staying away from Singapore for nearly 30 years because he defaulted on his national service, pianist Melvyn Tan has finally paid his dues.

Pianist evading National ServiceThe 49-year-old, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the last 37 years, has paid a fine for not fulfilling his national service duty and will be performing at the Esplanade next month.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, a visibly relieved Mr Tan said that he is glad to have put the past behind him.

He has not stepped onto Singapore soil all these years because he had feared that he would be arrested and thrown into jail.

But his 86-year-old father and 80-year-old mother are getting too old to make the regular trips to London to visit him at his home in Notting Hill, London.

So he decided to take a 'risk'. After informing the authorities of his intention to return, he came home in April for a court hearing.

The hearing lasted 30 minutes but he had never been so nervous in his life. 'It was very, very nerve-wracking,' he said.

To his relief, he was asked only to pay a fine.

He claims that he cannot remember the amount.

Under the Enlistment Act, those who evade national service can be fined up to $5,000 or sent to jail for up to three years, or both.

Although Mr Tan became a British citizen in 1978, he was still a Singapore citizen when he failed to fulfil his NS duties, making him answerable for the offence in a Singapore court.

In 1994, The Straits Times quoted a lawyer who said that one of his clients, a 39-year-old French citizen, was arrested at the airport on arrival, fined and made to complete nine months of training.

Mr Tan, who has an elder sister, was studying at Anglo-Chinese School when he left Singapore to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Sussex. He was then 12 years old.

After he finished his course, he stayed on in England to study at the Royal College of Music instead of coming home to serve national service in 1977.

He said: 'When I was at the Royal College and I got my final call-up, I was just on the brink of starting a career. I thought about it and thought about it and realised that I was not going to get this chance again.

'So I made that very difficult decision to not return. It meant I could never come back.'

Mr Tan first made his mark in the classical world with his performances on the 19th-century fortepiano, the precursor to the modern concert grand.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he produced a series of recordings that popularised the early music movement, regarded as a slightly eccentric niche within the music world.

He has about 30 recordings to his name and a regular touring schedule in Europe.

Along with Seow Yit Kin and Margaret Leng Tan, he has helped Singapore to gain recognition on the global piano scene.

The pianist is wasting no time in reconnecting with the Singapore music scene.

He goes back to England tomorrow, but will return early next month to sit on the jury of the National Arts Council's biennial National Piano and Violin Competition, which starts Dec 7 and ends Dec 18.

He said that he is getting to know Singapore, which he describes as 'unrecognisable', all over again. And, of course, he has been feasting on his favourite foods such as popiah.

But the best part about being able to come home as a free man was showing up at his mother's 80th birthday party on Thursday.

His parents still live in his childhood home in Lengkok Angsa, off Paterson Road. 'There were a few tears,' he said. 'She was just delighted. It was the best birthday present she's ever had.'

Singaporeans -- both on Internet forums and The Straits Times Forum pages -- gaped and raged at what they see as a punishment which makes a mockery of the country's NS policy. Journalist Ben Nadarajan wrote in the Sunday Times 27 Nov 2005: "So when someone chickens out of his duty, we expect him to be punished with something more painful than a mere blanket party. To see him get away with a mere fine, especially one which hardly burns a hole in his pocket, makes us wonder what we keep going back for. The fact that Tan cannot even remember how much he was fined -- when the court hearing was just six months ago -- suggests how insignificant it is to him."

A pathetic attempt to quench the understandable fury of Singapore men who dutifully served their time in Temasek Green, many of whom actually died in the course of serving National Service, was offered by officialdom in this response:

"All able-bodied male Singapore citizens are required to serve national service to contribute to the peace, security and stability of the country. Singaporeans enjoy the socio-economic benefits that this stability brings and are expected to shoulder the responsibility of national defence.

Mindef takes a serious stand on all defaulters who evade their national-service duty. Defaulters will have to bear the consequences of their action and will be dealt with by the courts under the Enlistment Act.

They are, on conviction, liable for an imprisonment term not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both. The exact sentence will be determined by the courts.

Besides having to answer to the courts for their national-service offences, defaulters will also have to serve their national service if they are still liable for national service.

In the case of Mr Melvyn Tan, although he had renounced his Singapore citizenship in 1978, he remained liable for the national-service offence and has been dealt with by the courts in accordance with the Enlistment Act.

Colonel Benedict Lim
Director, Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence "

Surrendering to the daily avalanche of accusations in the press that he received special treatment, Tan cancelled a sold-out concert and withdrew as a juror at the national piano and violin competition; he was replaced by Australian pianist Caroline Almonte.

In a letter published in The Sunday Times, Tan said he was "saddened and dismayed" by the controversy. "In light of the sentiments prevailing, I have decided it is best I defer my public appearances, for the debate on national service to continue without my further aggravating it," Tan wrote.

It is noteworthy that Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean had made it known he was "personally in favor of imposing custodial sentences for people who knowingly and deliberately evade national service."

National service of up to 2 1/2 years is compulsory for all male Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 16-40. Last year, the Defense Ministry said it would cut the required length by six months because military technology has improved.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Comic Relief

The following blog entry of Singapore's notarious blogger resulted in her loss of income from (at least) two sponsors (ST, 30th Oct 2005):

"Woah, woah! HOLD ON DUDE. You mean only handicapped people can use handicapped toilets?

Didi was smiling away and telling his story as if it is very funny (which it is lar, if your point is to laugh at that suay man), but I was really quite pissed off because this is the second time I heard a story about handicapped people scolding others for using their toilets.

Another one was my friend who was using a cineleisure handicapped toilet... When he walked out, he was severely lectured by a man who was wheel-chair bound, the latter chiding him for making him (latter) wait.
I don't know if it is the same grumpy, crazy person who did these two scoldings, but if it is not, then it seems a little too much of a coincidence.

When I expressed that this siao-eh (as an individual) was ridiculously unreasonable, my brother said, "No, the man shouldn't have used the handicapped toilet what, it says on the door that it is for the handicapped."
How come people have this notion that only the disabled can use facilities for the disabled?"

The blogosphere was livid in acrimonious negative reaction, but the best response came in what must be a stroke of genius in toilet humor:

XX came home from school one day and said to her mom, 'I can count faster then all the kids in my primary six class, do you think it is because I am smart?'
Her mother replied, 'Of course it is, dear.'

The next day, XX said, 'I can say the alphabet faster then anyone in my class, do you think it is because I am smart?
Her mother replied, 'Of course it is, dear.'

The next day XX came home from her gymnastics and asked her mother, ''I have a larger chest then all the kids in my class, do you think its because I am smart?'
Her mother replied, 'No dear, I think it is because you are eighteen years old.'

XX was headed to KL. She got on the plane and sat down in business class.
A few minutes later, a flight attendent came up to her and told her that her ticket was for economy and she had to move from the seat. She refused. The flight attendent was persistant, but XX replied, "No, I want to sit here, I've always wanted to see what it is like in business class."

The flight attendent was getting frustrated. Finally, after quite some time, she convinced her to move. Another passenger who overheard the conversation asked the attendent, "How did you get her to move?"

The flight attendent replied, "I told her that business class doesn't stop in KL."

XX was swerving all over the road and driving very badly, so she got pulled over by a police.
The police walked up to her window and asked, "Miss, why are you driving so recklessly?"
XX said, "I'm sorry sir, but wherever I go, there's always a tree in front of me and I can't seem to get away from it!"
The police looked at her and said, "Miss, that's your air freshener!"

