30 Dec 2005

Censorship: What is Freenet?

"I worry about my child and the Internet all the time, even though she's too young to have logged on yet. Here's what I worry about. I worry that 10 or 15 years from now, she will come to me and say 'Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press away from the Internet?'"
--Mike Godwin, Electronic Frontier Foundation

What is Freenet?

Freenet is free software which lets you publish and obtain information on the Internet without fear of censorship. To achieve this freedom, the network is entirely decentralized and publishers and consumers of information are anonymous. Without anonymity there can never be true freedom of speech, and without decentralization the network will be vulnerable to attack.

Communications by Freenet nodes are encrypted and are "routed-through" other nodes to make it extremely difficult to determine who is requesting the information and what its content is.

Users contribute to the network by giving bandwidth and a portion of their hard drive (called the "data store") for storing files. Unlike other peer-to-peer file sharing networks, Freenet does not let the user control what is stored in the data store. Instead, files are kept or deleted depending on how popular they are, with the least popular being discarded to make way for newer or more popular content. Files in the data store are encrypted to reduce the likelihood of prosecution by persons wishing to censor Freenet content.

The network can be used in a number of different ways and isn't restricted to just sharing files like other peer-to-peer networks. It acts more like an Internet within an Internet. For example Freenet can be used for:

Publishing websites or 'freesites'
Communicating via message boards
Content distribution

Unlike many cutting edge projects, Freenet long ago escaped the science lab, it has been downloaded by over 2 million users since the project started, and it is used for the distribution of censored information all over the world including countries such as China and the Middle East. Ideas and concepts pioneered in Freenet have had a significant impact in the academic world. Our 2000 paper "Freenet: A Distributed Anonymous Information Storage and Retrieval System" was the most cited computer science paper of 2000 according to Citeseer, and Freenet has also inspired papers in the worlds of law and philosophy. Ian Clarke, Freenet's creator and project coordinator, was selected as one of the top 100 innovators of 2003 by MIT's Technology Review magazine.

To Download Freenet...

NKF clarifies the money trail

he National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is now putting 38 cents out of every dollar donated into patients' needs.

This comes after a KPMG report last week that said that the old NKF had merely spent 10 cents of this donation dollar on patient subsidies.

Still the new NKF management has clarified that the remaining 90 cents had not gone to waste.

News that the old NKF had spent only 10 cents out of every donation dollar to help kidney patients with dialysis costs had left over 1,900 donors so upset that they had stopped their monthly LifeDrops donations within the first week since the KPMG audit report was released.

And each day, some 20 donors called NKF asking for refunds of donations they made from years ago.

NKF chairman, Gerard Ee, said: "The 90 cents did not disappear. If you look at the figures, out of every $1, 10 cents went directly to dialysis treatment, 41 cents went to reserves. The bulk of the reserves we have, will directly go towards patient care.

"And there were other expenditure such as 25 cents went to fundraising in 2003, some of the money went to health screening...90 cents....they did not disappear, they just went to other applications."

In the last 5 months since the new NKF Board and Management were roped in, the charity has reduced its overhead costs by $2.4 million.

And patients now get more subsidies out of each donated dollar - 38% instead of the 10% in 2003.

Also, the NKF plans to put less of the donated dollar into building up its reserves - 13% instead of the 41% in 2003.

So far the NKF has built up a healthy reserve of $256m, which gave it an investment income of $8m last year.

Going forward, the new NKF management says it's working on a prudent budget.

It will stretch every dollar it gets from donations and investment income and then channel it back to benefit patients directly.

The new management's efforts to return NKF to its original mission of helping kidney patients have not gone unnoticed.

The Pei Hwa Foundation has pledged $1.25 million to build a new dialysis centre in Ang Mo Kio.

Former big donor New Creation Church, which gave $2.6m to help build a dialysis centre in 2001, also made another $7,000 donation to NKF.

And the Singapore Food Industries (SFI) got over 120 of its staff to pledge monthly support to the new NKF.

Mr Liu Shih Shin, SFI's director of corporate affairs, said: "By supporting, helping NKF, we're really helping the kidney patients. Don't penalise them for mistakes of the past by the management."

NKF says it hopes to win back the 50,000 regular donors it lost when the NKF saga broke out in July. - CNA/ir


Hooray! The Donors are saved! really. If I were a kidney patient, I'd still have to fork out majority of the expenditure from my own pocket. It makes a mockery of the word "charity" at this point.

To me, the core of the problem lies not with Durai, though everyone is so concerned with making him the scapegoat [so that NKF can escape the tar brush]. I disliked NKF's aggressive fund-raising techniques from the beginning, while more needy charities were struggling. I still feel that kidney patients do not need so much money - not as much as cancer and AIDS patients. NKF does not even serve that many patients to justify hogging the donor pool.

The NKF needs to review itself from the bottom. They can stop sending those nicely adorned letters asking for more donations. They can stop spending millions on fund-raising shows. And of course, not to mention, gold taps.

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28 Dec 2005

CPIB to conduct survey on public perception of corruption in Singapore

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) is conducting a survey on Singaporeans' perception of corruption here.

It is the second such survey since 2002.

The survey will take place from 20 December to 27 January.

Letters have been sent out to some 1,000 Singaporeans informing them that the CPIB has commissioned a company to conduct house-to-house interviews.

The interviewees would be asked, amongst other questions, what they perceive is the level of corruption in Singapore.

In the 2002 survey, 60 per cent of Singaporeans said they were not willing to report graft.

But in light of the recent corporate scandals, how can Singaporeans be encouraged to come forward?

Dr Habibul Khondker, Associate Professor at National University of Singapore's Sociology Department, said: "I think media can play a bigger role in arousing public interest, in arousing those civic responsibilities in the population, that you have a responsibility that you should not accept things that are not proper. If you see anything improper, you have every right to speak up as these events can be prevented from recurring."

Dr Khondker said that with Singapore being consistently ranked by the transparency index as one of the least corrupt countries, this perception is not likely to change.

He added surveys like the one CPIB has commissioned are what the Berlin-based corruption watchdog relies on for its research.

Thirty questions will be asked in the CPIB survey.

Though the CPIB would not reveal what these questions are, the previous survey had included questions on what Singaporeans thought of the effectiveness of the corruption bureau itself.

Interviewees were also asked to suggest ways to fight corruption. - CNA/ir


The one thing I like about this country: it is absolutely serious about corruption.

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27 Dec 2005

IFEX issues worldwide alert on Judge Rajah's comments

High court judge dismisses lawsuit charging government with suppressing free speech

Country/Topic: Singapore
Date: 23 December 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Type(s) of violation(s): legal action
Urgency: Threat

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) has expressed alarm over the recent ruling by a Singaporean High Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit which charged the country's public institutions with trampling the rights of their citizens to free assembly and free speech.

SEAPA is concerned that "this ruling will have implications for the rights of Singaporean citizens to free assembly and free speech, as the ruling signals that Singaporean citizens cannot express their concerns over the government and its policies even through peaceful protest, though this right is supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution," SEAPA noted.

According to the opposition Social Democratic Party's E-newsletter of 21 December, Judge V. K. Rajah said in the ruling, delivered two weeks earlier, that Singaporean citizens cannot stage public protests because these undermine "the singularly stable and upright stature Singapore has managed to uphold."

In dismissing the case, Judge Rajah described the protest as "incendiary," and stated that it amounted "to a grave attack on the financial integrity of key public institutions." The judge further concluded that Singaporean citizens would be held accountable and personally responsible by the state for their actions: "In Singapore, Parliament has, through legislation, placed a premium on public order, accountability and personal responsibility."

