30 Jun 2005

Paths Not Taken

I first spotted the links to the following at Singapore Angle.

This is a project of the QUT Centre for Social Change Research (CSCR).

The project aims to recast Singapore's postwar history by studying the civil and political movements that have operated outside the parameters of imagination created by the ruling People's Action Party. The project draws from disciplines as diverse as history, cultural studies, anthropology, political science, sociology, law, gender and development studies, and architecture, and it studies an equally diverse range of ‘paths not taken’: party and activist politics; trade unions; commercial and professional organisations; social, intellectual, ethnic and religious movements, and; the media and service organisations. The project is intended to culminate in an international symposium and an edited book.

Some of the contributions appear very interesting and if I had a very rich guardian angel I would attend.

2. History Spiked: The Death of the Liberal Ideal in Singapore Media
Dr Cherian George

The press system in Singapore up to the 1970s included an adversarial tendencywithin the mainstream press, a contentious alternative press, and a live public discourse on press freedom. This paper will trace the closing off of these paths,leading up to the hegemonic, non-contentious and “nation-building” press system of post-70s Singapore. It will argue that the state achieved this closure not only by overt political repression but also by riding global trends in media economics and intellectual culture, which tended in the direction of industry concentration and commercialisation, at the expense of media diversity and public service.

This explanation for the prevailing media system refutes the cultural arguments that are currently mustered in its defence – that the system is a reflection of Asian values that emphasise consensus and harmony – and argues instead that it was a matter of deliberate political engineering by the PAP regime. Finally, the paper will attempt to locate vestiges of counter-hegemonic practice and discourse within the Singapore media system and assess their potential.

Dr Cherian George is a postdoctoral research fellow at Nanyang Technological University.

Lawyers and Politics: 1945-1990
Dr Kevin Tan
This paper examines the relationship between the legal profession and politics in Singapore from 1945 to 1990. The relationship between law and politics is a close one, especially in the aftermath of World War II and the rapid decolonization within the British Empire. This took on an greater significance given the number of lawyers involved in post-War political developments throughout the Empire. Singapore was no exception and it came as no surprise that the first Chief Minister and Prime Minister of Singapore were both lawyers.

The active role that lawyers played, both individually and collectively – through institutions such as the Bar Committee and its successor, the Law Society, as well as through political parties – in the immediate post-War period contrasts markedly with the relative inactivity of the profession in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also significant that the legal profession provided key political players who spanned the entire political spectrum during the formative years of Singapore’s nationhood. This plurality of views and visions for an independent Singapore was a path that was not taken; a path which could have led to quite a different Singapore.

This paper adopts a chronological approach and is organized in three parts. In Part I, we consider the period from 1945 to 1955, looking at the role lawyers and institutions played in the fight for self-government, and their competing visions for Singapore. In particular, the role of the Progressive Party under CC Tan, the Labour Front under David Marshall and the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew will be compared and contrasted. Part II will consider the developments from 1955 to 1965, the period of transition from the Rendel Constitution to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Focus will beon the roles played by Lee Kuan Yew, EW Barker, KM Byrne (from Singapore) and Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak (from Malaysia) in this whole process. Part III concentrates on the post 1965 developments with discussion on the role of lawyers in the nation-building process. In particular, we will consider how the Law Society tried to find a voice in this process and ended up being crushed. Key figures who will be considered in this period are Francis Seow, Toh Soh Lung. The role played by opposition lawyers like Chiam See Tong will also be discussed in passing. Finally, I will discuss the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law and how its expanded role has silenced the pluralistic political discourse that saw a brief flowering in the 1980s.

Dr Kevin Tan is a private researcher in Singapore.

Related Link:
Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Postwar Singapore

Calling all Bloggers: Get Skyped

Get your actual voice heard by a global audience. Introduce your blog and tell the world what it’s like to be a blogger in your country.

If you don’t already have Skype, please get it.

I look forward to talking to you soon. If I am not online then simply leave me a voice mail and I will get back to you asap.

To start go to Skype and download the free software. Invest a few dollars in headphones and microphone set. Then simply click on the Skype botton in the right hand column.

Old Age A Blessing? Not in Singapore

Filial Piety in Singapore? In order to understand the true level of caring I would walk into a local fast food restaurant. The sight of an elderly lady, stooped over emptying rubbish is an image that will stick with me forever. The thought that my grandmother or grandfather would still have to work after 60-65 makes me sick. If one sphere of the population deserve health care and some level of payment from the state in the form of welfare, or 'pensions', then there can be no better deserving than the elderly.

When I hear the empty words of politicians referring to filial piety or 'how the elderly can continue to contribute' I realise just how much hot air politicians like to emit.

30 JUNE 2005

THERE is nothing more comforting than to be reminded that you were once young.

That once, you moved to the rhythm of music effortlessly; that once, you were in love and could still feel what it is to be in love when you listened to romantic melodies.

It is also empowering to find that one can be 69 or 70 and enjoy what one enjoyed twenty, thirty or even forty years ago.

I realised this the night of the Engelbert Humperdinck concert.

It was one of those rare times I felt I was not the oldest in a crowd. I saw familiar faces who were there to recall good old times that seemed to be disappearing quickly.

We were all 20 once again.

Engelbert Humperdinck reminded us - if we needed reminding at all - that life is not over yet for those of us in our 60s and 70s. Even if we may look a bit worse for wear and our faculties compromise, or if we elapse into "senior moments" now and then.

There he was on stage, a bit thicker in the middle, a bit broader in the jowls, a bit stiffer in the joints. But with the same magic that had captured audiences the world over for almost 40 years.

During the concert, for some reason I can't recall, Engelbert Humperdinck mentioned social security and asked if we got pensions.

There was this very telling silence. Reality of life for the old put a damper on the evening.

Life is difficult for older people in Singapore.

The Aware-Tsao Foundation report published recently concluded that "older women are in a particularly vulnerable position in their later life because of the lack of income over their lifetime, an old age income security system … the lack of an adequate and inclusive health care financing mechanism that covers those not in formal employment, and a family situation that can no longer sustain its care giving and providing role for its older relatives."

The report adds that the responsibility to support the older population goes beyond the immediate family.

The Government, the private sector and communities all have a role to play to ensure that the older population feels valued and able to contribute.

For instance, the estate that I live in is undergoing upgrading. It is costing many millions of public funds, no doubt.

Has it made the buildings wheelchair-friendly? No. In this supposedly family-friendly society, is any consideration given to young mothers with strollers?

Sometimes, I wonder if one arm of government knows the policies being promoted by the other arms.

I move between despair and exaltation when I think of my own old age. The exaltation comes from imagining new visions, new states of personal realisation emerging at this stage of my life.

But then, public policies in healthcare, housing, education and labour - despite new initiatives being announced recently - seriously lag behind the needs of a growing elderly population.

Health costs keep rising. There are few support systems. Nor is there sufficient financial security - even with the CPF scheme intended, ironically, for this purpose.

So, what will nourish the visions of ageing men and women like myself, who want to live independent lives?

To say that taking care of the aged is the responsibility of the family is to deny the state's responsibility to provide an environment that makes life easier for an ageing population.

It is also a denial of the reality of life for those Singaporean families which struggle to make ends meet.

One 84-year-old aunt I know has been praying for death for 10 years. Old age has made her dependent on two daughters who have, she says, the unhappy burden of looking after her.

Another 96-year-old aunt, hearty and mobile, has been shunted from son to son for 10 years.

Old age is not a blessing. And even those of us who can afford to attend a concert, can escape from the worries of ageing only for a moment.

The writer, a social activist and teacher, is a former president of Aware and SCWO.

Edinburgh Calling

As some of you may know I am currently living in Edinburgh. Which has placed me in a postion to blog the upcoming events over the next few days - 2nd and 6th of July 2005. This Saturday there will be a large meeting in Edinburgh entitled The Long Walk to Justice.

The Long Walk To Justice is a symbolic journey of people across the world to Edinburgh to show the G8 leaders that the world is watching and waiting.

Ahead of the G8 Summit, hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe will make their way by land, sea and air to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, to show the leaders of the world's richest nations that they must act to stop the scandal of extreme poverty.

I will be joining the event and blogging by whatever means possible. Hopefully via mobile phone, video, and pictures. I think it is a unique opportunity to do some 'bridge-blogging' into Singapore. The mass media will of course be covering the events but hopefully Singaporean readers will get a more personal account via this blog.

And as if that wasn't enough I am also the proud possessor of two tickets to the Edinburgh 50,000

Edinburgh 50,000

The Final Push

This is the final moment; this is the eve of the biggest meeting ever in the fight against poverty.