Q: Why can't XX dial 911?
A: She can't find the eleven.

Q: How do you drown XX?
A: Put a scratch-n-sniff sticker at the bottom of a toilet bowl.

Q: Why did XX climb up to the roof of the bar?
A: She heard that the drinks were on the house.

Q: How do you confuse XX?
A: You don't have to. She is born that way.

Q: What does XX and a beer bottle have in common?
A: They're both empty from the neck up.

Q: To XX, what is long and hard?
A: Primary Six.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Hangman Cometh

25 yr old Nguyen Tuong VanA 25-year-old Australian drug trafficker will be hanged after the Singaporean Government rejected pleas for clemency.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, unsuccessfully made representations for the death penalty, imposed after Nguyen Tuong Van was found guilty of carrying nearly 400 grams of heroin, to be lifted on compassionate grounds.

Nguyen, a salesman and former boy scout who lived in Melbourne, was arrested while in transit at Singapore's Changi Airport. He said later that he was carrying the heroin to help pay debts of his drug-addicted twin brother.

"He will be hanged as a result of this decision," the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said yesterday. "There is no further appeal."

Hopes were raised that Nguyen would be spared after he co-operated with police. Australian Federal Police interviewed Nguyen in jail and he reportedly gave them detailed information about the Sydney drugs syndicate involved. Singapore's constitution allows for a Presidential pardon if an accused furnishes information that leads to the arrest of key figures.

Amnesty International believes more than 400 people have been executed in Singapore between 1991 and 2003. That’s approximately 30 a year. Singapore's Think Centre said that in the past five years 101 Singaporeans and 37 foreigners had been executed - 110 for drug-related offences and 28 for murder and arms-related offences.

18 hanged in 1 dayExecutioner Mr Darshan Singh will lead Nguyen Tuong Van to the gallows, and utter the last words that the Australian drug trafficker will hear: "I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you."

In a matter of weeks, he will place a rope around the 25-year-old's neck and say those words he has spoken to more than 850 condemned prisoners during his 46 years as Singapore's chief executioner.

Mr Singh has officially retired from the prison service but is called on to carry out executions, for which he receives a fee of $400. Until now, his indentity has been a closely guarded secret in Singapore.

Officials rarely comment on capital punishment, which is carried out without publicity behind the walls of Changi prison.

But The Australian revealed that the 73-year-old grandfather, who lives in a modest, government-owned apartment near the border with Malaysia, has been asked to execute Nguyen unless the Singapore Government gives an unprecedented last-minute reprieve.

Mr Singh told The Australian that under the Official Secrets Act he was forbidden from speaking about his work.

A colleague and close friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Australian that Mr Singh wanted to give up his hangman's responsibilities and live quietly in retirement but the authorities were having trouble finding anyone to replace him.

"He tried to train two would-be hangmen to replace him, a Malaysian and a Chinese, both in the prison service," the colleague said. "But when it came to pulling the lever for the real thing, they both froze and could not do it.

"The Chinese guy, a prison officer, became so distraught he walked out immediately and resigned from the prison service altogether."

Nguyen will meet Mr Singh a few days before he is executed and will be asked if he would like to donate his organs.

On the day before his execution, Mr Singh will lead him to a set of scales close to his death-row cell to weigh him.

Mr Singh will use the Official Table of Drops, published by the British Home Office in 1913, to calculate the correct length of rope for the hanging.

On the day of Nguyen's execution, Mr Singh will be picked up by a government vehicle and driven to the prison, arriving at 2 a.m. to prepare the gallows.

Shortly before 6 a.m., he will handcuff Nguyen's hands behind his back and lead him on his final short walk to the gallows, just a few metres from the cell.

Mr Singh joined the British colonial prison service in the mid-1950s after arriving from Malaysia. When the long-established British hangman Mr Seymour retired, Mr Singh, then 27, volunteered for the job. He was attracted by the bonus payment for executions.

Mr Singh is credited with the dubious record of being the only executioner in the world to single-handedly hang 18 men in one day - three at a time.

They had been convicted of murdering four prison officers during a riot on the penal island of Pulau Senang in 1963.

He also hanged seven condemned men within 90 minutes a few years later. They had been convicted in what became known as the "gold bars murders", in which a merchant and two employees were killed during a robbery.

One of the most controversial executions in his career was the 1991 hanging of a young Filipina maid, Flor Contemplacion, who was convicted of the murder of a co-worker, Delia Maga, and her four-year-old charge, on what many claimed was shaky evidence. Diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Philippines were soured for many years as a result.

He carries out the executions wearing simple casual clothes, often just a T-shirt, shorts, sports shoes and knee-length socks.

To mark his 500th hanging four years ago, four of his former colleagues turned up at his home to celebrate the event with a couple of bottles of Chivas Regal.

Mr Singh boasts that he has never botched an execution.

"Mr Seymour taught him just how long the drop should be according to weight and height and exactly where the knot should be placed at the back of the neck," his colleague said.

"Death has always come instantaneously and painlessly. In that split second, at precisely 6 a.m., it's all over."

When his colleague asked him why he had stayed so long in such a gruesome job, he replied: "It's all I know. It has become my bread and butter."

"He also used to cane convicted criminals after training in this cricket field," the colleague said.

"The pay then was 50 cents per stroke. He could wield a cane as well as he could wield a cricket bat."

Mr Singh lives happily with his second wife and is close to their three adult adopted children.

His first wife left him years earlier because she could not accept what he did. He had kept it a secret from her for years.

Mr Singh reportedly spends time getting to know the condemned prisoners, especially those who do not receive visitors or religious support.

"He is a very kindly man and although it's his job to end their lives he does feel for them," his friend said. "Mr Singh tries to comfort them if they are completely alone in the world at such a horrible time."

A disraught mother after the last meeting before the hangingDespite the personal efforts of Australian Premier John Howard, and both Pope John Paul and his successor, Pope Benedict, interceding for Mr Nguyen Tuong Van, the latter's fate was sealed in the following letter sent by post to his mother, Madam Kim Nguyen, who fled Vietnam alone in a boat in 1980 and gave birth to her twin sons in a transit camp in Malaysia, before the three were accepted as refugees into Australia:

18 Nov 05

Ministry of Home Affairs
Changi Prison Complex.

Dear Madam,

1. This is to inform you that the death sentence passed on Nguyen
Tuong Van will be carried out on 2 Dec 2005.

2. We will arrange for additional visits from 29 Nov till 1 Dec 2005.
Approved visitors may register for their visits between 8.30am and 9.30am and between 12.30pm and 1.30pm at the Prison Link Centre, Changi (990 Upper Changi Road North Singapore 506968).

3. You are requested to make the necessary funeral arrangements for him, however if you are unable to do so the state will assist in cremating the body.

Please do not hesitate to contact our officers in charge if you have
any queries.

Yours Faithfully,
Chiam Jia Fong
Institution A1, Cluster 1,
Singapore's Prison Service.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jail Bait

First it began with an itch. Then there was bleeding. And pain. Panic? Fear? Not Amy - she was nonchalant, just as she is about teenage, unprotected sex. Amy (not her real name) is only 17 but already claims to have had sex with more than 10 men.