The decision was made after four protesters sued the minister for Home Affairs and the commissioner of police for unlawfully dispersing their peaceful protest in August 2005, held outside a government building in downtown Singapore. The four had argued that they had the right to stage the protest under the Constitution, which allows a group of four people or fewer to assemble in public. But the police sent the anti-riot squad to disperse the four protesters.

According to the SDP newsletter, the peaceful protest, with the words "CPF, NKF, HDB, GIC: Be transparent now!" painted on the four protesters' t-shirts, urged the government to be transparent and accountable in its handling of public funds in the wake of a scandal that involved the National Kidney Foundation.

The SDP said the foundation was reportedly found to have spent donated money on luxury items like gold taps and expensive cars, and paid the CEO $600,000 (approx. US $400,000) in annual salary. But Mrs. Goh Chok Tong, wife of Singapore's former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, who was patron of the foundation, said the CEO's salary was justified as the amount was "peanuts."

According to SDP, the judge's decision confirms that the judiciary has no interest in protecting the democratic rights of the people, who are now at the complete mercy of the dictatorial Singaporean government.

SEAPA stated its belief "that to legitimise Singapore's claim to be a country of world-class public governance, the government and the judiciary should first protect the right of citizens to address their concerns about public institutions, and that these authorities should not regard peaceful protest as a public nuisance."

"The rights of the citizens to address their concerns over the government policies through public protest is to be upheld as a freedom enjoyed by civilised and open communities all over the world," SEAPA said.

Hung At Dawn

Book review: Hung At Dawn
Charles Tan
27 Dec 05

Author: M Ravi
Publisher: Orion Books

“Is he still maintaining that an innocent man can be hanged because of procedure?”
“Yes, the answer is yes.”

Hung at Dawn is an account of three death penalty cases in Singapore detailing exposing the inadequacies of police investigations, courtroom trials and the clemency pleas that prefers to err on the side of hanging convicts.

The book cover resembles one of those sensational best-selling Singapore ghost stories series, coated in black with big, red imposing fonts and a spine-chilling title. The book is, however, far from being fictional. The stories are not fairy tales but real-life events.

The book starts with the arrest, investigation and trial of Vignes Mourthi and his close friend, Moorthy Angappan. It reads like a detective novel which, unfortunately, does not have a satisfactory ending that we would have liked to see.

The books main character, R Martin, a defense lawyer, who took on Vignes Mourthi case last-minute and worked on a pro bono basis, filed for a criminal motion, and tried to put to pieces surrounding the case together to show there might have been the miscarriage of justice.

One controversy surrounded an informer by the name of Tahir who had set up a sting operation which led to the arrest of Vignes. In the trail itself, Tahir was not produced as the prosecution’s witness. Another point involved an undated and dubious statement from the arresting officer’s pocketbook that described how Vignes had boasted about the quality of the drugs he was carrying.

The book also describes how Martin submitted pleas for clemency to the president, in the hope of saving the accused from the gallows. Unfortunately, they did not manage to avert the execution.

Another inmate on death row, Shanmugam s/o Murugesu, was convicted in a much simpler case. The million-dollar question revolved around the amount of drugs he was caught with, which he claimed, was more than what he agreed to smuggle. Unlike Vignes’ case, R Martin and friends wised up and campaigned for Shanmugam by holding vigils and concerts to raise awareness about the issue.

The third death penalty case which generated the most controversy involved Ngyuen Van Tuong, a Vietnamese-Australian. The matter was, however, not related in greater detail because it occurred at about the time the book went to press. Press release and statements, however, highlighted the unfairness of the laws and the system.

By using side-box inserts to provide background information on the mandatory death penalty in Singapore as well as the history and cruel facts of hanging, author M Ravi has written a convincing book on why Singaporeans need to be aware of the controversies surrounding the death penalty in Singapore. For too long, it has remained a non-issue. It is time to break the silence.

Do a politically courageous deed this festive season. Buy, read, and share this book as a gift for your friends and family. Spread the word.

Hung At Dawn is available in major bookstores Singapore. It will also be launched in Malaysia and Australia.

Exorcising The Ghosts of NKF

From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
27 December 2005
Exorcising The Ghosts of NKF


Exorcising The Ghosts of NKF

It was perhaps a wild coincidence that the KPMG report was released to the public less than 5 days before a very busy festive season where most are expected to be preoccupied with gifts and vacation, thus diluting the impact from the shocking revelation.

It was perhaps an equally wild coincidence that the report was released to the public when the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was away on holiday, and was hence not able to make a statement with regard to the sordid affair.

But it was indubitably NOT a coincidence that T.T. Durai and the ex-Board of NKF will become the public whipping boy fortheir "questionable practices" and for "not fulfilling their duties".

Failure to adequately prosecute the above mentioned will send a clear unambiguous signal to the public that monetary corruption through self-enrichment is espoused by the government, and that such an act will only at best draw rhetorical censure to pacify the mental rage tormenting the psyche of sensible people.

Putting Durai and the board under chains and leaving them to the talons of the legal eagles will be a breeze for a government used to employing the judiciary to advance their ambitions.

But even upon this apparent bald mountain of accountability drag chains bound to ghosts of undying grievances.

(1) The Ghost of Convenient Scapegoat

After Durai and his cohorts, the external auditor for NKF from 1988 to 2004, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), became the choice quarry of the Health Minister.

"I appreciate the challenge of auditing an organization which we now know was completely dominated by its CEO. If he deliberately set out to mislead, it would take some efforts to uncover the truth. But it is not impossible and hence my disappointment with the former NKF auditors."

And to be sure his message to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) was not lost in transition, he added that,

"I'm sure their regulator will be looking at how they want to follow up from here."

ACRA wasted no time in responding that it "will look into the matter and take appropriate action if necessary".

Slaughtering PwC might seem like a logical option, though cooler heads should prevail.

Issues relating to corporate governance (salary, promotions, and purchases) had been broached from since 1999 right up to 2002 by Arthur Andersen without resolution. And the defunct auditing house, together with PwC, had both failed to present any evidence of contravention within NKF to the public.

And a frail effort by KPMG in 2004 had likewise fallen flat without success. Is it then fair to attribute PwC with a blame that seemingly afflicts its peers in the fraternity?

PwC had done a terrible job in so far as unearthing accounting irregularities were concerned. But PwC, unlike KPMG in 2005, did not have the far-reaching mandate the latter had to permit it to conduct its own invasive "Operation Crystal" where unlimited authority was given to seal offices and deny access of sensitive data in computers to the staff of NKF pending investigation.

The difference between PwC and KPMG 2005 is a comparison between routine arithmetic auditing and purposeful investigative auditing.

The integrity of the entire accounting fraternity now rests on the ability of the State to exercise justice on those whose failure had repercussed on the ability of the regulatory agencies (who depends in large part on auditors' report) to effectively discharge their duty to uphold the trust between the NKF, the government, and the public.

And the auditors are not the only ones implicated in the failure of PwC, for hindrance comes in many forms and at many State levels.

The NKF incident will not destroy PwC as clinically as Enron (US) had on Arthur Anderson. But this is an eventuality which is beyond the concern of the State. Public interest must always precede business priority. And this will present a stern test for a government accustomed to tooting about its world-admired discipline in exacting a high standard of corporate accountability and governance, but who had very few spectacular opportunities to convincingly vindicate the claim.