As the leaders fly into Gleneagles on the evening of Wednesday 6th July, a very special event at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium will signal the end of the Long Walk To Justice and the beginning of the G8 Summit.

Hosted by Lenny Henry and Peter Kay, the event will include some of music’s biggest names such as Annie Lennox, Snow Patrol, Travis, The Sugababes, Ronan Keating, Beverly Knight, The Corrs, Natasha Bedingfield, Proclaimers, Texas, Youssou N’Dour, McFly, Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and African artists from Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD plus a line up of very special speakers.

So if all goes well I will be blogging democracy in action, witnessing thousands voicing their opinions, taking part in a mass movement and adding my voice to the Make Poverty History Campaign.

29 Jun 2005

Chee to launch new book

"the democratic revolution has begun!"

Dr Chee Soon Juan has written a new book and will be launching it in a public forum in less than two weeks. Entitled The Power of Courage: Effecting Political Change in Singapore Through Nonviolence, this book explains to readers the concept and philosophy of nonviolent action and why it is important to Singapore.

The book launch is open to members of the public.

9 July 2005, Saturday 2 pm
Grand Plaza Parkroyal
10 Coleman Street
Coleman Room, Level 1
(Opposite Peninsula Hotel,
City Hall MRT Station)

Unlike Dr Chee's previous books, this publication discusses how Singaporeans can take action to empower themselves and stop the political rot that afflicts our nation. It is a practical book with useful information on organizing activists and taking positive steps to wean the PAP off its addiction to authoritarian habits.

Mr Francis Seow, Singapore's former solicitor-general and the bane of the Minister Mentor writes the first Foreword, with Mr Robert Helvey, president of the Albert Einstein Institute and expert on nonviolence, writing the second. Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam weighs in with an Introduction.

The book also examines the laws that the PAP introduces to strengthen its grip on power and how these laws are applied selective against the opposition. Dr Chee also relates how nonviolence has been effectively and successfully applied around the world. The book encourages Singaporeans to be proactive and take the struggle for freedom to the PAP.

Yeshua-Moser Puangsuwan, Asia's coordinator for Nonviolence International and who was recently prevented from entering Singapore to conduct a workshop on nonviolence, wrote on the backcover of the book:

"In this brief but clearly written book Dr Chee has outlined the methods of non-violent civil disobedience, or the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws to bring about social uplift, as was advocated by some of the greatest practitioners of nonviolence, MK Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Using examples from the histories of different civil movements for social change, and giving specific examples from contemporary Singapore, he reveals how the current government of Singapore pursues the selective use of legislation, which instead of promoting the rule of law, entrenches the current People's Action Party regime's 'rule by law'. Read this book and pass it on, the democratic revolution has begun!"

So make sure you spread the word and make your way down to Grand Plaza Parkroyal Hotel next Saturday and see how you can be part of the democracy campaign that will ultimate win us back our country.

28 Jun 2005

Singapore police warn would-be Olympic vote protesters they could face arrest

Welcome to Singapore.


SINGAPORE (AP) - Singapore police Tuesday said they would clamp down on any protest designed to disrupt the 2012 Summer Games vote, saying demonstrators could face arrest.

The warning came a week after a British group of small businesses opposed to London hosting the games said they were considering protesting at the Singapore meeting, which begins Sunday, to dissuade the International Olympic Committee from giving the vote to the British capital.

Other cities vying for the Olympics, which could bring up to $12 billion US for the hosts, are New York, Madrid, Paris and Moscow. The decision will be made July 6.

Singapore law dictates that outdoor gatherings of five or more people require a police permit. Public demonstrations are extremely rare in the tightly-controlled city-state. Police usually deny permits, citing "law and order problems." "

Anyone who organizes or participates in an assembly or procession without a permit is violating the law," said Aubeck Kam, the police's operations director, at a briefing about security for the July 2-9 meeting.

Heads of state expected to be in Singapore to support their countries' bids include British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a slew of celebrities and star athletes are also expected to attend.

People gathered to support a cause would constitute a demonstration, Kam said, adding the police have not received an application from the British group to protest.

Kam also said police would not authorize any application for outdoor marches or assemblies with the potential to "breach public peace."

More than 2,000 armed police, military and civil defence officers will maintain security at the event, which an estimated 3,500 delegates will attend, Kam said.

All vehicles and persons entering the IOC session at the Raffles City Convention Center will be checked, and concrete barricades will be set up around the building to prevent anyone from ramming a vehicle into it, he said.

The British Marshgate Lane Business Group claims they are being offered below-market rate compensation to move in preparation for London's hosting.

Related Articles:
London businesses set to send delegation to Singapore

27 Jun 2005

Take survey or face fine, Everyone told

I suppose this is one way of getting around the major problem of poor response when using a postal questionnaire but surely forcing people to return is a gross invasion of privacy. Anyone ever heard of civil liberties or the right to privacy in Singapore?

If the Department of Statistics requires a certain number to be returned then they should send out the largest number possible that will ensure they meet their quota. They could also put an incentive in place, win a free trip, never have to answer one of our surveys again. The use of a fine if it is not returned should be viewed as a threat. Yes you get a great return rate, but the information provided is not likely to be correct. It cannot be annoymous, information might be checked by the authorities. The data collected may have a high claim of internal reliability but it lacks any claim of representativeness and therefore lacks any claim to being scientific.

The information is provided under a threat.

It can in no way claim any level of 'validity'. The person filling it out had better be careful. If I was filling it out I would have my lawyer sitting next to me while I did so.

I could guess the findings now, "Our survey shows that the laws of Singapore are being adherred to by all Singaporean households." And those laws are CONSERVATIVE, therefore Singaporeans are conservative, so we will introduce changes in government policies, but very slowly. Our population does not desire dramatic change because they are conservative.

Or is it that our survey threatens people if they do not fill the form in, and if information is not correct. What happens if someone fills the form in saying that they are a lesbian couple, one an illegal immigrant, both 26 years old, living with three children from their past marriages? Is there even a section on the form that enables the respondent to input such data?

June 27, 2005
Lee U-Wen

THIS was one lottery where Mr Mika Sampovaara didn't want his name to be pulled out of the hat.

The 35-year-old trader from Finland, who moved to Singapore last year, received a letter from the Department of Statistics (DOS) in March, asking him to take part in the General Household Survey here.

Mr Sampovaara was not interested.

"I don't have anything to hide, but I should have a basic right to privacy. They want to know my passport number, date of birth, education level, my wife's name, and so on. It's very unusual for me. Whatever the institution, reputable or not, that's a lot to ask for," he said.

He told the DOS that he did not want to participate. He was in for another jolt.

"I was told that was not an option and had to give them the information they wanted."

If he didn't do so on time, he would be fined.

According to the department website, anyone who refuses to answer or knowingly provides wrong information faces a fine of up to $1000.

The department feels that the survey, conducted every 10 years, is extremely important. After compiling data on how much families earn, spend and travel, it helps the Government plan public programmes and policies.

But Mr Sampovaara comes from Finland, where there is no obligation for people to take part in such surveys.

This was confirmed by the Embassy of Finland. In fact, about 37 per cent of the people there refuse to - or do not - respond to similar household surveys.

Here, too, Mr Sampovaara wants his right to privacy to be respected even as the Singapore Government seeks to attract more overseas talent.

"Don't get me wrong, I love Singapore very much. It is a very safe country and I've had a wonderful time here so far," said Mr Sampovaara. "I do not like to be forced to do anything just for the sake of doing so," he added.

Apparently, the DOS remains unmoved in the face of his stand. Mr Sampovaara said he had received at least 10 phone calls from the department, which randomly selected 90,000 homes - about 10 per cent of households here - for the survey.

When he refused to cooperate, a DOS officer came knocking on his door. It was after 10pm. "I told him to go away but it was hard to sleep afterwards," said Mr Sampovaara.

When contacted by Today, the DOS said that it typically takes about half an hour for a family of four to complete the GHS.

Said Ms Ang Seow Long, its assistant director of publications and statistical information: "It's important that respondents provide the required information so that the results are complete and nationally representative.

"The majority of respondents are co-operative and have helped to maintain a high response rate."

She reiterated that the households that had been selected could not be replaced - to ensure that the survey remained representative. She said there were safeguards in place to protect the confidentiality of the information given to the DOS.

Mr Sampovaara, to whom the issue of privacy is vital, still hasn't budged. He is beginning to realise there are no easy answers.

How Other Countries Do It

In the United States and Canada, the Statistics Act requires the authorities to inform respondents whether their participation is mandatory or voluntary, depending on the nature of the survey.

