30 Jul 2004

Reporters without borders report

Everythings FINE Here

Population : 4,183,000
Internet users : 2,100,000 (2002)
Average charge for 20 hours of connection : 9 euros
DAI* : 0.75
Situation** : difficult

The government is everywhere, censorship rules and civil society is weak in Singapore. Such state control does not however include the excesses or violence found in China or Cuba. The leaders of the city-state warn that economic prosperity has to be paid for with freedom. The Internet in Singapore is almost devoid of political discussion and dissent only occurs on websites and discussion forums run from outside the country.

"I'm often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yet, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today." This remark by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew sums up the policy of the country's longtime ruler - that civil liberties were never a priority and that a good citizen should remember the national interest is always more important. This has remained the government's attitude since Lee partly handed over power to his successors in 1990 after ruling for 31 years.

The Internet is censored along with the traditional media, but the government was one of the first in the world to realise its importance as a means of dissent by civil society. It began regulating Internet activity in 1999 and the 11 September 2001 attacks speeded up an already advanced process.

ISPs under control

The government pushed through two major computer and Internet laws in 1998. One, the Computer Misuse Act, gave police wide powers to intercept online messages and said the authorities could decode encrypted messages in the course of investigations and under supervision of a prosecutor. The other law, on e-commerce, allowed police to seize and search computers without a warrant to do so. The two measures added to a series of laws cracking down on individual freedom, especially the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Since the late 1990s, the Internet has been under the control of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), which monitors website access and content and calls for observance of a charter defining "responsible" Internet activity.

It requires ISPs to block any sites containing material that supposedly undermines public security, national defence, racial and religious harmony and public morality and more than 100 sites considered pornographic are thought to have been blocked. ISPs have to follow a code of conduct and must have an operating licence. They must also install filters on their systems, which block most pornographic material but are also used to bar access to political content, especially at election-time.

Employers are legally allowed to monitor the e-mail of their workers, who have no means of appeal if they are sacked as a result of an intercepted message.

Political and religious websites must be registered with the Media Development Authority (MDA), which was set up in 2002 through a merger of several media supervisory bodies and requires ISPs to block access to about 100 sites considered undesirable.

Open-ended power to monitor the Internet

An amendment to article 15 (a) of the Computer Misuse Act was passed by parliament in November 2003 to authorise complete surveillance of an Internet user through real-time software and the person's arrest before an offence is committed. Cyber-criminals can now be imprisoned for up to three years.

Member of parliament Ho Geok Choo said the amendment was "very much like the cyberspace equivalent" of the ISA, which was passed to fight classic crime. The ISA, which dates from the time of independence, has long been used by the regime to make arbitrary arrests of political dissidents.
Some MPs criticised the vague phrasing of the law and Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, said it was just an excuse for the government to control Internet activity.

The law does not say what kind of body or organisation the home affairs (interior) minister can authorise to monitor the Internet or what action the minister can take in the event of "imminent attacks." No independent body to review such decisions is mentioned.

Discussion forum under attack

The online forum Singapore Review, which carries criticism of the government, was hacked into on 6 October 2003 by someone who flooded the Yahoo-hosted site with up to 600 bogus messages an hour, driving 200 participants out of the forum.

The website, which calls itself "an alternative" to the country's "propaganda media," carries articles from the world press and reports by international human rights organisations. Its editor, who uses the pseudonym Melanie Hewlitt, encourages participants to speak their mind, which she says the country's media are incapable of doing.


The online forum Singapore Review

The Southeast Asia freedom of expression group Think Centre

Site of James Gomez, expert on freedom of expression issues in Singapore

The regulatory Media Development Authority

Reporters Without Borders

29 Jul 2004

Mother begs for drug smuggler's life

July 27, 2004

By Kimina Lyall

"PLEASE forgive him." This was the singular plea from Melbourne mother Nguyen Kim yesterday as she clung to her last thread of hope that the Singapore Court of Appeal would yet overrule her son's death sentence.

Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, was sentenced to hang by the Singapore High Court in March for attempting to smuggle 396 grams of heroin. He was caught during transit in Changi airport on a trip from Cambodia to Melbourne in January last year.

His fate as potentially the first Australian to be executed by a foreign government in a decade now rests with the thoughts of three of Singapore's most senior judges on a technical point regarding the weight of the drugs.

Ms Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who gave birth to twin boys in a Thai refugee camp before migrating to Australia when they were babies, travelled to Singapore in the belief that the judges, who had received written submissions from lawyers, might make their final ruling on whether her son goes to the gallows later this year. But after hearing legal arguments for 20 minutes, the three-judge court of appeal, led by Chief Justice Yong Pung How, reserved its decision.

A pale Nguyen, who had told officials that he had smuggled the drugs to help pay the debts of his twin brother, stared without expression at his tearful mother as he was led away from the hearing yesterday.

His life appears to rest on whether the judges overrule the High Court's decision to admit as evidence his own statements to narcotics officers after he was caught with the drugs, along with the drugs themselves.

Nguyen was convicted in April largely on the basis of the elaborate explanation he gave to narcotics officers who discovered a plastic bag of heroin strapped to his back when he passed through security checks as he was preparing to board a Qantas flight to Melbourne.

His lawyers say the story, which detailed how, where and why he bought the drugs, was not a confession as he had not been informed of his rights to have legal representation before he spoke.

They also question the integrity of the drugs themselves. According to evidence at the earlier trial, the two bags of drugs were not immediately sealed after their discovery, and were removed from the investigating officer's cabinet during the night.

The lawyers also point out that the two bags of drugs weighed less than an initial measurement when they were tested in a laboratory. One of them weighed more than the other in one test, while the difference was reversed in a second test. They argue the discrepancy - amounting to eight grams - raises doubts about the integrity of the exhibits. If the drugs, and Nguyen's statements admitting he carried them, are ruled inadmissible, they believe the prosecution has no case.

Nguyen's lawyers also believe Singapore's mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional because it removes the power of judges to take into account individual circumstances of a case. Under Singaporean law, anyone convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin must be hanged.

Amnesty International says Singapore has the highest rate of government-sanctioned executions per capita in the world, killing more than 400 people since the law was introduced in 1975.

If Nguyen loses his appeal, only a presidential pardon can save him from the gallows. Singapore has never executed an Australian. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has written to his counterpart arguing compassionate circumstances should be considered in the case.

For now, Ms Nguyen is relieved the judges appear to be considering the arguments of her son's lawyers.

"I have a little bit of hope still," she told The Australian after yesterday's hearing.

28 Jul 2004


by See Leong Kit
23 July 2004

[ Note for Readers: Please circulate this analysis as widely as possible, especially to HDB flat owners/buyers --- who have been "taken for a ride" for all these years!!! If anyone knows Mr Chow, please alert him as well.]

1 Mon 12 Jul 04 ST Forum Page letter "How does HDB price its flats" by Mr Douglas Chow Tuck Kheong.

Mr Chow had rightly asked the HDB to explain why new four and five-room flats are priced at $200,000 upwards when the construction cost per unit is only about $50,000 --- i.e. a whopping difference of $150,000.

2 Fri 23 Jul 04 HDB reply "What goes into pricing of HDB flats" by Tay Boon Sun [HDB Snr Public Relations Officer].

The two main "nonsense" arguments in HDB's mumbo-jumbo reply and my compelling rebuttals in brackets:

(a) The construction cost per unit figure of $50K provided by Mr Chow did not take into account other construction-related costs, such as piling works, consultancy and project-management fees.

[ EVEN if the related costs are included, it CANNOT account for the whopping difference of $150K!!! We, Singaporeans, Not Stupid! We were not born yesterday and we are not 3-year old kids. So the HDB had better stop insulting our intelligence with such stupid arguments! ]

(b) HDB sells flats with a "market subsidy" by pricing NEW flats "below" the price of comparable RESALE flats i.e. since comparable resale flats are selling for around $240K (say), the HDB then decides to "pluck from the air" the round figure of $200K as the selling price of the new flats!!! So that our beloved PAP Government can then boast to its people and the whole world that each HDB flat-buyer is getting a big fat $40K so-called "market subsidy"!!!

[ WOW, since when did the HDB, as a government agency set up to "supposedly help" its citizens own their homes, thought of such a "clever" approach to "suck monies" from the people??? ]

3 In the PRIVATE SECTOR, the selling price of private property is based on the following cost-plus approach:

Selling Price = land cost + construction cost + misc costs (admin,marketing,financing,etc) + developer's profit margin (anything from a few percent to say 20 percent, depending on market conditions)

To be fair to its flatbuyers, the HDB should thus be following such a "cost-recovery" approach. And if the PAP Government is really SINCERE and GENUINE in helping our people regard Singapore as HOME (both literally and figuratively), it should adopt such an approach to compute the selling price of HDB flats with the following provisions:

(i) Impute land cost on a nominal basis rather than market value (which will then provide a "true subsidy" ). While private developers have to recover full land costs, the Government [as owner of some 90% of the land in Singapore] can do this. After all, HDB land are all on just 99-year lease.

