28 Sep 2004

Amnesty launches appeal for Singapore opposition politician

SINGAPORE (AP) - Amnesty International on Monday said that a defamation ruling likely to bankrupt a key opposition leader may "inhibit political life in Singapore'' and called for a letter-writing campaign to support the embattled politician.
Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, was ordered to pay damages to Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for calling into question their handling of public funds during the 2001 election campaign.

Lawyers for Lee and Goh estimate that Chee will end up having to pay Goh and Lee more than US$500,000 (euro 407,000), an amount he says he cannot pay.

In Singapore bankrupt politicians are barred from running for elections, due by 2007.

Amnesty has launched a letter-writing campaign on behalf of Chee, saying his situation has worsened because he is unable to get a local lawyer to represent him in Singapore's sham courts.

Goh, who currently serves as Singapore's senior minister and Lee, who holds the title of minister mentor, are both members of the ruling People's Action Party, or PAP.

Chee, a neuropsychologist, failed to show for a hearing earlier this month because he was traveling overseas.

He is scheduled to appear before the city-state's High Court Thursday, where he will appeal to reconvene a hearing on the amount of the damages.

Singapore's leaders say they sue to protect their reputations but critics charge the lawsuits are designed to cripple the opposition and democratic debate.

"Chee Soon Juan has confirmed he is working with foreigners and that his objective is to damage Singapore and its judiciary in the eyes of the world,'' Lee's press secretary, Yeong Yoon Ying, was quoted in local media last week as saying earlier this month.

State-linked broadcaster Channel NewsAsia said her comments came after Chee's appeal letter to Singapore's chief justice for a new hearing on the damages was copied to 13 foreign organisations, including Amnesty.
- AP

27 Sep 2004

Singapore's heavy brigade

Singapore's heavy brigade holds foreign media to ransom with
litigation threats

903 words
22 September 2004
The Age
© 2004 Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited. www.theage.com.au

'Uncompromising views, without fail" promises The Economist magazine in its advertising. Well, The Economist has failed.

On August 14, the London-based magazine published an unremarkable piece titled "First Singapore, next the world" on Temasek Holdings, the Singapore Government holding company that controls some 40 listed companies in Singapore. These companies have a market worth of around $S60 billion ($A51 billion), about a quarter of the local stock exchange's market capitalisation.

In turn, the companies have assets in Australia. Among them are the electricity transmission network for the entire state of Victoria and Optus, the country's second biggest telecommunications operator.

The Economist said in its piece that Temasek lacks transparency, that listed Temasek companies have significantly underperformed the stockmarket and that they typically operate in protected markets with favourable regulation. All of that is true. It also said that Temasek operated with a "whiff of nepotism". That may be true too, but who is to say?

Two weeks later, on September 1, The Economist printed an apology to the Lees. The offending article, the magazine explained, could have been taken to mean that the new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and/or Lee's father Lee Kuan Yew were responsible for having Hsien Loong's wife, Ho Ching, appointed to head up Temasek, not on merit but "for corrupt nepotistic motives for the advancement of the Lee family's
interests". It went on to apologise and mentioned that damages had been paid to Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew. Those damages totalled an astonishing $S390,000.

Personally, I would not have said that Ho Ching's appointment owes anything to nepotism because I have no evidence that it does. The Economist was careless to suggest it. Ho Ching is certainly well-qualified. It might be fair to question whether nepotism played a role in her appointment but not fair to assert it.

But whether the assertion of nepotism is worth S$390,000 particularly when the Prime Minister, the Minister Mentor (as Lee Kuan Yew is now known) and the head of the Government's main holding company are all close relatives is another matter. The issue did not go to court. Lee family lawyers complained to The Economist and within two weeks the magazine had paid up. By any measure the sum is obscene. And ridiculous.

In Australia this inference of nepotism would be taken as fair comment, particularly with politicians for whom public scrutiny is part of public office. It would also need to be demonstrated that The Economist had been acting maliciously. Of course it was not.

In 2002, the two Lees and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong picked up $S595,000 from the Bloomberg wire service in settlement over an article that the men had deemed offensive. It was on the same matter - Ho Ching's appointment to Temasek. Other media organisations have also been threatened with defamation. Several have paid out.

Huge out-of-court payments such as these are now part of the cost of doing business in Singapore for news organisations. Principle has been sacrificed for commercial considerations.

If the Singapore Government is not appeased then the risk is that media outlets' distribution in Singapore will be curtailed. Several prominent foreign newspapers and magazines learned the hard way in the 1980s and '90s when their distribution in Singapore was cut back.

Not surprisingly, The Economist is not commenting on the matter. Perhaps it is embarrassed. It ought to be. At what point does an out-of-court payout become a pay-off?

Britain has made it illegal for its registered companies to make improper payments to foreign officials. It would be interesting to know whether the payments to the Lees, which appear to be excessive, are not court-awarded and which appear to be made to head off controls on the magazine's distribution, would constitute bribery of foreign officials under British law. What would be made of a western company (which is what The Economist is) giving such a large sum without apparent consideration to say, a pair of Indonesian ministers? There wouldn't be a whiff of nepotism so much as the stench of corruption.

Singapore Government officials defend their right to take defamation action and to be awarded huge payouts on the basis that their personal integrity is vital. But acting like sensitive control freaks would detract from their integrity such that over time, compensation for damage to their reputations should decline with the value of those reputations.

No doubt media organisations will defend their payouts to head off legal action by saying that legal costs in Singapore can be enormous. Certainly they are, and the Lees themselves have been significant beneficiaries. Lee & Lee is one of the largest law firms in Singapore. It's little wonder that litigation has become a powerful tool for the family. It's what they know best.

But the real problem is that foreign news organisations allow themselves to be so readily picked off by the Singapore Government. Multinational companies have started to initiate joint strategies to combat intellectual property rights abuses. It's about time that foreign media organisations did the same to combat the litigious excesses of the Singapore Government.