Closer to home, countries such as Japan have laws stating that those selected for housing surveys are obliged to respond or face penalties.

No such obligation or penalties exist in Finland.

Money culture spreading to the young

Star, Malaysia
June 26, 2005

Insight Down South By Seah Chiang Nee

A PRE-TEEN pupil offered $1 to his classmate to do his homework. Another gave his friend 10 cents as a tip to buy canteen food for him.
These Generation Y tales told to me by a mother over lunch recently touch on one of Singapore’s maladies after years of affluence.

This wealth has given Singaporeans a good life but has also moulded a lopsided view that money is a quick fix for all problems.

But these schoolboy horror stories have been around for decades.

In the early years, even when Singapore was less wealthy, some students in elite schools were known to flash Rolex watches, Gucci bags and other branded goods.

Dr Tony Tan, the current deputy prime minister, once spoke of a spoiled brat who burned a $5 bill to show off how “successful” his parents were, and his friend promptly replied by torching a $50 note.

Some time ago, a friend told me his son had come home one day complaining about his pitiful pocket money after being shown a classmate’s birthday present from his father.

It was a $200,000 deposit in the 12-year-old’s Post Office Saving Bank (since taken over by DBS Bank) account.

The stereotype of youth is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of none. It is, of course, exaggerated and hardly fair since he lives in his parents’ mould.

The rapid transformation from Third to First World has created an attitude towards money more profound than in many other comparable cities.

“If you have a problem, just throw money at it and it will go away” seems to be a viewpoint that has been passed on to the young generation.

Take the case of nine-year-old Jeremy Tio, who was lost for three nights recently in Fraser’s Hill with his three Malaysian cousins.

When he was found, he emotionally hugged his rescuer and said, “I love you.”

But he revealed his Singaporean upbringing when he told his Malaysian rescuers, “If I give you money, can you take me home?”

His gracious rescuer Rapi Bata replied: “No need to pay us. We are here to help you.”

This episode raised concern at the direction in which Singaporeans are being raised. Very few people blame Jeremy for the remarks because of his age and the severe fatigue he was under.

But spoken so matter-of-factly by one so young, it has placed the whole society, the education system and his parents under the critical spotlight.

One Internet writer said, “It belies a very serious problem with our society at large. From such a young age, little Jeremy knows the power of money.”

Another cynical response: “Can’t blame little Jeremy. He is only money-minded, that’s all. This is a true blue Singaporean. Money talks every time. I think Jeremy will be an exemplary Singaporean when he grows up. He appreciates the value of money.”

Others were less judgmental, pointing out his tender age. One defended him, “When you're cold, hungry, desperate, afraid ... would you will still be thinking straight?”

But the general view is: “He thinks money can solve everything or it can make people work!”

It flows down from the highest level of leadership, which has long used money as a weapon to fight corruption. Singapore’s Cabinet ministers (and senior civil servants) are among the world’s most highly paid.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew often says that giving high salaries to government ministers and officials is the best way to keep graft at bay.

Even a junior minister in Singapore earns more than $1mil a year, with the Prime Minister and other senior leaders making at least twice the amount. By comparison, the US President earns US$400,000 or about S$700,000.

Several years ago, the son of one of Singapore’s billionaires said in a public speech that “greed is good” because it served as a builder of human enterprise and wealth.

He is evidently not the only businessman to think in this way. A rising number of executives of publicly listed companies do more than just think; they are facing fraud or corruption charges in court.

The money culture is spreading but not every one is against it. In the name of pragmatism and reality, some support the principle that “if you want good service, you pay for it”.

Want Olympic winners? Give a $1mil reward. In some charity bodies, $3 out of every $10 you contribute may end up as commissions to professional collectors.

Thank goodness we have not reached America’s level of money-mindedness – yet! We don’t have to tip our taxi-drivers or anyone just to make a dinner booking, but for how long?

o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com

26 Jun 2005

Utopia or dystopia?

I came across a blog under construction called 'SCITO TE IPSUM' which is Latin and means "Know Yourself." It has links to a few blogs, mine included but I came across some articles by Catherine Lim. One of the articles is printed in full below. Copied and pasted in the likely event that one day it will disappear from SCITO TE IPSUM.

I may not agree with every view expressed, but it's worth a read if you haven't read it before. I am aware that Catherine Lim has managed to have articles published in the Straits Jacket and the article below appears to bite the hand that feeds it, then quickly apply soothing lotion in the next paragraph.

10 May, 2005:
Utopia or dystopia?
by Catherine Lim

A nation of politically naive citizens can threaten Singapore's survival. It is time the Government teaches politics and independent thinking to its people.

THE interested observer of the Singapore political scene cannot but notice the emergence of a new model of People's Action Party governance. After 40 years of PAP rule, through the leadership of two prime ministers and in the first year of the third, the emerging model carries the strong endorsement of the past prime ministers and is shaping into a blueprint for future governance.

It is actually an updated version of the old model, to fit in with the changing climate of the times. Basically, it has kept intact the substance of the old model but dispensed with the style.

It continues to affirm the philosophy of PAP founding father Lee Kuan Yew, which can be distilled into a few hard-headed principles:

- The incorruptibility, dedication and self discipline of the elected leaders;

- The primacy of the economic imperative for a tiny, resource-poor island state in a ruthlessly competitive world;

- The absolute necessity of trust in the government-people relationship.

But it has abandoned the style that Mr Lee had deemed necessary to go with the stern principles - that is, an authoritarian, no-nonsense manner which has little use for sentiment - and actually opted for the exact opposite: an all-out effort to win the people's hearts through a friendly, patient, consultative approach.

The change started with the Goh Chok Tong administration, which declared its goal of creating a kinder, gentler society. But it was left to new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - once perceived by the people to be aloof and arrogant - to reinforce, consolidate and complete the process.

In his constantly proclaimed aim to develop a caring, inclusive society in which no one would be forgotten, PM Lee is easing into an affable, witty and engaging style that has come as a surprise to many Singaporeans. In the short time he has been in office, he has established a pleasing camaraderie with young Singaporeans whom he has singled out for special attention and nurturing.

The new model seeks to achieve a fine balance between the famed, awesome PAP efficiency and a still-developing PAP amiability, between the old habit of top-down decisions and the new practice of seeking and welcoming bottom-up feedback, between hard pragmatism and gentle empathy, between, in short, the constantly competing claims of head and heart.

The recent Casino Debate is a good illustration of this striving for balance. The new Prime Minister took great pains, after making a decision in favour of the tough economic realities of today's world, to reassure critics that he would balance the decision with the necessary measures to check, correct and prevent the social and moral ills they had warned him about.

The handling of the Casino Issue is likely to be the modus operandi for all future major issues: The Government will, in all sincerity and goodwill, invite free and frank views from everyone (but firmly turn down all suggestions of anything as raucous and messy as a referendum or street demonstrations), consider the views carefully, make its own decision, explain it with greatest care and patience, and then make a rallying call for all to close ranks and move on in a display, once more, of national unity.

There are two ways of looking at the new model of governance.

The first, that of the sceptics, says: Nothing has changed. The PAP Government merely goes through the motions of consultation and dialogue. It will never budge from the old tough Lee Kuan Yew stance: Leave us to do our job, and do not make any trouble.

The second, that of the optimists, says: Everything has changed. Never before has a Singapore leader so earnestly articulated the need for a caring, inclusive society and reached out to so many people with such warmth, sincerity and good humour.

The high visibility of the current Government-people amity should not obscure the fact that the new model has a serious omission. It has left out, rather conspicuously, something which one would have thought vital to the proclaimed national goal of inclusiveness, which ensures that that no one, even if he or she is in the minority, is left out.

This missing element in the model is the need for a political opening up, which should lead to a situation where political freedom enables Singaporeans, at last, to enjoy the basic rights taken for granted in other societies in the free world - such as the right of free expression, assembly and demonstration.

The fact that only a minority of Singaporeans - those with a tendency to be more vocal and contrarian - has agitated for these rights, does not detract from their importance in an inclusive model.

More than anything, these Singaporeans want to speak with their own distinctive individual voices, without fear of reprisal. They want to convince the Government that, far from being a disruptive force in society, political freedom will eventually lead to the development of a distinct Singaporean identity and culture.

For at some stage, beyond the unavoidable cacophony and messiness of diverse voices raised in vehement argument and debate, there will emerge a new collective confidence that cannot but revitalise and embolden the other domains of national life, in particular the arts.

