Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nation Builder

The December 2006 copy of Time magazine featured "60 Years of Asian Heroes" which covered nation builders, business leaders, artists & thinkers, athletes, and explorers. Sharing company with Ghandi, Corazon Aquino, Deng Xiaoping, General Vo Nguyen Giap and Mohammed Ali Jinnah was Lee Kuan Yew.

"Lee Kuan Yew - Smart, tough, pragmatic—an enduring symbol of Asia itself" by Simon Elegant

The first time I met Lee Kuan Yew I was under strict orders not to open my mouth. It was 1987, I was a wire-service reporter, and Singapore's patriarch was in the middle of one of his periodic campaigns to show the Western press who was the boss in his city. When my father, also a journalist, secured an interview with Lee for a book he was writing and asked if I could tag along, Lee's people eventually agreed—but only on condition that I not utter a single word. At one point during the interview, Lee launched into a withering criticism of arrogant Western journalists who imposed their values on others. I opened my mouth to say something, but one stern look of warning from Lee was enough to make me snap my jaws shut.

Lee is famous for his formidable personality and unshakeable faith in his own convictions. Combine those qualities with a burning intelligence, a cold-eyed pragmatism and an unrelenting focus on his goals and you have some sense of the man who almost single-handedly transformed a sleepy tropical port into one of the world's most economically vibrant city-states. Yet that achievement, extraordinary as it is, is not what makes Lee unique. Today, at 83, after some 50 years of public life, Lee can securely count himself as the one and only Asian who has played witness, sculptor and adviser to all the great historical shifts Asia has undergone over the decades: the rise of nationalism; the end of the cold war; the growth of prosperity; and the emergence of China as a new global power. It is all this that makes Lee not just an elder statesman and a voice for Asia, but an enduring symbol of the region's pragmatism and resilience.

Like most people, Lee was profoundly shaped by his early experiences—and the Cambridge-educated lawyer cut his teeth as a politician in a very rough school indeed. Amid the turmoil of independence from Britain in the 1950s, Lee faced down and ultimately defeated a deeply entrenched communist movement at a time when the red banners of Marxism seemed to be advancing inexorably throughout Asia. When he found himself Prime Minister in 1965, Lee applied the same tough approach to governing the tiny new nation. Although he called himself a socialist until the early 1970s, his actions were purely capitalist, forging Singapore's export-led economy by courting foreign investment and never wavering in his focus on three things: long-term planning, meritocracy and zero tolerance for corruption. The results have been dazzling: Singapore's GDP per capita exploded from a few hundred dollars in 1965 to around $29,500 today, just a few notches below its former colonial master Britain.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Lee again—this time for an extensive interview during which I was allowed to speak. I found him mellower than at our first meeting nearly two decades ago. He even choked up at one point as he talked about the death of a close friend. But the steely, uncompromising core that will always be bedrock Lee still rose to the surface. Asked about what his critics call a low tolerance for dissent in the city he virtually created, Lee wouldn't give an inch: "I'm not guided by what Human Rights Watch says. I am not interested in ratings by Freedom House or whatever. At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That's the test." That test, even Lee's fiercest detractors would concede, Lee has passed spectacularly.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Unemployment Is Good

Chua Mui Hoong’s recent article in the Straits Times (Review, 24 Nov 2006) contains a spirited defence of the various fee hikes instituted by the government since this past general election: June-electricity tariffs up by 2.3 per cent; July-taxi fares went up, flag-down fare increased by $0.10 cents to $2.50, peak hour surcharge increased from $1.00 to $2.00; August-Electronic Road Pricing fees at 6 key expressway gantries raised; October-bus and train fares go up by 1 to 3 cents; December-local postage go up 9%; Next year-GST to go up from 5% to 7%.
Her basic argument is as follows:
“If price hikes were severe after elections, then inflation rate should go up a year after elections. But the data show otherwise. Since 1980, the inflation rate has consistently gone down one year after all elections.”
The article considers the history of fee hikes after each general election, and attempts to refute the politically “seductive argument” put forward by “cynics” to the effect that fee hikes have always been the consequence of PAP win at the polls. It is also notable her statistics also show that as unemployment goes up, inflation goes down. Ergo, unemployment is good for the economy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Man Who Loves Singapore

This is what a Finn by the name of Mika Sampovaara wrote that was published by the Straits Times on Saturday, November 18, 2006:

He left welfare state to come to Singapore

I would like to commend Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for sticking to the Singaporean economic model.

I read with interest his views regarding Scandinavian welfare states. I am from one of them: Finland.

While it is true that there is more 'welfare' in Scandinavia, it comes at a price. Public spending in my country stands at 25 per cent of GDP, twice that of Singapore.

The government in Finland spends vast amounts of money on free health care and education, nearly twice the 8 per cent of GDP spent in Singapore. Having been to Changi hospital I can say that health care here is no worse than in my country and the charges are very reasonable. My point is it doesn't have to be free.

It's a question of choice and pricing. The public sector typically does not run the most efficient services, because the services are non-competitive.

Singapore runs a tighter ship, because it's only partially subsidised. Compulsory savings schemes for health care and pensions are a far better way. So is taxing consumption over income.

Many people in my country give up half or more of their gross incomes to finance the almighty welfare state. This serves to promote equality of sorts and creates a vast middle class. It also stifles entrepreneurism and leads to voluntary unemployment. The cost of living is higher too, with GST at 22 per cent.

I disagreed with the crushing taxes in my country. It is for this reason that I came to Singapore, and was happy to give up the benefits I had paid for over the years.

Long live the Singaporean model.

Mika Sampovaara

So who is this Mika? Apparently, he is a derivatives trader. Want to know more? Read this news extract:

Owner allegedly attacked after her pet dashed into man's path
By Chong Chee Kin

"Her dog crossed his path and it may cost him an arm and a leg for lashing out - not at the dog but its owner. Mika Johannes Sampovaara is accused of attacking Madam Mindy Tan Lay Eng outside her home in Roseburn Avenue in Siglap.

Her golden retriever apparently ran out of the house and into his path while he was out walking his dog at about 8pm on Feb 4 last year.

The 35-year-old permanent resident of Finnish descent then allegedly punched Madam Tan around her left eye, drawing blood at her eyelid. Next, he allegedly shoved her hard on her shoulder, causing her to fall to the ground. He could go to jail for that. Instead, he is offering her $38,000 as compensation and an apology.

But she wants more: $50,000.

No mention was made in court yesterday of what exactly provoked the alleged assault, or if her dog attacked him.

Sampovaara faces two charges - causing hurt to Madam Tan, and using criminal force on her.

Yesterday, his lawyer, Mr Godwin Campos, asked District Judge F.G. Remedios for more time to let his client 'negotiate' with Madam Tan. Sampovaara wanted to compound the offences by offering $38,000 compensation and an apology to Madam Tan. Compounding an offence involves paying compensation or apologising to the alleged victim, to consider withdrawing the charge. If the alleged victim is agreeable, the prosecution can apply to the court to withdraw the charge. If the judge grants the application, it amounts to an acquittal.

In this case, the judge agreed to give more time for negotiations though he noted the case has been before the court for a while. Sampovaara was charged in July 2005.

The judge adjourned the hearing for three weeks until Feb 2 2006 after Madam Tan's lawyer, Mr Anand Nalachandran, who was holding a watching brief, did not raise any objections to the request. If convicted, Sampovaara could be fined $1,000 and jailed up to one year."

Channel NewsAsia later reported that Sammpovaara got off with a $1000 fine. Tan may take a civil suit against Sampovaara for the injuries she suffered.

Coincidence? At least one interneter thinks not. "I dont think anybody ever said Singapore is not a paradise for high income high net worth individuals, especially foreigners who eat here, shit here, punch people here and get away with light sentence. Somehow, I dont think he gave up his Finnish citizenship, and probably intends to return to Finland after he is done milking Singapore. What a hypocrite."

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Difference In Perspective

Many woes 'which may get worse'
Straits Times, 16 Nov 2006

The Chairman of a group of Muslim professions see a gloomy future for his community, saying that all signs point to a worsening situation over time. And what is needed, said Mr Imram Mohamed from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), is a mindset change or the community will continue to be beset by its many problems.

A disproportionately high number of Malay-Muslims are in drug inhabilitation centres and prisons, as well as in the low-income group. Youth delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy are prevalent. The community's educational achievements lag behind those of others, especially at higher levels.
"All indications are, the situation will get worse over time," Mr Imran told about 500 people at a dinner to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his self-help group. "It is crucial that this trend be reversed if we are not to end up as a largely under-classed community, having to depend on handouts from others."

AMP was formed in 1991 by a group of Malay-Muslim professionals who wanted to contribute to the community independently of government-led efforts. It runs, among others, a range of social assistance and worker training programmes, and has been working closely with Mendaki to solve the community's problems.
However, Mr Imran, a retired airline executive and former Nominated Member of Parliament, seems disappointed with the progress made.

"Our community has not responded well to the new economy and is not poised to meet the challenges of globalisation and stiff comepetition," he said, describing the Malay-Muslims' socio-economic situation as "far from satisfactory".
Mr Imram, however, acknowledged that AMP staff and volunteers, Malay-Muslim MPs and other community organisations have contributed to help the needy. Many in his community enjoy the tangible benefits from Singapore's prosperity, he said. Also, the community cooperates closely with political leaders. "The positive outlook, however, stops there," he added.

He suggested two ways to lift the community from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
One, the Government could work with employers and unions to lift the wages or low-income workers.
Two,the community itself has to undergo a mindset change. AMP believes the prevalent mindset, which promotes mediocrity, is the main obstacle to success, said Mr Imram.