At the polyclinic, the Government doctor told her she had contracted genital warts, a form of sexually transmitted infection (STI). "He gave me some medication. After that, the swelling went down," said Amy.

At that time, she said she had a steady boyfriend who was four years older than her. He was a friend's friend whom she had met at a chalet gathering. They had been dating for four months and were sexually intimate.

Since then, Amy said she has had sex with other partners. Despite her past experience with an STI, Amy remains nonchalant about the need to practise safe sex. They usually have sex at the boy's place. Amy said that most of them are older and are working. Sometimes, they buy her things, like clothes, bags and handphones. She lives with her parents in a four-room flat. Amy's father is a taxi driver and her mother is a housewife. She has a brother and a sister, both younger and still in school. All are blissfully aware of her sexual escapades.

Said Amy: "I'm usually out, either working or with my friends. I don't really talk to my family much. We have nothing much in common. My parents are quite conservative so I don't think they can accept my life and what I do."

"Get 'attached' in less than a week. And have sex in less than a month. That is what some young, reckless Singaporeans are doing," according to Ms Theresa Soon, a senior executive at the Department of STD Control (DSC) Clinic. They change partners at 'an amazing rate', have unprotected sex and are at risk of contracting a myriad of sexually-transmitted infections.

School kids in SingaporeMs Soon told The New Paper on Sunday that most of the young Singaporeans she sees have had more than one sexual partner. "They would befriend someone, become steady in less than a week, and have sex in less than a month. They would break up shortly after, and the cycle continues," she said. "Sex to them is just part and parcel of a boy-girl relationship. Most of the time, when we ask if they have been 'forced' into having sex, their reply would be no. It was a mutually agreed upon decision."

Such behaviour is worrying, even as the government is continuing to bring in the "buzz" to the once stead island. Following the "bar-top dancing" will be the Crazy Horse nude review, and the twin "Integrated Resorts" with the hospitality services casinos worldwide are renown for. Community centres routinely offer dance classes on "how to move like a hooker".

In 2002, there were 238 youngsters between the age of 10 and 19 with STIs. Last year, the figure nearly tripled to 653, say statistics from the DSC Clinic. Between January and August this year alone, there have been 468 cases. In particular, female patients are almost twice as many as male patients. This year, for example, there were 297 teenage girls with STIs, compared to 171 males.

On Wednesday 12th Nov 2005, a court was told that a 14-year-old girl who needed money to pay her bills had sex with at least five men. Five delinquent girls at the Pertapis Centre for Women and Girls off Yio Chu Kang Road also admitted offering sex for money. The oldest was in her late teens and the youngest, 14.

Social workers blame their nonchalant attitude on several factors: neglectful parents; the lack of stigma of losing one's virginity and having pre-marital sex as well as the pervasive message of one-night stands on TV and the Internet; and widespread consumerism and advertisements that encourage instant gratification.

Ms Ong Lea Teng from the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association is especially critical of Internet chatrooms, which makes it easy for girls to befriend teenage boys or men. "The thinking of some girls is that since they are doing it, they might as well get something out of it."

Sociologists blame parents. Said Dr Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore: "Why would a 14-year-old prostitute herself? The family must take responsibility. We cannot expect society to police the young for us... We cannot expect the schools to be the moral guardians."

Agreeing, Mr Alfred Tan, executive director of Singapore Children's Society, said: "Often, kids who get into trouble have no relationship with their parents. How do you bring up the subject of sex or values when you don't even talk to your children about everyday things in the first place?"

And parents have no way to shield their children from undesirable influences.

Said consultant psychiatrist Brian Yeo: "Society evolves and becomes more liberal and open. What parents can do is be good examples themselves, teach their children from young what's right and what's wrong and be aware of what they are doing."

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Rare Public Rebuke

"US envoy slaps Singapore over freedom of speech"
By John Burton in Singapore,
Updated: 1:42 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2005

The outgoing US ambassador to Singapore has criticised the city-state's restrictions on free speech in a rare public rebuke by a US official of one of Washington's closest Asian allies.

Ambassador Frank Levin said Singapore's 20th-century political model may prove inadequate for the 21st century, warning that the government "will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of its citizens."
Singapore bans demonstrations of five or more people.

The ambassador told an audience at a farewell dinner that he was "embarrassed" when police asked him if he wanted to press charges against six demonstrators protesting the Iraq war in front of the US embassy in 2003.

[ The six Singaporeans had wanted to register their unhappiness over the impending war in Iraq in front of the US embassy in Singapore. They were prevented by the police from doing so and ended up "helping the police with investigations." The police authorities investigating the source of SMS messages that were apparently being transmitted, asking protestors to go to US embassy, issued a statement "urging" people not to send such SMS messages and reiterated that public protests in Singapore were illegal. ]

"I said 'no.' I mean, go ahead, hold the signs and say something if you want to," said Mr Lavin, who will become under-secretary for international trade at the US Commerce Department.

Mr Levin said it was "surprising to find constraints on discussions here" given Singapore's strong international links in the economic sector. "In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?"

Singapore's one-party political dominance provides "enormous strengths," such as "very high quality leadership," but it also has weaknesses since "the lack of open and vigorous debates might reduce a government's popularity if it doesn't let ideas or views be properly aired."

Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, said last week that he did not believe that Singapore should adopt an "idealised form" of liberal democracy, explaining it was unsuitable for the country.

US-Singapore ties have strengthened during Mr Lavin's four-year tenure as ambassador, including the signing of bilateral free-trade agreement and a new security framework that might lead to an increased US military presence in the city-state.

Recent US ambassadors to Singapore, including Mr Lavin, have normally been highly supportive in their comments on Singapore. Mr Lavin's predecessor, Steven Green, left his post to become head of a Singapore-listed venture capital fund and was appointed a special advisor to the Singapore government and its honorary consul-general in Miami.

But Patricia Herbold, Mr Lavin's successor, has suggested that the Bush administration might be preparing to take a tougher line on Singapore's human rights record.

Ms Herbold, a lawyer and Republican fundraiser, told a US Senate hearing on her confirmation that she would continue a dialogue that Washington has with Singapore regarding the openness of its society and its political system.

US-Singapore relations have improved steadily since late 1980s, when Singapore accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs by alleging that the US embassy had secretly provided financial support to an opposition politician.*

At the time, Singapore relaxed its ban on demonstrations and allowed a large protest rally to take place in front of the US embassy.

Click here for a different take on the same speech.

Authorised Protest Activities:

*In May 1988, the government sanctioned a protest by the NTUC (Government controlled National Trade Union Congress) against the US because it accused the Americans of supporting former solicitor-general Mr Francis Seow. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Ong Teng Cheong, led a noisy demonstration against American interference in Singapore's affairs. It was the deceptively unassuming Ong who marshaled 2,000 trade unionists to stand in approved areas with anti-Uncle Sam banners. "Don't smile," said the DPM. "This is serious business." Unfortunately, a cameraman caught Ong doing just that.

Also in early 1988, some 4,000 NTUC members gathered outside the United States Embassy in Singapore to protest the decision to remove the GSP. Until 1989 Singapore and the three other NIEs enjoyed trade preferences with the United States under the United States Generalized System of Preferences. In 1989, the four Asian NIEs were removed from the program because of what some observers have seen as their major advances in economic development and improvements in trade competitiveness.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Real Rogues' Gallery

Mr Chua Cher Yak, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) chief, retired on 1 July 2005 after more than 11 years on the job. He said: "Our job is driven by political will. We can only be as effective as the Government wants us to be." Last year, CPIB investigated 295 cases, and all were completed within two months, resulting in 156 people being prosecuted.