The arts often take their cue from their sister domain of political expression. A government crackdown on dissident voices will result, for instance, in self-censorship and a new cautiousness in theatre or drama, whereas government relaxation of political controls will see an enthusiastic exploration of hitherto taboo subjects.

Hence there is a close link between political freedom and the arts, and by extension, between both and culture. Implicit in any discussion of whether there is a Singaporean identity or a Singaporean culture (an angst-filled question in the frequent bouts of collective soul-searching by Singaporeans) there is the understanding, therefore, of this role of political freedom.

Implicit also is the understanding that if Singapore culture is to be distinctive and unique, it must have the freedom to develop spontaneously, in its own time, on its own terms, like the super-organism which anthropologists say every culture really is.

Hence, it is not the ersatz culture copied from the West, nor the rojak culture cobbled from an arbitrary selection of cultural products such as char kway teow, Singlish, the Merlion or the Durian.

Identity, culture, national pride, a sense of national belonging, the meaning of being Singaporean - it would be extremely difficult to define any of these ideals without at some point or other bringing up the part played by political freedom.

In view of the importance of this opening up of society, loosening of present strictures and removal of the infamous out-of-bounds markers, it is surprising that the matter has so little place in the new model of governance.

At no time in the articulation of his goals for achieving the society he desires for Singaporeans, has Prime Minister Lee made any significant mention of a systematic development of this arguably all-important political identity without which there can be no true national identity and no true culture.

The reason for the reluctance may lie in a certain mindset resulting from an adherence to one of the inviolable principles laid down in the Lee Kuan Yew philosophy - namely, an unshakable bond of trust between the Government and the people.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew crushed his critics because he saw all criticism - whether from Singaporeans or foreigners, from individuals or from organisations - as undermining the people's trust in the Government's integrity and hence making it more difficult for the leaders to do their job.

It is a distinctive PAP policy of pre-emption and nipping-in-the-bud that has proved very effective.

It may be said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a legacy of almost pathological dislike of the flamboyant theatrics, histrionics and fraudulence that the Government has come to associate with those critics, especially those in the Opposition, who have dared to challenge it openly.

This stance was maintained through the Goh Chok Tong administration, and is likely to continue in the present administration of PM Lee, since allowing political freedom, especially in the present times when the young have become bolder and more vocal, could open the floodgates of a long, pent-up need and unleash a torrent of criticism that would prove unmanageable.

Between his adherence to traditional PAP practice, and his new avowal to reach out to everyone in society, PM Lee cannot be in too comfortable a position. His response so far has been to play down the issue, tolerate it, or isolate it if possible. At the worst, the Government could simply wait it out, politely listening and explaining, but doing nothing.

The overall result of this response is that while the winds of change are allowed to sweep through the corridors of business, education, the arts, entertainment, etc, they bypass the political domain, which continues to be in the doldrums.

But, ironically, the biggest wind of change, that is, the Prime Minister's whole-hearted effort to touch people by breaking down all barriers of communication, may be the very thing to embolden some rebels to protest against the greatest barrier of all - that of political suppression.

It would appear that having agitated for political change for so long, they are not about to stop now. A new, younger, sophisticated, more exposed electorate that likes to see itself as cosmopolitan, is making clear that this desired change should be much more than the concessions made so far, such as the setting up of the system of Nominated Members of Parliament to allow for more dissenting voices in Parliament.

And of course the change should be much, much more than the patently ineffectual Speakers' Corner, the derisory Bohemians' Corner and the laughable bar-top dancing. After these experiments, it is very unlikely that the Government will in the future offer anything that can be even remotely construed as a token, a sop or a joke.

The issue continues to be the most intractable problem on the political scene, and may be the worse for not having the clear-cut, unambiguous lines it had in the former Lee Kuan Yew regime.

While political dissent then was squashed unceremoniously, the new dispensation, in keeping with its image, has opted for a softer approach. But it is a necessarily ambivalent one which appears to satisfy no one.

The approach boils down to one of three standard responses, depending on which is most appropriate to the occasion:

- There already is freedom, as evident from the presence of a whole range of channels through which people can freely express their views, for instance, the feedback units, the forum pages of major newspapers, the meet-the-people sessions with MPs, etc.

- For a small, vulnerable country like Singapore, the political process must evolve slowly, if it is not to be a disruptive or even catastrophic force, as can be seen in so many countries today; and

- The issue of political freedom is really the concern of the minority only, as the majority are more taken up with bread-and-butter issues such as jobs.

Beyond the official responses, given almost perfunctorily, as if to waste no more time in getting to more important matters, there has been no indication that the Government even regards the call for political freedom as an issue, much less a problem worthy of careful diagnosis, prognosis and cure.

At most, it is regarded as a nuisance, to be tactfully handled but quietly monitored to prevent it from getting out of hand. As long as it remains at the level of mere verbal disgruntlement, the Government seems willing and able to live with it.

But it refuses to go away. With alarming regularity, over many years, it has cropped up at almost every public forum, debate or discussion. And dismayingly, the official response each time is the same.

By now, the form and wording of these Government-people exchanges, especially those between ministers and young people in public chat sessions, are beginning to take on a tedious predictability, as are the polite silences following the official responses (which silences, however, could later turn up on the Internet dressed in colourful and scurrilous verbiage).

Surreal feeling

HENCE, in the purportedly frank, friendly and no-holds barred sessions, the interlocutors seem locked in an uneasy ritual of spoken and unspoken responses, a pattern that will be repeated in similar future sessions, in a numbing cycle.

One gets the surreal feeling that everyone seems trapped in a Samuel Beckett-like circularity that nobody knows how to break out of:

Comment: There's still fear in Singapore society.

Government response: What fear? Singaporeans are freely expressing their views and criticisms, and the Government is not putting them in jail for it.

Unspoken comment: But people are still too frightened to talk about the taboo subjects, defined by the so-called out-of-bounds markers. They fear that the powerful PAP Government will punish them in any number of ways, for instance, sue them, get their employers to demote them, cut their salaries, get the Income Tax people to go after them.

Comment: There's no real opposition in Singapore, and never will be.

Government response: But anybody is free to stand against the Government. If you think you can do a better job than the present Government, by all means form an opposition party and prove it.

Unspoken comment: But the political playing field is not a level one, considering the tendency of the Government to play hardball politics during elections. It will only be a matter of time before the remaining opposition parties are mowed down and rendered extinct by the awesome PAP juggernaut.

Comment: We don't feel a sense of belonging or ownership in Singapore.

Government response: No sense of ownership? But 90 per cent of Singaporeans own their homes.

Unspoken comment: But a sense of belonging and ownership does not come from only material things such as property and bank accounts. We need identity and individuality and space and freedom. But we are fearful that bringing all these issues up will make us appear ungrateful and disloyal Singaporeans.

This situation is certainly not a desirable one, because it is time-wasting, wearying, futile and most of all because it feeds on that most destructive of emotions - fear.

In the absence of any real effort to solve the problem, this fear has become grossly amplified, exaggerated and maliciously distorted in the channels of private, anonymous communication, such as through SMS, the Internet and coffeeshop and canteen chat.

In my own case, after I had displeased the Government through my political commentaries, I heard no end of rumours, some of them truly laughable, about the Government wanting to revoke my citizenship, about Government agents closely following me and bugging my phone, about the secret police bursting in on me in the middle of the night.

So here is the Government-people relationship caught in a situation where communication has taken both overt and covert forms, where what is unsaid can be far more significant than what is said, leading to a complex tangle of ambiguities, incongruities and contradictions.

How can this quandary be resolved? Something is happening in the present that may actually resolve it in favour of the Government. There is an atmosphere of anxiety, not only in Singapore but in the region and the rest of the world, which is the aftermath of a spate of catastrophes never before experienced: Sept 11, terrorist activities, Sars, the Indian Ocean tsunami.

People everywhere are gripped by an urgency simply to stay alive, keep safe, protect their loved ones. On a lesser scale but creating no less urgency, is the threat of the new economic giant China, which could mean the loss of jobs nationwide.

In such a charged atmosphere, the dissident voices of a minority clamouring for more freedom will be seen as an irrelevance, a nuisance, an intolerable distraction from more important concerns. This concentration on basic material needs and disregard of everything else, especially abstract ideological matters, is being seen currently in most societies, especially Asian countries, including China, India and Vietnam. Everybody seems determined to make a living, and a good one at that.

The trend is working to the advantage of the PAP Government. For the potential trouble makers who have been agitating for political change, and getting little support from others, will feel increasingly isolated and soon give up, from sheer fatigue, disillusionment or despair. They will eventually disappear from the political scene.