24 Sep 2004

Pseudo-competition in the media

The recent u-turn regarding pseudo-competition in the media in Singapore has been weighing heavily on my mind and I have been particularly concerned with the TODAY newspaper and its recent history. The article quoted below was first published on the Optical on Sat Nov 22, 2003. I feel it may shed more light on the 'reasoning' behind the PAP's motivations for ending pseudo-competition in the press. To claim that it is the result of economic concerns is too simplistic. I prefer to look for multiple underlying causes rather than focusing on one.

I sense an underlying shift in the relationship that the PAP has with the media. An experiment in 'opening up' turned sour for the PAP.

What seems to have happened is that with the birth of these new papers the reporters actually fell for the rhetoric that it meant greater press freedom. As soon as they focused on the Lee family and there trip to the UK and the medical situation that arose, the management were summoned and reprimanded and eventually replaced a few months later.

However the recent move seems to herald a tightening of the reigns on freedom of expression. Reporters working for the Today newspaper will not have the chance to push the boundaries of 'acceptable' commentary, now that they are under the wing of The Straits Jacket. Are the shutters coming down in preparation for an election campaign?

If yes, then as with previous election campaigns the opposition parties have virtually no voice in the local press and websites which are deemed 'political' are told to register.

In order to control a nation, violence is too visible and a more underhanded and effective tactic is to control the issues that are discussed within the population at large.

I am not arguing that the editors of the Straits Times are being coerced into toe-ing the party line. I am however arguing that there is no need to coerce them. They have risen to the top of the paper because they have always unfailing toed the line. The young team of journalists of the Today paper were taught a valuable lesson for anyone wishing to do well in Singapore.

So for me, change requires a catalyst to ignite a u-turn on a policy. The report on what occurred in London and the backlash against the Lee family by the British press may have been that spark.

Exclusive: SM Lee Vents Anger at TODAY
SM Lee Vents Anger at Newspaper for Report About His Wife

Singapore Libertarians is concerned about news that a Singapore newspaper was taken to task for reporting on the incidents that recently occurred in London over the treatment of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew when she suffered a stroke there.

Singapore Libertarians was informed that last week SM Lee had summoned the top brass of a Singapore daily, Today, after the paper published a story that indicated his wife had received preferential treatment in a London hospital.

Mr Lee met with senior staff members of Today Mr Ernest Wong, Group Chief Executive Officer of Mediacorp (which publishes the newspaper), Mr Mano Sabnani (Editor of Today), Mr Rahul Pathak (Deputy Editor of Today) and Ms Val Chua (a journalist with the newspaper).

The meeting took place around noon on 5 November 2003. It was learned that the above mentioned staff members of the newspaper were reprimanded for publishing the article "SM Lee and the eye opening trauma in London." They were also warned against writing any articles that were risqué.

If it is true that the meeting between Mr Lee and the newspaper staff actually took place, the incident constitutes a grave breach of journalistic practices in Singapore where newspapers are expected to report the truth freely without undue interference from the government.

Singapore Libertarians is concerned about the effect this meeting has on the media in Singapore. It is a clear indication that not only has the liberalisation of the mass media not happened in this, but also that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has no compunction about putting journalists on a very short leash when it comes to reporting on his family and the PAP.

The government must rectify this unethical and unhealthy situation immediately. It has to clearly separate the interests of the ruling party and the demands of the Senior Minister from the those of an independent media. Singapore's media organisations must not be used by one man or one party for their own agenda. They should have the right to perform their duties without fear or favour.

We also urge the management of Today to stand firm on its principles and serve the interests of the public.

In Singapore, all local newspapers, radio and television stations are owned and controlled by the government or its agencies and foreign publications are subjected to defamation suits and various laws to ensure compliance with the ruling party's views and policies.

For further information, contact us at: singaporeliberty@hotmail.com

23 Sep 2004

Lowest of the low

Lowest of the low: Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore
(Singapore Studies)
The PAP government of Singapore causes mistreatment of FDWs by positioning them in the very lowest stratum of society. How does it do this? By abstaining from specifying the legal rights of foreign domestic workers as employees.

Thursday, 23 September 2004

by Yasuko Kobayashi

Potential for more abuse

A new government package - a sharp reduction of the maid levy for families with children aged below 12 (from $345 to 250) - to stimulate the birth rate announced on 25th August seems calculated to increase the exploitation of FDWs.

This will make FDWs an even more attractive solution to the problem of child care. With legally unrestricted working hours, FDWs are the ‘ideal’ labour force for this purpose.

Babies cry regardless of time, and children grizzle regardless of time; unlimited exploitation of this unlimited labour force is a likely concomitant of the new baby package.

Unlike for Singaporean employees, the Employment Act does not apply to foreign domestic workers. Hence, the relation between the employers and FDWs is left to their “personal arrangement.” This opens up a huge range of interpretations of what the relation can be.

For instance, it is possible for employers to keep pushing around foreign domestic workers, by saying, “oh this is personal arrangement, you see. No written contract about provisions of working hours.”

Recently, in April 2004, the Singapore government did introduce a compulsory guidance course for both foreign domestic workers and first-time employers of them. And on the 30th of August, the Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen mentioned raising the minimum age of FDWs from the current minimum age of 18 years old. Nonetheless, the Employment Act is yet to be applied to foreign domestic workers.

Maid Surveillance

The government positions FDWs in the lowest social stratum, too, by compelling employers and maid agencies to control them strictly.

For instance, it is compulsory for foreign domestic workers to take a medical examination every six months, and this obligation is left to either the employer or the maid agency. This examination includes an HIV and VDRL (venereal disease research laboratory) test, and a pregnancy test.

If this examination shows the foreign domestic worker to be pregnant, she must return to her original country immediately, and it is a duty of the employer to undertake this repatriation.