Tan Kia GanTan Kia Gan was the Minister for National Development until he lost the 1963 elections.

While a director on the board of Malaysian Airways, Tan took strong objection to the purchase of Boeing aircraft. A few days later, a Mr Lim, a business friend of Tan, contacted First National City Bank, Boeing's bankers, to offer his services for a consideration. The bank knew of the Government's strict stand against corruption and reported the matter. Lim refused to implicate Tan Kia Gan and Tan could not be prosecuted.

But then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was convinced Tan was behind it, and issued a statement to say that, as the Government's representative on the board of Malaysian Airways, he had not discharged his duties beyond reproach. He was removed from the board and from all his other appointments.

Wee Toon BoonWee Toon Boon was Minister of State in the Ministry of the Environment in 1975 when he took a free trip to Indonesia for himself and his family members, paid for by a housing developer on whose behalf he made representations to civil servants. He also accepted a bungalow worth $500,000 from this developer and took two overdrafts totalling $300,000 in his father's name against the personal guarantee of the developer, to speculate in shares.

He was charged, convicted and sentenced to four years and six months in jail. Upon appeal, the convictions were upheld but the sentence was reduced by 18 months.

Phey Yew KokIn December 1979 Phey Yew Kok, President of the NTUC and a PAP MP, was charged on four counts of criminal breach of trust involving a total sum of S$83,000.

He was also charged on two counts under the Trade Unions Act for investing $18,000 of trade-union money in a private supermarket without the approval of the minister. As was normal in such cases, he was released on bail, but unusually he was not asked to surrender his passport.

Devan Nair, as Secretary-General of the NTUC, was close to Phey Yew Kok and believed in his innocence. He wanted the CPIB to review the case, saying that an innocent man was being destroyed on false charges. But after he read the evidence shown by the CPIB in confidence, Devan did not pursue the matter further.

Phey Yew Kok decided to jump bail, and his two sureties lost their $50,000 deposit. Some say he was last heard of in Thailand, eking out a miserable existence as a fugitive, others claim he is operating a transport company in Taiwan.

Teh Cheang WanThe most dramatic catch was that of Member of Parliament Teh Cheang Wan, then Minister for National Development, who once threatened to withhold emergency lift services from HDB wards that fail to vote for the ruling party.

In November 1986, one of his old associates admitted, under questioning by the CPIB, that he had given Teh two cash payments of $400,000 each, in one case to allow a development company to retain part of its land which had been earmarked for compulsory government acquisition, and in the other, to assist a developer in the purchase of state land for private development. These bribes had taken place in 1981 and 1982.

Teh denied receiving the money and tried to bargain with the senior assistant director of the CPIB for the case not to be pursued.

A week later, on the morning of Dec 15, Teh took a massive overdose of sodium amytal. Teh preferred to take his life rather than face disgrace and ostracism.

Glenn KnightIn 1991, the Director of the Commercial Affairs Department (the anti-graft and investigative arm of the Ministry of Finance) and former public prosecutor Glenn Knight Jeyasingam was charged in the subordinate court before District Judge Alfonso Ang. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced three months imprisonment for two offences.
The first charge made was essentially that Jeyasingam did attempt to cheat Managing Director of Trans-Island Bus Services Ltd Ng Ser Miang, with the intention of inducing Ng to effect an investment of Singapore $3 million in the Batam Island Fantasy Resort.
The second charge essentially was that Jeyasingam, did knowingly use, with intent to deceive the Ministry of Finance, a vehicle invoice of Ching Dtien Company, to mislead into the granting of a government vehicle loan of $65,000.

Jeyasingam joined the Attorney General's Chambers on April 3 1970 and reached the position of Senior State Counsel. On October 16 1984 he was appointed director of CAD, responsible for the setting up of the department for the investigation and prosecution of commercial crimes. In 1989 he received a strong commendation from the Minister of Finance for outstanding leadership in setting up CAD, and in 1990 he was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Gold).

Choy Hon TimIn 1995, a senior Public Utilities Board (PUB) official was given the maximum 14 years jail and ordered to forfeit US$9.8m received as bribes in Singapore's biggest corruption case. The sentence is the longest, and the kickbacks accepted by Choy Hon Tim from local and foreign contractors over a period of 18 years, a record high, judging from past corruption cases. Choy, the former Deputy CEO of PUB received the money through former PUB clerk Lee Peng Siong who had been an Australian citizen since 1983. Lee who was a consultant to PUB paid the money for pre-received information on the PUB tenders. The scandal resulted in the barring for 5 years five well-known contractors implicated in the bribery - Britain`s BICC, Siemens, Pirelli, and Japan's Marubeni Corporation and Tomen Corporation. The ban came when BICC announced planned to expand its operations in Asia with a US$31m investment in Indonesia and the Philippines. Lee, who was promised immunity from prosecution, remained free in Australia.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tough Laws

On 12th September 2005, Channel News Asia reported that two bloggers(sic) were charged with sedition for posting racist comments online.

Lawyers say the last time the sedition act was invoked in Singapore was at least 10 years ago.

25-year-old Nicholas Lim Yew and 27-year-old Benjamin Koh Song Huat were accused of posting racist comments on an online forum and on their blog site. They were both charged with committing a seditious act, by promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between races in Singapore.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, describes sedition thus:
"Critical speech, political organization, and mere association between individuals may be considered as "sedition." And though such behaviours may be common in a free society, in societies where sedition laws exist the acts and behaviours which qualify are highly subjective, and typically left to the whims of state agents. Legal definitons of sedition often include subversion of a constitution, or incitement to rebellion or insurrection toward the lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws."

From the perspective of the Singapore Sedition Act:

3. — (1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;

(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —

(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;

(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;

(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or

(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.

(3) For the purpose of proving the commission of any offence under this Act, the intention of the person charged at the time he did or attempted to do or made any preparation to do or conspired with any person to do any act or uttered any seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any publication or did any other thing shall be deemed to be irrelevant if in fact such act had, or would, if done, have had, or such words, publication or thing had a seditious tendency.

Investigations into the case began after "someone" called the police hotline at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. on June 19 to complain that Koh's blog on "discussed topics that would disrupt racial harmony".

Inquiries into that complaint led the police to an online pet forum,, where Lim, a marketing executive, allegedly posted racist remarks.

Koh faced three charges while Lim faced two for remarks made between June 12 and June 17 this year. If convicted, they could be fined up to $5,000 per charge or jailed up to three years, or both.

According to court documents, Lim's forum message began with: "The masses are idiots. 'Nuff said". He went on to make disparaging remarks about Muslims. Then, turning his attention to the Chinese and Indians, he wrote that listening to the complaints of "Chinese and Indians ... was no less irritating". Koh was more pointed. Peppering his blog entry with vulgarities, he directed his tirade at Malays and Muslims. His blog had a picture of a roasted pig's head with "a Halal look-alike logo", according to court documents.

Dr Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University, said someone could "technically" be charged if a racist remark was overhead and reported to the authorities.

"(But) only when the audience size is large enough will the impact of the statement be meaningful," said Dr Ang.