From the Government's viewpoint, the best thing that can happen will be for these recalcitrants to come to their senses, and rechannel their energies into the more rewarding activity of making money or advancing their careers.

Political societies such as the now defunct RoundTable will fold up and never see the light of day again. It is unlikely that new political clubs will replace them. Two or three general elections from now, the Opposition parties may even cease to exist.

To the criticism that the PAP Government has reverted to the old authoritarianism and aims to be a government in perpetuity, by crushing out all opposition, the response will be a measured and principled one. Its rationale will be something like this: PAP rule, as originally established by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is the best for Singapore, as shown again and again by the people's resounding vote through elections over 40 years. Therefore, as long as the leadership remains incorrupt and competent, it is in Singapore's best interests for it to stay.

But the Government recognises the danger of a complacency that could result from a permanently entrenched PAP leadership. So it will make it its duty to keep monitoring and re-inventing itself to stay ahead of the danger.

Hence, the people can always be assured of a strong, honest, efficient and dependable PAP Government to lead them in a world increasingly fraught with risks.

This is indeed a troubling picture for those who have agitated for change and now have to concede defeat. But there will be no show of triumphalism on the part of the Government. With characteristic grace and goodwill, it will concentrate quietly on perfecting the new model of governance, now happily excised of the last fractious element.

It will concentrate on what it knows everyone is most concerned about today - safety, security, jobs - and go well beyond these to ensure that Singaporeans will continue to advance in their standards of living. It will make sure that all the components in the model are configured optimally to give enduring stability, harmony and prosperity to the society.

In the light of this enlightened pragmatism, all accusations of materialism will sound hollow and appear hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Indeed, the model will be one not only for future governments in Singapore but also for governments in developing societies that have long suffered from riots, ethnic divisions, crime, poverty, official corruption and ineptness.

Singapore regularly receives visits from foreign delegations anxious to find out the secret of its orderliness and prosperity.

It enjoys a high ranking in worldwide surveys on political, economic and social stability, and its recent efficient but graceful, empathetic response to last year's Indian Ocean tsunami crisis, can only enhance its international standing.

Sowing seeds of decay

INTO this rosy picture of a near-utopia, it would be most ungracious, indeed churlish, to inject a sombre note. But the truth is that a model of governance that has no place for political openness carries with it the seeds of its own decline or even demise in the long run.

For it will have bred a politically naive, dependent, manipulable people who have never experienced the normal messy, noisy but healthy processes of political education, challenge and struggle.

These people can be compared to artificially nurtured hothouse plants, unable to survive if thrown among the sturdy plants in the wild. Living in a utopia as long as they are protected, they are plunged into a dystopia when circumstances change and they have to fend for themselves.

A biological analogy may be useful to highlight this danger. The new model of PAP governance, being monolithic and homogeneous because everyone is ultimately made to the PAP image, is not unlike a colony of organisms that, through long inbreeding, exhibits no diversity.

It is a model where differences of creativity, aptitude and attitude are tolerated only if they can be managed under the PAP aegis, like harmless genetic mutations in a system.

But strength and resilience, creativity and inventiveness, as we all know, come not from sameness and agreement, but from engagement with differences, leading to healthy competition and conflict and new improved forms. An undifferentiated colony of organisms becomes that much more vulnerable to destruction and extinction in the event of a sudden environmental change.

Such a fate for Singapore sounds horrendous, even if it is speculative and in the distant future. It would be no bad thing to act now to prevent the horror. And the most effective measure will be political education for Singapore society.

Such a political education is possible, and need take no more than 15, 20 years. It must not of course be provided only in the classrooms, the debating halls of colleges and universities, the forums in newspapers and on television.

Instead, it must be based chiefly on observation of and participation in the real world outside - the world of brute survival where the law of the jungle still prevails, where brilliant ideology, excellent academic credentials and even unimpeachable moral integrity are no guarantees of success, where ultimately experience, especially of the bruising kind, is the best teacher.

Still using analogies from biology: Singaporeans, like people everywhere else in the free world, should be seen as organisms, not products, and should be allowed to develop, not artificially in a controlled setting, but spontaneously in a natural environment.

Only then can a society truly come into its own. Between the present tentative, half measures of the political opening up, and this desired state still far off in the future, there is obviously a very long way to go. But if the Government decides to build this goal into its model of governance and is prepared to take the risk of a major experiment of nationwide political education to attain it, it will have taken a bold and brave step indeed.

And it will find that the risk is not so great after all. For at this stage of its rule, the PAP Government has all the necessary experience, skills and expertise, all the necessary structures and mechanisms to deal effectively with any risk, and avert any catastrophe.

If it brings to the experiment the same care, astuteness, foresight, boldness and above all open-mindedness that it had in the past brought to seemingly intractable problems in the economic sphere, the political experiment, even if it takes a long time and involves major adjustments, is likely to be a success.

The heady prospect of such a situation created by the PAP leadership after 40 years of resistance to it almost invites a paean: Let a hundred dissident voices bloom. Let each have its say and sharpen itself against the others. For then there will be a rich marketplace of learning experiences, the coming of age, at last, of the people.

When that happens, the new model of governance will have become a truly inclusive one, providing for the needs not only of the abiding majority but of the rebellious minority, taking care not only of the present population but also of generations in the distant future, who will come long after those of us who worry for them, have left the scene.

The writer is known for having penned the commentary, The Great Affective Divide, in 1994.

Two scenarios too awful to contemplate

TWO possible scenarios could, in the long run, result from an overdependence on a super government. First, no government, no matter how enlightened in its principles and effective in its actions, can expect to remain so beyond a certain period of time. In the normal course of all things human, even Mr Lee Kuan Yew must make an exit, and there will come, in a matter of years, a post-Lee Kuan Yew era.

As younger ministers with different experiences and increased global exposure appear on the scene, the model will increasingly lose its original character and strength. There is a greater likelihood of an attenuation rather than an augmentation of the Lee Kuan Yew principles.

What is more, an actual reversal of the principles could come about. The Minister Mentor himself, at a recent conference in Malaysia, spoke about the probable intrusion of corruption into Singapore politics in the absence of the stern PAP philosophy that he has held dear for so long.

Twenty, 30 years down the road, long after MM Lee and other PAP stalwarts have left the scene, there may appear a government that will wear the PAP mantle but have none of its principles. The tragedy for Singapore then will be a leader or leaders inheriting all the structures of power and using them for their own self aggrandisement. And they will get away with it, because the electorate, through long habit, will have become incapable of protest and will continue to look up to any PAP government for guidance.

The second direful scenario resulting from this overdependence of the people concerns an external danger. While Singapore now enjoys good relations with its neighbours, the situation could change. The island-state, once described by a political scientist as a small Chinese fish in a large Muslim sea, could find itself squeezed between larger, more powerful neighbours not quite enamoured of it.

In the event of an invasion, even the strongest government needs a politically robust, alert and savvy society to fight the enemy, especially in a long drawn-out war of resistance. Singaporeans, not trained in the rough and tumble of the political process, lacking the brute instincts of the political animal, unwilling to take on the grit, grime and gore of a fight, may be unable to rise to the challenge.

The worst possible scenario is their fleeing, at the first sign of trouble, to countries such as Australia and Canada where, ironically, the material prosperity made possible by the PAP Government has enabled them to buy second homes.

These two scenarios may appear overly pessimistic, even ludicrous, in the context of the present situation, with its bright prospects of an ever prospering Singapore in an ever peaceful relationship with its neighbours and the rest of the world.

In the short-term view, Singapore is well on the road to becoming one of the world's greatest success stories. But among concerned Singaporeans taking a long-term view, there must be anxieties that a clear, tight, streamlined model of governance that ignores the need for the nurturing of political awareness among the young, could spell danger.

25 Jun 2005

Malaysian Film Fest to Show Singapore Rebel

Anyone like to see the documentary 'Singapore Rebel' simply pop over to Malaysia. The director Martyn See has had a little chat with the police in Singapore and could be facing 2 years in jail and a very large fine.

Seems that Malaysia is a more open society than Singapore. Imagine a film festival unhindered by regulations and laws that undermine freedom of expression. Imagine Singapore showing not just international films related to freedom but 'local' films.

Freedom Film Festival
Culminating to the awards night are film screenings of local and international films from July 6 onwards. Don’t miss out on awe inspiring films like ‘Life On The Tracks’ from the Philippines and ‘Garuda Deadly Upgrade’ from Indonesia; also included are local delights such as Osman Ali’s ‘Malaikat di Jendela’.