(ii) No developer's profit i.e. sell the HDB flats AT BREAK-EVEN COST.

THROUGH THE ABOVE APPROACH, the Government is then really "helping" the people purchase their own homes "at the lowest possible cost" through reaping the economies of scale in the large-scale development of HDB estates. The HDB flatbuyers will then be getting a "true subsidy" and the HDB will not be "making profits out of the buyers" [In essence, the HDB will be something like a big housing co-operative, providing a "home building service"]


(i) HDB flatbuyers are not really getting a "TRUE subsidy" but an "INVISIBLE market subsidy"

(ii) The HDB is also actually making "big fat profits" out of its flatbuyers.

[ Taking the example given by Mr Chow,

actual construction cost $50K + construction-related costs + nominal imputed land cost + misc/admin costs = break-even cost (say, $80K?)

Against selling price of $200K, HDB's "big fat profit" = $120K FOR EACH FLAT!!!



HDB: Taking away your lifelong savings?

Posted by DEARCHER in the Sintercom Forum:

HDB leased flats - our personal asset or liability? Provision of a
home is an asset, the overcharging is a liability that eats away your
retirement fund and puts you in debt.

Calculation of HDB's OBSCENE profit - new flats and resale levy:

There is only one word to describe it - evil!

Between 1991 - 2001, HDB built 280,826 new flats [see below].
Assuming each flat average $100k net profit for HDB, they would have
amassed S$28.0b net profit from sale of new flats. Using statistics
(1998-2001) showing that for every single new flat sold, 1.7 resale
flats would have changed hands, the Resale levy would have raked in
at least S$19.0b (flats built x 1.7 x $40k*) into HDB coffers for
doing NOTHING. All these billion$ are deducted from our CPF savings
within PM Goh's first 11 years in office.

{Total net income to HDB not less that $47b in just 11 years! - where
does this money come from? Our savings!)

*S$40k being average 20% levy on a average flat sold for a
conservative $200k assumption.
** Note: Construction cost per 5-room flat is below $80k.
** Note: The $28.0b will be the CPF savings you had paid to HDB, plus
your future *debt* if you are still paying installments.
** Mortgage interest not factored into purchase calculation.
** Tenancy lease depreciation (99-year lease) not accounted for.

This explains why we have to work our asses off our lifetime, just to
pay for the pigeon hole, and why you can never have enough left
behind in CPF for retirement use. What happened to the $b's in HDB
profit, as I didn't see it in the HDB surplus account published last


2001/2 Yearbook - Dwelling Units.

1991 / 10452 units built
1992 / 18482 units built
1993 / 17888 units built
1994 / 25987 units built
1995 / 26185 units built
1996 / 27484 units built
1997 / 31312 units built
1998 / 36609 units built, Resale units 60459
1999 / 34836 units built, Resale units 57955
2000 / 27678 units built, Resale units 38828
2001 / 23913 units built, Resale units 41059

Stats prior to 1991:

1960-1965 / 53777 units built
1966-1970 / 63448 units built
1971-1975 / 110362 units built
1976-1980 / 130981 units built
1981-1985 / 189299 units built
1986-1990 / 119708 units built

This message was forwarded to you from Straits Times Interactive (http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg) by mellaniehewlitt@y...

Comments from sender:
Singapore Govt's idea of "subsidised housing take the form of the worlds most
expensive pigeon holes.

By artificially inflating the price of land sold to developers, the Singapore
Government has also contributed to escalating cost of living.

New HDB 5-room flats too small for their price

I DISAGREE that HDB five-room flats are too big ('Why buyers shun 5-room, exec
flats'; ST, March 18). The new flats in Sengkang and Punggol are being shunned
precisely because they are too small for their price.

I am the owner of a five-room flat in Punggol that measures a miserly 110 sq m,
compared to my parents' flat in Clementi, which is spacious at 130 sq m.

I live with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law, which makes the average
living space per person only 22 sq m. Should a baby come along, we would have
to move to a larger flat in a mature housing estate.

Many friends I know would rather settle for a four-room resale flat than a flat
in Punggol, as the size of a four-room flat is about 95 sq m, only slightly
smaller than a 110 sq m five-room flat. The flats are going for about 60 per
cent of the price of a new five-room flat, but are smaller by only 14 per cent.
And they are often in mature estates with better amenities.

Another complaint about flats in Punggol and Sengkang is the out-of-this-world
layout. One friend's Sengkang flat has a living room framed by five walls, and
a triangular kitchen.

As the new five-room flats are so small, they should be sold at a price
slightly higher than that of four-room flats.


27 Jul 2004

Singapore defers judgment of Australian drug trafficker

2004-07-27 / Associated Press /

Singapore's appeals court reserved judgment yesterday in a death-penalty case against an Australian convicted of smuggling heroin, saying it wants more time to look at evidence - especially why the drugs had different weights when tested by police and a lab.

The decision by the three-judge panel to defer judgment against Nguyen Tuong Van - who faces the gallows if his appeal fails and the president doesn't grant clemency - means legal proceedings will be extended days or weeks in a case that dates from December 2002.

Chief Justice Yong Pung How told the court that the discrepancy in drug weight "has never happened before" in such a case.

"Admittedly it is only a marginal difference, but we have to be very careful," Yong said.

Nguyen, 23, a salesman from Melbourne, was arrested December 12, 2002 at Changi International Airport in transit between Cambodia and Australia. During a routine passenger search, officers found Nguyen was carrying two packets of heroin, one taped to his back and a second in his bag.

When weighed at the airport by police, Nguyen's two packets weighed 381.66 grams and 380.36 grams, according to the written judgment of Judge Kan Ting Chui, who heard Nguyen's case.

But when weighed later at a lab, the packets weighed 361.64 grams and 370.94 grams respectively, according to the same written judgment, dated March 20, 2004.

"We will wait and see what happens," Lex Lasry, Nguyen's Australian attorney, said outside the courtroom.

Singapore has some of Asia's toughest anti-drug laws, including a mandatory death penalty for anyone convicted of possessing more than 15 grams of pure heroin.

Chief Justice Yong heard the appeal yesterday, along with judges Chao Hick Tin and Lai Kew Chai. Among those watching was Nguyen's mother, Kim, who fled Vietnam in 1980 by boat.

Nguyen's Singapore lawyers, Joseph Theseira and Tito Isaac, had submitted on July 15 written arguments detailing why Nguyen's conviction should be overturned.

In court yesterday, Theseira summarized these, including the issue of the drugs' differing weights, and Singapore's use of the mandatory death penalty.

Nguyen's case - should he lose his appeal - could complicate ties between Canberra and Singapore, which normally enjoy a close diplomatic relationship.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has called for Nguyen's life to be spared.

Singapore's government routinely defends the country's use of the gallows although it has yet to comment on Nguyen's case. It argues hanging criminals convicted of serious offenses sends a strong message to other would-be offenders.

24 Jul 2004

Battle to stop a hanging

Yet again the death penalty and the proceedings surrounding such a court case disappear in the local Singaporean press. The death penalty in Singapore IS clouded in secracy. We have to go to the international press to hear about the decisions that are being made under our very noses. Singapore Press Holdings and the so called journalists who work for them in Singapore have become sick with fear.

Norrie Ross
law reporter

A YOUNG Melbourne man due to hang in Singapore for drug crimes will get one of his last chances to save his life next week.

Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, will appeal against his conviction and sentence in Singapore's Court of Appeal on Monday, in a hearing that is not expected to last even the day.
Nguyen, a former salesman, has been on death row for five months since he was convicted of importing nearly 400 grams of heroin in December 2002.

He was arrested at Changi International Airport while boarding a Qantas flight to Australia with the drugs strapped to his back and in his backpack.

He was in transit from Cambodia, and his trial heard he told police he carried the drugs to repay $30,000 in debts accumulated by his twin brother.

One of his Melbourne lawyers, barrister Julian McMahon, said yesterday the legal team had one aim. "Our objective all along has been to save his life, and that remains our objective," he said.

Mr McMahon said Nguyen was bearing up as well as could be expected in the circumstances, though his family was very distressed.

There is a mandatory death penalty in Singapore for anyone aged over 18 convicted of carrying more than 15 grams of heroin.

If Nguyen's appeal fails, his last chance of avoiding the gallows would be to try to win a plea for clemency to Singapore's president.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has already told Singapore that Australia does not want Nguyen to be hanged, but most clemency appeals fail.