If the employer fails to do so, then s/he will not receive a refund of the $5000 security bond that s/he has paid.

Similarly, if a foreign domestic worker commits any illegal conduct, the employer may not have this security bond refunded. If a foreign domestic worker commits suicide, then the employer will not receive a refund of the $3000 personal accident insurance bond that s/he has paid.

The society is thus called on to participate in surveillance procedures by the proffered carrot of bond refunds.

Dehumanising Treatment of Maids

In the ways above, the PAP government creates perceptions within the Singapore society that FDWs are the lowest of the low. Largely as a result of this, FDWs are dehumanized and mistreated by the society.

The most obvious form this takes is physical abuse. Only days ago, on 21st August 2004, another case of abuse was reported by Straits Times. A 31 year old woman who bit her maid, burnt her and slashed her with two knives was jailed for 28 months by a district court.

However, FDWs undergo more subtle forms of dehumanising treatment as well.

Agencies often display their products (i.e. maids) for business purposes. Some display the photographs of their maids with a detailed description of them: age, language ability, housework skills and so forth. These details are called “bio-data.”

Other maid agencies display a videotape of maids. On this videotape, the maid speaks to you about her bio-data. “My name is Sari. I am from Indonesia. I am twenty three years old. I love children. …” Some agencies even have maids sitting in the window to attract customers.

Also there is an internet trade in maids: as commodities. You can obtain a whole set of details of your potential maids as if buying products over the internet. And sometimes you can find maids advertised by “promotion” offers, valid till such and such a date. Hurry!!

In scenes of everyday life, discriminative treatment is equally stark. In a food court, one might see (as I did) a maid told to eat the left-over food from the meal of her employer’s family. Some people have their maids sleep in the kitchen, saying, “A room for a maid ah? No need lah.”

Or you can see this posting on a web forum for Singapore employers: “My best friend takes her servant to tattoo store to make a big tattoo saying "Property of KIM" on her back.. I just saw it and it looks very cool. Anyone else do this to their servants ??”

Need for Policy Change

So, although the most obvious forms of mistreatment of maids are not committed by the PAP government but rather by the Singaporeans, we can see clearly the hand of the PAP government behind it.

Its policies towards FDWs create a social environment where their dehumanization and abuse within the society becomes almost inevitable.

Until the PAP government acts to protect the basic right of FDWs, the brand of ‘lowest of the low’ will be deeply stamped on them, which will cause further dehumanization, abuse and death.

This ugly picture does not fit the self-image of Singapore as a ‘first world’ country, does it?



Open letter from J B Jeyaretnam to PM
22 September 2004


I decided to wait until you got over the intoxication of your appointment as Prime Minister and the media ovation following your National Day speech before I wrote to you.

In your speech you tried to make yourself out as a harbinger of change in contrast from your father and Mr Goh Chok Tong. But what is the change that you hold out for our people?

In your marathon speech you have not shown that you understand how changes are brought about in a society and who are the vehicles of change. Change must come from and must be made by the people. You do not seem to understand that the changes must come from the people and not imposed on them from above. If our people are to bring about the changes, then it must be made very clear to you that they must be freed from any fear that any action by them to bring about change will be met with incarceration, loss of civil rights, financial or material loss to them.

In your speech you do not show that you understand this. What steps will you take to remove this fear from the minds of our citizens? The biggest fear is that one may be arrested at 2 a.m. in the morning, blindfolded and taken to a detention centre and denied all access to the courts. What is your plan to remove this fear? Please do not tell us that this fear exists only in my mind or other political activists out to make trouble. This fear will exist as long as this power of detention without trial exists. That must be plain to anyone.

No number of assurances by your ministers that this power will not be abused is good enough unless at the same time you put in place checks to prevent any abuse of that power. What plans have you got in mind to prevent an abuse of this power? David Marshall, after he took over from the British, introduced a check on the exercise of this power but the moment your father took over from him, that check was abolished.

What steps have you in mind to permit our citizens to elect their representatives to Parliament without any fear or compulsion? That is the only way the electorate can bring about any change.

Elections in Singapore are neither free nor fair. What steps have you got in mind to bring about a more transparent free and fair elections and that elections cease to be a government show?

What steps have you got in mind to ensure that the Rule of Law is strictly applied from the President down to the lowest member of society?

The Rule of Law is the bedrock of citizens to sleep soundly knowing that they will not be punished in any way if they have not committed any act punishable in a court of law.

Your speech is completely silent on all these - the essentials for any change in society.

Nor have you said any said anything in your speech, going by what has been reported, what change you propose in the lives of:

1. the thousands of Singaporeans who are dependent on welfare agencies for their daily sustenance;

2. our citizens who are struggling to provide for themselves and their families the basic amenities of life;

3. Singaporeans and particularly the elderly who find the cost of medical care very prohibitive and resort to suicide;

4. Singaporeans who are too old to work and have no income to maintain themselves;

5. our workers who have been reduced to the position of serfs in the Middle Ages without any rights and dependent entirely on the employers' goodwill. These classes form the majority in our society and you have nothing to say to them.

6. Have you any plans to end the great disparity in income in our society with ministers earning a million dollars or more every year while there are still numbers in our society earning less than $7,000 a year? Have you any plans to bring down the cost of living to our citizens earning less than $18,000 a year?

For more on obscene ministerial salaries See:

Unless you tell us what you intend to do about these problems that I have addressed, I am afraid your speech will go down as pure rhetoric, mere sound and fury signifying nothing.

Even the cosmetic changes that you announced were further refined a few days later to remove the hope of any real change. Freedom of speech cannot be confined within walls. It must be free like the wind to blow where it will.

I do not know whether you will reply to this letter but I can assure you many Singaporeans will be waiting to hear your response.