Malay-Muslims must believe "that it is as important to do well in this life as in the next," he said, calling on Malay-Muslim organisations and religious teachers to help push this view.

The impact on their guest of honour was not lost.

The presence of a Malay-Muslim professional class is "living proof" of the community's capabilities, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Balakrishnan made the off-the-cuff response to the AMP chairman Imram Mohamed.

The minister had prepared a speech for the AMP anniversary celebration. But after listening to Mr Imram, he put it aside and said: "Let me respond not as a minister, let me respond... as a brother or as a cousin who I hope understands some of your anxieties but also has your interests at heart."
Describing Mr Imram's speech as "sincere,heartfelt", he said it referred to "real problems and real challenges facing the Malay-Muslim community."

The minister did not agree with Mr Imram's point that lower-income workers should be cushioned from the impact of globalisaion and foreign workers, by being given higher wages. Protecting them from competition would not solve the problems they faced, he said. "The long term solution remains more education and creating more professionals."

Balakrishnan also said that another way to get ahead is for Malay-Muslim Singaporeans to participate fully in all opportunities available to them. "In order for a minority community to do well in a multiracial, globalised environment, we need to engage with the other communities and we need to integrate with the mainstream of social life."

Friday, November 03, 2006

On Handling The Brutal Truth

Original article printed in "TODAY", 3 Nov 2003, by Val Chua:

Emotions ran high on a balmy Sunday night as the normally stoic Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly broke down while recounting the ordeal his wife went through in London recently.

The troubles that the couple faced - including joining a queue in a free hospital - when Mrs Lee was hit by stroke two Sundays ago, revealed how differently two systems worked.

"I cannot tell you how restless and unhappy we felt," he said at a community event in Jalan Bukit Merah yesterday.

"We run a (healthcare) system where you have to co-pay ... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," he said grimly.

The first sign of trouble was that there was no private hospital with CT scan facility at night in London, he told residents and community leaders.

So, Mrs Lee had to go to the NHS hospital nearest to the Four Seasons Hotel where they were staying - a free facility called the Royal London Hospital - and join the queue.

"We waited 45 minutes for the ambulance for a 10-minute drive," said Mr Lee in his first public appearance since the couple returned on Friday.

"In Singapore, within half-an-hour, you would be in SGH (Singapore General Hospital), TTSH (Tan Tock Seng Hospital) ... and within one-and-a-half to two hours flat, you'd know what went wrong."

When Mrs Lee reached The Royal London Hospital at 12.30am, it happened to have three cardiac arrest patients.

Mr Lee was told his wife's brain problem was "not as important" as the cardiac arrest cases, he recounted solemnly. She would have had to wait till 8am the next morning for her CT brain scan if 10 Downing Street had not intervened to get her early attention. High Commissioner Michael Teo had sought help from 10 Downing Street at 2am on Sunday and she received treatment at 3.30am on the night itself.

"Once upon a time, it was a wonderful hospital. But after 40 plus years ... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients," he said.

But it's the way free healthcare systems work, he added, noting that Singapore must not go down that path, even though there are calls for free C class wards in public hospitals here.

"It's how the system works ... They did not discriminate against us," he noted of his London experience.

This contrasted sharply with how quickly Singaporeans - including national carrier Singapore Airlines - reacted to the situation.

Even though doctors initially advised that Mrs Lee stay put in London for three weeks, Mr Lee decided fly her back once her condition stabilised.

And then there was the big worry that she would get a spasm onboard, he recounted.

But he needn't have worried. Within 48 hours, SIA had fitted out SQ321 with medical support of oxygen tanks and other fixtures for a drip.

"No other airline would have done this," Mr Lee said, looking visibly touched.

On board were also two Intensive Care nurses from Changi General Hospital, two doctors, as well as officials from SIA who made sure all the equipment worked.

"Everyone knows his job," said Mr Lee. "Within 12 to 13 hours, we'd reached Changi Airport. It was a big relief," he said. "Twelve to 13 hours. Your heart stops beating sometimes. We landed at Changi Airport. Great relief. I had my granddaughter (Li Xiuqi) with me. She is very fond of her grandmother. She was so relieved."

Mrs Lee was whisked off in an ambulance to Singapore General Hospital, where she is recovering.

"I think this experience has changed my granddaughter's view of Singapore," Mr Lee said.

The overseas ordeal has made him even more assured that Singapore has what it takes to succeed, despite the downturn. "It's how we respond in an emergency that determines how we fight back. And I have enormous confidence that we can fight back."

The Singapore system - with its efficiency and fighting spirit - must be kept, he said.

"You slacken, you choose the easy way, and you'd be finished," he said.

Choking back tears, he added: "I have immense confidence that in an emergency, our people respond ... If we can do that, we can succeed."

Here's the internet version of the aftermath making its rounds, after news broke today that Editor Mano Sabnani has been axed:

LKY's press secretary summoned Shaun Seow, Mano Sabnani, Rahul Singh, Bachchan Singh and Val Chua for a dressing down at the Istana. He chided the newspaper for running provocative stories that are out of bounds.

TODAY was asked to explain what service it does to the nation and why it shouldn't be closed down. Mediacorp was ordered to supervise TODAY more closely or it will be punished too. Also, all reports on local news must be written by locals, no foreigners allowed.

The chief editor, Mano Sabnani, was demoted. He still held the title, but he must from then on report to Shaun Seow, CEO Mediacorp Channel News Asia. Shaun was previously in the news when his wife Zahara Latif poured boiling water on her maid and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Zahara paid a huge sum to the maid and pleaded mental unsoundness and got off with a light sentence. Others were less fortunate.

The deputy editor Rahul was demoted to night desk to be together with the other night editor Bachchan Singh.

The reporter Val Chua changed to writing advertising features for DBS and other banks. Her press pass was withdrawn and she could no longer report news. She kept her job and thence reported directly to an old ex-Reuters editor hired in September by TODAY to consolidate operations.

TODAY was told it had crossed the line and the media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public unhappiness.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Enough To Make One Puke

Elitist Wee Shu MinEver peered into the mind of an elite?
RJC student Wee Shu Min has the "perfect" pedigree: student from the Gifted Education Program program, topped O-levels in Singapore in 2004, PM's Book Prize winner, her dad is an "elected" Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio GRC's Wee Siew Kim).... the list goes on. Yes, she could be someone who is expected to join the top echelons of the civil service and possibly get co-opted into politics to run the country some day. And this is what she wrote in her blog ( before it was hastily taken down:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

mom's friend sent her some blog post by some bleeding stupid 40-year old singaporean called derek wee (WHY do all the idiots have my surname why?!) whining about how singapore is such an insecure place, how old ppl (ie, 40 and above) fear for their jobs, how the pool of foreign "talent" (dismissively chucked between inverted commas) is really a tsunami that will consume us all (no actually he didn't say that, he probably said Fouren Talern Bery Bad.), how the reason why no one wants kids is that they're a liability in this world of fragile ricebowls, how the government really needs to save us from inevitable doom but they aren't because they are stick-shoved-up-ass elites who have no idea how the world works, yadayadayadayada.

i am inclined - too much, perhaps - to dismiss such people as crackpots. stupid crackpots. the sadder class. too often singaporeans - both the neighborhood poor and the red-taloned socialites - kid themselves into believing that our society, like most others, is compartmentalized by breeding. ridiculous. we are a tyranny of the capable and the clever, and the only other class is the complement.

sad derek attracted more than 50 comments praising him for his poignant views, joining him in a chorus of complaints that climax at the accusation of lack of press freedom because his all-too-true views had been rejected by the straits times forum. while i tend to gripe about how we only have one functioning newspaper too, i think the main reason for its lack of publication was that his incensed diatribe was written in pathetic little scraps that passed off as sentences, with poor spelling and no grammar.

derek, derek, derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron ricebowl or a solid future if you cannot spell?

if you're not good enough, life will kick you in the balls. that's just how things go. there's no point in lambasting the government for making our society one that is, i quote, "far too survival of fittest". it's the same everywhere. yes discrimination exists, and it is sad, but most of the time if people would prefer hiring other people over you, it's because they're better. it's so sad when people like old derek lament the kind of world that singapore will be if we make it so uncertain. go be friggin communist, if uncertainty of success offends you so much - you will certainly be poor and miserable. unless you are an arm-twisting commie bully, which, given your whiny middle-class undereducated penchant, i doubt.

then again, it's easy for me to say. my future isn't certain but i guess right now it's a lot brighter than most people's. derek will read this and brand me as an 18-year old elite, one of the sinners who will inherit the country and run his stock to the gutter. go ahead. the world is about winners and losers. it's only sad when people who could be winners are marginalised and oppressed. is dear derek starving? has dear derek been denied an education? has dear derek been forced into child prostitution? has dear derek had his clan massacred by the government?

i should think not. dear derek is one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country, and in this world. one of those who would prefer to be unemployed and wax lyrical about how his myriad talents are being abandoned for the foreigner's, instead of earning a decent, stable living as a sales assistant. it's not even about being a road sweeper. these shitbags don't want anything without "manager" and a name card.

please, get out of my elite uncaring face.