Nguyen's other Melbourne lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, said the appeal would focus on deficiencies in the evidence against his client and a challenge to the constitutional basis of the death penalty in Singapore.

Mr Lasry said Nguyen was a first offender and, because of his age, if he committed the same offence in Australia his sentence would typically be between five and 10 years in jail.

If Nguyen is hanged, he would be the fourth Australian to be executed in an Asian country on drug charges.

In the most notorious case, Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow were executed in Malaysia in 1986.

Queenslander Michael McAuliffe was hanged in Malaysia in June 1993 after serving eight years in jail.

© Herald and Weekly Times

23 Jul 2004

Singapore bans film with gay theme

Thu 22 July, 2004 08:43

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -

Sex and the City may be all right for audiences in Singapore, but censors have drawn the line at Taiwan's highest-grossing film this year, banning the teenage romantic comedy for its gay theme.

"Formula 17", which has grossed double the $100,000 (55,000 pounds) it cost to make, was banned, despite an appeal from its distributor, because it encouraged homosexuality, Singapore's Films Appeals Committee said on Thursday.

It said panel members thought the film "creates an illusion of a homosexual utopia, where everyone, including passersby, is homosexual and no ills or problems are reflected".

"It conveys the message that homosexuality is normal, and a natural progression of society," the panel said.

Strict Singapore has loosened some of its stuffy social controls in recent years, partially relaxing a ban on chewing gum in January, allowing some bars to stay open for 24 hours and ending a ban on the U.S. sitcom "Sex and the City" last week.

But many tough rules remain. "Playboy" magazine is still banned, while oral sex remains technically illegal under a law that says "whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals" can be fined and jailed up to 10 years, or even for life.

The government said in January it plans to review its sex laws, and oral sex would most probably be decriminalised -- but only between men and women.

The panel said it took into account the findings of a recent survey that more than 70 percent of Singaporeans are not receptive to homosexual lifestyles.

"Formula 17", directed by a 23-year-old, has been a sensation in Taiwan, its box-office earnings making it the most successful homegrown film this year, the island's media say.

China’s days of protest

Singapore is heralded by some as the model that certain countries, such as China, are trying to emulate. But the following article strikes me as important because it should touch each unhappy Singaporean worker who feels powerless and atomised. In China the penalty for dissent is much greater than in Singapore and yet the Chinese workers feel the fear and refuse to let it control them.

China’s days of protest
Anonymous author
17 - 6 - 2004

Beneath China’s booming economy lies immense social inequality and seething worker discontent. A western observer witnesses a minor but now unexceptional popular convulsion.

By the second night, the onlookers outnumbered the demonstrators; but at the height of the protest 6-7,000 textile workers had occupied People’s Square, chanting and singing outside the government buildings. None of them had been paid in months, and now they were being laid off.

Their demonstration was tolerated up to a point. If the authorities had wanted, it could have been over in minutes. All the same, three were hospitalised with broken limbs when police in riot gear subdued protestors. One pregnant woman miscarried after being beaten.

At lunchtime on the second day, with the thermometer climbing over thirty degrees, workers in blue overalls occupied every patch of shade in the park. They had takeaway boxes and bottles of ice tea. For a moment it could have been a works’ outing picnic.

“People are saying we must go and support them,” a local man told me. “We must take water and food for them.”

This was the story of the demonstration: not the chanting of the workers, but the solidarity of the crowd that came to see them.

A fragile miracle In the west, the speed of China’s conversion to capitalism has been more marvelled at than questioned. The business leaders who queued to meet the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, on his May 2004 tour of European capitals are entranced by relentless growth of over 7% per year.

These figures convert into the apartment buildings rising across China’s city skylines like a bar chart. But also to the squalor of the migrant labourers building them. Leaving their families and travelling thousands of miles from the poor provinces of Henan and Shaanxi, they are shunned by locals and sleep in crowded dormitories or the shells of the unfinished buildings they work on by day.

Here is one of their destinations: a factory reached through the middle gate of a new archway, the name of the company spelt out in shiny letters overhead. Inside, the compound is a self-contained village with apartment buildings, shops, a clinic, all built around the factory itself. Despite the impressive entrance and a smart office block half way down the central avenue, the paint is peeling on most of the buildings and at the far end weeds push through the tarmac. In the late morning, men and women stand talking on corners or sit under the trees. Most have nothing else to do.

This is where the blue-overalled workers marched from, along Petroleum Artery to the city centre. As state employees, they once had job security, access to free medical care, education and welfare. What remained of that stability was cut away when the factory was sold to a private company. Then, at the beginning of 2004, their salaries stopped being paid. Some said the new owners had begun selling off equipment. The factory may simply have failed to compete in a free market, but most believe they are victims of corruption.

Corruption itself is not new in China. But what alarms many, even among the middle classes, is the way it has fused with the new market practices. As long as enterprises remained owned by the state, even local officials who feathered their nests had an interest in preserving social stability – if only because any signs of unrest would invite punishment from Beijing. By contrast, private owners are seen as irresponsible, ready to disappear if they can take enough with them.

“Before, our country was at one extreme, now we seem to be rushing to the other,” one small businessman told me. “There should be somewhere in the middle.”

The official line is that economic progress is the precondition of improving social conditions; the faster change happens, the better for all. The sufferings of the workers are the birthpangs of a new age, China’s own industrial revolution.

How far down such optimism runs – within individuals and within society – is hard to gauge. In any case, for many of those whose labour is laying the foundation of economic growth, the benefits are hard to see.

China’s workers stand up

According to China’s ministry of public security, 2003 saw 58,000 “mass incidents”, the government’s preferred term for public protests – a rise of 15% on 2002. The causes given are a checklist of the side-effects of economic reform: wage disputes, social welfare issues, restructuring of state-owned enterprises, and evictions.

At one extreme are the unpaid migrant workers in Beijing who have taken to staging, and sometimes completing, suicide bids as a negotiating tool. One member of a team will climb the building and threaten to jump unless the employers pay up. With no clear legal channels available, some feel this is their only option.

More common are sit-ins outside factories or local government headquarters. Workers respond to the failings of private employers by calling on the state for help. Sometimes, a protest becomes a riot. A recent dispute over evictions in the southern city of Shenzhen ended with building workers pelting officials with bricks. In 2000, it took police three days to regain control of Yangjiazhangzi, a town in Liaoning province, after 20,000 sacked miners went on the rampage.

The textile workers had promised, without local government action, to walk 400 kilometres over the mountains to the regional capital. But after a week, some kind of deal was reached. Rumours suggested that the authorities “bought” one of the leaders and arrested others. Workers involved in the protest have been summoned to police and security bureau interviews. Then, just to remind everyone that Beijing is watching, the city got a surprise visit from a top party official.

“You shouldn’t worry,” someone told me. “The situation has been resolved.” Many who had supported the workers were glad of a settlement, even if it seemed heavy-handed. “You can’t look at China through western eyes.”

What stays with me, though, is the sense that for all the flashiness of the new China, the brash wealth of its elite, the authorities here could not count on the kind of support in facing down the workers that underpinned the economic reforms of Thatcherism in Britain during the 1980s. Sheer power may be a brittle as well as a brutal substitute.

The next convulsion

The power of the Communist Party and its capacity to infiltrate all areas of life make it unlikely that organised workers’ networks will emerge in China. Independent trades unions are banned and labour activists receive long prison sentences. The media is instructed not to refer to protests, so news spreads by rumour. The protests themselves seem to be spontaneous rather than coordinated.

The monopoly of power stifles political argument and social dissent alike. The extension of the franchise in Britain was a major factor in defusing the class tensions of Victorian society. The economically disenfranchised of today’s India can punish their government at the ballot box. No such release exists for their counterparts in the world’s most populous nation.

But could persisting economic inequalities one day trigger demonstrations on a scale that would destabilise China’s system? This certainly worries the government. Its new, “fourth generation” leaders have tried to identify themselves with the workers and address the concerns of migrants and the rural poor. Their officials estimate that economic growth must stay above 7% to prevent a breakdown of public order, yet the mechanisms for generating growth are themselves socially corrosive. So the stability of this emerging superpower depends on its continuing to defy economic gravity.

Most of China’s adult population was raised on a blend of nationalism and workers’ solidarity. It may be a mistake to assume that the swift pace of economic change and the Orwellian reorientation of the Communist Party leadership have been accompanied by a deep-seated shift of mentality among the people.

Meanwhile, the demonstrations come and go, here and across the country. A British academic once said that he spent the first fifteen years of his career trying to persuade colleagues that Marx didn’t get it all right, and the next fifteen arguing he didn’t get it all wrong. Irony would be too weak a word if, should China’s economic miracle begin to falter, the People’s Republic were overthrown by a proletarian revolution.