J B Jeyaretnam
Open Singapore Centre
7 Sept 2004

22 Sep 2004

Its Time for the Straits Times to Wake Up

Although the blogging community in Singapore maybe small when compared to other nations, and even fewer bloggers in Singapore are political, the old media of the rest of the world are waking up to the irritant known as bloggers. South Korea's OhMyNews is a prime example of the use of blogs to question and check claims made in the national press. Singapore's discourse has been and continues to be dominated by a state controlled media. My reason for creating this blog was to engender open debate and discussion, I merely hope than others will join in the debate on issues that effect all of us living in Singapore.

Blogging on
The web is being used to hold old media to account

Victor Keegan
Wednesday September 22, 2004

The Guardian

CBS's admission that its story of George Bush's special treatment when with the Texas air national guard was deeply flawed is being seen as a key victory for the new "blogging" community of the internet against old media.
This is mainly true. Although papers such as the Washington Post were on the case, the retraction would not have happened when it did but for the efforts of an army of bloggers - writers of online journals - in exposing the documents as fraudulent, including some who authoritatively questioned the authenticity of the documents almost as they were released.

CBS was doubly at fault. It failed to appreciate the force of the thousands of voluntary fact-checkers out there on the web (let alone trying to harness their power in advance), while also failing to interview bloggers after the event as part of an ongoing story.

Newspapers often claim superiority because their stories go through a time-established filtration plant - professional writers, skilled subeditors, revise subs and expensive lawyers. This compares with the web's more anarchic processes, where brews of unfiltered stories, some highly speculative, are put into circulation, and cream sometimes rises to the top.

In fact, bloggers are often people very expert in their own fields who attract other experts when issues in their domain are newsworthy. Stories in old media can be fact-checked instantaneously and the journalists and their newspapers held to account.

At present this emergent "citizens' media" is reactive rather than pro-active, but things could change quickly. It has already happened in South Korea, where OhmyNews, which claims 33,000 citizen reporters, is highly influential and has a philosophy that in the 21st century everyone can write news stories and share them.

OhmyNews is not an aggregation of blogs, because stories submitted by citizens are edited by a small permanent staff. But it does give some idea of what the future might hold. One of the reasons for the explosive growth of blogs during the past few years is that they are almost childishly easy to install - requiring no knowledge of the internet - and are mainly free (blogger.com is one of the best places to start).

In the beginning it was just words, but now photographs have been added and video-blogs (or vblogs) are starting to appear as "bandwidth" becomes cheaper. It is not fanciful to suppose that a blog could soon become its own television channel.

There is no doubt that the tectonic plates of journalism are moving. There is awesome potential in the internet as a gatherer, distributor and checker of news - not least through instant delivery channels such as mobile phones. This does not mean old media will die. But it will have to adapt quickly to what has so far been an asymmetrical relationship.

Blogs have battened off newspapers and many newspapers, including the Guardian, have launched their own blogs. But most newspapers, let alone TV stations, have not embraced the blogging revolution as an essential part of the future rather than an irritant in the background. The CBS saga may prove to be the wake-up call they needed.

· Victor Keegan is the editor of Guardian Online


The Joke That Never Was

From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
To: Singapore Review
21 Sep 2004

Singapore Media Competition : The Joke That Never Was

A U-turn it was not, so suggested the Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Lee Hsien Loong who assured the country that the recent media merger deal was an "adjustment" (see footnote 1).

Bewildered? Do not adjust your hearing-aids.

To astute observers of Singapore politics, the latest development bore every indication of yet another volte-face. But the PM works on a rather different articulation level of comprehension and interpretation.

Indicating that it was not technically a U-turn, the PM punctuated that from the ashes of the costly experiment will emerge at least one surviving free newspaper, and a new TV channel (see footnote 2).

By that absurd definition one could suppose that frittering billions to produce peanuts makes for a wise investment. That would at least partially ease the vexation of the Singapore government to explain its incredible GDP which is formulated according to the iconoclastic philosophy of much-in-little-out-that-is-what-it-is-about.

The PM also sounded adamant that media-competition would be detrimental to consumers, casually citing examples in Taiwan and the Philippines where standards were allegedly compromised, to sustain his argument (see footnote 3). It was a tune many were familiar with following his father's interview with ChannelNewsAsia "The Other Side of the Tube" last year in 2003 (see footnote 4).

The PM however fell short of elaborating how Singapore is socially, politically, or economically comparable to the cited countries on this subject?

The reality has never escaped anyone that the so-called competing TV channels and newspapers were seriously lacking in differentiation. More of the same in different names and forms hardly qualifies as competition.

The new channels and papers are more suitably viewed as extensions and branch-offs of the main stream, offering variations on the same theme, with perhaps a pinch of spice. There are hardly substantial materials to captivate consumers eagerly seeking true value-added alternative sources of information, and a channel airing the candid opinions of the population on national issues.

The ex-premier Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong summed up the suspected hypocrisy of the government in his usual self-contradictory and roundabout way (see footnote 5).

And that begs the question if the government had really been sincere about opening the market to competition in the first instance? More of the same playing within the same restrictive parameters established by the government is a recipe for a national fiasco.

And it was a dear failure seemingly scripted and foreseen by the 44-years old government since day one.

The PM frankly admitted to the mismanagement in the introduction of competition into an essentially unchallenged state-monopoly (see footnote 6), a verity enthusiastically seconded by SM Goh (see footnote 7).

The empty conviction of the government had produced an undesirable waste which saw the unnecessary squandering of millions in a huge 4-year simulation to validate the government observation that Singapore lacks the criteria to accommodate more than 1 media and press house.

The PM typically has a vastly differing intellectual view on the subject.

Boldly challenging the consensus views on government influence and manipulation, the premier essayed a clumsy attempt to dissociate the close relationship between the government and both state-linked SPH (which wholly owns MediaWorks) and government-owned MediaCorps (see footnote 8).

Even dismissing the assumption that the government as major shareholders of the principal actors had not exerted considerable influence on the decision, one worrying riddle remains.