In the inevitable tsunami of backlash from furious interneters, her father MP Wee did no better than her precious elitist daughter by declaring that:

"What she said did come across as insensitive. The language was stronger than what most people could take.
But she wrote in a private blog and I feel that her privacy has been violated. After all, they were the rantings of an 18-year-old among friends.
I think if you cut through the insensitivity of the language, her baic point is reasonable, that is, that a well-educated university graduate who works for a multinational company should not be bemoaning about the Government and get on with the challenges in life.
Nonetheless, I have counselled her to learn from it. Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it.
I will not gag her, since she's 18 and should be able to stand by what she says.
The new media of the internet is such that if you don't like what she has said, you have the right of rebuttal.
Hopefully, after the discussion, everyone will be the richer for it. As a parent I may not have inculcated the appropriate level of sensitivity, but she has learnt a lesson, and it's good that she has learnt it at such an early stage in life."

RJC principal Winston Hodge put out a more palatable statement:
"We are disppointed with Wee Shu Min's comments on Mr Derek Wee's posting on the Web.
We have counselled Shu Min and have converyed to her the importance of sensitivity and empathy, qualities that she should have exercised in her response to Mr Wee.
We are confident that she has learnt from this experience and will the wiser for it."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A History of Defamation

The Writ of Summons served by Lee Kuan Yew (NRIC S0000003E) on FEER and Hugo Restall includes in Appendix A a list of the Defamation suits covering 1965 to present. The Writ is issued by DREW & NAPIER LLC, which is the law firm of Davindar Singh and Hri Kumar, both affiliated with ruling party PAP as former and current Members of Parliament.

Proceedings: 720 and 721 of 1965
Defendants: Tan Sri Syed Ja'afar Albar, Utusan Melayu, Editor of Utusan Melayu
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff is acommunist who is out to destroy Malaysia
Result: Settled. Defendants apologized and paid indemnity costs.

Proceedings: 2647 of 1972
Defendants: Barisan Socialis Malaya, Yeo Ah Ngoh (Editor of Barisan News), Dr Lee Siew Choh
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff behaves like a gangster and scoundrel. He uses tactics such as long term detention and brutal treatment against those who oppose him.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $50,000/-

Proceedings: 219 of 1977
Defendants: Teng Ah Boo
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff is corrupt. He uses his postion to obtain favours for M/s Lee & Lee
Result: Judgement. Damages of $100,000/-

Proceedings: 1023 of 1972
Defendants: Chan Yang Ling
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff is corrupt. He uses his position to obtain favours for his brother and M/S Lee & Lee.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $65,000/-

Proceedings: 28 of 1977
Defendants: J B Jeyaratnam
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff is guilty of corruption and nepotism. The Plaintiff had procured the grant of favours to M/s Lee & Lee and his family.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $130,000/-

Proceedings: 1025 of 1977
Defedants: Hwang BAn Cheong
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff is corrupt. The Plaintiff had procured the grant of favours to M/s Lee & Lee
Result: Judgement. Damages for $65,000/-

Proceedings: 9332 of 1984
Defendants: Seow Khee Leng
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff is corrupt.
Result: Judgement. Damages for $250,000/-

Proceedings: 230 of 1985
Defendants: Dr Lee Siew Choh
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff covered up the investigations into Phey Yew Kok. That the Plaintiff is corrupt.
Result: Settled. Damages of $30,000/- and an apology.

Proceedings: 231 of 1985
Defendants: Quek Teow Chuan
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff has embezzled public funds.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $400,000/-

Proceedings: 3336 of 1987
Defendants: Derrick Gwyn Davis, Publisher of FEER, Printer of FEER, Author of article
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff had threatened to use the ISA against 4 Catholic priests; that the Plaintiff was against the Catholic Church.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $230,000/-

Proceedings: 1754 of 1988
Defendants: J B Jeyaratnam
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff had encouraged the suicide of Teh Cheang Wan for the improper purpose of covering up an embarassing scandal to the government and the PAP.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $260,000/-

Proceedings: 1488 of 1994
Defendants: Executive Editor (Vinocur), Chief Executive, Publisher and a journalist of the International Herald Tribune
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff was guilty of nepotism
Result: Judgement. Damages of $300,000/-

Proceedings: 1974 of 1994
Defendants: Executive Editor,Editor for Asia,Publisher and and journalist of the International Herald Tribune
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff sought to suppress legitimate and democratic political activity in Singapore by the subtle means of suing political political opponents for defamation, and relying on a compliant judiciary to grant judgements in his favour.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $300,000/-

Proceedings: 1116 of 1996
Defendants: Tang Liang Hong, Editor, proprietors, publishers and printers of Yazhou Zhoukan
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff was guilty, or reasonably to be suspected, of corrupt or otherwise criminal conduct in respect of the purchase of private properties in 1995
Result: Judgement. Damages of $550,000/-

Proceedings: 172 of 1997
Defendants: Tang Liang Hong
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff was guilty of misconduct in relation to the HPL issue and that this would be his "death blow".
Result: Judgement. Damages of $250,000/-

Proceedings: 2523 of 1996
Defendants: Tang Liang Hong
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff had committed criminal offences by defaming Tang and assassinating his character.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $270,000/-

Proceedings: 181 of 1997
Defendants: Tang Liang Hong
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff had abused the process of the Court by suing Tang for defamation.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $200,000/-

Proceedings: 182 of 1997
Defendants: Tang Liang Hong
Gist of Offensive Words:
The Plaintiff had lied to Nanyang University students when he assured them that they would not be arrested.
Result: Judgement. Damages of $230,000/-

Proceedings: 1459 of 2001
Defendants: Chee Soon Juan
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff was dishonest, unfit for office and has misled Parliament.
Result: Settled. Apology and damages.

Proceedings: --
Defendants: Bloomberg
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff had procured the appointment of Mdm Ho Ching as the Executive Director of Temasek Holdings Ltd and was guilty of nepotism.
Result: 1. Published apology on its website. 2. Paid damages; and 3.Indemnified the Plaintiff for costs.

Proceedings: --
Defendants: The Economist
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff condoned the appointment of Mdm Ho Ching to Temasek Holdings Ltd, not on merit, but for corrupt nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family.
Result: 1. Published apology on its website. 2. Paid damages; and 3.Indemnified the Plaintiff for costs.

Proceedings: --
Gist of Offensive Words:
That the Plaintiff had corruptly and improperly caused Temasek Holdings Ltd to be owned and managed for the benefit of his family.
That the Plaintiff was dishonest and unworthy of the high office he held and continued to hold in that he behaved corruptly and improperly despite taking the public stand in support of clean, corrupt free Government in Singapore.
Result: 1. Published apology on its website. 2. Paid damages; and 3.Indemnified the Plaintiff for costs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Truths About Temasek

The Temasek Holdings representative wrote the following letter in response to a letter to the forum, maybe she should also address the concerns of the deputy secretary general of the Democrat Party, Korn Chatikavanij.

"I REFER to the letter, 'Did Temasek take unnecessary risk?' (ST, Oct 14).

As a long-term international investor, Temasek complies fully with the laws and regulations in the different jurisdictions we invest in.

Our investment in Shin Corp in Thailand is no different. It was based on commercial principles and was consistent with best practices in international mergers and acquisitions.

Following advice from our legal and financial advisers, the consortium, which included Thai co-investors, completed its purchase and General Tender Offer in accordance with market practices and in compliance with the laws and regulations of Thailand, including guidelines imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Our investment in Shin Corp was not predicated on which government was in power. Temasek is investing for the long term, and therefore factors possible changes in government in our investment considerations.

In March, almost all of the remaining shares were tendered to the consortium at the close of the General Tender Offer. Post the tender offer, the consortium owns 96 per cent of Shin Corp. This was far beyond anyone's expectations.

The consortium has said that it would like to keep Shin Corp listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. This means that we would like to reduce our shareholding in Shin Corp at the appropriate time and in an appropriate manner for orderly market conduct.

This intention remains unchanged. Indeed, Temasek believes it is good for listed companies to have a healthy float of retail public and strong institutional shareholders.

As an investment house anchored in Asia, we are convinced that it makes sense for us to re-invest in Asia to grow together. We look forward to playing a constructive role as a responsible long-term investor in the various communities in the region."

Myrna Thomas (Ms)
Managing Director
Corporate Affairs
Temasek Holdings

The Thai perspective
Was it a professional and proper transaction, as Singaporean leaders claim?
By Korn Chatikavanij, deputy secretary general of the Democrat Party. The Nation, Oct 12, 2006

I think it is fair to say that there are many questions that need to be answered before we can conclude, as Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did on Friday, that the Shin Corp transaction was "professional and proper".

Indeed, I would be surprised if, in spite of his rhetoric, Lee would be genuinely satisfied that the deal's due diligence process was of the quality that he has the right to expect from Temasek, a lead investor for Singapore Inc.

If we were to accept statements by Khun Boonklee Plangsiri, Shin's chairman at the time of the deal, then the management of the underlying companies was not involved in due diligence.

Khun Boonklee declared right up to the announcement of the transaction that management was not aware of any discussions taking place regarding a sale.

Either way, Temasek is at fault. Conducting due diligence on the senior management of a target firm is usually the top priority in a friendly takeover deal, as it is the easiest and least costly way of finding out how a company is being run and what its prospects are. This is a no-brainer in any M&A practitioner rulebook.

Assuming Khun Boonklee was telling the truth about the lack of due diligence involving Shin and its subsidiaries, the implications for Temasek's investment procedures must surely be a cause for concern for Lee.

The Singaporean public, whose money has been entrusted to Temasek to manage, must also be worried. This can only mean that Temasek went into this deal with no idea about the internal affairs or the financial health of Shin and its subsidiaries.