Young aspiring filmmakers also should take this opportunity to meet internationally renown filmmakers like Lexy Rambadeta (Indonesia), Nana Buxani (Phillipines), Martyn See (Singapore) and many more.

8.00 - 10.00pm | Theme: Freedom of expression.

Singapore Rebel by Martyn See (30 mins)
Singapore Rebel chronicles the tribulations of opposition activist Dr. Chee Soon Juan from his initial fear to acts of civil disobedience .

Related Links:
Film-maker now under police probe
Films Act Related Email
Singapore Rebel blog
Freedom Film Festival
Singapore Rebel Bittorrent
From the Guardian Newspaper
New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival
Amnesty International Film Festival

24 Jun 2005

Political opposition subject to harassment and law suites

We circulate [Sg Review] below Press Statement from Mr JB Jeyaretnam. Political opposition parties are routinely subject to harassment and law suites in Singapore's police state.




In my previous application for discharge from bankruptcy,I had offered up to thirty three end one-third percent (33 1/3 %)of the debt due to the creditor. My application was refused by the courts.

This morning I made another application to the court offering $258,683-82 representing forty (40)percent of the debts.

Messr Goh Chok Tong and Jayakumar, two of the creditor, have refused to accept the offer. Their lawyer did not say why.

As previously stated,Jayakumar has already been paid $166,666-66 from the $200,000.00 Judgment he obtained.He will get a further $20,000-00 under my offer making in all $186,673-98 which will mean he would have recovered over 93.33 %. Apparently that is not enough for Jayakumar. I have to remain a bankrupt until he gets the full amount.

Similarly, Goh Chok Tong bas been paid $69,000-00 of his $100,000-00 judgment and I am now offering him 40% of the balance which i $14,485-60 making a total of $83,485-60 which will mean he would hate recovered 83.5 %. Apparently that is not enough for Goh Chok Tong and he wants to keep me bankrupt until he gets his full $100,000-00. And these are ministers of the government, who claim a million dollars a year, are determined to keep me a bankrupt.

The other creditor has also not accepted my offer without explaining why it was not acceptable. Under my offer they will be getting $252,100-00 which is 45.65% of the amount due to them.

All creditors have not sought to pursue the other defendants, who were sued along with me, but have made me a bankrupt.

CAO,a foreign company,was let off upon offering 54% to their creditors. I, a Singapore citizen, cannot be let off presumably until I offer 100%.
JB Jeyaretnam
23 June 2005

Maid to sweat in Singapore

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SINGAPORE - A rare, passionate public debate on a social issue is raging here on how this tiny, affluent Southeast Asian nation treats the thousands of maids or foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in the city-state.

While some focus on whether these women should get a mandatory day off each week, others argue it is more important to clean up the maid agency industry, which appears to be exploiting poor women from neighboring countries by charging them exorbitant fees to work here.

The debate started more than two months ago when local newspaper Today began publishing letters from FDWs complaining about ill treatment and a lack of days off.

It gathered steam three weeks ago when Association of Employment Agencies (AEAS) president Angland Seah said in an interview with the paper that his organization would like to see a provision for four off days a month incorporated into all new FDWs' job contracts.

Since that call was made, Today claims that employment agencies have been deluged with calls from maids who want the weekly off day incorporated into their contracts immediately, while many employers have threatened to take their business to agencies that are not AEAS members. Letters to newspapers responding to the issue have been mixed.

"For goodness sake, these people are maids," wrote letter writer Edwin Wong. "They are from other countries and have willingly accepted our terms and conditions to be a FDW. We didn't force them."

Writer Stephanie Thio observed, "For a civilized country, Singapore seems to have a disproportionately large number of maid-abuse cases. I think this is because Singaporeans have allowed themselves to accept the idea that foreign domestic helpers are a slightly lesser breed. So we don't accord them the same standard of humanity that we do to others in our lives. This mindset needs to be changed."

Recently, courts have started jailing maid abusers (all women), including a teacher who was sentenced to six weeks behind bars. Previously, those found guilty only received fines.

Police say the number of reported abuse cases has dropped from 157 in 1997 to 59 last year because of the court cases. But activists argue those numbers are only the tip of the iceberg because many FDWs are afraid to report abuse to the police.

Indonesian maid Alfath Ruminanar, 26, was one who did go to the police. She told Inter Press Service that when she complained to her employment agency about abuse people there asked her to pay S$2,000 (US$1,185) to finance her way home.

Ruminanar injured her hand at work but both her employer and the agency wanted her to keep on working. When she wanted to take sick leave, they kept her salary to pay the government levy, which the employer is supposed to pay each month for having a FDW.

Now with the help of the voluntary agency Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), Ruminanar is suing the employment agency for compensation. "After working for nine months here I have earned only S$700," she said. "The agency took seven months of my pay [as commission]."
After having been abused for many months by her employer, Filipino maid Judilyn also complained to the police. "Madam always beat me, shouted in Chinese, and finally burned my leg. That is when I went to the police," she told IPS.

"I have worked for seven months here, and got only one month's pay to take back home. I borrowed P9,500 [US$171] in the Philippines to come here; the agency kept six months pay because they said I signed with them [to give that commission]."

Wages for FDWs are dictated by supply and demand. Filipino maids, who often speak some English, usually receive around S$351 a month. Sri Lankans, most with some education and English ability, get S$247, and the villagers who comprise the bulk of Indonesian FDWs are paid S$197. In addition, the employer pays the S$195 monthly levy to the government.

While the Employment Agencies Act of 2000 stipulates that agencies can only take 10% of a FDW's first month's salary, and another S$5 as a commission, social worker Jolovan Wham of HOME said in an interview it is the norm for agencies to take between three and six months of a FDW's salary as commission.

He also pointed out that in the Philippines, under the Overseas Employment Administration Act, agents are only allowed to take one month's salary, plus administration costs, for placing FDWs.

In February, HOME set up Singapore's first non-profit maid's agency - Star Home Personnel - which charges only one month's salary as commission.

"We are trying to keep costs as low as possible, so that we don't exploit and profit from [FDWs] poverty," said Wham. But, he added, when the new body tried to find an agent in Indonesia to provide them with maids the person wanted at least S$1,400 dollars as commission. "When we asked why, they said that they have to bribe officials to get the necessary papers for a maid to come here," he explained.

Thus, it seems there are problems at the other end, in Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. However, Wham argued that most maid agencies in Singapore have a culture of treating FDWs as subservient, and train them to "say 'yes' to ma'am" all the time. "They are interested in the employer's business not the maid's welfare," he said.

In this cut-throat industry, agencies advertise "no fee" placements, when legislation requires that the employer pay for the FDW's return airfare at the end of the two-year contract, for medical insurance and for six monthly tests, including a test for AIDS.

"How did it become the norm that maids must work for months on end without sniffing a cent of their salary?" asked Alan John, writing in the Straits Times newspaper. "And, all the time, these women are expected to set homesickness aside, wear a happy face, stay motivated, learn to fit in with a new family in a new country, and prove they are worth keeping."

Rather than debating about whether a maid should get a day off per week, what needs to be done is to eradicate the "cruel desire to extract the maximum to make their maid worth her salary and levy", argued John.

Not all maids are badly treated. Many local employers not only give them every Sunday off, but occasionally allow the women to go out on Saturday nights.

Filipino maid Rhia is one of these lucky ones. She told IPS that every alternate Saturday night she is allowed to go out with her local boyfriend, in addition to spending every Sunday with him. Her employer also treats her as part of the family - she sits down to meals with their extended family, and the children call her "aunty".

Sri Lankan expatriate Surani said she has never used an agency to find her Sri Lankan maids. She recruits them through her family connections in Colombo, pays their airfare and all fees for processing papers here. "The maid receives her full salary from the very first day she starts work here," Surani told IPS. "Many Sri Lankan expats I know do the same."

23 Jun 2005

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

Spotted at the Optical and then Amnesty International Singapore

On June 19th 2005, Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will be 60 years old. On that day she will have spent a total of 9 years and 238 days in detention.

Armed soldiers behind a barricade of barbed wire turn away any visitors. The regime has also cut her phone line, so no-one can call to wish her happy birthday.

The brutal generals who rule Burma have already made one attempt on her life, attacking a convoy she was travelling in on May 30th 2003. Up to 100 of her supporters were beaten to death in the attack. Aung San Suu Kyi's car managed to speed away, but she was later arrested.

Take action now to help free Aung San Suu Kyi - send an email to Burma's dictator.

Related Links:
Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma Campaign UK
Burma's PR Consultant
Constructive Engagement

London businesses set to send delegation to Singapore

A group of business people from London, intend to travel to Singapore in order to protest outside Raffles Hotel when the IOC delegates meet to decide which city will get to host the 2012 Olympics. They have certain economic concerns they would like to be addressed.