If government-linked companies with unchallenged domination or even access to generous state funds could fail so emphatically, what hopes are there for private start-ups? Is the media industry in Singapore destined to remain as state monopolies, operating outside the jurisdiction of the Competition Law? What sort of media hub will Singapore evolve into?

(Mr) Law Sin Ling


(1) "We haven't made a U-turn. We've opened, the companies have tried, they haven't succeeded, so they are making an adjustment"
– PM Lee's assessment of the move, The Sunday Times, 19 September 2004.

(2) "It's not going back to where they were before. You still have Today newspaper with Streats in some form. You will still have Channel U; they have said they're going to keep it" – PM Lee's interpretation that it was not technically a U-Turn, The Sunday Times, 19 September 2004.

(3) "In any case, the media industry, is a rather 'unusual' one in which competition did not always mean that consumers would be better off. Look at Taiwan and the Philippines. Competition is intense, but it doesn't necessarily benefit the consumer or society because standards have dropped" – PM Lee's consolation of the development, The Sunday Times, 19 September 2004.

(4) http://www.singapore-window.org/sw03/031112to.htm - Comments on MM Lee Kuan Yew's interview with Channel NewsAsia on his view of media competition in Singapore.

(5) "We would have loved to have had two newspaper groups and TV stations if we could. It makes for a better competitive environment. But unfortunately, the market is too small, especially for TV"
– SM Goh, The Straits Times, 20 September 2004.

(6) "If there had been more preparation and a more gradual move towards competition, it might have had a better chance" – PM Lee's post-mortem of the failed competition, The Sunday Times, 19 September 2004

(7) "They are not just competing against one another. They are competing against Cable Vision; they are competing against programmes from overseas on Cable Vision. It's very tough for them to compete and yet not sink one another" – SM Goh on hindsight, The Straits Times, 20 September 2004.

(8) "The Government didn't interfere. It's entirely up to the companies. SPH... private shareholders; MCS, Temasek is a shareholder, but MCS has to operate commercially too" – PM Lee uncharacteristically caught in his own words on non-government interference, The Sunday Times, 19 September 2004.

20 Sep 2004

Back to Square One

Singapore media firms roll back competition

SINGAPORE: The republic's two dominant media companies are rolling back a four-year, government-led experiment in competition that cost them over S$200mil, returning to separate near monopolies in newspapers and TV.

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH), the city-state's biggest publisher, said yesterday it would buy nearly half of a rival newspaper run by state television firm MediaCorp, while the latter would acquire most of SPH's TV assets.

"This swap will mean a return to monopolistic power for SPH," said Stephanie Wong, analyst with Kim Eng Research.

State-linked SPH, whose 14 newspapers include the Straits Times, will pay S$19.2mil for 40% of Today, a free newspaper run by MediaCorp Press. MediaCorp will keep the remaining 60%.

In addition, SPH will pay S$10mil to merge its TV operations into a new company with MediaCorp's mass market channels. MediaCorp, which already runs most of Singapore's TV and radio stations, will hold a controlling 80% interest in the new company and SPH the balance 20%.

Singapore tried to open up its tightly controlled media sector in 2000 by allowing limited competition, with MediaCorp venturing into newspapers and Singapore Press going into broadcasting. The experiment foundered.

Today chalked up losses of S$28mil in its first two years of operations and unspecified losses in the last fiscal year, though the group has said the newspaper should break even this year.

The broadcasting venture by SPH, which includes the government as a small shareholder, also has performed dismally.

SPH has accumulated broadcasting losses of about S$180mil since launching its two free-to-air channels in 2000. Analysts said it had been lobbying for a return to pre-liberalisation days.

SPH shares were up 2.3% in a falling market at S$4.52 before a trading halt ahead of the announcement. The counter finally closed the day at S$4.76. The stock also rose on Thursday after Reuters published details of the deal, obtained from industry sources.

"It is a good deal. The TV channels are still bleeding S$40mil a year," said Wong of Kim Eng.

SPH's free tabloid, Streats, would be merged with rival Today, the management of which would be independent from SPH in an arrangement that analysts said would maintain a semblance of newspaper competition in Singapore.

MediaCorp was being advised by Credit Suisse First Boston.

The end of this experiment is not the first failed attempt at introducing media competition to the island of four million people.

In the 1980s, the government encouraged local banks to start a newspaper, the Singapore Monitor, to compete with the SPH's flagship Straits Times. The venture did not get off the ground until SPH was told to close its tabloid,the New Nation, and give its business to the Singapore Monitor. But after afew years of losses, the Singapore Monitor was shut in 1986. - Reuters

17 Sep 2004

Getting Around Censorship

Thought that some of you out there maybe interested in ways of getting around the censorship here in Singapore or South East Asia in general.
Click here
Wish there was an idiots guide to getting around it... but until I find it the above information will have to do.

11 Sep 2004

Currently Reading

Rather heavy reading aimed at an academic audience but very much worth the effort.

Rational Choice Theory Resisting Colonisation
by Margaret S. Archer

Rational Choice Theory is the first book length critique of this theory, dominant in sociology outside the UK and now making in roads in the UK, and increasingly influential in other disciplines. This controversial volume argues that the theory is an inadequate way in which to evaluate decision making inadequate in terms of:
* the individuals who make the decisions
* the process by which decisions get made
* the context within which decisions get made.
The critique focuses on the four assumptions which are the bedrock of rational choice; rationality, individualism, process and aggregation and draws on a wide range of social issues, including race, marriage, health and education.

The politics of gender activism

The following is a link to an excellant article on the lack of 'gender and sexuality' issues in discussions dominated by the PAP's fixation with race and ethnicity.

(Singapore Studies)
While race and ethnicity figure prominently in most accounts of civil society in Singapore, gender is rarely considered except in discussions of how ‘women’ (but rarely men) are targeted by state reproductive policy.