Passing off the chance will severely dent the public confidence in the ability of auditors in Singapore to effectively uncover and publicly open the book on financial chicanery in private (such as NKF) and public institutions (such as Temasek and CPF).

The government will have to be mindful of the message it would otherwise send. And focussing on PwC alone is a bad start.

(2) The Ghost of Cowering Redemption
The patron of NKF was Mdm Tan Choo Leng, better known in Singapore as the wife of ex-premier and current Senior Minister (SM) Goh Chok Tong. When the NKF scandal first came into official light in a high-profile defamation trial in July 2005, she defiled her up to then immaculate respectability with the immortalising denigration against the donating public that,"For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, $600,000 (in annual salary for Durai) is PEANUTS as it (NKF) has a few hundred millions in reserves." The furore over what is overwhelmingly acknowledged as a demonstration of indecent arrogance and insensitivity from a member of the high-society with a close relation to a high-ranking member of the ruling elite sustained at a simmer.

Mrs Goh was to bring the seething emotion to a second climax when she defended her ignorance (up to the trial in July) of Durai's remunerations, and that not being "a member of the NKF Board or its Executive Committee", she "no authority to endorse the salary paid to Mr Durai."

Her choice of words, more measured than the careless insult in July, was equally controversial.

Having offered her patronage to a high-profile organisation for a consecutive number of years, it is difficult to be convinced that she could not have an iota of knowledge or suspicion, through direct communication or through the benefits of the grapevine, of the outrage brewing within NKF.

As a distinguished lawyer, her job as a senior consultant in the property and real estate requires an extensive knowledge on matters of finance. It is not unreasonable to deduce that she would have acquired the professional curiosity to read the financial statements of NKF, and actively pursue information on any salient points pertaining to the financial activities of the organisation. Besides, if $600,000 is "peanuts" under her measurement, certainly even 5 times the amount would struggle to be mere `potato chips', and would not suffice to raise an alarm.

The lack of executive power does not equate to a moral inertia. A greater sin would have been committed if she had allowed herself to be convinced of the necessity of the obscene remuneration, and had then decided to condone it by virtue of its perceived relative numerical insignificance.

Therefore, knowing a problem and shutting an eye to it is a form of endorsement. And the patron will need to satisfy the public demand to answer crucial questions on the extent of her knowledge.

And her trouble does not stop there. The Health Minister defended her ostensible oversight with the self-applicable alibi that patrons are simply "supporting the cause by lending their patronage", and that the patrons "know (they) are being made use of as a symbol for people to support."

Mrs Goh's role as a patron surpassed the basic notion of a title conferred on a regular and generous donor to the charity. As the reputed figurehead at the bow of NKF, the confidence exuded performed a pivoting role in securing the continual faith of donors.

But a renowned public figure cannot jolly lend a name to a charity cause (be it NKF or some religious temples) without accepting both the glory and the grime as a complete package.

With the disclosure that the public money drawn from good faith had been unceremoniously drained into the coffer of thieves, the patron had been consequently transformed from an emblematic paragon to an instrument of mass deceit.

The patron had lent her image to NKF at the heights of the latter's popularity. The derived mutual benefits between the patron and NKF would have also allowed her spouse, the ex-Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong, to bask in a certain degree of political aura.

Even at the height of the defamation trial, she had openly proclaimed her "complete trust in the NKF and Mr Durai".

Now, the patron must absorb the ignominious condemnation. She cannot rightfully be exculpated of any eventual lapse in judgement as she had had the moral responsibility to exercise as much (if not more) interest in the deeper nature of the beneficiary (NKF) as ordinary solicited members of the public should.

It is morally indefensible to absolve the patron at a time when the public trust so built up is broken with the misappropriation of millions in public fund.

In glory, she led the charge to gain donor confidence. In shame, she must take up the flag and once again lead the charge to recover the loot, regain public trust, and salvage the collateral damage done to the Senior Minister and to the other institutions to which she equally lends her person as a beacon of trust.

The attempt by the Health Minister to shoo her off into silent retreat away from further participation will merely serve to underscore once again the dishonourable habit of the government to stage a legal and moral Houdini on those who are most in need to step out.

(3) The Ghost of Governmental Houdini

And talking about legal and moral Houdini, one man and his fumbles cannot be permitted to slip into oblivion.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang was the Health Minister between June 1999 and August 2003. The period was also the most tumultuous years in the history of NKF prior to the exposé.

In 1999, the Ministry of Health (MOH) had smelled a rat over NKF's need to amass excessive funds for what was a rather conservative base of about 1500 patients.

By 2001, the regulator of charities the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) had joined in the fray with their explicit statement of deeper concerns over issues which were to be exposed by KPMG. And even the Commissioner of Charities was kept preoccupied.

Those portentous signals culminated in the drastic reduction in the period (from 5 years to 3 months) granted to NKF as an Institution of a Public Character (IPC) with an accorded right to collect tax-exempt donations. A subsequent dispute with NKF and Durai ended with the rescission of NKF's ability to even issue tax-exemption receipts to donors.

In a show of complete affront to logic and good-sense, MOH under Lim Hng Kiang granted NKF an IPC status of 3 years, a veritable licence to plunder.

Mr Khaw (Health Minster) explained that "The regulators collectively assessed and FOUND NOTHING WHICH WOULD LEAD TO THE CONCLUSION that the NKF's financial track record and fund management track record were less than satisfactory, and would justify the removal of its Institution of Public Character (IPC) status."

This is equivalent to stating that `The regulators found something but could not draw a satisfactory conclusion on any irregularities in NKF'.

KPMG stated that "The wasted opportunity to commence any investigation was most unfortunate since some of the matters dealt with in this report could perhaps have been either prevented or addressed some four years earlier."

A failure by an elected leader of the State to nip a visible problem at its nascent stage of development is a scandalous felony against the people and the State. And for Lim Hng Kiang, this was not an isolated oversight. He has amassed an impressive record for fumbling on problems like SARS, for ignoring the growing problems in hospitals, and regrettably NKF.

Good governance entails both the recognition of collective blame, and a keen comprehension that it is wiser to remove a persistently blemishing flaw than to allow the latter to do further harm in some other capacity to the effort of the collective whole.

"Collective responsibility" (advocated by the government of Lee Hsien Loong) is only meaningful if majority in the government was aware of the growing trouble but chose to sit on its hand and look away. However, it is more likely that the members of the government had acted in accordance with what was reported by Lim Hng Kiang on the situation then, and had acted under his discretion.

A convenient explanation from the current Health Minister is that Lim Hng Kiang, like himself and the public, was "misled". But Mr Khaw risk having his credibility grated.

By the time the MOH had had to decide on the IPC status for NKF, the needle was palpitating at the red warning scale.

In 1998, a former aero-modelling instructor Piragasam Singaravelu was sued for libel for implicating Durai of abuse of public funds (Durai flew first-class on Singapore Airlines). The year before, a former NKF volunteer Archie Ong was likewise sued for making a similar remark on how "NKF squandered monies" and that Durai "jets here and there in first class."

And throughout the period from 1997 to 2001, words from numerous sources had travelled far and wide, finally igniting the attention of NCSS.

It is not an exaggeration to conclude that Lim Hng Kiang could have either seriously downplayed the situation, or cover up the affair all together. At any rate, the ex-Health Minister would have been guilty of dishonesty to the government, undermining the government of the people, and disloyalty to the people he had been elected to service.

To continue to shield his individual responsibility behind the thicket of "collective responsibility" is to court distrust and scorn from the public and the international community. And that does not augur well for a country dependent on foreign investments built on trust and confidence.