Copyright ©Anonymous author 2004. Published by openDemocracy Ltd.

22 Jul 2004

China, Singapore spat over Taiwan visit

The Sydney Morning Herald
July 22, 2004

A diplomatic spat between China and Singapore has deepened after Beijing delayed an invitation to a Singaporean trade delegation to protest against a visit by Singapore's future prime minister to Taiwan.

Beijing has responded with fury since Lee Hsien Loong - who will become prime minister next month - met Taiwan's leaders from July 10-12 in a visit that Singapore insists was unofficial but which Beijing has said had consequences.

Analysts said the diplomatic row was unlikely to affect trade or business ties.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified Singapore it was "delaying" an invitation to National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan to lead a delegation to Chengdu in western Sichuan province from July 28 to 30, a Singapore government official said.

The snub follows Beijing's decision last week to cancel a trip by its central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, to Singapore, where he had been due to speak at the wealthy city state's central bank.

Analysts said Beijing's actions appeared mostly symbolic and business ties looked strong.

They cited a multimillion dollar deal announced yesterday by a Singapore-based company to buy 30 per cent of China's largest ship repair company, Cosco Shipyard.


A pattern that leads to inevitable hikes ...


By: Lim Boon Hee
19 July 2004

A pattern that leads to inevitable hikes ...
The masses are resigned to this 'natural order of things'

THE same symphonic pattern emerges.

First, the prelude, with the local media heralding a slew of
statistics announcing the arrival of better economic times.

Then, a premature suggestion to restore the ministers' and top civil
servants' pay cuts, which was greeted with unpopular feedback by many
who felt that the economic upturn benefits have yet to filter down
the masses.

The main theme comes into play with miscellaneous school fees and
town councils' service and conservancy charges going up.

This will inevitably lead to more government and quasi-government
bodies following suit.

The crescendo builds up as everybody scrambles to raise charges,
taking the cue and green light from the early birds who first up
their fees.

The finale ends in an anti-climax as the masses resign themselves to
their fate — the swallows have arrived, spring has come, the flowers
are blooming and so prices must go up.

We are led to believe that this is the natural order of things.

Oddly enough, when times were really bad and many retrenched, things
took much longer to come down and the cuts were, if any, merely token
symbolic ones.

What is worse is every price increase is met with the rhetorical
reassurance that nobody would be deprived of basic services despite
the hikes and the social net is always there for those who really
cannot afford the increment.

The other tired argument to justify the hikes is that the charges
have not been increased for so many years and therefore the increase
is way overdue.

This is cold comfort as most Singaporeans would rather tighten their
belts than go through the hassle of applying for poor men's benefits
from the government.

So what is next? University and polytechnic fees, transport hikes,
hospital bills, parking charges, stamps ...

Sigh …

Lim Boon Hee

20 Jul 2004

150 Indian migrant workers again protested peacefully

17 July 2004 by Sinapan Samydorai

16 July 2004, more then 150 Indian migrant workers again protested peacefully to claim 4 to 6 months salaries owned by their employer. This is the second protest by workers from Wan Soon Construction to claim their salaries amounting to some $4000 to $6000.

28 June 2004 200 Indian Workers protest at Indian Embassy On 28 June 2004, the Indian migrant workers had also gathered to demand that the Indian Embassy assist them to claim the salary own to them.
Failed Negotiation

On 1st July 2004, the workers refused to accept the MOM negotiated $600 settlement that is only a fraction of what they are owed before they leave, plus a promise by the company to remit the rest later. According to the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) terms of a deal negotiated with Wan Soon Constructionon on 25 May 2004 - the company was schedule to pay $600 to each workers. [Wan Soon's insurance company will pay $400, and the contractor's directors will pay $200 for each worker.] The negotiations failed because the MOM wanted to deal with each worker as an individual and try to break-up the group of Indian workers. Moreover, the workers are aware that the 118 who accepted the deal were given $400 and send home. The workers are requesting full payment of their salary.

The Labour Law

The foreign migrant workers from construction industry, unlike foreign domestic workers, are protected by the Employment Act. Yet Wan Soon construction company had managed not to pay the 400 workers for more then 4 months. How did this happen? Questions are being raised why the Ministry of Manpower had failed to notice this abuse for almost 4 months.

According to the labour law: "All salary, other than payment for overtime work, must be paid within 7 days after the end of the salary period. Salary for overtime work must be paid within 14 days after the end of the salary period." [Employment Act: Payment of Salary ]

Ministry of Manpower

What is worrying is that why MOM failed to intervene earlier to prevent such abuse from happening. The labour law says all workers must be paid at least once a month. Why did the supervisory mechanism fail? As employers are, frequently, sending back foreign workers with just few hundrend dollars when they owned each worker a few thousand dollars. Is this fair and just?

The Government collects from employers the foreign workers' levy as surety to make sure that the workers are paid which implies the authorities are responsible to ensure that workers are paid timely and regularly each month. Some employers, in fact, deduct the levy from the workers' salaries.

In June 2004, the MOM managed to send back home 118 workers with only $400. The 118 workers were part of the 400 workers who were owned 4 - 6 months salary by Wan Soon Construction. It leaves one to think that the MOM is in a rush to send the workers home instead of seeking a fair and just deal for the workers.

NTUC Migrant Workers Forum

In Singapore, there are more then 500,000 foreign workers with work permits. NTUC memberships is 425,000 of which about 17.5 per cent or 74,000 are foreign workers. But in the Shipbuilding sector, close to 70 per cent of the membership are foreign workers. In BATU, Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, membership is 22,000, of which 20 per cent are migrant workers from Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. BATU settles the disputes on a group basis thus if the workers are still working they need not worry about the employer penalizing them for blowing the whistle on the company. In 2003, the NTUC set-up the Migrant Workers Forum of which Mr.Yeo Guat Kwang, also MP of Aljunied GRC, is the Chairperson.

In the case of Wan Soon Construction workers, the NTUC Migrant Workers forum solved the immediate needs of the workers for food and accomodation. The Forum coordinated with NTUC Fairprice to contribute food for the Indian workers. The Forum in liaison with the MOM has also mediated with the employer to ensure the migrant workers will continue to stay at their dormitory until their claim is settled. But the Forums role is not clear when it comes to the mediation process of the MOM in trying to solve the dispute of non payment of salary of migrant workers. Surely, the attempt by MOM to send home the workers with $400 - $600 is not fair. How will the Forum ensure the migrant workers receive a fair and just settlement?

Indian Migrant Workers

The remaining more then 200 workers are claiming their salaries and had also requested to work with other employers in the same industry. The Workers who registered their claims with the MOM will be issued with with special passes to remain in Singapore while their claims are being settled.

Since the first protest, on 28 June 2004, the remaining Indian migrant workers were at least given 3 meals a day thanks to the support from NTUC Migrant Workers Forum and the negotiating skill of MOM. Concern individuals, a temple and civil society groups, are also offering food or small amounts of cash so that the workers could buy food. Otherwise, this migrant workers will be starving in these rich and wealthy nation.

Wan Soon Construction

Wan Soon Construction chairman Mr.Alan Koh said to the press that he is taking the Housing Board to arbitration to claim losses. The HDB decided to pull the plug on Wan Soon Constructions multi-million-dollar projects in April. The company is downgraded to accept only contracts worth $30 mllion. Wan Soon construction is also facing more then 70 suits claiming about $6 mllion.

Mr.Koh claimed in news reports that 'All these workers' problems would not have surfaced if not for the wrongful termination by HDB' That is the reason his workers have not been paid for about 4 to 6 months. He had also said the unpaid wages will be settled later this week. As a good employer he wisely voiced that 'Workers' salary should always be the most important priority of all our debts.' If that is the case one wonders why the salary was not paid for 4 to 6 months. Why then negotiate with MOM to send his workers home with just $400? It is fair and just to return to the workers all their salaries.