Temasek may not even be aware of the legal case pending in the Administrative Court regarding ITV's concession payments. Simple, legal due diligence would surely have led to potential liabilities at least being shared with the prospective sellers.

Information that is publicly available could be inaccurate and out-of-date. Temasek also completely missed the Thai Air Asia ownership requirement.

Those are issues that call into question claims that the deal was "professionally" handled. But there are even bigger questions relating to whether the deal was "proper".

The word "proper" can mean "correct according to procedures" or, more commonly, it is taken to mean "decent or ethical". This definition raises some issues:

1 Lee has himself acknowledged that in the months leading up to the share purchase, Thaksin's dirty laundry was already being hung out for all to see.

Temasek should therefore have been aware that many people would perceive the deal as the acquisition of "tainted goods". Singaporeans should certainly be asking Temasek whether it is proper for their national reserves to be used in that way.

2 In setting up convoluted structures to buy shares, Temasek would have been fully aware that they were relying on legal advice to take advantage of what at best were loopholes in the Thai Alien Business Law and in the Thai definition of "foreign". Again, would Lee confirm that taking advantage of loopholes that are clearly against the spirit of the law in Temasek's modus operandi?

3 Having made the purchases, Temasek was obliged by Thai law - which is not dissimilar to Singapore law in any respect - to treat minority shareholders fairly by buying shares from them at the same price Temasek paid to the major holders in what is known as the General Tender Offer.

Again Temasek failed to do that. Temasek asked Thailand's SEC for a waiver against having to tender for shares from minority holders of two of Shin's listed subsidiaries, Shinsat and ITV. Temasek's reason was that these companies were not the "real" targets of the acquisition.

Subsequent to that, Temasek made an offer to minority holders of AIS - the declared target - that was a full 30 per cent below the market price of AIS's share on the day of the original transaction.

That Thailand's SEC allowed Temasek to do this is a separate issue that I hope will soon be dealt with. The fact that Temasek clearly offered a price far below the implied price paid to the Shinawatra family clearly cannot be considered "proper".

Indeed, when JP Morgan was asked to give independent advice to minority shareholders in AIS, it said Temasek's offer was "unfair".

Moreover, it should be pointed out that though Shinsat and ITV were not the "real" targets, control has nevertheless changed hands and minority shareholders were deprived of their right to exit.

The new owners have been entirely silent as to their intentions towards the companies they "unintentionally" acquired. It has been more than nine months, and ITV has lost more than 70 per cent of its market value since the beginning of the year. Many minority shareholders who were cheated by the process are still waiting for an answer.

4 Last but not least, Temasek is aware that neither Thaksin Shinawatra nor his wife Pojaman had any right to act on behalf of Shin as decision makers. We are led to believe by Thaksin that all decisions and negotiations were made by his children - something that is entirely unbelievable.

Thaksin's eldest son has gone on record to say that the decision to sell Shin was made by his "elders". If Thaksin or his wife were those "elders", then there will be serious repercussions. It is a serious crime for the prime minister and his spouse to engage in undeclared private business.

The premier's role is to uphold the interest of the general public, not the interest of his purse. It cannot by any stretch be considered proper for Temasek to have knowingly negotiated a transaction in a way that was unconstitutional.

More importantly, such a deal would be improper, if not illegal, given the controversy surrounding the deal, for Temasek to remain silent on the issue.

In my perhaps naive opinion, I think the best course of action for Temasek would be to come clean on all issues relating to the deal and the true nature of its Thai "partners".

This would be the start of a more transparent relationship between our two countries. In Thailand, our willingness to forgive and compromise knows no bounds.

One reason why the situation has gone from bad to worse for Temasek is the company's reluctance to be up-front. Coming clean would be the most "professional" response to mistakes made, and certainly the most "proper" one under such circumstances.

It would also help ameliorate any misunderstanding arising from the Shin deal, and serve as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries. After all, Singapore and Thailand have been and will continue to be major partners in the world economy.

B Korn Chatikavanij

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Apology, Kind Of

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had sought to find out why Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had made certain remarks recently about the state of ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. On 2 Oct 2006, Mr Lee wrote back to Mr Abdullah, to explain both the context and the reasoning behind what he had said. The following is the text of his letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

Thank you for your letter of 25 September 2006.

I made the remarks in a free-flowing dialogue session with former US Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers before many foreign delegates attending the IMF/WB meeting.

To put what Reuters reported into context, I set out the transcript of the relevant passage:

"Let me sum it up nicely, why you must have a government in Singapore which is really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute. My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they are hardworking and, therefore, they are systematically marginalised, even in education. There are quotas to prevent you. So, you've got to make money to go abroad or go to one of the private universities which are being set up. And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese, compliant. So, every time, we say 'No' to some scheme to knock down the Causeway and build a bridge, he says, 'Oh, you're not cooperative, you're only thinking of yourself'. For no rhyme or reason, we knock down a causeway, nearly 100 years old, which served us well. He wants to build a bridge because it looks pretty and he says ships will sail and his containers can move from the East Coast to the West Coast via this. But we saw no ... So, we said, "All right, if you give us commensurate benefits, we'll agree". But you need a government who'll be able to, not only have the gumption, but the skill to say 'No' in a very quiet, polite way that doesn't provoke them into doing something silly."

On the bridge and the half bridge to remove the Causeway, you made the position of your government clear that Malaysia respects legally binding agreements and acts in accordance with international law. This made unnecessary a reference to ITLOS and the International Court of Justice that would otherwise have been unavoidable. This respect for the law is the basis for sound long-term relations between us.

I was explaining to a liberal audience of westerners who wanted to see a stronger opposition in Singapore why Singapore needs a strong majority government, not a weak coalition that will hamper us in defending our national interests.

Singapore needs a strong government to maintain good relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, and to interact with Indonesian and Malaysian politicians who consider Singapore to be Chinese, and expect Singapore to be 'sensitive' and comply with their requests.

On numerous occasions UMNO leaders, including Dr Mahathir and many others, have publicly warned Malaysian Malays that if they ever lose power, they risk the same fate as Malays in Singapore, whom they allege are marginalised and discriminated against. And from time to time when Malaysian politicians attack Singapore fiercely over some bilateral issue, some of them tell us privately that we should just accept this as part of Malaysian politics and not react to these attacks.

Singapore understands the reality of Malaysian politics. We have never protested at these attacks on our multi-racial system or our policies, except to clarify our own position when necessary. But we have to explain to our people the root cause of these difficulties in our bilateral relations. Otherwise Singaporeans will believe that their own government is doing wrong, either to our own people or to Malaysia.

As for the international audience, with so many foreign embassy staff and foreign correspondents reporting on Singapore and Malaysia, plus tens of thousands of expatriate businessmen working in our two countries, these people will come to their own judgement of the true position regardless of what I say.

I have not said anything more than what I have said many times before. In fact I have said less than what I had written in my memoirs published in 1998. I had no intention to meddle in your politics. Indeed I do not have the power to influence Malaysia's politics or to incite the feelings of the Chinese in Malaysia.

Since you took over as Prime Minister in November 2003, relations between our two countries have much improved. Singaporeans and, I believe, Malaysians too, appreciate this.

I am sorry that what I said has caused you a great deal of discomfort. After a decade of troubled relations with your predecessor, it is the last thing I wanted.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore has also moved to placate Indonesia after similar comments made by Lee Kuan Yew on Jakarta's treatment of its ethnic Chinese, a Singapore official has said.

Indonesia summoned Singapore's ambassador last week to seek clarification of reports that Lee had told a forum that ethnic Chinese minority communities in Indonesia and Malaysia were being systematically marginalised.

In a diplomatic note, Singapore said it had no wish to interfere in Indonesia's domestic affairs and was aware of the improving situation for Chinese in Indonesia, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin told AFP.

"So (the note) was about acknowledgement of the positive situation in Indonesia with respect to the Chinese, and the second point is that there was not at all any intention to interfere domestically," he said.

"There is a wish to maintain good relations with Indonesia," he added.

The spokesman said that the remarks had not taken into account "the changing situation in Indonesia, and that's why we were a bit confused".

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pictures Worth A Thousand Words

Cordoned by plain clothes police.

Cordoned by uniformed police.

Into the night.

"No group is oppressed, suppressed or depressed. Instead we have a political culture that values integrity, meritocracy and fairness."
- MM Lee Kuan Yew, PAP 50th Anniversary, Nov 2004

Pictures taken at Hong Lim Green vicinity, designated venue for "speaker's corner", where 6 SDP members braved a standoff with the police for three days and nights, ending on the morning of 19th Sept 2006.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Singapore IMF activist ban slammed

POSTED: 1246 GMT (2046 HKT), September 15, 2006
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said on Friday that Singapore had damaged its own reputation by imposing "authoritarian" restrictions on the entry of activists for the World Bank/IMF meetings.

Wolfowitz said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund did not plan to postpone their annual gathering, but he had unusually sharp words for the Southeast Asian host country.

"Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage is done to Singapore and self-inflicted. This could have been an opportunity for them to showcase to the world their development process," Wolfowitz said at a meeting with activists.

"I would argue whether it has to be as authoritarian as it has been and I would certainly argue that at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process."

He said the bar on entry for some activists was "a violation of the understanding that we had drawn up" with Singapore.

Singapore objected to at least 27 activists who were accredited to the meetings on the grounds they posed a threat to security and public order, putting them on a blacklist of people to be assessed by immigration and possibly refused entry.

Some would-be participants in the have already been deported or refused entry.