Monday, 06 September 2004

The politics of gender activism by Lenore Lyons

10 Sep 2004

4 million to 6 or 8 million!

The following is the introduction to an article from Morgan Stanley written by Daniel Lian on September 10, 2004. It is of course not a public government backed announcement just their speculation of the future population size, is it possible and what effect might it have on the market.... However if it in any way relates to the future population size then its going to get damn crowded.

A Bigger Singapore?

A Monumental Population Policy Shift?

On September 3, the Singapore government announced measures to broaden immigration criteria, so as to boost its population. The key criteria shift appears to be on academic qualifications and social integration. The previous emphasis on tertiary or professional qualifications is now balanced by essential/appropriate job skills needed by the Singapore economy, as well as the ability of the immigrants and their families to integrate successfully into Singapore's society. Prior to the shift, Singapore had always preferred to take in well educated (or wealthy, in some cases)
foreigners, so as to enlarge its pool of highly skilled labour.

The announced new measures do not seem to be drastic at first glance. However, we believe Singapore can leverage a much bigger population to help it 'sharpen' its three-pronged economic strategy. While we are not privy to any policy insight, we believe it is quite possible that the country will contemplate a monumental shift in its population policy - one that would substantially increase its population from the present 4 million to perhaps 6 to 8 million over the long term.

For the rest of the article read...
Demographic and Labor Force Snapshots

8 Sep 2004

Dr Chee and Nelson Mandela


Responding to a question from the media on why he was sueing Dr Chee, Mr Lee said through his press secretary: "Mr Chee should learn from Nelson Mandela. Mandela played by the rules. He won because he fought constitutionally. Chee should play by the rules, then he may rally people around him. By breaking the rules and flouting the law, he is getting himself marginalised." - CNA

Yet again I fear that the ministers in Singapore are unaware of the power of their words. Surely Lee Kuan Yew is not advocating that Dr Chee really follow in Mandela's foot-steps. Here is a link to an article on Nelson. Mandela and an interesting issue is quoted directly...

[Mandela] was arrested and tried on charges of attempting to launch an armed struggle but the jury did not have enough evidence to pronounce him guilty and he was subsequently released. He later launched an armed struggle targeting the government. This aggressive approach eventually led to a sentence of life in prison in 1964.

Lee Kuan Yew is not advising Dr Chee to form an armed resistance movement you reply, thats just crazy talk, but to link the situation in Singapore with that of un-democratic and gerrymandered South Africa goes too far. Will the PAP be pressing charges against the M & M?

3 Sep 2004


The Scotsman

Economist Magazine Pays £127,000 Damages to Singapore Leaders

The Economist magazine has published an apology and agreed to pay £127,000 in damages to Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The apology, published in its latest issue, says allegations in a recent article were “false and completely without merit”.

The article appeared in the magazine last month and was titled “Temasek, First Singapore, Next the World”.

Temasek is the Singapore government’s investment arm, headed by the prime minister’s wife, Ho Ching.

The Economist said in its apology that the article was understood to imply that Ho’s appointment was based not on merit but on “corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.

“We admit and acknowledge that these allegations are false and completely without foundation. We unreservedly apologise to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for the distress and embarrassment caused to them by these allegations,” the apology said.

Economist editor Bill Emmott said the magazine received a complaint from the Lees on August 21 and agreed to pay the damages and issue the apology on September 1.

The Economist also agreed to pay the expenses incurred by the Lees, said Hri Kumar, director of Drew & Napier, the law firm representing the Lees in their complaint.

The elder Lee was Singapore’s prime minister from its independence in 1965 until 1990. He still wields considerable influence under the title of minister mentor.

Emmott said the incident would not affect the magazine’s Singapore operations.

“It won’t affect any of our operations at all, it’s entirely a self-contained issue that’s been dealt with,” he said.

So the new era of an open Singapore is a complete fabrication for the benefit of sounding open. The reality is that nothing has changed. Why does a large international publication backdown to such threats? Simple answer, the Lee family can ensure that the permitted number of copies to be sold of the Economist be cut. A limit on sales of the magazine would be introduced as opposed to an out-right ban.

Sing it and sing it out loud it is plain and clear to see for all...
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.
“corrupt, nepotist motives for the advancement of the Lee family’s interests”.

2 Sep 2004

Singapore spoils one for the world

The following article appeared in the Straits Jacket and I had to respond. My initial response was to ask the writer to get his tongue out of the PAP's proverbial. Click below for an example of the 'indepth' journalism and commentary that Singaporeans are fed on a daily basis.

Singapore spoils one for the world

What now follows are my own comments to certain points raised by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in the article above.

"At the risk of offending Singapore's new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, I must confess to being glad that the Minister Mentor title indicates no diminution of his father's authority. Such an unfashionable view would not have flowed from my computer a few months ago."

You are extremely correct at being worried about offending Lee Hsien Loong. If you do he will have you in court and bankrupt within the week.

"Pestered by beggars [..} I longed for Singapore's security, amenities and efficiency."

To think that there are no beggars or homeless people in Singapore is a gross mis-understanding and implies a lack of travelling beyond the main tourist areas such as Orchard Road. Along Orchard Road the police are extremely efficient in sweeping the homeless off the street and away from your gaze. But surely a well structured policy to 'help' the homeless, rather than 'hide' the homeless is in order. Also, the next time you visit Singapore, why not visit a construction site and inspect the accommodation that the foreign workers have to live in, in the centre of the construction site, in what appears to be a shanty-town like hut.

The UK and sections of Europe may appear unsightly, but in Europe, unlike Singapore, if the politicians are not addressing these social ills then the people can replace them. In Singapore the people are unable to voice alternative opinions on the government owned media and come election time, seeing one choice on the ballot paper is no choice at all.