The ThinkCentre

Lee Hsien Loong's recent Taiwan visit was both unnecessary and ill timed


Singapore Review
Quite simply put, Lee Hsien Loong's recent Taiwan visit was both unnecessary and ill timed.
Political Analysts have agreed that sending a senior minister on a visit to Taiwan would equate to a slap in the face for China.Conventional wisdom dictates that in the conduct of cross border relations involving a super power like China, it is necessary to proceed with diplomacy and delicacy due to the sensitive nature of the matter. Instead, the matter was conducted with the trade mark arrogance typical of Singapore's Ruling Elite.
What made matters worse was the fact that Lee had the audacity to inform China of the visit. This was akin to waiving a red flag in front of a raging bull. What was the rationale behind such a move when the answer to the question was only all too evident?It also did not help that Lee's trip coincided with the Singapore Governments official confirmation that Lee would be Singapore's next Prime Minister.Even if a Taiwan visit was some how warranted, political analysts agree that it should have been carried out less conspicously and it would have been more appropriate for Lee to send a more junior Singapore government representative instead of making the trip personally. It would then have been far easier for China to turn the other cheek and remain "willfully blind" to the visit.Red Faced Singapore government officials and government owned media are still trying to cover up what can only be described as a diplomatic bungle of epic portions. In the days following Lee's Taiwan visit, the pro-government Singapore papers have published volumious reports defending Lee's visit.
China has remained unconvinced and has manifested its displeasure by cancelling various visits by Chinese officials to Singapore. It is evident that Diplomacy 101 was one of the essential elective courses that Lee skipped in his illustrious tertiary education. It is also certain that this unfortunate incident will remain unforgotten in Beijing's memory and will create ripples in China's cross border relations with Singapore.
PRC to call off study plans in Singapore, report reveals
 2004-07-19 /
Associated Press / 
China, incensed at a recent visit by Singapore's incoming prime minister Lee Hsien Loong (§õÅãÀs) to Taiwan, appears to have delivered another slap on the wrist to the city-state as more than 120 mainland officials called off plans to study there, a report said yesterday. Plans for 126 Chinese officials to study managerial economics and public administration at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University have been put on hold, The Straits Times newspaper said. Lee, currently deputy prime minister, will take the country's top job, replacing incumbent Goh Chok Tong (§d§@´É) on August 12, the Singapore government said late Saturday. "We are waiting to see what happens next. But we will suspend the courses for now," Professor Eddie Kuo, the university's interim dean at the school of humanities and social sciences was quoted as saying. The reported rebuke is the fourth since Beijing denounced Lee's trip, saying the two countries' relationship "will, of course, be affected."
First, China's central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan, canceled a trip to Singapore to attend a central bankers' gathering here. Then, the lower-level mainland banking delegation that did come, snubbed a dinner hosted by Lee, who is also the head of Singapore's central bank and the finance minister. Later, authorities in Shanghai reportedly stopped a Singapore company from holding a trade fair in China's commercial capital.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing still claims the self-governing island as Chinese territory, and has repeatedly threatened to take it by force. It routinely objects to visits there by other government's officials. Singapore initially described Lee's trip as "private and unofficial," and that he would be meeting "friends." But as official Chinese anger became clear, Singapore later defended the trip with a four-page statement, saying Lee, as prime minister, needed to understand "a potential flash point" in Asia. Largely ethnic-Chinese Singapore has assiduously courted Beijing as its commercial, diplomatic and military clout have grown in recent years.
Beijing blasts Singapore over Taiwan visit
Washington Times
13 July 2004Beijing,
China, Jul. 13 (UPI) --
China warned Singapore Tuesday that the weekend visit of its deputy prime minister to Taiwan would adversely affect Sino-Singapore relations and exchanges.Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Lee Hsien Loong's trip to Taiwan on July 10 "severely violates the commitments of the Singaporean government on adhering to the one-China policy, undermines the stability of the foundation of China-Singapore ties, and will inevitably have severe consequences for China-Singapore relations and bilateral cooperation."
Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, cancelled a trip to Singapore because of the burgeoning diplomatic dispute. Zhang reaffirmed, "The Taiwan question is China's internal affair and we have never required or needed any countries or people to pass on messages across the Straits."Zhang refuted the notion that Lee's visit was a private one, saying, "Mr. Lee Hsien Loong has held senior positions in the Singaporean government for many years, so his capacity cannot be changed by a simple remark."When asked if China would recall its ambassador to Singapore Zhang said, "We are making further study and will take relevant measures according to the development of this issue."
Singapore could ruin bilateral ties:
China-Singapore relations will unavoidably suffer gravely from Singapore's incoming leader Lee Hsien Loong's just-concluded visit to Taiwan island, said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
Answering an inquiry at a news conference yesterday, Zhang Qiyue said Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Lee's visit to Taiwan has severely violated Singapore's commitment to the one-China policy and damaged the political base between China and Singapore, she said. "Such a move will produce serious effects towards bilateral relations and co-operation, and the Singapore side should be responsible for all the damage," Zhang said.
As a result, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the China central bank, has cancelled a trip to Singapore, where he had been scheduled to give a lecture, reports said. "The Taiwan question relates to the core interests of China," Zhang said. "China holds a persistent, formative and clear-cut position on this issue."
In response to a follow-up question over whether China plans to recall its ambassador from Singapore, the spokesperson said the Chinese side is considering relevant measures according to developments in the situation.
 Reports said Lee flew to Taipei on Saturday and left yesterday for what officials described as a private visit, during which he met with island officials, including Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian.
In response, Singapore reiterated on Monday that it adheres to the one-China policy, and does not support Taiwan's "independence," according to local press reports. Singapore officials have stressed that Lee's visit is "a private and unofficial visit" and does not in any way change the above-mentioned policy, nor does it represent any challenge to China's sovereignty or territorial integrity, reports said.
China central banker cuts Singapore trip          
China's central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan has canceled a speech in Singapore scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday), due to concerns of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Taiwan.
On Sunday, the Chinese foreign ministry voiced dissatisfaction over the visit and said Singapore must take full responsibility for his trip. Singapore reiterated the city-state's backing for the `one-China Policy' and said it doesn't support Taiwan independence. It added that Lee Hsien Loong was making a private and unofficial visit to Taiwan to meet friends in his first trip to the island since 1992.
Source: CRIhttp://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2004-07/11/content_1591063.htm
BEIJING, July 11 (Xinhuanet) --
China expressed strong dissatisfaction with and protest against the visit by Lee Hsien Loong, deputy prime minister of Singapore, to Taiwan, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue here Sunday.    
The Singaporean side should take full responsibilities for results from the event, Zhang said.    
Lee, neglecting China's repeated solemn representations, insisted on heading for Taiwan for a so-called unofficial visit on July 10.   
Zhang said the Taiwan issue is directly related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the Chinese government firmly opposes official relations in any form between countries that have established diplomatic ties with China and the Taiwan authorities.
China expressed strong dissatisfaction with and protest against the visit by Lee Hsien Loong,deputy prime minister of Singapore,to Taiwan,said Chinese Foreign Minist ry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue here Sunday.
The Singaporean side should take full responsibilities for results from the event,Zhang said.Lee,neglecting China's repeated solemn representations,insisted on heading for Taiwan for a so-called unofficial visit on July 10.Zhang said the Taiwan issue is directly related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the Chinese government firmly opposes official relations in any form between countries that have established diplomatic ties with China and the Taiwan authorities.
The Singaporean leader hurts China's core interests,the political base between the two countries and the feeling of 1.3billion Chinese people,by heading for Taiwan under any excuse,said the spokeswoman.   

19 Jul 2004

The Straits Jacket

Your future rulers have just been decided. The possibilty of a change in future governements being run by another political party in Singapore has just been ruled 'void'.

Lets not even pretend that the electorate decide who will rule them.

JULY 19, 2004
S'pore way of political succession here to stay

Ministers and MPs say Aug 12 handover will show system of peaceful leadership renewal has been proven to work
SINGAPORE will on Aug 12 demonstrate that it is possible for its government to plan for and carry out leadership renewal in a peaceful and orderly fashion not once but twice.

Ministers and Members of Parliament said this is the significance of the Istana ceremony at which Mr Lee Hsien Loong will be sworn in as the country's third prime minister.

The transition to a third generation of leaders in the same low-key, well-planned manner as happened 14 years ago, when Mr Goh Chok Tong became Prime Minister, will entrench the system put in place by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the first-generation leaders.

It will show that the Singapore way of political succession is here to stay.

Among the MPs who highlighted this point was West Coast GRC MP S. Iswaran.
'We do it once, it's an isolated event. When we do it twice, and over a span of more than 35 years, we establish a certain commitment to a system which is good for the country,' he said.

Agreeing, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Seng Han Thong said: 'The system has been proven to work and Singaporeans now view it as a tradition.'

Mr Chan Soo Sen, Minister of State (Education, Community Development and Sports), compared this state of affairs to the 'turmoil' that often accompanies generational change in other countries.

'Singapore's stability is its strength,' he said.

Several MPs also welcomed the way Mr Goh has fine-tuned the system established by SM Lee, by allowing MPs to either endorse the person that Cabinet ministers choose to lead the country or to put forward their own candidate.
MPs did so at a meeting in May, unanimously supporting Deputy Prime Minister Lee as their choice.

As for what they see as the key challenges facing Mr Lee and his team, most said yesterday that the No 1 issue would be to keep the economy growing even as competition for jobs and investments intensifies.

At the lower end, Singapore would face competition from huge countries like China and India, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said.

But even in higher-value-added sectors, it would have to compete against developed countries.
'So we have to be on our feet all the time and be nimble to adjust to all these challenges,' he said.