Not acting judicially will harm the moral integrity of the people of the Nation by throwing it into disrepute. And this smearing of the good name of Singaporeans through governmental misrule is by no means an accorded mandate from the people.

And rotating the guilty Minister out of public sight and thought is tantamount to an insincere betrayal of the ethics of accountability which is one of the pillars of any good and honest government.

But if no one will stand out and step down, then the entire body of men in the government is implicated. It is hard to justify killing an entire body to remedy a tumour on the arm. Not for a man who up to 2004 held the steadfast conviction as Second Minister of Finance that with 56 per cent of its money on beneficiaries (which we know is untrue), NKF is on "quite a sound record."

(Conclusion) The Ghost of Future Foreboding

The final examination come back to the Health Minister Mr Khaw's delicate position that just about everyone has been a victim "misled" by circumstances which escaped even authorities with keener senses. As "silly" as he might admit he was, he should refrain from further duping the public with aesthetic words lest the words bite the tongue which utters them.

"Misled" has in this context a common synonym called "deceived". And deceiving the government and the public at such a huge magnitude comes very close to an act of deliberate betrayal (of trust). And that is treason.

It is also silly to claim to be "misled" if one has at his disposal the authority to summon a network of State resources to act upon rapidly surfacing signs of misdeeds involving massive misuse of public funds and a potentially damaging breach of government-endorsed trust.

And it is criminal to quote "misled" as an umbrella for certain individuals to evade just accountability.

The warning from Mr Khaw, ironically,

"We now know that we have been misled. Perhaps, we were coloured by our deeply-held and positive view of the original NKF under Prof Khoo Oon Teck (founder in 1969)", contains a stark warning that infatuation with the nostalgic glories and achievements of a perpetual institution can blind man to the corroding rot eating away the founding core of virtues.

Contrary to what PM Lee Hsien Loong said in July that NKF should "start from scratch" and urged Singaporeans to "look ahead", it is about time that the nation understands that rebuilding cannot be achieved on ruins beneath which skeletons of the unresolved past remained buried.

(Mr) Law Sin Ling

26 Dec 2005

The political parallels to the NKF scandal

From Yawning Bread

The political parallels to the NKF scandal

Some observers have sensed nervousness on the part of the government over the fallout from the scandal at the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). One said to me that the expected general elections will not be called until the matter is put to bed. So far, he's been proven right, for while many expected elections in December, it hasn't come about.

I can see five aspects of the NKF scandal that parallels features of Singapore's political system, and now that the systemic failings of the NKF are being brought to public attention in such an ignominious fashion, they may cause longer-term complications for the ruling party. They are:

The use of defamation suits
Durai's high salary and perks
Incompetence in government
Oversight of executives
Dollars and cents as the criterion of success

to continue...

23 Dec 2005

Singapore maid agency shut down for abuse

Again, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that grossly exaggerated and misrepresentating report made by that bunch of western do-gooders.

A maid agency has been shut down for making the Indonesian and Filipino women brought to Singapore sleep in the kitchen or backyard and subjecting them to other abuse, news reports said Friday.

The Ministry of Manpower canceled the Grand Pacific Manpower Consultancy's employment agency license, according to The Straits Times. The agency's 20,000 Singapore dollar (US$12,000) security bond was forfeited.

Grand Pacific failed to provide suitable accommodations for the maids and withheld the passports of those placed with families, the ministry said. In one case, the agency failed to repatriate a maid within the required 14 days after her work permit was withdrawn.

Bridget Lew, founder of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home), took in four maids who were referred to her by the ministry.

"They were sleeping under the stars in the backyard of a house," Lew was quoted as saying.

The cancellation of the agency's license will "send a clear message that such ill-treatment will not be condoned", she added.

Grand Pacific became the second maid agency to have its license canceled since January 2004. Legal Employment Services was found to have an underage maid and 55 others housed in unacceptable living conditions.

Since January, the ministry has rejected the license renewal applications of five other maid agencies for other breaches.

Lew said her group receives up to 300 calls a month on its helpline for maids.

"Many are complaints about insufficient food and rest, poor living conditions and uncaring employers, and about five calls (per month) are about physical abuse," she said. (**)

Peel off those divisive labels

Nothing ideologically united about the 'West', nor does 'Asian' mean anti-freedom
Friday • December 23, 2005
Letter from Jolene Tan
London, United Kingdom, Published on TODAY

I refer to Mr Wong Hoong Hooi's letter, "A sense of self" (Dec 21), in which he discusses the Asian values movement as a struggle for identity. I believe this is animated by the values of pluralism and independence of mind, and the search for alternative ways to imagine and create our future. All of this should be applauded.

But it would be a mistake to regard the Asian values debate as a step in the positive direction, as far as achieving these aims are concerned.

The debate and Mr Wong's letter — in which he speaks of East and West, and the Western and non-Western world — are problematic in that they regard a central divide between world cultures as that between the West and "the rest".

This vocabulary reflects a mentality that thinker Edward Said called Orientalism: The attempt of some Western thinkers to paint the West as responsible for the historical and modern spirit of democracy.

To change the statement, "The West is democratic and free, and thus better than the East" to "The East rejects democracy and freedom, and is thus better than the West" reproduces a condescending dichotomy between the West and "the Other".

It is self-Orientalism: Defining ourselves by reference to our opposition to another.

It ignores the internal dissent and potential both within what Mr Wong calls the West and within Asia. To take a simple example, he suggests "the West" would like to see a world dominated by a universal language in the form of English.

One can only wonder what he makes of the European Union's strenuous commitment to a diversity of working languages or of the notorious disdain of the French for things Anglo-American.

Still less can I imagine what he thinks of the intense political controversies raging in the United Kingdom over detention without trial or in the United States over the role of religion in public life.

People who live in the West are not automatically ideologically united. Similarly, the non-Western world is extremely diverse. Within Asia itself, there is much variation.

Liberal Singaporeans — those who believe in the need for greater freedom of speech, greater political participation and a greater tolerance of diversity — are not in any way less Asian than their more conservative counterparts.

To suggest that scepticism towards political freedoms and democracy is innately Asian is to basically demand that people pledge allegiance to certain ideals for no better reason than race and geography.

I agree with Mr Wong that we need to search for a sense of self. But the search should not be laden with sweeping generalisations about "the East" and "the West".

These labels are unhelpful and presuppose a commitment of many people to positions that they do not hold.

It would be far better to recognise the points of disagreement at home and consider them on their own grounds — without worrying about whether a point of view is foreign or domestic.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

22 Dec 2005

Singapore amends Employment Agency Rules

When Singapore amends the Employment Agency rules so soon after the Human Rights Watch report it does seem to undermine the Minstry of Manpowers claim that the report was grossly exaggerated and a misrepresentation.

Then again it could be a matter of saying one thing and doing another. The retort will of course be that the changes are not as a result of outside interference from western do-gooders.

Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced Thursday that it has amended the Employment Agency (EA) Rules to tighten regulations on such agencies.

Under the amended Rules, an offense may be compounded with a composition amount of up to 2,000 Singapore dollars (about 1,200 US dollars).

"This new regulation affords MOM greater flexibility to penalize EAs which breach the provisions of the EA Act and Regulations," the ministry said in a statement.

The Rules prohibit employment agencies, which have received notice from the authorities announcing the intended revocation of their licenses, from collecting deposits from customers.

The MOM also announced that it has revoked the license of Grand Pacific Manpower Consultancy for its repeated breaches of related regulations including not providing acceptable housing for foreign domestic workers and withholding their passports.