"Many bloggers do not know the law, unlike trained journalists. People assume there is a cloak of secrecy. But you can still track people down. There are a lot of remarks out there (on the Internet) that are defamatory, inflammatory racist remarks. These are not taken seriously in many parts of the world," said Dr Ang. "They are seen as rants and people usually ignore them."

"Singapore is an unusual case."

The source of the hubris stems from a letter written to the Forum pages of the Straits Times:


ON JUNE 3, while I was on a bus, I noticed a taxi with a small dog in it.

The dog was not in a cage and was standing on the backseat beside its owner.

I am curious to know if cab companies allow uncaged pets to be transported in taxis. Dogs may drool on the seats or dirty them with their paws.

Zuraimah Mohammed (Mdm)

Readers were told by the newspaper with circulation exceeding 100,000 that Madam Zuraimah's concerns had a religious basis. Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed, chairman of Khadijah mosque, was quoted as saying: "There are various Islamic schools of thought which differ in views. But most Muslims in Singapore are from the Syafie school of thought. This means they are not allowed to touch dogs which are wet, which would include a dog's saliva. This is a religious requirement."

On Oct 7, Benjamin Koh Song Huat,, 27, was sentenced to a month's imprisonment while Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, was fined $5000 and jailed for a day, both for posting comments alledgedly attacking the Muslim ethnic Malay community.

Benjamin's online problems started after a trip to East Coast Park in June when he was walking his dogs and had a run-in with some Malay families, who shy away from dogs on religious grounds. He went home later that day and "blasted away" on his blog, and supposedly advocated desecrating Islam’s holy site of Mecca in his online journal. Then came the Internet community's reaction.

"People started posting comments and made nasty remarks about me and my parents. I thought it was another blog war and I didn't really bother," he said. "But the comments didn't stop." Eventually, Koh locked his blog a week later to prevent anyone from posting comments and put up an apology.

It appeased some — but there were others who were still baying for blood. At the end of June, plainclothes police officers went to his home to question him, after a 21 year old female Malay media executive, who subsequently spoke to the press under the pseudonym of "Kalin", dialed 999 to lodge a complaint.

Koh maintained during a 40-minute phone interview that he was not a racist. He said he has many Malay friends from his days at Swiss Cottage Secondary School. So, when news of his arrest broke, he got calls from one of them. "They called me, laughed and said: 'You racist? Come on lah'," said Koh. His friend IT manager Mohammad Hisham Bin Abu Bakar accompanied him to the court sentencing.

Two days before the Muslim new year celebrations of Hari Raya, Koh told Today about the three weeks in his 2m-by-4m jail cell: "I was having a panic attack and it took two officers to calm me down. The psychological relief was the window above my cell."

The former kennel keeper was so nervous that he flushed down the toilet the six slices of bread given for his first meal. He had no appetite and just wanted to sleep. What ate into him were not only the four walls but fear. He was worried about how the Malay prison officers would treat him.

Though by nature a jovial and outgoing man, he made it a point to avoid interacting with other inmates. Kept in solitude, Mr Koh said he only came out of the cell to shower or to borrow books to read. Prison officers nicknamed him "The Blogger" and those who did not read his blog wanted to know what he had written.

Regaining his freedom, however, is not the close of the chapter for Mr Koh, who blogged for the first time after a four-month break the night he was released from Queenstown Remand Prison. In a short entry, he informed his friends of his return to cyberspace. "I now feel demoralised about writing. The feeling (to write) is there but I have to censor myself. Freedom of speech here is a very debatable term. I don't think I am one to censor myself, though of course I must be more careful now."

"I have been punished and it's time to move on," he said. "The racist label was what I hated. I am not a racist. I am not Pauline Hanson or Hitler. But the label will stick with me. I probably will take some time to get over it."

Quite understandably, when his Malay friends invited him to the Hari Raya gatherings at the coming weekend, he said "no".

"I want to go but their relatives will be there. Our generation can understand my situation but I will still feel embarrassed with their relatives around," he explained.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

White Elephants

Singapore tabloid "Today" reported that growing public reaction over the authorities' investigation into the "white elephants" episode has compelled the police to justify their ongoing actions. What is significant here is the comparative lack of public reaction over the overwhelming police response to the 4 person protest held outside the CPF building recently.

In a statement issued yesterday, 7th September 2005, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said "the Police must be fair and transparent at all times and not investigate cases selectively".

Idle since 2003 - Buangkok StationThe statement went on to explain that because someone had called "999" to complain about the animal cut-outs displayed on July 28 outside the Buangkok MRT station, the police had to determine whether any offence had been committed under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act.

The placards, stuck along the road divider outside the train station operated by SBS Transit, were taken down on the very same day — after Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan visited the Punggol South constituency and caught the implicit message that residents would like to see Buangkok station open after two years of waiting. Commented Dr Balakrishnan, "Let me say that your message is taken, you don't need to convince me. I understand your wish to have the station open, I understand your frustration -- the thing is ready and yet the gate is not open but the PM has said two or three years, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong has said that once you have 2,000 units. It's just a matter of time."

Transport Minister Mr Yeo showed how the fine line is drawn in policy making: "I have said that when the number of units there reaches 2,000 to 3,000, we would open it. Today, within the 400m radius, there are only something like 600 units. So, it's well below. But, of course, if you extend the radius to 500 metres, we get close to 2,000. So I have asked the LTA, 'between 400 to 500 metres, is the cut-off so precise? What happens if we pull the line to 500 metres?'"

The minister seem to be blissfully ignorant of the Marina Bay Station operating at the end of the North South line in desolate Marina South, with nary a housing unit in sight. Completed in 2003, Buangkok Station is still not operational, the official reasoning being that there are not enough commercial or residential developments within 400 metres of the area.

Since the police began doing their job, several Singaporeans have written in to express their surprise at the police's decision to conduct a full-fledged investigation as a result of just one caller's complaint. The police action at the CPF building was also initiated by a phone call to the police.

More than 10 people, including residents and grassroots leaders, have been questioned since the police started their investigations last week, sources told Today.

If the police do determine that a crime has been committed, they may refer the case to the Attorney-General's Chambers, which guides law enforcement agencies on their investigations besides prosecuting criminal matters in court.

Under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act gazetted in 2001, entertainment accessible to the public should not be carried out in a manner that is indecent, immoral, offensive, subversive or improper.

In addition, exhibits may not be put up in public without a permit. The offence carries a maximum fine of $10,000.

It should be pointed out that, as Presidential hopeful Andrew Kuan found to his chagrin when he reported a case of forgery, when a matter has been brought to the attention of the police, latter may, after investigating, close the case without persecution and no explanation given to parties involved.

Punggol South MP Charles Chong ventured further to predict that a feedback forum may be in order as soon as the case is closed so that residents can air their views on the issue. He appeared highly conversant about how the system works.

Chong said that complaints from residents tapered off in 2003, but flared up again recently when the transport fare hike was announced.

Said Mr Chong, "The bus fare went up, ERP gantries went up -- it sort of resurrected a lot of their frustrations … Every day when they see the site and not being able to use it and incurring higher transport costs for a station that's further away, I think this has irritated quite a lot of them."

For a parliamentarian of many years' standing, Chong had a curious perspective of law and order in the well disciplined city: "Throughout this whole experience, there are some who feel the letter of the law should be observed. Others feel there can be some easing of rules."