Mr Wong and Acting Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen also highlighted structural unemployment as a key concern.
Even though the economy is recovering, 'unemployment will continue to be a challenge' because some workers find it difficult to acquire new skills, Dr Ng said.

'We have to help this group join the economy,' he added.

Some labour MPs said a key task will be to assure lower-income Singaporeans that they will also have a share in the country's future growth. They are hoping that Mr Lee will make workers a key focus of his maiden speech.

Ministers and MPs alike interviewed said Mr Lee and his Cabinet would also need to find new ways to connect with a younger generation of Singaporeans, who have many more options than their parents ever did as to where they want to work and live.
Mr Wong observed that those born after Singapore gained independence in 1965 will form 'a very significant part of the electorate'.

'We have to continue to adapt and engage the young people so that they remain supportive of the Government,' he said.
Dr Ng described the challenge as one of getting this new generation of Singaporeans 'to gel and give them confidence'.
Ms Indranee Thurai Rajah of Tanjong Pagar GRC said the milestones were much clearer 40 years ago, when SM Lee and the old-guard ministers set out to transform Singapore from a Third World economy to a First World economy.

'The new PM's room for manoeuvring is far less because of the mature, developed economy and a population that is more sophisticated and better educated,' she said.

When asked about the future roles of Mr Goh and SM Lee, the MPs said they supported DPM Lee's decision to keep the two leaders in Cabinet.

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Mayor of Northeast Community Development Council and Aljunied GRC MP, said their experience in international and regional affairs 'will provide the continuity and steady hand to strengthen the Cabinet'.

Mr Seng noted that in Mr Goh's 14 years as prime minister, he has extended Singapore's networking well beyond Asean to Europe, South Asia and even the Middle East.

'Now that we are competing globally, we really need someone like Mr Goh to help continue this kind of global networking,' he said.

Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

9 Jul 2004

More couples want out

Star, Malaysia
June 27, 2004

Insight: Down South

IN her early 40s, the Singaporean lady was well-bred and educated abroad. “After 20 years of giving my best as wife, mother and companion, he abandoned us to continue his adulterous flings in a nearby country,” she wrote in an Internet forum.

The inevitable outcome was divorce, a growing social epidemic in this modern, affluent city of 4.4 million.

Another case involved a wife giving up on her husband who had lost his job because of advanced cancer. The poorly educated woman couldn’t support or look after him.

A reader observed that during the past three months, he had heard five women filing for divorce. “All of them have had between 10 and 20 years of marriage and two or three children aged three to 10 years.”
The divorce rate in First World Singapore has reached a historical high; so has the number of Singaporeans emigrating abroad.

At the same time, marriage and birth rates are plunging as seriously as most developed countries. The number of HIV/AIDS cases, too, have hit a peak.

They are part of what Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew meant when he said his son would have to deal with a different set of problems and persuade a different generation of citizens.

Lee Hsien Loong will take over as prime minister soon.

Last year, 6561 couples divorced, a new record that has doubled the rate of 10 years ago. The number of marriages was 21,962 – down 5% from 2002.

This gives a divorce-marriage ratio of 3:10, still behind but catching up to America’s 5:10. Marriage problems involve family and personal choices, which are almost impossible for the government to intervene with laws.

The same applies to migrating Singaporeans.

The number of migrants to Australia, New Zealand and Canada rose by a third to 4016 last year from 3092 (2002). For the US, 2003 figures are not available but they totaled 991 in 2002, up 49% in two years.

In his days, Lee Senior did not have to cope with such issues. He had to deal with threats from the communists, racial extremists and organised crime against which he had to – as he described it – “put on the knuckle-duster”.
Today, his son can’t rely on tough measures to tackle some of Singapore’s social dilemmas, like cutting down on divorce or migration rates. Neither can he use legislation to force people to go into business or be creative.

Why are so many marriages breaking down?

From a broad perspective, it is due to Singapore’s progress and affluence. It’s not possible to become a First World country without inheriting some of its social diseases.

A low marriage and birth rate, more divorces and a better-educated workforce leaving for greener pastures abroad are all part of it and knuckle-dusters can’t help.

In addition, some Singaporean in-bred traits contribute to break-ups, like being self-centred, ambitious and materialistic.

One online message offers this explanation: “People feel the need to devote more time to career than family; thus they marry but do not plan to have children.

“In a marriage, children bond the couple together as they see the children as the seeds of their love.
“Without children, couples don't feel very linked emotionally. To them, marriage is just a piece of paper that can be violated at will. Thus, people will have a tendency to flirt around, resulting in break-ups.”

Others attribute it to more opportunities for a promiscuous lifestyle because of the influx of foreign ladies, but women’s rights supporters say this is a chauvinistic excuse.

Women initiate 60% of the break-ups, mostly because of their wayward or financially irresponsible spouses.

It even affects some Westerners. One expatriate wrote: “The temptations that are here simply do not exist in many places in Europe and the US. Many expats who lived a routine existence there come to Asia and go nuts.”

The sexual distraction is just one cause but a growing one. The larger reason lies in the character of the new generation of Singaporeans themselves.

Spoiled by servants or parents, many are just hopeless at looking after themselves or doing housework.

The men think it’s women’s work, while many ladies can’t cook and refuse to clean or wash up, relying on servants. Each expects too much of the other.

Among maid-less couples, friction often rises over responsibilities of housework and is made worse when a baby arrives.

Many men are over-dependent on the wife to care for the home and child, regarding it as her duty – even when she has a full-time job.

This results in a lot of finger pointing. Singaporean women who marry Westerners say their spouses are fairer and more responsible with housework.

On the flip side, some men prefer to marry women from neighbouring countries, particularly Malaysia, China or Vietnam, saying they are less demanding, more feminine and less materialistic.
The clashing personalities of two strong-minded beings highly educated sometimes arrogant and self-centred, make marriage a more stressful proposition.

A tabloid paper last week featured a couple whose marriage lasted only three months. They were junior college classmates who had dated for 10 years.

More women above 50 are also filing for divorce. They are often less educated and more dependent on their husbands for support.

After many years of what they feel is unfair or abusive treatment, they are now calling it quits – with the support of their grown-up children.

Ask most men, and they’ll say it is due to the emergence of the New Singapore Woman and her rising demand of the men folk. And that includes sex.

In the previous generation, sex was viewed as something that men enjoyed and women tolerated. No more. A newspaper reported that women here had a popular concept that Singaporean men were “insensitive, childish, chauvinistic and molly-coddled”.

The men’s magazine FHM quoted a global sexual survey in which Singaporean men were given a paltry 5.1 points out of 10 by their female partners in terms of sexual performance. This was two points below the international average.

Singapore men, on the other hand, rated women 7.2 points out of 10, which is right on the global average. It’s possible that the Singaporean males may be taking women for granted.

Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com (e-mail: cnseah2000@ littlespeck.com )

Potential dangers of accepting future posts in Singapore

"Peter Sever of Imperial College London said the UK Royal College of Physicians "should consider advising its members of the potential dangers of accepting future posts in Singapore" because of a "lack of fairness" that "can impact upon an individual's professional reputation".


Medical group tells doctors not to work in Singapore

By John Burton in Singapore
Published: July 8 2004 17:14 | Last Updated: July 8 2004 17:49

A medical watchdog group has suggested that foreign doctors should
not work in Singapore following an ethics dispute between a UK
medical researcher and the scientist daughter of Lee Kuan Yew, the
city-state's senior politician.

The recommendation by the UK-based Medical Protection Society (MPS), which provides advice to doctors facing legal problems arising from clinical practice in more than 40 countries, could set back efforts by Singapore to attract medical researchers in its goal to become a leading global biomedical centre.

The case concerned Simon Shorvon, who served as director of
Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) until he was
dismissed in April 2003 for allegedly testing 127 patients without
their consent. The testing was carried out as part of a research
project on Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions.

The allegations were brought to the attention of Singapore's health authorities by Lee Wei Ling, Mr Lee's daughter, who resigned from the project and was appointed to succeed Dr Shorvon as NNI director at the start of this year.

In a sharply worded statement, MPS criticised a report by the
National Healthcare Group, NNI's parent, that led to the dismissal of Dr Shorvon, who works as a professor at the UK's Institute of

Two experts appointed by the MPS said they "fully supported" Dr
Shorvon's actions.

"I can see no evidence that Dr Shorvon has behaved inappropriately or unethically," said Niall Quinn of University College London and an authority on Parkinson's disease research.

He described the inquiry report as "appallingly slanted" and its
contents were "utterly disproportionate to the reality of the events reported".

Peter Sever of Imperial College London said the UK Royal College of Physicians "should consider advising its members of the potential dangers of accepting future posts in Singapore" because of a "lack of fairness" that "can impact upon an individual's professional reputation".