The license of another employment agency has been revoked and renewals of 10 other licenses have not been approved by the MOM since January 2004, according to the statement.

"The Ministry will not hesitate to revoke the licenses of EAs whose practices undermine the integrity of the workpass framework or compromise the welfare of foreign domestic workers," the statement said.

In Singapore, there are about 500 employment agencies that place foreign domestic workers.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report entitled "Maid to Order: Ending Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore", which was claimed to be gross exaggeration and misrepresentation by the MOM.

Steve Chia charged with dangerous driving

By Derrick A Paulo, TODAY

SINGAPORE: Non-constituency Member of Parliament Steve Chia was charged in court on Wednesday with dangerous driving.

However, he does not intend to plead guilty and has submitted to the Traffic Police a letter of explanation about the incident in July, when his car hit a bus at a cross junction.

If he is found guilty, though, it could scupper his eligibility to contest in the next General Elections.

Any person convicted and sentenced to a jail term of at least one year or fined at least $2,000 cannot qualify to be an MP for at least five years.

The penalty for dangerous driving is a maximum fine of $3,000 or a jail term of up to 12 months.

Asked about the implications of the case on his political career, Mr Chia said: "If it's not my destiny to be elected, I'll accept it and move on. But does it mean I give up? No. I'll try my best to put up a challenge to the People's Action Party."

At this point, he is unsure about his chances.

"I don't know whether the case will be concluded before or after the elections," he said. But, he added that it would be "questionable" if the courts were to fine him the maximum amount because "nobody was injured from the impact of my car crashing into the bus".

According to him, a woman passenger on the bus suffered a minor injury because the driver applied the emergency brake.

He is disputing the allegation that he beat the red light when he ran into the SBS Transit bus at the junction of Braddell and Bishan roads on July 22.

His case will be mentioned again in court next month. - TODAY

Khaw 'disappointed' by PwC's audit failings

Onus now on accounting regulator Acras to act on Health Minister's comments
Thursday • December 22, 2005
Christie Loh

SHOULD action be taken against Price- waterhouseCoopers (PwC) for failing, since 1999, to detect the National Kidney Foundation's (NKF) inadequate accounting practices?

The question, posed several times to Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan during a media conference yesterday, received no direct answer — but not without Mr Khaw expressing his disappointment with the NKF's former auditors and laying upon the accounting regulator the onus to respond.

He noted that despite certified public accountants having pored through the charity organisation's books, "weaknesses in the NKF's corporate governance went unnoticed".

Even last year, when the Ministry of Health asked KPMG to do an ad-hoc review of the NKF's tax-deductible receipts, the audit firm found no large-scale weaknesses, he said. This year, in contrast, KPMG dug up a history of atrocious governance during its extensive independent probe into the organisation's internal processes. The auditor had been engaged by the NKF's new board after some shocking revelations about the practices of former chief executive T T Durai.

So will the Government or the new NKF board take issue with PwC for overseeing financial manoeuvres such as the backdating of expenses?

Mr Khaw said he is sure that the NKF was looking into the matter. The regulator — the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) — should also be looking into the matter, he added.

However, Mr Khaw stressed that PwC, unlike the KPMG investigators who could deploy enormous resources, faced certain constraints as an external auditor.

"With the former NKF board and CEO having resigned, the KPMG auditors were able to go through every file and read every email without people looking over their shoulders or obstructing their way," he explained.

But Mr Khaw added that "it is not impossible" that the truth could have been uncovered earlier with extra effort, "hence my disappointment with the former NKF auditors".

When contacted yesterday, a PwC spokesman said: "Our primary responsibility was to express an opinion on whether the NKF financial statements show a true and fair view. We believe we have discharged that responsibility.

"We have noted the Minister's comments and will take them constructively."

An Acra spokesperson said the agency "will look into the matter and take appropriate action if necessary."

Over at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (Icpas), which upholds professional standards here, an eight-man team overseeing corporate governance matters moved into action yesterday. The body will soon air its view on the NKF findings publicly, Icpas vice-president Ernest Kan told Today.

"This matter is very pressing because it involves issues concerning the role of auditors," he said, while cautioning against any knee-jerk calls for the overhaul of an auditor's role.

Mr Kan added that current standards here are already in line with international best practices.

Still, an industry observer noted that accounting firms are likely to "start exploring new methodology to ensure higher quality in audits".

"Spotlight on PwC"

Oct 28: PwC certifies NKF's financial statement for the year ended 31 Dec 2004 as "true and fair" amid KPMG's independent probe into the charity.

Oct 30: KPMG starts interviewing PwC representatives to understand their assessment of NKF's control environment.

Nov 24: PwC resigns as external auditor. NKF now seeking a replacement.

Dec 19: KPMG released its report on Monday expressing concern that PwC failed to catch errors in NKF's 2004 financial statement, which if detected would have caused a downward-adjustment of $2 million in the 2003 accounts. KPMG also finds it "puzzling" that PwC never issued any suggestions on how NKF could improve its check and balances at its year-end audits. When asked for access to its audit working papers by KPMG, PwC said that it would do so if NKF and KPMG indemnified PwC against any legal claims by third parties, an offer KPMG declined.

Dec 21: Minister Khaw finds NKF's former auditors wanting.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

Let govt-held info be an open book

Singapore has come a long way, but don't stop now
Thursday • December 22, 2005
Charles Tan

FOLLOWING the startling revelations of the KPMG report on the National Kidney Foundation, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has acknowledged the lack of clarity in the regulatory structure, admitted the Government's responsibility, and vowed there would be no cover-up.

It is yet another dramatic addition to the discourse of transparency and accountability in a year of corporate and charity scandals. What about openness at the highest level?

In more than 50 countries, citizens have the right to obtain access to government documents, and the governments have a duty to disclose them. The fundamental reason for providing such access has to do with the concept of an open and accountable government, and the evolution of a civil society.

Access to information, some argue, is an important bulwark against corruption. It is also closely related to the idea of a robust democracy. Yet, thus far, most governments churn out information selectively and at their discretion.

There is no doubt the Singapore Government is becoming more open. Today, there is much public consultation on policies and feedback is sought on issues that affect everyone. Nearly all government departments have comprehensive websites providing information such as annual reports and financial statements to the online public.

But surely more can be done.

The introduction of Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation is important as it allows checks and balances on government activity. Its three main objectives are public scrutiny and participation, the accountability of decision-makers, and an individual's right to information contained in government records.

But it does not mean that every citizen has the right to all information kept by public bodies.

Exempt from public scrutiny would be the key areas of government activity (such as law enforcement, defence and international relations), third-party interests (private as well as commercial), court and parliamentary matters.

That said, non-disclosure should be the exception rather than the norm.

Under this legislation, an independent person — someone from outside the bureaucratic hierarchy — should be employed to check on the decisions to refuse either all or part of each request for information.

This would also apply to refusals to correct personal information, which the requesting person believes is incomplete, incorrect or misleading. There should also be a higher authority, such as the courts, to which one can make an appeal on the decisions of internal reviewers.

In most countries with FOI legislation, the standard time to release information is within 30 days of an application. Such access is not free, of course; a fee should be payable, unless the applicant is indigent.

Several Asian countries — India, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Pakistan — have introduced FOI legislation in recent years. In the Philippines, the right to information was first included in its 1973 Constitution, and expanded on in its current 1987 Constitution.

A 2001 survey co-organised by the Philippines Centre for Investigative Journalism, which covered eight South-east Asian countries, showed the Philippines to have the most liberal information regime.