Maybe someone should inform them that you can't just walk into Singapore and start a protest. There are formalities to be attended to and permission to be achieved before any gathering in Singapore of more than X people can take place.

They are foreigners not Singaporean. I would imagine that permission will be granted so long as everyone in the group can prove that they are not Singaporean and have zero connections, either property or financial investments in Singapore. They must provide evidence that they have no interest, emotional, political or economic in Singapore's future before permission to protest against the IOC meeting, in Singapore, can be granted. Then you can protest.

Bid faces Londoners' protest in Singapore

Paul Kelso
Thursday June 23, 2005

London 2012's final push to win the International Olympic Committee vote in Singapore next month may be embarrassingly overshadowed by protests from local businesses opposed to the games being staged in the capital.
The companies, based on the site of the proposed London Olympic stadium, are considering sending a delegation to Singapore to lobby the IOC membership as they gather for the crucial vote on the venue for the games.

Such a move would cause great discomfort to the 100-strong London delegation travelling to Singapore. Security arrangements at Raffles Hotel, the venue for the vote, mean the protest delegation would be unlikely to get access to IOC members without an appointment, but protestors at the gates might harm London's chances of overhauling the favourites Paris when the vote takes place on July 6.

The businesses, based on Marshgate Lane, are in dispute with London 2012 and the London Development Agency (LDA) over compensation for moving away from their current premises. Negotiations between the two sides have been increasingly bad tempered, with some of the the businesses claiming they are being offered compensation below market rates or inappropriate land swaps.
The IOC evaluation commission mentioned the dispute in its report on London, concluding that the issue would be settled and did not pose a threat to London's ability to stage the games.

Mark Stephens, the lawyer representing some of the businesses, said a final decision on whether to travel to Singapore would be made in the next week. "The businesses will travel if they believe that it will be an effective way of lobbying the IOC... All we are asking for is that the businesses receive economically neutral offers - that is a guarantee that they will not lose money - or appropriate alternative land within the area.

"If Seb Coe, Tessa Jowell or Tony Winterbottom [head of the LDA] could guarantee that today then every one of my clients and the 308 businesses in the area would settle."

21 Jun 2005

The ISD?

After someone read the article Spookythey decided to forward the following to me via email. I have no idea if my wild goose chase to London had anything to do with the ISD in Singapore. My house upon return from London appeared undisturbed, but then again I recently moved house. Surely they have bigger fish to catch? Got me looking over my shoulder though.

The FBI is investigating complaints by US citizens of harassment by Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD). One California academic, a widely respected specialist on Southeast Asian affairs who asked not to be identified, said ISD agents broke into his home because he was working to bring leading Singaporean opposition figure Tang Liang Hong to an American university. The operatives tore out his door handle to get in, then searched his computer and desk. A week later, an Asian man, waiting in a tree, photographed and videotaped the academic while he walked in the park. After temporarily blinding the academic with his bright flash, the man jumped from the tree and made a getaway in his car. Tang -who is facing a $4.5 million defamation lawsuit by Singaporean senior ministers-was not surprised by the burglary. "I've been followed everywhere, whether I was in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia or in London," he said in a phone interview from Australia.

Related Article:
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

International appeal for release of Ching Cheong

We, journalists and press freedom activists, call for the immediate release of our colleague Ching Cheong, unfairly detained in China since 22 April 2005. Our colleague, correspondent for the Singapore daily Straits Times, is an experienced and honest reporter who respects journalistic ethics.

We reject the accusations of spying brought against him by the Chinese government, which are liable to create confusion and cast suspicion on the entire profession.

Ching Cheong was in China to carry out his work as a journalist and for that reason alone.

To sign the petition click here.


I received a request to get the word out that China appears to have restored the blocking of access to TypePad hosted blogs.

It seems AsiaPundit, Glutter, BillsDue and a number of other sites are presently not directly accessible from Shanghai or Chengdu. I'm not sure if this is temporary or not, although my initial impression is that the ban on TypePad-hosted sites may have been restored.

Simon World can still be read from Shanghai, although not in Chengdu.

I'd appreciate it if China-based visitors who can access would comment on whether this site is blocked in your region.

(UPDATE 20:30) Verified through a tech-savvy friend on the Shanghai webloggers list, TypePad is down in Shanghai.

Local film makers go "GaGa" in battle to present alternative Singapore

First spotted at Singapore Rebel.

Agence France Presse
June 20, 2005

IN the official version of Singapore presented by the nation's political leaders and tourism authorities, there are no women in wheelchairs who beg at train stations by singing haunting, hypnotic tunes.

The Southeast Asian city-state, famous for the "economic miracle" that transformed it from third-world status to first in a generation, is sold to the world as a shoppers' paradise, a high-tech hub and a land of no civil dissent.

The nation's mainstream media, under strict instructions from the People's Action Party that has ruled since independence 40 years ago, rarely deviate from the relentlessly upbeat theme, and life, it seems, is a dream.

A new film, however, offers an alternative, melancholic image of Singapore that documents the lives of a diverse group of proud citizens who share a common burden of having become lost and neglected amid the nation's material progress.

In Singapore GaGa, a woman missing most of her teeth sits in a wheelchair and sings in a beautiful voice a plea to the commuters walking past: "Uncle, Aunty, one dollar, one dollar, buy my tissues ... one dollar, one dollar".

In another scene, an elderly man who is a minor celebrity for his busking at subway stations recalls the time police forced him to the ground and moved to handcuff him for performing without a license. "I am a national treasure," he says repeatedly.

Other people featured include an exquisitely talented harmonica player who has been long-resigned to the government's insistence to teach the banal recorder in schools, and a group of community news readers who lament the fading use of Chinese dialects in favour of the official English and Mandarin.

"The primary theme is a sense of yearning to belong ... to be acknowledged," the film's director and producer, Tan Pin Pin, tells AFP in an interview after a screening for the local and foreign press last week.

The other theme, Tan says, is a "sense of being neglected, abandoned".

"In the process of putting this together, this theme emerged ... these people are coping with being neglected in different ways."

Tan, a 36-year-old honours graduate from Britain's prestigious Oxford University, is part of a small band of independent film makers in Singapore who continually struggle against the government's efforts to stop controversial issues from being aired in public.

Amendments to the Film Act in 1998 mean people who make "political" films can be jailed for two years, while strict censorship laws have for decades filtered out other so-called controversial issues such as sex, race, religion and national security.

One of Tan's early films, a three-minute effort from 1998 called Lurve Me Now that explored the fantasies of Barbie dolls, remains banned apparently because of its sexual references.

But, with Singapore GaGa, Tan has cleverly explored issues the government does not necessarily want aired by using subtlety, humour and pathos. Tan even earned a "PG" -- or parental guidance -- endorsement for the film from the government's censors.

"It's very hard to make anything critical in Singapore. You have to say something without actually saying it. So it's a sort of shadow dance that I sometimes find myself playing," she says.

"I find that making documentaries in this way, where there are many levels, is a way of being able to continue to make films in Singapore. Because doing anything more explicit may invite more questions."

And while the mainstream press such as the Straits Times newspaper have given her film rave reviews for being "quirky" and "striking a chord with every strata of society", others have appreciated the film for deeper political angles.

"GaGa is subversive in a warped patriotic gentle loving way, or rather, it's patriotic in a gently subversive way, i don't know, just don't let THEM know," writes one Singaporean in an entry posted on the film's official website.

Tan emphasises that there is no "enemy" she is trying to challenge. "It's not us against them," Tan says in reference to the government, adding that she has turned the restrictions into a positive.

"It actually makes my films better. You are constantly trying to add subtext to a film. The process of adding subtext or layers makes it a much richer work," she says.

But Tan admits that at times she is overwhelmed by not being able to fully express herself.

"What's most difficult for me is dealing with how not to censor myself when it has become such an automatic reaction. I have to sit down and tell myself: 'don't do that, don't do that (self-censor)'," she tells reporters after the press screening.

Other high-profile Singaporean filmmakers who have adopted more confrontational approaches have suffered accordingly.

Video editor Martyn See is under police investigation for making an unapproved "political" short film, Singapore Rebel about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

The film portrays Chee, a marginalised figure in Singapore politics who rarely receives positive coverage in the traditional press and has never been voted into parliament, as a loving family man who is eloquent, well-educated and courageous.

If convicted of violating the Films Act, See could be fined up to S$100,000 (US$61,000) as well as jailed for two years.