"I find the accusation nothing short of absurd. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Dr Shorvon fell victim to internal power
struggles and personal vendettas," said David Goldstein, a geneticist at the University College London, who worked on Dr Shorvon's research team in Singapore.

In an interview with the Singapore Straits Times in January, Dr Lee rejected allegations by "detractors" that she had acted against Dr Shorvon to take over his post.

"They must be completely uninformed about the seriousness of
Shorvon's misdeeds and about my character and goals in life.

"I would have preferred someone else who is competent, dedicated and willing to do the job" as NNI director, she said.

She also accused Dr Shorvon of causing rifts in NNI "using the very effective British colonial method of 'divide and rule'."

The health ministry's Singapore Medical Council held a 10-day hearing on Dr Shorvon in February 2004 and noted he refused to take part in the proceedings on the advice of MPS, which also did not submit its review of the case.

Dr Shorvon said he did not appear since he was not on the Singapore Medical Register and that the SMC had no jurisdiction to hear the case as a result.

The council said that all of the 30 charges of professional
misconduct against Dr Shorvon had been "proven beyond a reasonable
doubt" during the disciplinary hearings. Dr Shorvon has asked the
General Medical Council in the UK to review the allegations.

Revulsion Over Death Penalty Growing

Report Says Revulsion Over Death Penalty Growing by

Prague, 23 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A Rome-based international anti-death penalty group says revulsion against state-mandated killings is spreading worldwide.

In its annual report issued today, the group -- called Hands Off Cain -- says that a worldwide campaign in recent years against the death penalty is working. It says capital punishment, for the most part, is now a tool primarily of dictators.

The group's executive director, Elizabetta Zamparutti,tells our correspondent in a telephone interview fromRome that death penalty abolition is a function of liberal democracy.

"The problem of the executions is mainly a problem for dictatorial and illiberal countries, because in these kinds of countries we have seen that at least 98 percent of the world total of executions are carried out," Zamparutti says.

She continues, "This means that the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty is, first of all, a campaign for improving democracy all over the world."

The report, which covers last year, says that the greatest number of state-sanctioned executions was in China with 5,000 killings -- 89 percent of the world total. Nations responsible for most of the remainingexecutions were Iran, with at least 145, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, and the United States.

Even in the United States, where 65 executions were carried out last year, Zamparutti notes there were decreases in the number of death sentences handed down, in the number of people on death row, and in actual executions.

Hands Off Cain was founded at the European Parliament in Brussels in 1993 and began that year a campaign to abolish capital punishment worldwide. Its immediate goal is to persuade the UN General Assembly to declare a moratorium on executions.

Since its first effort in 1994 to win a European Union moratorium declaration, the group claims as victories European Union-wide capital punishment abolition and repeated anti-death penalty resolutions by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The group takes its name from the biblical story ofGenesis, in which God put a mark on Cain so that anyone finding him would know not to kill him. Cain, as the story goes, had murdered his brother.

The report says 133 nations around the world have made official decisions not to use the death penalty.

Zamparutti says the picture actually is brighter than that.

"And countries that retain the death penalty are 63, and not all of these put people to death regularly. In fact, in 2003, only 29 retentionist countries carried out executions," Zamparutti says.

Hands On Cain says the value of a UN General Assembly-declared moratorium is that it would give states that still retain the death penalty an opportunity to educate their citizens about the idea of a new human right -- as the group puts it, the right "not to be killed" under the law.

(More information is available at:

Don Hill has been a Prague-based RFE/RL editor and
correspondent since the radios moved their operations
to Prague in 1995.

8 Jul 2004

Opposition leader wages lonely campaign

Agence France Presse
June 30, 2004

JAILED thrice at home for speaking in public without a licence, Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan pounces on any opportunity in the United States to criticise the human rights record and lack of western-style freedom in his highly-developed home country.
On a five-month fellowship stint with the US National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit private group, Chee needled a red-faced Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on a local political issue at a public forum while the leader was on a visit to Washington last month.

Much to the embarrassment of the host, the Council on Foreign Relations, an irritated Goh flatly refused to answer Chee's charge at the forum that his government was marginalizing minority Muslim Malays in Singapore.

At another public forum on the role of America in Asia, Chee asked Singapore's ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh how the United States could help promote press freedom in Singapore.

Since he came to Washington in March, the 49-year-old Singapore Democratic Party chief walks the corridors of the US Congress pressing for democratic reforms in the tiny but wealthy Southeast Asian island nation, where the ruling People's Action Party makes no bones about its conviction that full-blown western-style liberal democracy is not suited for Singaporeans.

Chee said he was fighting an uphill battle at home and abroad trying to convince people of the need for democratic reforms in the city state.

"I find it tremendously difficult to get Singapore on the radar screens of governments or NGOs because of some myths that had developed about Singapore to be regarded as a model of success by developing nations," said the US-trained neuropsychologist.

"Hong Kong, China, the Middle East and Indonesia are all beginning to cite Singapore as some kind of a model but my message to them is: be careful," he said at a public forum entitled "Singapore: Asia's Standard-Bearer for Authoritarianism?" organized by the New American Foundation, which encourages research on various issues.

Chee cited a letter Goh wrote to him rejecting his request for government funds to run a centre promoting democracy.

Referring to a survey by Berlin-based financial watchdog Transparency International, Goh, according to Chee, said in the letter that Singapore was already widely recognised as an open society which practised transparency and democratic accountability.

"This is a myth," Chee said, complaining that public money, including the state-run pension fund, was invested by the government with little transparency and "the use of the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy."

Amnesty International says Singapore is believed to have carried out the highest number of executions per capita in the world since 1994.

Chee also questioned Goh's assertion on democratic accountability in Singapore, saying the country arbitrarily arrested and threw people in jail indefinitely without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act.

"When you talk about democratic accountability, you must at least have freedom of speech. No protests, no public speeches are allowed without a permit," he said.

Chee has been jailed three times briefly after he tested the government by speaking in public without applying for a permit.

He said in terms of media freedom, a 2000 survey by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders group showed Singapore 144th among a list of 166 countries, ranking even lower than Zimbabwe.

On the judiciary, he said the respected International Commission for Jurists had stated that the Singapore leadership had used defamation proceedings to silence opponents and seriously undermined the rule of law.

In 2002, Chee was found guilty of defaming Premier Goh and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew over questions he raised during the 2001 general elections concerning what he claimed was Singapore government's 10-billion-dollar loan to Indonesia in 1997.

Goh and Lee said the loan was never disbursed and claimed damages, saying Chee's allegations implied they were dishonest.

Chee could be disqualified from running in the next election in 2006 if he loses his appeal.

The High Court last year rejected his appeal for a court trial in the defamation case and he was ordered to pay unspecified damages.

Chee said the United States, a key ally of Singapore, should use its influence to prod the city state to be more open.

7 Jul 2004

Opposition: Singapore democracy 'a myth'

July 01, 2004


Opposition: Singapore democracy 'a myth'

By Hannah K. Strange
United Press International

Washington, DC, Jun. 30 (UPI) -- Singapore has long been touted as a shining model of efficiency and progress for developing countries.

Yet democracy is a myth even though this tiny city-nation may be the financial success story of Southeast Asia, according to opposition leader Chee Soon Juan.

Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, who was
speaking Tuesday at a forum hosted by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, is currently being sued by senior
minister Lee Kuan Yew for defamation.

During the 2001 general election, Juan asked, in public and without a permit, of the whereabouts of $10 billion of the taxpayers' money, allegedly lent to Indonesia's Suharto regime in 1997. The senior minister and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong immediately filed a lawsuit, accusing him of implying dishonesty in governmental dealings.

Unable to find a willing lawyer, Juan was forced to represent
himself. However, he was not required to go to trial. The plaintiffs applied for a summary judgment and were awarded the case, with damages of $500,000, without ever going to court. The payment will bankrupt him, he said. Those with bankruptcies cannot run for public office.

Such lawsuits are "the stuff of legend" in Singapore, according to
Juan. In 1997 defamation suits were filed against veteran opposition leader Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, who in 1981 had broken 16 years of one-party rule by getting elected to Parliament as a representative of the Worker's Party.

Jeyaretnam, said Lee Kuan Yew in 1986, had to be politically "destroyed" for his opposition to the system. He was
finally declared bankrupt in 2001 after a series of court actions
spanning 15 years. As such, he was expelled from Parliament, barred from practicing as a lawyer, running in elections or taking any active part in campaigns.

Singaporeans live with the understanding, said Juan, that "anything that resembles any kind of growing resistance will be very quickly taken care of." The country has flexible libel laws and a judiciary that, according to a recent U.S. State Department report, has a questionable relationship with the ruling People's Action Party.