Asked by a civil society activist whether the IMF and World Bank would consider postponing the meeting and hold it somewhere "where it can be held with proper conditions," Wolfowitz said: "I honestly don't think that is feasible or I would consider it."

Responding to appeals, Singapore said it would allow 22 of the blacklisted activists to enter, but the remaining five would be "subject to interview and may not be allowed in."

Garry Rodan, of Murdoch University, Australia, said the World Bank and IMF had been naive about Singapore.

"Singapore has always made a virtue out of the fact it is different, and sticks to its guns, no matter how controversial, examples being the caning and execution of foreign nationals."

While Wolfowitz and Rato were speaking, about two dozen activists staged a protest in the 8 x 8 meter (8.7 x 8.7 yard) area the authorities had set aside for protest in the cavernous Suntec City hall where the meetings take place.

Activist lined up wearing gags inscribed "NO VOICE," after duly registering with the authorities one by one.

"These limits are ridiculous. Singapore is a developed country; it needs a developed perspective on citizens speaking up," said Haidy Ear-Dupuy of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.

On Batam, an Indonesian island a 40-minute ferry ride south of Singapore, a few hundred activists held a protest meeting because of the curbs on protest in Singapore.

Analysts said the meeting is turning out to be a public relations disaster for Singapore, which has spent about S$135 million ($85 million) on the event, hoping to showcase its financial industry and tourism appeal.

Instead, the world press has focused on Singapore's restrictions on free speech and right of assembly.

"It is a PR disaster. It represents a certain blindness on the part of the Singapore government towards matters of public opinion, which can be traced to the fact that they are so used to ignoring it," said Singapore political commentator Alex Au.

Rodan said Singapore would have expected lots of feel good stories about the financial sector and investment opportunities.

"But it appears to have backfired," he said.

On Tuesday, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong explained the decision to ban outdoor protests on Bloomberg Television, saying the Government would be practising double standards if it relaxed restrictions.

'We have very strict rules for our own locals and we can't have two standards, because otherwise we'll be in deep political trouble with our citizens.'

-- Straits Times, 10 Sept 2006, Singapore takes flak for ban on protests

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dealing with Democratic Legacies

Following is the speech delivered by Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim at the closing dinner of the Academic Conference of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations, 21 Aug 2006.

Your Excellencies, President SR Nathan and Ambassador Patricia Herbold, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Recently I spent 3 weeks in the USA on an exchange program. I was joined by 20 colleagues from different countries. As we got to know one another over those weeks, we came to realise that though we were culturally diverse and our countries were at different stages of development, our societies faced issues with common themes.

Many of us came from countries which had been colonized by Britain. During the years of British rule, organs of State and government processes followed British models with some adaptation. Hence, my colleagues and I were able to find similar institutions in our countries and use the same terminology when talking about governance e.g. terms like Parliamentary democracy, Hansard and judicial independence. Though we came from Singapore, Jamaica, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, we understood each other immediately.

The desire for self-determination made our countries seek independence from Britain. However, many of the legacies remain, particularly the public institutions. But the formal institutions tell only half the story. The way these institutions now operate and how the people actually experience them is unique to each country.

Under the British model, Parliamentary democracy installs checks and balances through the separation of powers between the 3 branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. For the checks to be effective, there are several assumptions made. This evening, I would like to touch on 2 of the assumptions:

First, that the legislature is elected by the people through free and fair elections.
Secondly, that there are rigorous checks on the executive.

Status of Elections

There is a constant battle about how elections can be made more democratic.

At one end of the spectrum, some colleagues of mine had to contend with the very real possibility of being murdered by political opponents and having their homes torched by arsonists. Others lived in dictatorships, where ballots were apparently cast by phantom voters or persons who were already deceased. In some countries, the elections are run by the ruling party. It is not uncommon to see ruling parties use their positions as government to entrench themselves politically. The use of the incumbent’s advantage happens in most countries. It is a question of degree. Nevertheless, these practices are objectionable, as they make voting less free by unfair pressure on voters to resist such inducements.

Even in the First World, the electoral process is not without its problems. During my recent travels in the USA, my colleagues and I detected increasing cynicism among Americans towards the electoral process. It costs a lot these days to run for state or federal office, leading to the common belief that successful candidates are beholden to big sponsors and big business. There is also a real threat of public apathy and disengagement – it seems that there are people would rather go on holiday than vote! If voter turn-out is low, how valid is the winner’s mandate? I wonder what Ambassador Herbold would say if I suggested that voting in the USA be made compulsory.

Checks on the executive

Besides the formal checks by the legislature and the courts, it is clear to most Asians that the prevailing culture of a society greatly impacts how much accountability the executive government gives.

Two key factors of culture come to mind. First, how much information is available in the public domain, and secondly, the role of the mass media in the society.

In many Asian countries, the citizen has access only to information which the executive chooses to disclose. Classifying information is deemed to be the government’s prerogative, with the citizen a passive bystander in the process. There is no equivalent of a Freedom Of Information Act for citizens to compel disclosure, nor is there any automatic time-frame for de-classifying information unlike in the USA. This severely cripples the ability of the citizen to lay his hands on concrete facts to call the government to account.

Besides access to information, the role played by the mass media can be decisive in keeping governments accountable. One need only recall Watergate and the pressures facing the Washington Post editors and journalists as they uncovered the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in 1972. If such an event were to happen in this region, how far would it be reported? Each Asian country has its own barometer of tolerance of media control. In the case of state-owned media or media which needs to be licensed by the authorities, their latitude to report also depends on how much discretion the authorities have to issue or withhold licences. There are still serious constraints in many Asian countries which lead the mass media to expound the official view disproportionately, leaving their citizens poorer for it.

Thankfully, the advent of new technology has been a driving force for change. The use of the Internet to “leak” information and to disseminate non-official views is now widespread. This serves as a pressure point for the mainstream media to be more balanced to remain credible. The authorities are also responding to Internet criticisms. These are healthy signs.


In conclusion, what I have talked about assumes that building democratic societies are universal goals. Is this true of Asian societies? There have been views expressed by some Asian leaders that Western democracy promotes individualism, which is inconsistent with collectivism and Confucian values. My view is that if democracy embodies citizen participation in public life and in determining the kind of society we have, there is enough scope within it to cater for Asian values. All politicians should face their electorates squarely and seek mandates which are truly democratic. To this extent, democracy has value for all societies.

Thank you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Anatomy Of A Speech

"Official text" of speech delivered by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at his National Day Rally 2007 on 20th August as posted on Channel NewsAsia website:

e. e.g. mr brown’s column in TODAY
i. Column hit out wildly at the government, in a mocking tone
ii. Hence MICA replied
iii. Some feel that reply was too harsh
iv. My view
(1) mr brown is very talented
(2) He is entitled to his views, and to express them
(3) But when he attacked the government, it had to respond
(a) To set record straight
(b) To signal that this is not the way to conduct responsible public debate, especially in the mainstream mass media

Transcript of audio file from Channel NewsAsia:

".... So I give you the example of MrBrown's column in Today. Some of you may have read it , some of you may not, but it hit out wildy at the government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone. So MICA replied, how can you not reply? And some Singaporeans feel we were too harsh. We should have been gentler, or maybe just even accept it. It's just niceness, he didn't mean us any harm.
Well, my view is like this. MrBrown is a very talented man. In fact he is Mr Lee Kin Mun. If you listen to his podcasts, they are hilarious. But when, and he is entitled to his views, and entitled to express them; but when he takes on the government, and makes serious accusations, as he did in this case, because he said the government suppressed information before the election which was awkward and only let it out afterwards. Then the government has to respond. First thing to set the record straight, and secondly to signal that this is really not the way to carry on a public debate on national issues."

Report of what was aired on TV by Dominique Loh/Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia:

The Prime Minister said that mr brown is entitled to his views and to express them.

But when he attacked the government in a mocking tone in a mainstream newspaper, the government had to respond and set the record straight, even when some may feel the government's reply may be harsh.

PM Lee said: "By all means, criticise the government and leaders, but be prepared to stand by your criticisms. But in fact we have some serious decisions to make. Because we have to decide: how far to go, what tone to set. And it's not all just fun and games. I give you an example: you put out a fun podcast, you talk about 'bak chor mee'; I will say "mee siam mai hiam", then we compete. Then what will I do? I will hire Jack Neo to be my National Day Rally adviser. It will be a fun time, we will enjoy thoroughly, go home totally entertained. But is this the way to deal with serious issues?"

"Official text" for above paragraph:

c. But have to decide - What tone do we set? How far do we go?
i. You put out a funny podcast
ii. I reply with a funnier podcast
iii. If we compete on that basis, will ask Jack Neo to be my adviser
(1) NDR will be highly entertaining
(2) But is this the way to deal with serious issues?

What was actually said on national TV:

"But in fact we have some serious decisions to make. Because we have to decide: how far to go, what tone to set. And it's not all just fun and games. I give you an example: You put out a funny podcast, you talk about "bak chor mee"; I will say "mee siam mai hum**", then we compete. Then what will I do ? I will hire Jack Neo to be my National Day Rally adviser. It will be a fun time, we will enjoy thoroughly, go home totally entertained. But is this the way to deal with serious issues?"

** According to the Tues 22 Aug 2006 Straits Times report of the speech, we are told his press secretrary clarified that the Prime Minister meant to say "laksa mai hum".