On public accessibility to government-held records, Singapore scored 42 per cent, after the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Malaysia was fifth at 33 per cent.

In a publicised case in Thailand, a mother whose daughter had failed to gain admission to an elite state school demanded access to all exam results. After she was turned away, she appealed to the Office of the Official Information Commissioner. She succeeded in obtaining the information, which showed that children of influential people had been accepted despite having scores lower than those of her daughter, who was ultimately admitted.

During the Sars crisis in recent years, China was condemned by the world for failing to reveal the extent of the epidemic. Shanghai and Guangzhou are now taking the lead to introduce at municipal level open government information (xinxihua) and open government affairs (zhengwu gongkai).

The time is ripe for governments to be more enlightened in dealing with increasingly sophisticated citizens. And, as one American jurist remarked on the issue of citizens accessing government-held information: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

The writer is a Singaporean based in Perth.

Shame of Singapore

ON the NKF's website, the words 'The New' appear above the acronym 'NKF' - an effort to break away from an era of shame under former CEO T T Durai.

[Picture - NKF's new chairman Mr Gerard Ee.]
But truth be told, a little makeover is not enough.

So shocking are the revelations of the KPMG report, that the new team will be weighed down by the negative image for a long time. And donors will find it hard to mentally disconnect.

So why not change the name entirely?

The New Paper put the question to NKF's new chairman, Mr Gerard Ee.

On the name 'The New NKF', Mr Ee said: 'This is my effort to tell people to give us a chance and look at us anew. But when things die down and improve, I hope to go back to the original NKF, because I believe there is a lot of equity and value in that.

'Only if things get very bad will I consider a total name change and rebranding exercise. But so far, things have not got too bad.'

We beg to differ, Mr Ee.

It's as bad as it gets.

Singapore is reeling under the revelations of the KPMG report.

More might follow, if the Commercial Affairs Department finds criminal wrongdoing.

But nothing might be recovered from the over-the-top pay rises, bonuses and perks.

A lawyer, who declined to be named, told The New Paper: 'It doesn't seem to be evident, based on the KPMG report, that Mr Durai misappropriated any company funds.

'The contentious issue here seems more to be a problem of corporate governance and lack of controls.

'So unless you can prove that there is a clear case of embezzlement or criminal wrongdoing, it seems very little can be done to recover any money from the individual.'

Said the lawyer, who has had more than 10 years' experience dealing with white-collar crime: 'If you look at the report, it's really a story of a man who was given such power that he abused it.

'But there is no denying that his pay and perks were all approved by the NKF board of directors.

'It's not that he siphoned away company funds or donations.

'He did not doctor accounts or disperse money without authorisation.

'In other words, there is no evidence from this report that he broke the law.'

Mr Ee acknowledged that the pay and perks given to Mr Durai cannot be considered a 'loss to NKF'.

Said Mr Ee: 'When we talk about recovering loss, we are trying to get back the money that has been paid out to organisations outside the NKF.

'But we are currently seeking legal counsel to see what other areas we may want to consider getting back money from, and if it's even worth our while spending donors' money to do that.'

Said another lawyer with 15 years' experience, who also declined to be named: 'The best thing to do now is to wait for the outcome of the CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) investigations.'

The truth revealed by the KPMG report is indeed appalling. Clearly, Singaporeans want a closure to this national scandal. The good intentions of the public ended up in the pocket of one man. Let's not forget the plight of the patients who are hit worst. They find ways and means to raise funds for their dialysis only to realise that the organisation that they have place their very lives and trust in was the one that truly aggrieved their condition.

Whatever the outcome, I do hope that the well-being of the patients is the first priority of the government. This shame will probably take years to be erased. However, this does not mean that the sufferings of the patients should be erased because of an organisation's fault.

Even when the case is over, the patients still live to fight their illness everyday.

21 Dec 2005

Kill domestic worker: fine S$250, 3 months jail or both

From the Think Centre.

Ngu Mei Mei who is charged with endangering human life - "killing" her domestic worker, faces three months in jail, a S$250 (US$150) or both. A domestic workers' life is cheap in Singapore. Do we respect human life?

A Singapore woman has been charged with negligence for ordering her Indonesian maid out of a window from where she fell to her death, a court document and a press report said Friday, Dec 16 (2005).

Ngu Mei Mei, 37, is charged with ordering the maid, Yanti, to climb with laundry from a study room window to hang out the laundry, a court document said.

It said the roof "was not designed for such ordinary human access". The incident allegedly happened on December 20, 2003.

The Straits Times reported that Yanti fell to her death but the charge sheet says only that Ngu "did an act so negligently as to endanger human life."

She faces three months in jail, a S$250 (US$150) or both.

New York-based Human Rights Watch in a report last week said maids in Singapore suffered serious abuses including sexual violence, food deprivation and home lock-ups.

The government called the report "a gross exaggeration" and defended existing legislation protecting foreign domestic workers.

At least 147 maids have died from workplace accidents or suicides since 1999, mostly by jumping or falling from high-rise residential apartments, Human Rights Watch said.

Singapore's Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen told BBC Radio that there were about 18 cases of maids falling to their deaths this year. According to a government transcript of the interview, Ng said the government is trying to tackle the issue and the number of deaths has dropped.

Half the deaths are suicides, he said.

About 150,000 women work as maids in Singapore, most of them from impoverished villages in the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

20 Dec 2005

Freedom to Peaceful Assembly is a Universal Human Right

A letter I submitted to TODAY

Freedom to Peaceful Assembly is a Universal Human Right

I wish to make two corrections to Ms Frances letter.

In 2003, a few Singaporeans protested outside the American embassy pre anti-iraqi war but they were immediately taken away by the police and given a stern warning.

With regards to the NKF saga, part of the protest which involved the 4 protestors outside the CPF building did mentioned NKF on their t-shirts.

As such, it would be erroneous for Ms Frances to claim that there were no protests against the Iraqi war or NKF.

I would also like to clarify a few points made by the writer.

In a country like Singapore, we need more public protests and not less as what Ms Frances believes.

Freedom to Peaceful Assembly and Free Speech is enshrined in our constitution though the government has made various changes and restrictions to these rights over the years.

Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Singapore is a signatory of, also claims that they are basic rights that cannot be taken away from citizens.

These are not just yardsticks of other countries. They are “universal” freedoms accepted worldwide; and practiced upon from Europe to America and even China.

To imply that Singaporeans should not publicly demonstrate because we are a unique country is not only misleading but demeaning to our integrity as human beings.

The real issue henceforth lies with the government on whether they will allow Singaporeans to protest publicly and if Singaporeans will take the initiative to demand for these basic civil rights.

In her letter, Frances also portrays demonstrations as “militant” and ‘irrational”. This is again misleading as peaceful rallies are not necessarily either of those.

While I agree that the three issues surrounding the NKF scandal, Melyvn Tan’s draft dodging and building of casino have been controversial, they still do not address the real political issues facing Singapore; mainly of the country becoming a democracy.

The original commentary, of which was my feedback to the letter, A Nation Speaking Out, is reproduced as below.

Tuesday • December 20, 2005

Peaceful rallies seized almost every capital city in the world in February 2003, staged in protest of the approaching Iraqi war. Yet Singapore remained a sanctuary of silence.

We are not a nation used to holding rallies; we are not allowed to hold a public assembly without a permit. Because of this, we have been accused of becoming a nation with no political soul.

Has this image of Singapore altered, as the year 2005 draws to a close? I believe that this year was a watershed year for us as Singaporeans.