These laws set the conditions for what Amnesty International called in a statement three years ago "politically motivated libel actions further restricting peaceful political activity and eroding the right to free speech."

Acting as a further deterrent to dissent, said Amnesty, is the
knowledge that no opposition leader or activist has ever successfully defended themselves against the PAP.

Journalists, as well as politicians, are subject to enforced silence. In Singapore, according to a country report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, "State control of the media is so complete that few dare challenge the system and there is no longer much need for the ruling party to arrest or harass journalists." Both broadcast and print media are dominated by companies either owned by or with close ties to the state.

Even foreign correspondents, said the Committee, "have learned to be cautious when reporting on Singapore." The International Herald
Tribune, Bloomberg News, the Economist, Time and the Asian Wall
Street Journal are just a few who have faced defamation actions
brought by the PAP.

This year in reports, Amnesty has also expressed concern with
detentions, torture and ill treatment in Singapore, a country with
the highest rate of execution in the world, three times higher than the next nation on the list, Saudi Arabia.

Detention without charge is prevalent under the Internal Security
Act, and has been utilized against many opposition leaders, said
Juan, including Chia Thye Poh, an opposition MP with the Socialist
Front who was imprisoned for 32 years without charge. Poh was finally released in 1998.

Singapore -- a country which Electionworld calls a "pseudo-
democracy" -- does have parliamentary and presidential elections
every four years. However, many international organizations,
including the U.S. State Department, have expressed concern regarding their conduct. The PAP, says the State Department, "has used the government's extensive powers to place formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents," and maintains political dominance "in part by manipulating the electoral framework."

In a country report on human rights it cites the 2001 practice of
drastically altering the borders of constituencies just 17 days
before the election. In 1997 and 2001, the PAP threatened the
electorate -- 86 percent of whom live in government housing -- that those who voted for the opposition would not receive funds for the upgrading of their estates. For the last presidential election in 1999, only one candidate was finally declared eligible. There is no independent election commission.

The opposition, said Juan, "just want a voice." He calls for "genuine free and fair elections" and a free media -- "a system where you can get a genuine assessment of what people want." Wednesday he was to meet at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, where he is a visiting fellow, with Lorne Kraner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. He plans to ask for greater public awareness, support of NGOs and pressure from the U.S. government, whose ties with Singapore have warmed in recent years due to the government's support for the "war on terror."

"There are a lot of issues, particularly with freedom of speech and political dissent," a State Department official said. Meeting with opposition leaders, he said, informed the State Department "which issues we should be pressing." Action, he said, was "mostly bilateral" and substantial programs or public efforts are absent. "We have a good relationship with Singapore," he said, "but at the same time we do still actively engage. ... We are outlining what we think the issues are."

A spokesperson from the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in
Washington declined to comment for this story.

5 Jul 2004

Singapore Said Facing Rise in Unemployment

Associated Press
Singapore Said Facing Rise in Unemployment
07.04.2004, 02:06 AM

Wealthy, high-tech Singapore faces a serious and growing problem of structural unemployment as older and less-educated workers struggle to find work, says a senior union leader, who is also a government minister.

"The new jobs that are coming onto the market, coming with new investments entering Singapore, are not suitable for workers, the older workers .... who are less technically savvy," said Matthias Yao, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress, or NTUC.

Structural unemployment refers to those who can't find work because they don't have the skills. It affects most modern economies to some extent.

"There is going to be a lot of structural unemployment, and it is going to grow," Yao, who is also a senior minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, told The Associated Press in an interview late last week.

Singapore has been more successful than many of its Southeast Asian neighbors at promoting growth - but Yao's warning reflects official concern over the possible emergence of a group of less-educated "have-nots."

Singapore's union movement has close ties to the long-ruling People's Action Party government. Unionists are sometimes ruling-party members of Parliament. The NTUC head usually holds a Cabinet post.

The country's jobless rate for March, the latest figure available, was 4.5 percent - a high level in a society accustomed to extremely low unemployment.

The long-term jobless rate - those without work for at least 25 weeks - was 1.5 percent. The indicator, a useful proxy for structural unemployment, has climbed fivefold from 0.3 percent a decade ago.

Yao, who spent several years as a political adviser to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, said older workers need to be retrained - possibly in service jobs to meet the needs of highly trained, high-tech workers.

Singapore's government has been aggressively trying to develop high-tech industries such as biotechnology in an attempt to promote growth.

The island of 4 million people, which has long enjoyed one of the world's highest standards of living, faces competition in its manufacturing sector from other Asian countries such as China, where development is booming but wages remain relatively low.

Yao said unions - and the government - were also pressing companies to make their pay systems more flexible so monthly wages and annual bonuses can be swiftly adjusted to reflect changes in the economic climate.

"We have gone through several recessions, and we have found that if wages are not flexible enough, companies will take the easier way out to manage their manpower costs, which is to retrench people," he said.

Singapore slings a little caution to the wind

Andrew Harding
BBC correspondent, Singapore

The people of Singapore are used to doing exactly what they are told.
But the reins of the nanny state are relaxing... ever so slightly.
The man on stage was singing a song about hamsters. It was, shall we say, a bawdy song. The animal welfare officers would not have approved. Nor, you might have thought, would the government of Singapore. After all, this is the great nanny state, the place where Playboy is banned, jay-walking is almost unthinkable... and where nanny is not known for her risqué sense of humour.

And yet, the songs continued.

There was one about a sheep and another about Jesus - neither exactly tasteful. The audience in the beautiful, government-funded theatre, roared with laughter. I looked around me in the dark - a well-dressed couple were still giggling about the sheep. Could it be that Singapore is starting to loosen up?

Western influence

Tiger Lily - the group singing the songs - was British, not local. But that is not the point. In the past, the state has sought to shield Singapore from all potentially corrupting influences like chewing gum, and Cosmopolitan magazine, and Sex in the City.

But today, the authorities are beginning to invite them in.

Five minutes walk from where I am sitting now, the walls of the Singapore Art Museum are plastered with pictures of glistening flesh, apparently sprayed with every imaginable bodily fluid.

The exhibition, by the high-camp French duo, Pierre and Gilles, was even opened by a government minister.

Then there is the chewing gum ban - the one fact everyone seems to know about this small, immaculate country. It is still in force and you can go to jail for importing it illegally.

But if you are determined to chew, you can now register and get medicinal gum at a pharmacy.

It is not exactly revolutionary, but in a cautious way the authorities are experimenting with change - cultural change, not political.

Like clockwork

It is a strange feeling for me, coming to such a meticulously governed country after 13 years in the former Soviet Union and Africa.

A small notice from the proprietors of the restaurant warned customers that they will be fined if they are greedy

I have just moved here from Kenya, where rules and regulations are usually treated like casual suggestions, or obstacles to be avoided.

In Singapore everything just works. My rubbish gets collected from the house every morning and the plumber calls to apologise if he is running 15 minutes late. A pothole would probably make the evening news.

And then there are the rules...

The other night I sat in a restaurant on Orchard Road, picking plates of sushi off the miniature carousels winding round the room.

On the wall in front of me, there was a small notice from the proprietors warning customers that they would be fined if they were greedy and took more plates than they could actually eat.

Singaporeans are used to being told what to do... and obeying. It is part of the deal.


In the course of a few brisk decades, the ruling party has built them a clean, air-conditioned consumer paradise out of a tiny patch of jungle.

In return, the population is expected to forgo a few personal freedoms like gum, and true multi-party democracy.

Most people are happy with the deal, and why not? It has brought them one of the highest standards of living in the world.

But a few are starting to grumble... politely.

Thank you to the censor... the scenes you're chopping

Royston Tan has been doing his grumbling in a big white rabbit suit to the sound of Abba songs. He is an award-winning film-maker; a 28-year-old, whose recent gangster movie - 15 - sought to show that there is a seamier side to life here. The authorities were not amused. The censorship board insisted on substantial cuts to the film and its sound track.

I met up with Royston a few days ago. He was wearing a big smile and a T-shirt with the words "disco sucks". He chuckled as he explained how he had hit back against the censors.

His chosen weapon - a musical.

He and some of Singapore's best-known artists joined together to produce Cut, a blast of manic satire about a film-buff bumping into the chief censor in a supermarket, and raving enthusiastically about her work.

The chorus joins in Abba-style, with songs like "Thank you to the censor.. the scenes you're chopping."

Royston makes his cameo appearance in the rabbit suit, singing along to a George Michael tune.

So, I asked, did the Singapore authorities appreciate Cut?

Royston smiles again and shakes his head. "But things are changing fast here," he says. "Not long ago, no-one would have dared to have made a film like this."

What is more, the censors approved it... uncut.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 3 July, 2004 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/07/03 12:32:51 GMT