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)