We have long been labelled as apolitical, our youth accused of being apathetic. Yet, three events this year illustrate otherwise. Although holding mass rallies and emotionally-charged demonstrations is not in our culture, we have our own unique ways of showing how we feel about issues close to our hearts.

The first issue is the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) saga. Never in recent years did our collective voice shout louder for justice and transparency. Yet not a single demonstration was held.

We voted by withdrawing support for NKF. And in the end, overwhelming public sentiment led to the resignation of the board.

The second issue was the case of pianist Melvyn Tan. The issue of National Service and draft-dodging was debated with unprecedented openness and in the end, Mr Tan cancelled his performance because of the unexpected backlash.

All views on the casino debate were heard over a year, with Singaporeans divided for and against the opening it.

When the decision was made to open not one but two casinos within the integrated resorts, those against the casinos were disappointed, but they accepted the decision with grace.

What implications can we draw about the maturity of Singaporeans, as we collectively reached the big 4-0? Did we stop being the child that requires a host of laws, campaigns and fines to regulate our conduct? Have we reached a stage where issues can be debated objectively and rationally?

We have at least begun the process. These three issues demonstrated that there are people out there who care enough to pen their views and thoughts, letting their opinions be publicly scrutinised and their views be challenged.

Even the potentially explosive racial issue was handled with a surprising amount of level-headedness. Yes, some bloggers made the erroneous assumption that blogging is a private affair and thus, were more careless with what they wrote.

But others took the effort to correct their flawed views about race, while many reassured Singaporeans that these views did not represent the general opinion. All these arguments were reported in the newspapers rationally, so that prejudices and bigotry could be tackled.

For too long, we have used other people's yardstick to measure the level of openness in Singapore. I say it is time to hold our heads up and show the world there can be more than one manner of free expression. Freedom comes with responsibility and accountability. When we voice a viewpoint, we must be ready to stand by it and, to stand corrected.

What about the lack of support for the four protesters who stood in a row for almost an hour outside the CPF building in August? They were protesting for more transparency and accountability in the governance of Singapore — issues close to the heart of every Singaporean especially after the NKF saga.

But the days of union militancy, industrial action and sit-down protests are over. Singaporeans have grown to be rational and less willing to engage in politically-motivated action. I believe our society is beginning to evolve more like the ancient Athenian city-state, where debates were held in the open arena.

There is hope for Singapore, judging by the quality of letters to the newspapers. We have begun to question and examine many issues — from the quality of education in "elite" schools, to transport services and maids' rights.

As long as we continue to allow Singaporeans to explore, express and examine their views rationally through the written channel, there will be no need to hold emotionally-charged and potentially explosive rallies.

The writer is an educator and mother.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

Former NKF Patron did not know of Durai's salary until court case

For years the NKF and its Board have readily accepted that Mrs Goh Chok Tong was a part of the NKF Board. Did she resign when the "Board" resigned?

But it seems that when things turn ugly, the PAP and its cronies are anxious to distance themselves from their fallen angel. In an about turn Mrs Goh who once stated that Durai's SGD600,000 annual salary was PEANUTS, is now claiming that (drum roll please);

a) She was never part of the Board; and

b) She had no knowledge of Durai's salary and did not approve it at all.

No say about pay: Mrs Goh
IN RESPONSE to media queries on former NKF chairman Mr Richard Yong's statement in KPMG's report that Mrs Goh Chok Tong, as former Patron of NKF, had "known and endorsed" the salary of former CEO, Mr T T Durai, Mrs Goh made the following clarification:

"The statement is incorrect. I only learnt how much Mr Durai was paid when his salary was made public during the court hearing of his defamation suit against SPH in July this year. I was not a member of the NKF Board or its Executive Committee. As Patron, I had no authority to endorse the salary paid to Mr Durai."

SINGAPORE : Former National Kidney Foundation patron Mrs Goh Chok Tong has clarified a statement by ex-NKF chairman Richard Yong relating to former CEO TT Durai's salary in the KPMG report.

"There was no intention whatsoever to improperly or inappropriately compensate the CEO," Mr Yong said in the report.

He added that the CEO's salary was based on his performance and what the Executive Committee deemed fair, based on all factors.

This was also known and endorsed by NKF's patron, Mrs Goh, he said.

But Mrs Goh said that statement was incorrect.

Public attention has also focused on Mrs Goh, the senior minister's wife, after she defended Mr Durai's salary.

“For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, S$600,000 is peanuts as [NKF] has a few hundred millions in reserves,” she said.By John Burton in Singapore

She said she only learnt how much Mr Durai was paid when his salary was made public during the court hearing of his defamation suit against Singapore Press Holdings in July this year.

In addition, she was not a member of the NKF Board or its Executive Committee and therefore did not have authority to endorse the salary paid to Mr Durai. - CNA /ct

Avoid another Asian values debate

Some how Singapore = Asia, is that correct?

By Simon Tay, TODAY

SINGAPORE : There is a sense of deja vu about recent criticisms levelled against Singapore.

Anguish by Australians over the death penalty. Poor ratings by non-governmental organisations about media freedom and the treatment of foreign domestic workers. An English university refusing to set up a branch here because it believes there is no academic freedom.

The chorus echoes debates from the 90s. Then, the United States' triumph in the Cold War led some to predict a universal wave of liberal democracy. In response, Singapore and others propounded "Asian values", justified by our culture and need for stability in the rapidly-growing Asian economies.

The Asian crisis that began in 1997 quieted this argument. Like the currencies, Asian values seemed devalued. Now, eight years on, Asia again seems to be rising, buoyed by both China and India, as symbolised by last week's East Asian Summit. At the same time, human rights in Singapore are again in question.

Are we on the verge of a second round of the Asian values debate between Singapore and critics from the West? There are reasons to hope not.

Relations with the US remain vital for Asia. For Singapore, US relations have been cemented by agreements on free trade and strategic interests.

Today, unlike in the 90s, democracy is well established across Asia. Elections were held across the region this year and last, with most regarded as fair. More Asians than ever expect their voices to be heard and their concerns addressed by their government.

Singapore, too, has been undergoing a transformation. Since coming into office, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked his new team of ministers to look at ways of "remaking" Singapore.

A vision of an open cosmopolitan society has been offered. With gambling, showgirls and the promise of a more diverse, exciting and dynamic city, Singapore is becoming more liberal, at least as regards social mores.

Mr Lee has not thus far made a clear declaration towards deepening democracy or promoting human rights. But neither has the Government sought to articulate cultural, "Asian" bases for their differences.

Rather than a loud, furious update of the Asian values debate, a dialogue on issues may be more helpful, provided a margin of difference is accepted. There are examples in which Singapore has changed because of dialogue and increased awareness, rather than harsh external criticism and pressure.

One example: The steps in recent years towards ending inequalities for women in areas such as the benefits given to civil servants, entry into the local university's medical faculty and in determining the nationality of their offspring. These changes are connected to Singapore's experience in accepting the international human rights Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or Cedaw.

The Cedaw reporting system helped Singapore understand what other states do. Changes were then acceptable because of their compatibility with the Singaporean values of equality and meritocracy.

Similar processes can be observed in the consideration of whether to locally prosecute Singaporeans who engage in child sex abroad. The discussion arose among Singaporean civil groups and was then taken up in Parliament. While the Government has not unveiled its final decision on the issue, Singaporeans uphold a basic sense of decency and expect their Government to do the right thing.

From such examples, it would seem that processes of change are most effective when they are internalised. Doing so, however, has at least two caveats.