Yes on the surface Singapore looks clean, safe and efficient. It reminds me of efforts taken when a rich group of G8 delegates arrive in an under-developed country for talks on world poverty. The delegates are shuttled around with areas that appear unsightly hidden behind partitions. Yes, Singapore seems to 'work' but work for whom?

The empty talk of Singapore

Published on TaipeiTimes

The empty talk of Singapore

By Daniel McCarthy

Wednesday, Sep 01, 2004,Page 8
The recent supplication of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (§õÅãÀs) to Beijing comes as no surprise. Singapore has a long and consistent tradition of suppressing human rights and democracy among its own people in the interest of maintaining a dictatorship and advancing commercial interests. It should be no surprise that Singapore's leader would be willing to verbally sacrifice Taiwan in order to curry favor with a companion dictatorship that represents a major market. Anyone who reads the Straits Times cannot mistake the continued anti-Taiwan, pro-China tirade that Singapore's leading newspaper echoes.

But we can easily see that Lee's words are empty. He stated that no European or Asian country would recognize an independent Taiwan. How can he know this? Certainly he does not. He was only making the statement to placate the frothy, emotional ultranationalism that has reared its ugly head in Beijing these past few years. That part of Lee's statement, and probably the rest as well, can be relegated to the junkyard of political propaganda.

But if we look at the substance of the situation, we see that Singapore has built facilities to service aircraft carriers, obviously for US use. And Singapore has an agreement to provide logistical support to the US military in times of conflict, without regard to the identity of the other parties in the conflict. Further, both Singapore and the US are basing equipment and supplies in northern Australia for joint use in a Pacific conflict. Singapore has tied its security completely to the US, so if the US defends Taiwan, Singapore will follow.

Although we know that Singapore will help the US defend Taiwan if fighting breaks out, it is nonetheless disappointing that Singapore's freshly crowned prime minister does not have the character to stand by the free and democratic people of Taiwan in words as well as action.

Daniel McCarthy
United States

Copyright © 1999-2004 The Taipei Times. All rights reserved.

1 Sep 2004

What I am currently reading

The Roaring Nineties

While reading the following book I can't help but draw parallels with Singapore and that is why the article below from Bloomberg is included. Singapore is currently walking a very tight line between over-regulating as many pundents currently claim, and deregulating as many venture capitalists and entrepreneurs would like to see. I feel that Stiglitz's tale is one of caution and should be listened to. see also the article on Adam Smith and the Lion City.

In his new book, The Roaring Nineties, Joseph Stiglitz, Professor of Economics, Columbia University, and former World Bank Chief Economist, explains why greed is not good for companies, individuals, or societies. Moreover, if left unchecked, it leads to deceptions, distortions, and disasters. During a recent presentation at the World Bank, Stiglitz described his primary motivations for writing the book as an attempt understand how the seeds were sown for the economic bubble which burst in 2001 and how thinking at the time contributed to the backlash against globalization. In his presentation, he focused on macroeconomic and microeconomic issues that led to the mismanagement of the US economy. He also commented on how economic policies dictating liberalized capital markets and reductions in public expenditures created greater instability in developing countries and eventually bred resentment and distrust of globalization.

Stiglitz began by questioning the basis for the economic recovery that began in the early 1990s. He noted that there are many people who believe that the growth that occurred for much of the decade was facilitated by reducing the US federal budget deficit which in turn allowed interest rates to decline which then resulted in sharp increases in investment and growth. Stiglitz noted that this very argument goes against the fundamentals taught in macroeconomics: that you should institute counter- cyclical policies of increasing both spending and budget deficits to get out of a recession. He explained that believing in the deficit reduction theory gave validity to bad prescriptions for the Argentine and East Asian crises. In both instances, taxes were increased and expenditures were cut. As a result of following this doctrine, these countries economies got worse instead of better.

Furthermore, Stiglitz noted that there is no evidence that the Federal Reserve can lower interest rates only when the budget deficit is low. To understand what really happened, Stiglitz said one must understand what precipitated the initial economic downturn. He explained that the economic downturn of the early 1990s was partially due to banks shifting from lending to buying long-term government bonds. He noted that much of the move towards bonds was based on bad information. As a result, long-term bonds were considered safe investments although their prices were quite volatile. When banks shifted away from lending, it was more difficult for businesses to expand and this hurt the economy.

Stiglitz stated that a more plausible reason for the improving economy was that as the budget deficit was reduced and long-term interest rates fell, the price of these long-term bonds went up. As a result, the banking system was re-capitalized, alleviating the credit crunch, and allowed banks to start lending again. He then noted that this scenario is unlikely to be repeated in most countries because the problems in the US stemmed from a bad regulatory environment and bad information that would not necessarily exist in other countries. Therefore, the standard medicine for dealing with recession should remain increasing deficits rather than reducing them.

Afterward, Stiglitz commented more on the effects of bad information which led to the growth of the economic bubble and what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan termed the "irrational exuberance" of the 1990s. He noted that the Federal Reserve was attempting to use one instrument (raising interest rates) to achieve two objectives: contain inflation and slowly deflate the economic bubble. He stated that microeconomic instruments such as increasing margin requirements (similar to increasing down payments in real estate) could have helped, but were not utilized perhaps because the Federal Reserve does not like to use micro-instruments because of their perceived interference with efficient resource allocation in the economy.

Stiglitz then addressed how policy choices affect the stability of the economic system. Specifically, he noted that policy choices are always important, not just when the economy is in a downturn. Not only should policies be designed to repair economies, but also to contain volatility and allow for the absorption of shocks. He then provided examples of polices that were put into place in the 1990s that created instability.