On Thu 24 Aug 2006, it was observed that the transcript on Sprinter, official government source for the speech, does not the carry the complete reference to "mee siam" anymore. Zapped. Just like that.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Voice From The Past

David Marshall as practising lawyerDavid Saul Marshall was the leader of the Singapore Labour Front who became Singapore's first Chief Minister in 1955. From 1978 to 1993, Marshall served as Singapore's Ambassador to France, Portugal and Switzerland. As Singapore's ambassador, Marshall always defended his country's interests, despite his open differences with Lee Kuan Yew's style of government. When the latter abolished trial by jury, his plaintive cry was "The last nail has been driven into the coffin of justice." He died in 1995 as a result of lung cancer.

The following is an except from an interview conducted with David Marshall on 5 May 1994 at the offices of Singapore law firm, Drew & Napier. The interview was part of an assignment for a junior college student, which he completed with two others.


Our lives are empty. We don’t understand the joy of living is not in the gold coins. It is not in the bank account. The joy of living is in human relations. We are not in appreciation of this miracle of life.

We are giving a lop-sided view, an unfairness to the government! We come out of a morass of imperial subjugation where people were dying of starvation and now?

You know, when I won a case once years ago, I was presented with a lovely porcelain Buddha with a big flowing belly and ears that reached to his shoulders and a chubby face.

I said to my client, “Look, you Chinese got a real feeling for aesthetics. How can you worship something so obscene?”

He said, “Mr Marshall, try and understand. China is a land of starvation where millions of people die for lack of food, and to be able to eat that much, to be that fat, that is heaven!”

Now, that is the attitude of our government: to be able to eat that much, that is heaven and you should be content.

So are youths not content? They are not anti. Our youths frankly, very honestly respect the pragmatic achievements of the government, and I’m grateful, but they feel empty.

There isn’t this joy of living which youth expects and youth needs – to learn the joy of living. How do you teach it?

I think you teach it through respect for the individual. That’s our tragedy. If you want to put it in a nutshell, our tragedy is that we emphasise the primacy of society as against respect for the individual. Mind you, both are right.

I mean both sides have the liberty. Of course, there should be respect for the needs of society over the right of the individual but you must respect the individual too in seeking the expression of the needs of society. Here, we have no respect for the individual.

Cane them! Hang them! There are more than a hundred queuing up to be hanged, you know that?

[Minister For Law] Jayakumar said, “I have plugged the loop-hole whereby they could escape being hanged and just have twenty years of imprisonment!”

Oh, wacko the ducks – you need a monument!

The joy of hanging people; flogging them, every stroke must break the skin. I don’t like it. I don’t believe it is a deterrent. I see no proof. Look, it seems to me logic! If every year we have more death sentences, how can you say death sentence is a deterrent? If it were, there should be less death sentences.

But you know I’m in a minority and my father had one saying which I’d like you to publish. It is a beauty. He was a true democratic heart although he didn’t know it.

He used to say, “David, if ten men tell you your head is not on your shoulders, shake it and make sure. Don’t accept it. Just shake it and make sure!”

Well, I’ve shaken my head again and again and again and I still think I’m right. I know I’m in the dog-house.

The government doesn’t see I do respect them immensely. They don’t see I’m a genuine friend. They only see me as a critic and to be a critic is to be an enemy who must be erased and destroyed. There is no such thing as an honest critic to the PAP. It’s a blasphemy to criticise the emperor, spoilt son of heaven.

[Lee] Kuan Yew says you mustn’t lampoon a Chinese gentleman. Oh, dear me! Ya, what happened? What happened to China?

In Europe, they institutionalised the court jester and the court jester had total immunity against any result from his public criticism of the kings and emperors and the courtyard. Open public criticism – that was his job! They tried to laugh it off but at least there was one person to prick the bubble of their overgrown egoism.

And which civilisation has progressed better for the development of humanity? The Western civilisation or the Chinese civilisation?

You talk of Asian values. I only know two Asian values and, I wish someone would really pinpoint them instead of pontificating ponderously in humbug and hypocrisy.

Family values - I think we have more family cohesion in Asia than in Europe; more family warmth and I like that. I accept that there is a greater tradition of family warmth and family cohesion.

Two, we have a greater passion for education. My secretary – I asked her once what her background is. She said her mother is a washer-woman and, here is this lovely secretary doing a damn good job. She was educated. How her mother could save enough to give her the education?

So these are the only two values I know. Somebody tell me what other values that are Asian, which everybody talks and nobody mentions the exact parameters.

And you know we use this concept of family cohesion to place on our youths the burden of caring for aging and ailing parents and grand-parents.

The young have got their own lives to make. To carry in your own homes aging irritable ailing parents and grandparents can destroy the family life of the young.

But then, the alternative is for the government to pour so much mountains of gold into building homes for the aged. That’s sacrilege – gold is to be gathered and not to be spent.

I want to see more crèches, more homes for the aged.

Our Prime Minister [Goh Chok Tong] talks about gracious living. Where is the gracious living?

So I am a bad boy, I’m ostracised. The Straits Times makes slimy remarks about me.

The [press are] running dogs of the PAP.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

One System, Two Judges

Singaporeans across the island could not help but notice that ever since Yong Pung How was replaced in April 2006 by Mr Chan Sek Keong as Singapore's new Chief Justice, the Singapore's courts, renowned for their tough laws and strict sentencing, have been showing a softer, more humane, touch when dealing with young Singaporeans who run foul of the law.

Some examples quoted include:

* An 18-year-old girl shed tears of relief when she was given two years' probation, instead of a jail term, for multiple counts of counterfeiting currency and using fake S$50 bills.

* A polytechnic student, whose mother was jailed for maid abuse, was given another chance by a district judge who placed her on probation for similar offences.

* The High Court judge reduced a woman's 33-month jail term to probation for seven credit card fraud charges because of a sanguine probation report that she deserves another chance.

* A Singaporean blogger has received a stern warning but escaped imprisonment for Sedition after posting cartoons mocking Jesus Christ on his online journal, instead of a possible three years' jail and/or S$5,000 fine.

Yong, a long-time friend of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (Lee said Yong lent him his lecture notes to read during varsity days), was known to be very firm on the use of punishment as a deterrent to crime. He even declared that his sentencing was sometimes correlated to the type of breakfast he had for that morning.

New Zealander Peter Jenkins, who operated the Sensible Sentencing Trust website, wrote about his visit to Singapore's lower courts.

"I witnessed a sentencing session where 20 offenders were dispatched in the space of less than an hour," he said.

The sentences were very much tougher than in New Zealand, he added, giving the following examples:

1. Shoplifting goods to the value of S$45 - three months.

2. Four assaults (30 months each) to be served consecutively not concurrently as would have been in New Zealand, making a total of 90 months or over seven-and-a-half years.

3. A sexual assault - 10 years.

4. A number of other offenders - shoplifting and other relatively minor charges plus some with drugs charges - were also sentenced for sentences ranging from six weeks or more (for a first offender).

5. A repeat offender who stole numerous ATM cards and withdrew S$25,000 from them was jailed for eight years. Punishment for rape is not less than eight years, not more than 20, plus at least 12 strokes of the cane, he observed.

6. A man with previous convictions for armed robbery and housebreaking who vandalised a welfare home in which he had been placed, causing S$4,000 damage, was sentenced to 42 months in jail - and eight strokes of the cane.

"Another thing I could not help but notice about the court on arrival - there were no intimidating low-lives hanging around who are often found lounging around outside NZ courts. And there was no graffiti inside or outside the court," Jenkins added.

Yong's own daughter caused some unhappiness when she was appointed CEO of the IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore). Fully aware that the IT industry knew she lacked the qualifications or experience to lead the country in information technology development, she proclaimed in the press that she "didn't know what CDMA was", but she "could always hire someone who knew".

Monday, July 31, 2006

Where's The Defamation Part?

On 30 July 2006, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin filed their affidavits for the summary judgement hearing scheduled for 3 August 2006. The affidavit presented their case against the Lees. During the May 2006 General Election, Father Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had sued Dr Chee and Ms Chee for defamatory remarks published in the Singapore Democratic Party newsletter.

The first part of the affidavit has this introduction:

A. Test of what is defamatory

1. In the Halsbury Laws of Singapore, the test of whether a statement is defamatory or not, the Courts must consider:

a. What meaning the words would convey to the ordinary person.

b. Whether the reasonable person would be likely to understand them in a defamatory sense.

c. The views of the community as a whole, and not just that of a limited class.

Read the article printed in the New Democrat and try to spot the defamation if you can:

The Government's Role in the NKF

In all the hand-wringing and breast-beating by the Government over the NKF issue, Singaporeans must not lose sight of one thing: Such a scandal is inevitable given the kind of secretive and non-accountable system bred by the PAP.

The Government now tries to exone-rate itself by playing the innocent and gullible party duped by greedy NKF officials.

It forgets that in April 2004, Minister Khaw Boon Wan had, in reaction to public unease about the NKF, sought to appease Singaporeans by telling them that the Ministry of Finance "would have reacted many years ago" if there was any breach of rules by the NKF.

Mr Khaw categorically endorsed the NKF's dealings and called on the charity to "continue" to remain "transparent" in its operations.

At the same time the Second Minister for Finance, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, said that the NKF had "quite a sound record" because it spends "more than 80 percent of its funds on its beneficiaries" whom we now know are not kidney patients.

Clearly, alarm bells were raised. People could see that something was wrong and they had expressed their unhappiness over the years.

And yet, the Government which had the power to do something, chose not to. Not only did it choose not to rein in NKF but it also continued to praise the charity and encouraged people to donate to it. With assurances from not one but two Ministers, the charity went on its merry way.