Another film maker to have run afoul of the law is Royston Tan, a 20-something director who has won more than 35 international and local awards and was last year named by Time magazine as an Asian "Hero" for his work.

Royston Tan's 2003 feature film about Singapore's gangland culture, 15, suffered 27 cuts at the hands of the censors over concerns of it being a national security threat.

In response, Royston Tan made a 13-minute film last year that became a cult hit called Cut, which lampooned the government's censorship policies and the head of the censorship board -- but managed to avoid being cut itself.

In 2001, a 15-minute film about long-time opposition politician J.B Jeyaretnam, Vision of Persistence, by three lecturers at the local Ngee Ann Polytechnic was also banned because of its political content.

Meanwhile, Tan Pin Pin is continuing to win wide acclaim for Singapore GaGa.

The film, which played to a standing-room only audience at the Singapore International Film Festival in April, will be screened at a local arthouse in July and the Rotterdam International Film Festival in Jaunuary next year.

Recommendations to Ensure Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Reporters Without Borders and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) make six recommendations to ensure freedom of expression on the Internet.

This declaration by Reporters Without Borders and the representative of the OSCE on Freedom of the Media aims to deal with the main issues facing countries seeking to regulate online activity. Should the Web be filtered? Can online publications be forced to register with the authorities? What should the responsibility of service providers (ISPs) be? How far does a national jurisdiction extend?

Reporters Without Borders thinks the six recommendations go beyond Europe and concern every country. It hopes they will provoke discussion in the run-up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Full text of the Declaration :

1. Any law about the flow of information online must be anchored in the right to freedom of expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. In a democratic and open society it is up to the citizens to decide what they wish to access and view on the Internet. Filtering or rating of online content by governments is unacceptable. Filters should only be installed by Internet users themselves. Any policy of filtering, be it at a national or local level, conflicts with the principle of free flow of information.

3. Any requirement to register websites with governmental authorities is not acceptable. Unlike licensing scarce resources such as broadcasting frequencies, an abundant infrastructure like the Internet does not justify official assignment of licenses. On the contrary, mandatory registration of online publications might stifle the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and information on the Internet.

4. A technical service provider must not be held responsible for the mere conduit or hosting of content unless the hosting provider refuses to obey a court ruling. A decision on whether a website is legal or illegal can only be taken by a judge, not by a service provider. Such proceedings should guarantee transparency, accountability and the right to appeal.

5. All Internet content should be subject to the legislation of the country of its origin ("upload rule") and not to the legislation of the country where it is downloaded.

6. The Internet combines various types of media, and new publishing tools such as blogging are developing. Internet writers and online journalists should be legally protected under the basic principle of the right to freedom of expression and the complementary rights of privacy and protection of sources.

20 Jun 2005


Phishing is something I have never experienced before. The website, singabloodypore does tend to draw some unwarranted attention, a few 'you will die' messages and has been hacked, according to my limited knowledge, on at least one occasion. So read the emails below that I received from a ‘Mr Ian Mc Kenzie’. I actually went to London over the weekend and when I presented myself to the reception in the hotel, there actually was an Ian McKenzie registered there. I never met him but after waiting one hour, in the bar of course, I left my phone number. Later the same evening I received a call from a real ‘Ian McKenzie’ stating quite clearly that no such arrangement had been made. So it was a practical joke, a hoax, a joke at my expense. All rather spooky, so I quickly got on the next train back to Edinburgh. Well actually I made the most of my three days in London. So it wasn’t a completely wasted journey.

I am also reporting this incident to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@ftc.gov. As “Ian” claimed to be working for www.italica.rai.it, an Italian television company.

In one way it is nice to know that I may have offended someone so much that they will go to such lengths to send me on a wild goose chase. Unable to undermine claims made in this blog, unwilling to engage in debate, someone had to resort to wasting my time. What they hoped to achieve is unknown, but the blog will continue and I will be more skeptical.

I have removed the majority of my responses to the emails, but you will get a good picture of the discussion that took place. I have left the poor spelling in place. I also tried contacting the Italian televsion company but received no reply.

Hello Steven,
I read your blog site with interest. I'm the managing editor with an Italian television company. Would you be interested in doing some free-lance work with us? If so, perhaps you could tell me something about your background, what you are doing now, why you left Singapore etc.

Hi Ian

I would be more than happy to do some freelance work..

And would be more than happy to provide you with my background information and what I am currently involved in, if you could alleviate some of my reservations regarding making contacts on line.

Could you tell me the name of the Italian television company you work for and if possible a website address.

My apologises for the caution.

Ian McKenzie May 28
It's www.italica.rai.it

Hello Steven,
That's all fairly comprehensive. You seem to have a extremely varied and interesting backgound. We are putting together a series about expats (not necessarily Italians) who have made the decision to move overseas. What we what to avoid is the really bland kind of material that you tend to get in travel prpgrammes etc. We need something that probes beneath the surface and provides an insight into what Singapore is really like. Where are you based now? I'll be coming to London, probably within the next four weeks. Would you be happy to meet? We can pay your travel costs etc.

That's great. I'm travelling to Paris at the end of the week. I will be taking the Eurostar to London after that. Will ask my secretary to make the necessary arrangements. Thinking back, you say that you lived in Dublin. Would you also be able to offer an insight into living in the Irish Republic? Alots of expats are setttling there apparently. Also, in the light of what you have said on your blog site, would you be permitted to reside or even enter Singapore again? Incidentally I studied at the University of Warwick back in the early 70s. I read English and Classical Civilization .

Hello Steven,
Would you be able to prepare something on the Dublin lifestyle targeted at someone who might be thinking of relocating there. Just, say 500 words, in preparation for our meeting. Lots of 'bite sized' bits of info that would appeal to a typical televsion audience.Ian

Hi Steven,
Sorry I haven't been in touch. How are you fixed for the week after next? Also would you be possible for you to give a Powerpoint presentation on Dublin as an expat destination? My vice president has specifically requested this. Sorry! Ian

Hello Steven,
Yes, I should have explained. Initially we were contemplating employing you as a free-lance writer/researcher. Last week my VP saw your profile and suggested that we might also engage you as a presenter. You have a teaching background, so I assume that you have reasonably good presentation skills. Likewise it's a good way of localizing the content. This is why he want you to do a presentation. Obviously we can't make a firm job offer at this stage but I think that it's safe to say that we will be using your services in some capacity. This is as much as I can say at this stage. I'm in Amsterdam at present and leaving for Milan tomorrow and a bit rushed off my feet...... Give me a few more days and I can firm up on the date.
Regards, Ian.

Hello Ian,[now talking to himself]
How are fixed for the 16th/17th June? We will be staying at the Holiday Inn, Coram street, Bloomsbury, London. WC1N. It's about ten minutes from both Kings Cross and Euston Stations. Ian

Yes, everything is prepared. Is Friday alright, say 4 pm? If you could ask for me at reception. Also please remember to keep all tickets/receipts etc. Ian


Amnesty International Singapore

This blog is not officially endorsed by and/or accredited by AI. AI S'pore does not exist in the physical world. This blog is intended to give it a virtual presence. The laws created and the total control of power exerted by the ruling Peoples' Action Party have thus far made it near impossible to have a physical presence but I am confident things will change in the near future. But, as a people, we have to start somewhere and not wait around for it to happen.

Singapore Unreasonably Bars a Taiwan Falun Gong Practitioner

By Dai Huiyu
The Epoch Times
Jun 17, 2005


TAIPEI - On June 10, 7:40 a.m., Nie Shuwen from Taiwan boarded an airplane bound for Singapore. Upon arrival, Nie was denied entry and forced to deport. At the same time, a box of books titled “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party” that was being carried by her traveling companion got confiscated. On that same day, Nie boarded an Eva Airlines Flight BR226 back to Taiwan. Upon arrival at Jiang Kai Shek International Airport in Taiwan at 5:30 p.m., a press conference was immediately held. Nie said it was unacceptable for Singapore to violate human rights and called upon the Singapore government not to concede to pressure exerted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Nie stated that the reason for her trip to Singapore was to participate in an experience sharing conference for Falun Gong practitioners. Just as she was about to go through customs, an officer checked her passport and said, “We’ve already been notified by Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA). You do not meet the regulations so are not allowed entry.” The officer could not give a precise explanation as to which regulations were not met. Nie said that after continuous questioning, the officer then stated, “I’m not allowed to tell you the reason. I’m just following orders sent by the ICA.”

When Nie’s traveling companion questioned the officer if it was because of her practicing Falun Gong that the Singapore government would not grant her entry, this officer did not deny it at the time.

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