In a statement to the media on Oct 6th, the police said that while the investigation into the "white-elephants" incident established that there was an infringement of the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, it noted that "the placards did not cause public annoyance or nuisance". Under the Act, an offender can be fined for up to $10,000 for putting up exhibits in public without a permit. After "considering the circumstances", the police decided to issue a "stern warning" to the offender.

Grassroots leader Sunny LeowUnperturbed by the admonishment, Sunny Leow, 54, who chairs the Punggol South Citizens' Consultative Constituency, challenged the 999-caller who complained about the cut-outs to come forward. "We want to know why he was offended and say sorry," he was quoted as saying. His MP Charles Chong told the press his "insurgents" will gather in Bangkok for their annual retreat where, as he quipped, "white elephants are revered."

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, who helms Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry, had made it clear that the law cannot be selective: "We cannot apply the law to some and turn a blind eye to others. If we do, then the law becomes the real white elephant."

Friday, August 19, 2005

8 Days In August

5th August, Friday
The political establishment turned decidedly less cordial after Andrew Kuan, a card carrying member of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) who served five terms as a town councillor and finance committee chairman at Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, declared himself as a contender in what had been seen as a second-term shoo-in for the 81-year-old government-backed incumbent, S.R. Nathan, a former internal security chief.

Almost daily since Kuan's name was first mentioned by the Straits Times on Friday 5 August, Singaporeans were been treated to an uncomely spectacle – one lone man in the cross-hairs of the political machinery coming out with all guns blazing, almost as if they were in panic mode.

PAP politicians and the media alike badmouthed Kuan in a feeding frenzy. He was described as arrogant, too full of himself, and then dirt was dug up by the New Paper about events at a condominium management council. Mr Kuan claimed that some members had an "axe to grind" after he had made an "unpopular decision" to get another committee member removed.

Kuan was 51, Chinese, and showed up to submit his papers for eligibility with the former Archbishop of the Anglican Church in tow. Immediately, he was attacked in the press by the incumbent's supporter as playing the race card.

Andrew Kuan had to obtain a COE – not a certificate of entitlement to buy a car, but a certificate of eligibility – before he can stand for election.

The committee determining eligibility had to decide firstly, whether his job (2001 - 2004) as the Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), which Kuan says has $11 billion in assets, is equivalent to management experience leading a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital – one of the statutory requirements for eligibility.

Secondly, whether he is a person of "good character and standing" – the other statutory condition.

Aside from the Certificate of Eligibility, all potential candidates had to submit a deposit of S$37,500 on Nomination Day. A Political Donation Certificate issued by the Registrar of Political Donations was also needed. This is required under the Political Donation Act, which seeks to prevent foreigners from interfering in Singapore's domestic politics through funding of candidates and political associations.

7th August 2005, Sunday
Firing the first salvo, the Straits Times reported that some grassroots leaders Kuan had worked with described him as "conceited". Minister Lim Swee Say was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying that Singaporeans should not hope for a contest in the presidential election just for the sake of it. Singaporean media reported extensively on the circumstances surrounding Kuan's departure from his condominium's management council in 2001.

9 August 2005, Tuesday
Even Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong chimed in and called for all candidates to be open about about their records, so that Singaporeans can make a informed judgement on them. Prime Minister Lee said he didn't know Mr Kuan well but he hoped Mr Kuan will be open about his employment history.
"I'm quite sure he will want to tell Singaporeans all about it. How he came to take up these jobs and in some cases, changed them very quickly and what the reason was. I think if I were him, I would also encourage his employers to come forward, speak freely and tell Singaporeans what they know about him," said PM Lee.
On the incumbent, Mr Lee made clear his desired outcome by saying he had no doubt that Mr Nathan had the full support and confidence of Singaporeans in the last six years of his first term. And he was glad that Mr Nathan had put himself forward for a second term in office. Nathan's personal comment on the subject in April (see below) seemed to vanish into thin air.

11th August, Thursday
Right on cue, Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) a called a news conference to provide details on the circumstances leading to Mr Kuan's resignation in July last year. It was claimed that Andrew Kuan was asked to leave JTC Corp as the board was not satisfied with his job performance.
Chong Lit Cheong, CEO of JTC Corp and government scholarship holder, said: "Quite a fair bit of hand holding is required and as a leader, CEO, I cannot be hand holding all my directors."

According to Chong:
- 51-year-old Andrew Kuan was appointed JTC's group chief financial officer in June 2001;
- After his first year, JTC was not satisfied with his performance but gave him another chance;
- Things did not improve and Mr Kuan was asked to resign in September 2003.
- He asked for an extension till March, but later made a request to stay on and serve his three-year term;
- Come June, he still did not resign and was given the ultimatum to do so or face termination;
- He finally tendered his resignation in July - after 37 months with JTC.

In response, Kuan put on record that he had worked at JTC Corporation for 37 months, extending his contract several times, and he was given performance bonuses and a raise during this period.

During his tenure with the statutory board, he was invited to sit on the editorial board of advisers for CFO Asia, a finance magazine published under The Economist Group. The magazine's managing editor, Mr Justin Wood, described his two-year working relationship with Mr Kuan as "very positive, very useful and constructive".

12th August, Friday
Meanwhile, water treatment company Hyflux, where Kuan worked as the regional chief financial officer for Hyflux-Isithmar's Joint Venture in the Middle East, released a statement saying ''We would definitely not have offered him the position if we had known of his personal ambitions. We are disappointed that he was not honest with us and have taken us for a ride.''

The Presidential Elections Committee called for JTC's assessment of Mr Kuan - which was submitted on Thursday 12th.

13th August, Saturday
Presidential Elections Committee rejected his application for a Certificate of Eligibility claiming that his seniority and responsibility as JTC's Group Chief Financial Officer were, in the opinion of the Committee, not comparable to those required under the Constitution.

Under the Presidential Elections Act, the decision of the Presidential Elections Committee in awarding the Certificate of Eligibility is final, and is not subject to an appeal or review in court.

Game Over
Garry Rodan, Director of Murdoch University's Asia Research Centre in Australia, said the government's response to Kuan's bid throws into question its promise for greater openness.
"If he is deemed ineligible for the contest in spite of a lack of any wrongdoing on his part, then the government displays a complete lack of confidence in the Singapore people to judge for themselves," he said.

Back in 14th April 2005, Chinese Daily Muzi News (LatelineNews) wrote:
The retirement of 81-year-old S.R. Nathan by the end of his term in August would pave the way for elections for the post, whose significance is often debated in a country dominated by a single party since independence in 1965. When asked by reporters whether he would stand for re-election Nathan, a former ambassador to the United States, expressed his wish to retire.
"I'm 81, you know? Everybody is speculating. I'm not speculating. I'm hoping to look into retirement," Singapore's Straits Times newspaper quoted Nathan as saying in Malaysia.
Nathan's health report card reveals he is diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol level, prostatic enlargement and diverticulosis of the colon.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Exciting Times

News Flash: Police Send In Riot Squad To Deal With 4 Protesters
11 Aug 05,

Riot police at CPF Building“This section go to the right! The rest go left! No one is to come through!” barked the corporal to his men, clad in full riot gear – truncheons, shields, head gear, and shin guards.