The question that is on everyone's lips is: If Mr TT Durai had not taken the legal suit, would the Government have bothered to look into the NKF records? NKF would in all likelihood have continued to operate with the Government's blessings.

The NKF fiasco is not about bad practices. It is not even about negligence on the Government's part.

It is about greed and power.

It is about the idea that the political elite must be paid top dollar, no matter how obscene those amounts are and regardless of who suffers as a result of it.

It is about a system engineered over the decades by the PAP that ensures that it and only it has access to public information and by fiat decides what is allowed and what is not.

It is about what a "democratic society, based on justice and equality" should not be.

Singaporeans must note that the NKF is not an aberration of the PAP system. It is, instead, a product of it.

To ensure that there is transparency and that Singaporeans are kept informed of matters directly affecting them and their future, the Government must:

One, disclose the breakdown of the cost of building HDB flats and the profits HDB makes.

Two, reveal where and how GIC uses our savings.

Three, disclose the salaries of the top executives of Temasek Holdings and other GLCs.

Four, declare the assets and incomes of its Ministers.

Five, reform the election system to ensure that it is free and fair.

It goes without saying that someone must be held accountable over the whole sordid NKF affair. However, real accountability starts much higher up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Man Punches MP

In what must be the local version of a "Man Bites Dog" story, the press reported that PAP Member of Parliament Seng Han Thong, who was attacked by his Yio Chu Kang constituent, wants to close the episode and move on.

It was Mr Seng's first public comments on the assault which took place last Thursday, 13th July 2006.

The punching incident took place at about 9.30pm on 20 July at a Meet-the-People session at the PAP's Yio Chu Kang branch office.

74-year-old Koo Tong Huat had asked to see his MP in private. The former Comfort taxi driver wanted Mr Seng to help him reinstate his taxi licence which was revoked four years ago. Comfort Delgro terminated his services for writing a threatening letter to a female passenger after she complained about him.

Koo was believed to have been upset that his MP failed to help 'clear his
name' when in fact Mr Seng did file an appeal with ComfortDelgro. ComfortDelgro had replied to Mr Seng and Koo to say that it stood by its earlier recommendations.

We are told that before Mr Seng could explain, Koo punched him in the face.

Two days after the incident, Koo reportedly wrote a letter of apology to Mr Seng, only to retract it the very next day.

Police are investigating the matter but Mr Seng said the assault would not affect the way he conducts his Meet-the-People sessions.

Mr Seng said: "I'll like to move on because I have many other pressing issues to deal with. I'll take this case as closed and I'll leave it to the Police to decide the next course of action."

The last time a member of the public reacted so exuberantly was when the NKF building was spray painted.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Great Affective Divide

Before Mr Brown, there was a Catherine Lim who spoke up, albeit without the benefit of the new online technology. Yet there are some who say that her article reproduced below gave cause for then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to change out his velvet gloves for brass knuckle busters, the weapon of choice of his predecessor.

The PAP and the people - A Great Affective Divide
By Catherine Lim

IT IS no secret that while the PAP Government has inspired in the people much respect for its efficiency and much gratitude for the good life as a result of this efficiency, there is very little in the way of affectionate regard. It is also no secret that the Government is not much bothered by this attitude. The familiar PAP stance is: better to be unpopular and do a good job than to be popular and lead the country into chaos and ruin. At a time of peak economic prosperity and social stability, an estrangement between the government and the people must appear odd. Whence arises this Great Affective Divide?

The answer lies partly in Singapore's history. In its early years, the PAP leadership faced enormous hardships including the traumatic expulsion from Malaysia, the earlier-than-expected withdrawal of the British forces resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs, the threat of Communist influence in the unions and schools and the increasing hostility of the Chinese-educated for the newly emerging, socially ascendant English-educated. On top of all these problems was the ultimately daunting one of nature's remissness: a total lack of natural resources.

With characteristic energy and enthusiasm, the PAP leaders set about the task of taking the beleaguered country out of the woods. From the start, they decided that there was only one way to do it: establish the primacy of economic development and link it with political security to form a tight, incontrovertible equation of national survival, so that whatever fitted into the equation would be rigorously promoted and whatever threatened to disrupt it would be slapped down ruthlessly. Thus a linguistic and cultural issue --that of the English language - was resolved in its favour on the economic grounds that its adoption and use as the main language would enable the country to plug into world trade and technology. The dissenting voices of the Chinese educated were seen accordingly as subversive of the well-being of the country, and duly dealt with.

Over the years, this simple but highly effective approach has taken the country from one astonishing level of achievement to another, until today, it takes its place among the most successful nations in the world, ranking 18th among 230 countries in terms of per capita income.

Clearly, such a purposeful, uncompromising commitment to the economic imperative calls for special qualities of mind and temperament. The PAP leaders are distinguished for their intelligence, single-mindedness, sternness of purpose and cool detachment. Their methods are logic, precision,meticulous analysis and hard-nosed calculation and quantification. Their style is impersonal, brisk, business-like, no-nonsense, pre-emptive. Their pet aversion is noisy, protracted debate that leads nowhere, emotional indulgence, frothy promises, theatrics and polemics in place of pragmatics. This PAP approach, by reason of its amazing effectiveness, has been raised to o political credo that uniquely defines the Government.

But while the PAP ideology remains the same, the people have not. Higher education, a more affluent lifestyle and exposure to the values of the western societies, have created a new generation that is not satisfied with the quantitative paradigm but looks beyond it to a larger qualitative one that most certainly includes matters of the heart, soul and spirit. While idealism, charisma and image have a special appeal for the young, feeling in general is an essential element in everybody's life, occurring at the deepest and most basic level of human need.

The absence of this affective dimension in the PAP framework is what has alienated the people from their leaders. It is easily seen that the main criticisms levelled against the PAP point to a style deficient in human sensitivity and feeling -- "dictatorial", "arrogant", "impatient", "unforgiving", "vindictive".

The Government, puzzled and exasperated by the charges, has often invited these disaffected to come forward to explain their stand clearly and support their criticism with hard data, for instance, the oft-heard complaint that the authoritarian style of the Government has denied them freedom of expression.

But the disaffection remains largely coffee-house and cocktail party rhetoric only. Singaporeans continue to prefer the cover of anonymity. One reason may be the fear that the outspoken person will be marked out and victimised; another may be the sheer presence of so much proof of concrete well-being, such as a good job, a good bank account, a comfortable lifestyle.

Whatever the reason, the negative feelings go underground. Now subterranean hostility is all the more insidious for being that, and has away of surfacing in the most trenchant way, for example, applauding any rambunctious opposition party member in pre-election rallies. A once-in-five-years occurrence, it shows all the intensity of unbottled resentment. The most serious consequences, as the Government is very well aware, is the giving of the vote to the opposition, simply to deny the Government majority that would presumably make it more arrogant than ever.

The Great Affective Divide has created a model of government-people relationship that must be unique in the world: solid, unbreakable unity of purpose and commitment on the economic plane, but a serious bifurcation at the emotive level, resulting in all kinds of anomalies and incongruities. A kind of modus vivendi appears to have developed, by which each agrees to live with the other's preference as long as both work together for the good of the country. Hence the Government continues to say: "We know you dislike us, but...", and the people continue to think: "We are totally grateful to you for the good life you've given us and will vote you again, but ..."

Judging by the results, it is not too bad an arrangement, and many governments who were wildly popular one year and fell the next must be envious of the PAP for being returned to power at each election by a people who allegedly don't like them. The conclusion is that in the large equation of Economic Prosperity and Party Continuity, the factor of feeling cannot be a significant one.

Or can it? Is the equation as stable as it looks?

Concerned Singaporeans must be aware of the emergence of a secondary equation that could bust the major one and create a whole range of unexpected problems. It is the equation of the PAP with Singapore. While in other countries, political parties come and go, but the country remains the rallying point for the people's feelings, in Singapore, the Government has become synonymous with the country. Indeed, Singapore is often seen as the creation of the PAP, made to its image and likeness. Hence, dislike of the PAP, even though it does not translate into dislike of Singapore, effectively blocks out any spontaneous outpouring of patriotic emotion. The best evidence is in the attitude towards the national flag. Singaporeans continue to be reluctant to put it up in their homes on National Day for fear of being thought PAP supporters and sycophants.

If loyalty towards the country is blocked, it has to be directed elsewhere. In Singapore, it is directed at the good life which the country has come to represent. Hence, the object of the people's fervour is not the Government, nor the country, but the good life made possible by the first in its successful leadership of the second. There is by now an almost adulatory quality about the attachment of Singaporeans to the affluence which their parents never knew and which came their way so quickly. It has been wryly described as the new religion of "moneytheism".

This kind of loyalty is, of course meretricious. It changes with its object. Hence, when the good life diminishes, so will it. When the good life disappears, so may it. But the most insidious aspect is its mobility. It will uproot and move with the good life. Hence, if economic prosperity is no longer in Singapore but moves to Canada, Australia, the United States, China, it will re-locate itself accordingly. This is already happening, say some cynical observers: the current buying up of properties and businesses in other countries by the more affluent Singaporeans may be more a quiet preparation for this eventuality than a straightforward investment.

Such a volatile, mobile loyalty is of course a travesty of the patriotism it has displaced and a mockery of all the earnest effort that the Government and the people have put into the building of the country over three decades.

Even if such a sinister scenario does not arise, a growing emotive estrangement between the Government and the people is not a healthy thing. It could create a schizoid society where head is divorced from heart, where there is a double agenda and double book-keeping with people agreeing with the Government in public but saying something else in private.