He cited the capital gains tax reduction as "feeding the frenzy" as people speculated even more because their taxes would go down as well. The shift from defined benefit programs (which insulate households from the volatility of the stock market) to defined contribution programs (which are not insulated) increased the potential for more volatility in household balance sheets. This put a squeeze on personal consumption and negatively affected the economy which is driven by consumption. A third change occurred with a shift to short-term, bottom line economics. Previously, companies had kept excess employees through the bad times because they would once again be needed once the economy began to grow. It was easier to keep them through the cycle and maintain loyalty than go through the process of rehiring them later on. With the emergence of bottom-line economics, businesses began to dismiss workers during downturns in an effort to improve balance sheets and stock prices. Stiglitz noted that while this has contributed to gains in productivity, it has also led to higher unemployment and greater volatility in the labor market.

Stiglitz also addressed a number of microeconomic issues that contributed to economic mismanagement. He cited bad accounting procedures that promoted the use of stock options for Chief Operating Officers (CEOs) which, in turn, diluted the stock prices for other shareholders. Then, CEOs began to look for accounting measures that would boost stock prices even more. Stiglitz described how creative accounting, combined with bad information, boosted stock prices. In these scenarios, conflicts of interest began to arise in the accounting industry and microeconomic distortions grew as there was more of an incentive to provide bad information. This led to over-investment and excess capacity in sectors such as telecommunications, and ultimately, to the recession.

He then commented on the effects of deregulation during the decade and described how in some cases it had gone too far. Stiglitz stated that by the 1990s many regulatory frameworks were outdated and needed revision, but the sweeping deregulation of many industries was poorly designed and did not address weaknesses effectively. He stated that three of the most problematic sectors of the economy in the 1990s, banking, telecommunications, and electricity, were also subject to the most sweeping deregulation.

Stiglitz concluded by commenting on globalization and how polices created since the end of the Cold War have shaped perceptions about the new global economy. He noted that the Uruguay Round of trade talks created an unfair international trade arena as wealthy countries sought to open up the markets of poor countries, but not their own. Additionally, instability was heightened in developing countries because they were being told to liberalize their capital markets which was the opposite of what successful countries had done in developing their economies. As a consequence, the mismanagement of globalization created distrust throughout the world as was evident at recent international trade negotiations in Seattle and Cancun.

Singapore's State Capitalism Works. Or Does It?:

Andy Mukherjee

Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The commercial success of Singapore's government-linked companies has always been something of an enigma, chiefly because experiments in state socialism have been glaring failures in China, India, and elsewhere in Asia.

To what do companies like Singapore Airlines Ltd., Asia's most profitable air carrier, owe their success, especially when International Monetary Fund researchers find no evidence that companies controlled by the state's investment arm have benefited from privileged access to cheaper bank credit, the telltale sign of political patronage?

To be sure, commercial success is one of the many ways to judge Singapore's public sector. Although for companies which are now co-owned by individual and institutional shareholders, it certainly isn't the best measure. A more critical question is how do these companies fare in terms of shareholder returns?

To begin to answer that question, CLSA Ltd. researcher Atul Goyal looked at company annual reports and corporate Web sites. Out of 15 companies he chose to study, as many as eight don't seem to communicate a strong commitment to shareholder returns.

For example, DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Singapore's largest bank by assets, says it's ``well positioned to tap exciting growth opportunities.'' Is the bank as well positioned to deliver exciting shareholder returns? It most probably is, though it doesn't explicitly say so, according to CLSA.

Shareholder Focus

Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd., the world's third- biggest provider of made-to-order chips, has a mission to ``provide world-class silicon wafer manufacturing.'' A noble goal that's of little consolation to investors who have seen the company's shares slump about 38 percent this year.

Or take Singapore Airlines, which thanked its management, staff, unions and the board for helping the company cope with the slump in travel following the outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Shareholders who held on to their investments amid a slump in airline stocks didn't rank a mention.

``Interestingly, in the letter to shareholders for some companies,'' Goyal and his boss Prabodh Agarwal note in their study, ``customers, employees and board members seem to take precedence over shareholders.''

The commercial success of Singapore's public sector may have done little for minority shareholders. CLSA estimates that over the past 20 years, government-linked companies have given investors an annual return of just 6 percent. The return was -1.6 percent over the past 10 years, and -4 percent over the last five years. By comparison, private companies in Singapore and state- owned companies in neighboring Malaysia have done a lot better.

Temasek Holdings

Curiously, Temasek Holdings Pte. has earned 16 percent annually over the past 30 years on its investments in government- linked companies. Temasek is the Singapore government's investment arm, which controls seven of the island's 10 biggest publicly traded companies by sales.

Why did it fare better than other shareholders? Possibly because a large part of its investments was in the nature of riskier ``private equity,'' for which it got a premium.

Now that Temasek itself is driving the companies in its stable to deliver shareholder value above all else, minority investors also can look forward to better returns.

Unlike in the past, business decisions are no longer to be made with only market share or sales growth in mind. The new catchphrase in Temasek-linked companies is ``Economic Value Added,'' or the profit they earn over and above the cost of capital. Some of the public sector companies have linked executive pay to EVA.

``The power of EVA,'' Temasek Chief Executive Ho Ching explained in February, ``is not simply the potential for staff to share the wealth creation with shareholders. It is more importantly a mindset change toward ownership.''

Improved Performance

Returns have already started improving. According to CLSA, Temasek-linked companies, as a group, have given an impressive 33 percent return to shareholders over the past year, and not just because the stock market has been favorable.

Will the momentum last over the next five years, or 20? Perhaps it will, at least for some of the companies.

Making shareholder returns a key objective is only the easy, first step. Aligning employees' and shareholders' interests is the harder part. As the following excerpt from the annual report of a U.S. company shows, it's quite possible for a management to say one thing and do another:

``We plan to leverage all competitive advantages to create significant value for our shareholders,'' the chairman and chief executive of the company wrote in 2000.

That was one of the last promises Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling ever made to Enron Corp. shareholders.

To contact the writer of this column:
Andy Mukherjee in Singapore amukherjee@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this column:
Bill Ahearn at bahaearn@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: August 31, 2004 16:56 EDT