The threat? Four (yes, 4) activists who had assembled outside the Central Provident Fund Building in downtown Singapore to protest against the non-transparent and non-accountable nature of the way the Singapore Government deals with public funds. Two of the protesters were women.

The number of police officers numbered at approximately 40.

Mr Charles Tan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Ms Monica Kumar, and Mr Yap Keng Ho were wearing T-shirts with the words: “NKF” (National Kidney Foundation), “HDB” (Housing De
velopment Board), “GIC” (Government of Singapore Investment Corporation), “CPF” (Central Provident Fund), “Financial Reserves” – “Be Transparent Now!”

These state-run organisations (NKF is closely associated with the Government) are run in a secretive manner. For example, the GIC (chaired by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister and paramount leader of Singapore) uses the country's financial reserves in investments all the world but refuses to give an account for its dealings.

Associate Professor Mukul Asher at the National University of Singapore noted about the funds invested by the GIC: “There is…no transparency or public accountability concerning where these funds are invested.” The Asian Wall Street Journal remarked: “Where do the CPF funds go? No one is exactly sure since the government, amazingly, won’t give the public a precise accounting of how it uses the public’s money.”

AFP photo of demonstrationThe protest started off with the four activists standing quietly outside the building wearing their T-shirts. After about 30 minutes, two police cars arrived with lights flashing, carrying a few senior officers.

This was followed by a few police vans carrying uniformed officers, including those from the riot squad. After forming up, the officers cordoned off the entrance to the building.

“Who's in charge?” Deputy Superintendent Dominic John Baptist asked the protesters, his hands quivering.

“All of us,” replied Mr Yap Keng Ho.

“I'm ordering all of you to disperse.”

“On what grounds?” asked Ms Chee Siok Chin.

“Public nuisance. Someone called to complain,” the DSP replied.

“But as you can see , we are standing here peacefully and we have not...” Ms Chee started to explain.

“Disperse now! Are you going to be here? Leave!” ordered the officer.

“Sir, can I ask you under what law...” Ms Chee persisted.

“The offence is public nuisance under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. It is a seizable offence, which means you may be arrested.”

The protesters complied and left the area. The police continued to follow them and after a few metres, stopped them and confiscated the T-shirts they were wearing.

“Will we get the T-shirts back?” the protesters enquired. The police didn't bother to reply.

Several questions need to be asked from this episode :

One, did the police have the right to order the protesters to leave especially when there were only four of them? The law clearly states that only five or more people gathered in a public place constitutes an illegal assembly.

Two, did the police see the protesters creating a commotion and making a nuisance of themselves? Throughout the protest all four protesters stood silently until the police started questioning them.

Three, why is the Singapore Government so afraid of four peaceful protesters that it had to send in the riot squad? Signs of insecurity perhaps?

Although the foursome was dispersed by the officer accusing them of causing a public nuisance, a reading of the law would seem to say they did no wrong:

11. —(1) Any person who commits any of the following offences shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000:

(a) without authority in the case of public property, or without the consent of the owner or occupier in the case of private property, affixes or causes to be affixed any advertisement, bill or notice, or any paper against or upon any building, wall or fence, or writes upon, defaces or marks any such building, wall or fence with chalk or paint, or in any other way;

(b) bathes or washes himself, or any other person, animal or thing on any public road, or in, upon or by the side of any public tank, reservoir, watercourse or stream;

(c) obstructs or causes trouble or inconvenience to a person bathing at any place set apart as a bathing place by wilful intrusion, or by washing any animal at or near that place, or in any other way;

(d) being the owner or person in charge of any animal does not, if the animal dies, dispose of its carcase in such a way as not to be a common nuisance;

(e) places any dead animal on or near any public road;

(f) spits in any coffee shop, market, eating house, school house, theatre or public building, or in any omnibus, railway carriage or other public conveyance, or on any wharf or jetty, or in any public road, or on any five-foot way or sidewalk of any public road, or in any other place to which the public has or may have access;

(g) suffers to be at large any unmuzzled ferocious dog or other animal, or sets on or urges any dog or other animal to attack, worry or put in fear any person or animal.

Listen to what Lee Kuan Yew in 1956, speaking as an opposition PAP member, said to then Chief Minister David Marshall:

"Repression, Sir, is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love-it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they're conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict."

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Poor Reminder

In his article "Following Singapore's lead on the road of development" (Earth Times, January 15, 2001) Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Kishore Mahbubani, wrote:

Looking for lunch in the trashbin"This careful attention to meeting the physical and material needs of the population is matched by equal care and concern for the people's social and spiritual needs. In this, however, Singapore has consciously moved away from the welfare-state prescriptions of OECD societies. There are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated, not through an entitlements program (there are virtually none) but through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives. The state acts as the catalyst--matching financial support, sponsoring preventive and social care, and ensuring that basic needs are provided for. Remarkably, the poorest 5 percent of households have about the same levels of ownership of homes, television sets, refrigerators, telephones, washing machines and video recorders as the national average. Perhaps this, combined with the tough law-and-order regime, explains why Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world."

Alms for the amputeeThus there is this myth that Singapore is a rich country and its citizens are well-taken care of. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1998 United Nations Human Development Index showed that Singapore ranked 28 on the list behind countries like Barbados and Malta.

One reason why the poor in Singapore are not more visible is that the Ministry of Community Development and Sports conduct frequent raids through its Destitute Persons Service, looking for and picking up vagrants. If Singapore seems to have less destitute, it is not because the numbers are not present. The real reason is that the Singapore Government is just much more efficient in clearing the streets of homeless people.

Below are some statistical indicators of the poor in Singapore:

In 1999, nearly 2,000 children did not attend school because their parents could not afford it. Mohammad Hirwan was one such child. His parents earned about $1000 a month, hardly sufficient for a family in Singapore. As a result the boy's parents had to take him out of school when he was nine. His siblings did not fare any better. All of them dropped out of school because of poverty.

Collecting carton boxes for saleIn 1990, the richest 10 percent of households earned 15.6 times more than the poorest 10 percent. (Households with no income-earners are excluded from this category.) By 2000, the gap widened: the richest 10 percent earned 36 times more than the poorest 10 percent. The average household income of the bottom decile decreased by 48.4 per cent, while the overall decrease was only 2.7 per cent.

According to the 2000 Census, 12.6 per cent of households earned less than $1,000 per month. A monthly gross total household income of $1,500 and below is considered “poor” in Singapore.

A more recent survey found that 16 per cent of the respondents had family members who often went hungry.

In 2003, a study found that Singaporeans aged between 20 and 49 years made up 70 percent of suicide cases from 1997 to 2001. They also constitute the main bulk of cases of attempted suicides. A newspaper report highlighted that more people are being diagnosed with mental disorders due to financial woes.

The unemployment rate for the bottom 10 per cent increased from 28.2 per cent in 1998 to 44 per cent in 1999 - an increase of about 56 per cent compared to 42 per cent for the total labour force.