Neither side of course wants this to happen. Both want this discomfiture to go away. The slogan of "a gentler, wiser society" borrowed by the Prime Minister to signal a new dispensation of greater sensitivity, concern and communication, reinforces an earlier one of "gracious society". The new concern with the aged, the handicapped and the destitute is clearly an attempt to put a human face on public policy that is often accused of being elitist. The new encouragement of the arts is an acknowledgement that man does not live by bread alone but also by creative expression, energy and passion. In the process of narrowing this Affective Divide, the Government will learn that lecturing and hectoring are sometimes less effective than a pat on the back, that mistakes may be just as instructive as success and are therefore forgivable, that efficiency and generosity of spirit are not mutually exclusive, that compassion is not necessarily a sign of effeteness.

The people, on their part, will learn to praise and commend as readily as they are to criticise and complain, to appreciate the hard work of the leaders and possibly the personal sacrifice and frustrations that must lie behind some of the achievements that have contributed to the good life and above all, to realise that whatever the Government now says about its accepting the fact that it does not have the people's regard as long as it has their respect, it needs and wants both.

The Great Affective Divide is an incongruity, to say the least, at a time of phenomenal achievement and intense awareness of the need for a national identity. If openness and tolerance are to be the new temper of the times, they must, first and foremost, address this problem, a definite thorn in the side of the body politic.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Singapore Martyr

Chee Soon Juan drew largely negative responses for his election tactics in May, and it is understandable that his personal and political motivations were difficult for the general public to fathom. The following article provides a rare insight that may prove many Singaporeans wrong, and that the country may view him with different eyes in the future.

Far Eastern Economic Review
July/August 2006
By Hugo Restall

STRIDING into the Chinese restaurant of Singapore’s historic Fullerton Hotel, Chee Soon Juan hardly looks like a dangerous revolutionary. Casually dressed in a blue shirt with a gold pen clipped to the pocket, he could pass as just another mild-mannered, apolitical Singaporean. Smiling, he courteously apologizes for being late—even though it is only two minutes after the appointed time.
Nevertheless, according to prosecutors, this same man is not only a criminal, but a repeat offender. The opposition party leader has just come from a pre-trial conference at the courthouse, where he faces eight counts of speaking in public without a permit. He has already served numerous prison terms for this and other political offenses, including eight days in March for denying the independence of the judiciary. He expects to go to jail again later this year.

Mr Chee does not seem too perturbed about this, but it drives Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong up the wall. Asked about his government’s persecution of the opposition during a trip to New Zealand last month, Mr Lee launched into a tirade of abuse against Mr Chee. “He’s a liar, he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and make himself out to be a martyr,” Mr Lee ranted. “He’s deliberately going against the rules because he says, ‘I’m like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. I want to be a martyr.’”

Coming at the end of a trip in which the prime minister essentially got a free ride on human rights from his hosts—New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark didn’t even raise the issue—this outburst showed a lack of self-control and acumen. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the man who many believe still runs Singapore and who is the current prime minister’s father, has said much the same things about Mr Chee—“a political gangster, a liar and a cheat”—but that was at home, and in the heat of an election campaign.

Mr Chee smiles when it’s suggested that he must be doing something right. “Every time he says something stupid like that, I think to myself, the worst thing to happen would be to be ignored. That would mean we’re not making any headway,” he agrees.

But one charge made by the government does stick: Mr Chee is not terribly concerned about election results. Which is just as well, because his Singapore Democratic Party did not do very well in the May 6 polls. It would be foolish, he suggests, for an opposition party in Singapore to pin its hopes on gaining one, or perhaps two, seats in parliament. He is aiming for a much bigger goal: bringing down the city-state’s one-party system of government. His weapon is a campaign of civil disobedience against laws designed to curtail democratic freedoms.

“You don’t vote out a dictatorship,” he says. “And basically that’s what Singapore is, albeit a very sophisticated one. It’s not possible for us to effect change just through the ballot box. They’ve got control of everything else around us.” Instead what’s needed is a coalition of civil society and political society coming together and demanding change—a color revolution for Singapore.

So far Mr Chee doesn’t seem to be getting much, if any traction. While many Singaporeans don’t particularly like the PAP’s arrogant style of government, the ruling party has succeeded in depoliticizing the population to the extent that anybody who presses them to take action to make a change is regarded with resentment. And in a climate of fear—Mr Chee lost his job as a psychology lecturer at the national university soon after entering opposition politics—a reluctance to get involved is hardly surprising.

Why is all this oppression necessary in a peaceful and prosperous country like Singapore where citizens otherwise enjoy so many freedoms? Mr Chee has his own theory that the answer lies with strongman Lee Kuan Yew himself: “Why is he still so afraid? I honestly think that through the years he has accumulated enough skeletons in his closet that he knows that when he is gone, his son and the generations after him will have a price to pay. If we had parliamentary debates where the opposition could pry and ask questions, I think he is actually afraid of something like that.”

That raises the question of whether Singapore deserves its reputation for squeaky-clean government. A scandal involving the country’s biggest charity, the National Kidney Foundation, erupted in 2004 when it turned out that its Chief Executive T.T. Durai was not only drawing a $357,000 annual salary, but the charity was paying for his first-class flights, maintenance on his Mercedes, and gold-plated fixtures in his private office bathroom.

The scandal was a gift for the opposition, which naturally raised questions about why the government didn’t do a better job of supervising the highly secretive NKF, whose patron was the wife of former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (she called Mr Durai’s salary “peanuts”). But it had wider implications too. The government controls huge pools of public money in the Central Provident Fund and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp, both of which are highly nontransparent. It also controls spending on the public housing most Singaporeans live in, and openly uses the funds for refurbishing apartment blocks as a bribe for districts that vote for the ruling party. Singaporeans have no way of knowing whether officials are abusing their trust as Mr Durai did.

It gets worse. Mr Durai’s abuses only came to light because he sued the Straits Times newspaper for libel over an article detailing some of his perks. Why was Mr Durai so confident he could win a libel suit when the allegations against him were true? Because he had done it before. The NKF won a libel case in 1998 against defendants who alleged it had paid for first-class flights for Mr Durai. This time, however, he was up against a major bulwark of the regime, Singapore Press Holdings; its lawyers uncovered the truth.

Singaporean officials have a remarkable record of success in winning libel suits against their critics. The question then is, how many other libel suits have Singapore’s great and good wrongly won, resulting in the cover-up of real misdeeds? And are libel suits deliberately used as a tool to suppress questioning voices?

The bottling up of dissent conceals pressures and prevents conflicts from being resolved. For instance, extreme sensitivity over the issue of race relations means that the persistence of discrimination is a taboo topic. Yet according to Mr Chee it is a problem that should be debated so that it can be better resolved. “The harder they press now, the stronger will be the reaction when he’s no longer around,” he says of Lee Kuan Yew.

The paternalism of the PAP also rankles, especially since foreigners get more consideration than locals. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund will hold their annual meeting in Singapore this fall, and have been trying to convince the authorities to allow the usual demonstrations to take place. The likely result is that international NGO groups will be given a designated area to scream and shout. “So we have a situation here where locals don’t have the right to protest in their own country, while foreigners are able to do that,” Mr Chee marvels. Likewise, Singaporeans can’t organize freely into unions to negotiate wages; instead a National Wages Council sets salaries with input from the corporate sector, including foreign chambers of commerce.

All these tensions will erupt when strongman Lee Kuan Yew dies. Mr Chee notes that the ruling party is so insecure that Singapore’s founder has been unable to step back from front-line politics. The PAP still needs the fear he inspires in order to keep the population in line. Power may have officially passed to his son, Lee Hsien Loong, but even supporters privately admit that the new prime minister doesn’t inspire confidence.

During the election, Prime Minister Lee made what should have been a routine attack on multiparty democracy: “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters’ votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?” But of course the ominous phrases “buy votes” and “fix them” stuck out. That is the kind of mistake, Mr Chee suggests, Lee Sr would not make.

“He’s got a kind of intelligence that would serve you very well when you put a problem in front of him,” he says of the prime minister. “But when it comes to administration or political leadership, when you really need to be media savvy and motivate people, I think he is very lacking in that area. And his father senses it as well.”

However, the elder Mr Lee’s death—he is now 82—is a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. Another big factor is how civil society is able to use new technologies to bypass PAP control over information and free speech. The government has tried to stifle political filmmaking, blogging and podcasting. Singapore Rebel, a 2004 film about Mr Chee by independent artist Martyn See, was banned but is widely available on the Internet.

Meanwhile, pressure for Singapore to remain competitive in the region has sparked debate about the government’s dominant role in the economy. Can a top-down approach promote creativity and independent thinking? The need for transparency and accountability also means that Singapore will have to change. That is the source of Mr Chee’s optimism in the face of all his setbacks: “I realize that Singapore is not at that level yet. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m prepared to see this out, in the sense that in the next five, 10, 15 years, time is on our side. We need to continue to organize and educate and encourage. And it will come.”

He doesn’t dwell on his personal tribulations, but mentions in passing selling his self-published books on the street. That is his primary source of income to feed his family, along with the occasional grant. As to the charge of wanting to be a martyr, once he started dissenting, he found it impossible to stop in good conscience. “The more you got involved, the more you found out what they’re capable of, it steels you, so you say, ‘No, I will not back down.’ It makes you more determined.”

Perhaps it’s in his genes. One of Mr Chee’s daughters is old enough that she had to be told that her father was going to prison. She stood up before her class and announced, “My papa is in jail, but he didn’t do anything wrong. People have just been unfair to him.”