In 2004 it was recorded 37,823 households could not afford to buy their own flats or rent homes in the open market. The latest inflation data for Singapore shows that the rise in consumer prices for the lowest 20 per cent income group was more than seven times that of the top 20 per cent income group. Sleeping in open deck

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tale Of Two Cities

A Thai national had this to say about Singapore laws:

No Spitting[Singapore has always had the right balance between law, human rights and issues such as entertainment. Readers may scoff at this but Singapore is actually a very decent and fair place to live. Yes, you may say that the people are controlled but at least the Singapore government has got the balance right - unlike Thailand which goes from a totally lawless society to a draconian place where you can't get a drink after midnight. Sure, Singapore has some very harsh laws but this should only worry you if you are a criminal, drug user, or you chew gum. Personally the ban of chewing gum isn't such a bad thing because it does keep the environment much cleaner. I actually admire the law and justice system in Singapore because it punishes those according to the crime and no one escapes no matter who they are."

Julia Elizabeth Tubbs, a British lawyer, knocked down and killed South Korean housewife Oh Eun Sook, 35, her two-year-old daughter, Shyn Ji Yun and five-year-old son Shyn Hong Wook while driving into the Anchorage condominium at Alexandra Road in Feb 2000. She was originally charged with three counts of causing death by dangerous driving. Tubbs claimed trial to an amended charge of causing death by negligence and was acquitted because the prosecution "failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that she had been negligent and failed to keep a proper lookout.
Chief Justice Yong Pung How upheld the lower court's acquittal after the prosecution appealed. CJ Yong praised District Judge Audrey Lim's original ruling "for her high quality grounds of judgment" (Straits Times 29 Jun 2001).

Marco Eldon Kerkmeester, 35, an IBM sales director from New Zealand was charged in court with having transmitted a hoax e-mail message which led to the Sept 12 Singapore Airlines flight to Johannesburg being delayed for six hours. The prosecution withdrew the charge against Kerkmeester after receiving a psychiatric report that said he was of unsound mind when he sent the message. He was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal and walked out of court a free man on 12 October . (Straits Times 13 Oct 2001)

Max Ulrich Villinger, 55, the German chief executive officer of logistics company Schenker (Asia) Pacific was fined the maximum of S$1,000 and disqualified from driving for six months, after he pleaded guilty to careless driving on 23 May 2001. Villinger was driving a BMW car when he hit Madam Ara Yacob as he was turning out of Kheam Hock Road. She died the same day from serious injuries inflicted by the accident. (Straits Times 12 Sep 2002)

Student at the German International School in Singapore Julia Suzanne Bohl made headlines on 13 March 2002 when she was charged with drug trafficking after police seized 687 grams (24.2 ounces) of marijuana and other drugs in her apartment, located in a wealthy part of the city-state. But the German woman Bohl, who was 22 when arrested, escaped hanging after laboratory tests showed the amount of pure drugs found in her apartment weighed only 281 grams, less than the 500 grams limit for cannabis which warrants the mandatory death sentence in Singapore. She was released on Friday 15 July 2005 after her five-year jail sentence was reduced by nearly two years for good behavior, prison spokeswoman Lim Soo Eng told Reuters. Singapore stirred up a diplomatic storm with the Netherlands in 1994 when it ignored Western appeals to make an exception to its tough anti-drug rules and hanged Dutchman Van Damme for trafficking 4.32 kilograms (9.5 pounds) of heroin.

Meanwhile a 72-year-old Singapore woman unwittingly rented out her house in Joo Chiat to Chinese immigration offenders, charging them between S$130 and S$150 a month. Tan Siew Yoke was sentenced to six months' jail. (Straits Times 24 May 2001)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Matter Of Choice

AsiaWeek 1995The ruling People's Action Party emerged victorious in Cheng San in the 1997 elections, though with just 54.8% of the vote.

"It cannot be said that people voted freely without their minds being trammeled by worries and fears of the consequences of voting against the PAP," said Jeyaretnam, who failed in his comeback after a 10-year hiatus. "The marvel is, in spite of all that, we managed to get almost 45% of the vote."

Chee Soon Juan of the SDP professed concern for the country's future: "It's a tragedy -- when we're talking about competition in the 21st century -- to use the upgrading of homes as the final bait."

Chee referred to the primary issue in the campaign -- and one which the PAP wielded effectively -- the upgrading of government flats, a program started in 1989 to bridge the gap between old and new apartments. The PAP sent forth a clear message: wards that did not vote for its candidates would be placed last in line for the upgrading program.

Said Goh to those who might have been leaning toward the opposition: "In 20, 30 years' time, the whole of Singapore will be bustling away, and your estate, through your own choice, will be left behind. They become slums."

This remark raised eyebrows and drew a rebuke from the United States Secretary of State Madeline K Albright.

Lim, a 33-year-old bus company worker, lived in the MacPherson ward. In the past five years, the government built four additional Housing and Development Board apartment blocks in MacPherson, added two children’s playgrounds, two power substations and a multi-story carpark. Ten HDB flats were upgraded, 15 others almost finished, and four about to be started.

Due in part to the upgrades, the value of Lim’s three-bedroom flat appreciated by more than $100,000. The government program extended Lim’s master bedroom, upgraded the toilet, brought elevators to every floor (previously they stopped at every other one) and spruced up the exterior. The work was done by the town council. MacPherson is headed by the recently re-elected Matthias Yao, 40, an up-and-comer in the ruling party.

In the Potong Pasir constituency, which is represented by oppositionist Chiam See Tong, 61, of the Singapore People’s Party, improvements have been more modest. In five years Chiam had overseen the construction of two walkways, five covered linkways, reroofing of 17 apartment blocks, expansion of playgrounds and installation of booster pumps to increase water pressure.

Longtime Potong Pasir resident Lian, 37, who works for the Singapore Armed Forces, said his neighborhood is “a fine place.” But he reckoned that the upgrading of flats has passed Potong Pasir by because it is opposition territory. “Chiam is very popular,” said Lian, “but he can’t do much. His hands are tied. He doesn’t have as much funds as the PAP constituencies.”

Chiam complained of the “very unethical disbursement of public funds.Town councils run by the PAP have almost unlimited funds. Their main source of money is the Ministry of National Development,” of which MP Mathias Yao is senior parliamentary secretary. Chiam had to make do with the maintenance rates collected from residents and the $280,000 that each town council receives annually from the government. “The world is divided between those who support the PAP and those who don’t,” said Chiam. “If you don’t vote for the PAP, you don’t get the facilities. These facilities are provided by public funds, yet the government is using public funds to gain votes.”

Prime Minister Goh countered that “you can argue that the money belongs to the people, but you still have to queue up to receive it.” Those who support the government and its programs most strongly, he said, get served first.

During a speech at the Nanyang Technological University, Goh argued against "Western-style" democracy: "Do you think we could have done even half of what was achieved in the last 30 years if we had a multi-party system and a revolving-door government?" he asked the students. "Do you think we could have done just as well if we had a government which was constantly being held in check by 10 to 20 opposition members in the last 30 years?"

Opined one local analyst: "If the government has its way, there is no place for an opposition in Singapore. It defines the opposition as inimical to stability and the Asian way of democracy -- of consensus. People who are articulate and vociferous and who rock the status quo are not wanted."

The PAP's answer to an alternative voice in Parliament is to select its own. Nominated MPs are appointed by the president based on nominations from a Special Select Committee. They can't vote on issues related to budgets or defense, but can debate and question the ruling party.

That won't satisfy everyone. In a Internet chat group, an "ashamed and disappointed Singaporean" lamented: "We have good government and the PAP has done a lot for the country, I concede that. But why do I have this bitter taste after watching the way the PAP conducted themselves during the elections?" On the brighter side, he could probably look forward to his apartment being upgraded.