First, external actors can still play a helpful role provided they understand and appreciate Singapore's interests, and offer a helpful comparison with what other states do. Adapting lessons from others is, after all, a principle tool in the pragmatic search for what is best for the country.

The second caveat is that the internal process in Singapore cannot be a closed debate among a handful of Government mandarins. The administration must increasingly be transparent and inclusive in deciding which steps are prioritised.

Otherwise, some will not understand why a nude revue like Crazy Horse is allowed while gay parties are refused. Or why films on politicians are illegal, when nudity is allowed in other films.

For the people to participate fully and usefully, public education is needed. Information and discussion on the subjects of democracy, constitutional and human rights, especially, should be more widespread. These should not be taboo subjects. Nor should they be subject to unthinking propaganda by either the Government or international critics.

A rerun of the unhelpful and antagonistic Asian values debate between Singapore and the West can and should be avoided. Cognisant of what is happening in the world and at home, Singaporeans and their friends should instead discuss how Singapore can best progress. - TODAY

The writer is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and teaches international law at the National University of Singapore.

Report lists failings of Singapore’s shamed charity

By Jake Lloyd-Smith in Singapore
Published: December 20 2005 00:47 | Last updated: December 20 2005 00:47

Singapore’s biggest charity yesterday attempted to draw a line under a debilitating scandal by releasing an independent report that catalogued the sustained failure of its former senior management.

The scandal at the National Kidney Foundation has triggered unprecedented public anger.

The 440-page dossier into the affairs of the foundation, drawn up by accountants KPMG, concluded that the group suffered “a lack of meaningful governance” and in many instances accounts were “manipulated”.

Led by former chief executive T.T. Durai, the NKF’s entire former board quit last July amid a wave of public protest triggered by disclosures that Mr Durai was paid up to S$600,000 ($360,000, €300,000, £200,000) annually and took first-class flights.

After the details emerged in a libel hearing, thousands of donors pulled out from the charity, the NKF’s premises were daubed with graffiti, and a grassroots internet campaign was launched for reform of the embattled group.

The affair made political waves after the wife of Goh Chok Tong, senior minister, the NKF’s former patron, dismissed the heated criticism of Mr Durai’s pay package, saying his salary was “peanuts”.

The NKF’s difficulties also drew widespread attention because they ran counter to the popular perception that Singaporean institutions are well managed and typically reinforce the country’s reputation for a lack of corruption.

Released online, the KPMG report said the charity had lost sight of its main mission to fund dialysis treatment; had an ineffective board, and manipulated its accounts.

The NKF said it might take legal action against its former directors including Mr Durai, who is already under investigation by the Commercial Affairs Department, Singapore’s white-collar crime unit.

Mr Durai was not available for comment yesterday but his formal responses to the 40-strong KPMG investigating team’s questions were widely quoted in the report.

The new board at the NKF said it had reformed the organisation in the light of the disclosures and was now committed to more efficiency and transparency.

Among the many failings detailed in the report were that Mr Durai and five staff members had attended charity events in Las Vegas. The purported need for the S$70,000 study trip was to gather fresh ideas for NKF fundraising. But KPMG said there was no evidence to support this aim, which was “difficult to accept.”

The report concluded “deliberate steps were taken to avoid the disclosure of Mr Durai’s remuneration”.

Australian PM and racism

While this does not necessarily pertain Singapore, let's take a look at the racism track record of Australia which suggested to boycott all things Singapore. Would things have been different, if Nguyen was white?

When talk of racism is just not cricket

December 16, 2005

NOW that the rancid old race dog is out of the kennel for another trot around the block it is timely to see just where the wretched hound is going to take the man holding the lead, John Howard.

Howard said at the beginning of the week that he doesn't accept Australia is a racist country. Nor does he think we should "overcomplicate" the violent situation on the streets of Sydney.

If it's treated simply as a law and order issue then we can "more readily get back to a situation we all want" - presumably an undisturbed summer in the banana chair at Kirribilli House with the cricket droning on the telly.

The trouble is that every time John Howard says something about race all sorts of dark shadows fall out of his mouth. He is a man whose pronouncements on the topic invariably have been wreathed in opportunistic circumlocutions.

Even before Howard got into trouble over his Asian immigration remarks of 1988 and beyond, there was South Africa.

In 1985, as deputy leader of the opposition Howard was fighting the softies in the Liberal Party who wanted to support economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ian Macphee was the opposition's foreign affairs spokesman at the time and he gave an interview to The Age published on July 30, 1985 which left the way open for the opposition to support economic sanctions. Howard fought the move, declaring: "Sanctions will inevitably hurt the poor blacks in South Africa more than any other section of the South African population."

They would also hurt the large corporate interests that Howard has made a life long habit of enthusiastically stroking.

Later in 1995 Howard, by then opposition leader, said he didn't regret his opposition to economic sanctions against the white supremacist government of South Africa. He thought he was in good company because anti-apartheid campaigners Helen Suzman and Alan Paton both opposed sanctions.

Even earlier, in 1981, when Malcolm Fraser's government adopted the position that aircraft carrying the Springbok to New Zealand could not refuel in Australia, Howard let the Prime Minister know that he was most unhappy about the prohibition.

On August 1, 1988 Howard, as opposition leader, threw a Molotov cocktail into the political desert. Talking about Asian immigration he said: "If it is in the eyes of some in the community too great, it would be in our immediate term interests and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little so that the capacity of the community to absorb were greater."

The Hawke government saw an opportunity in a flash and proposed a motion to the parliament opposing the use of race to select immigrants. Howard fought desperately against the motion, but could not contain divisions in his own party. Ian Macphee, Steele Hall and Philip Ruddock (yes Philip Ruddock) crossed the floor to support the motion. Michael MacKellar and Ian Wilson, two other Liberals, abstained. The deputy leader of the opposition, Andrew Peacock, flew to Melbourne for an important meeting.

Later Howard sought to redefine what he'd said about too many Asians spoiling our "social cohesion" by talking about curtailing the family reunion policy.

By September 1988, with the polls showing strong support for his position, he was rehearsing the lines he was to use so successfully years later in the Tampa election: "I don't think it is wrong, racist, immoral or anything, for a country to say 'we will decide what the cultural identity and the cultural destiny of this country will be and nobody else'."

He then proceeded to say how "vulgar and demeaning" it was for the Hawke government to be "grovelling and apologising" to our Asian neighbours over the immigration "debate".

On August 31, 1989 Howard told the Federal Council of Polish Associations, "I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body."

In 1998 when Pauline Hanson was bagging Aboriginal welfare and Asian immigration, Howard said he would never call One Nation supporters "racist".

So with all this context is it any wonder, for a man who has spoken out of both sides of his mouth for 30 years on race, that he wouldn't detect just the tiniest hint of racism in the land he leads, and moreover not lift a finger to do anything about it?

19 Dec 2005

Singapore paper attacks Australian media

Handbags at ten paces ladies...

Saturday Dec 17 14:50 AEDT
Singapore's main English-language newspaper has taken a wide swing at the Australian media, contrasting its treatment of this month's hanging in Singapore of drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van and Sydney's race-related violence.

In its editorial, The Straits Times said in the run-up to the execution of Nguyen the Australian media was filled with commentary suggesting the mark of civilisation was to be kind to gangsters, hooligans and drug pushers.

In contrast, the editorial said: "This week the NSW parliament passed tough new laws to give the state's police exceptional powers to deal with the riots that have broken out in Sydney."

It also highlighted Prime Minister John Howard's comments that such incidents can happen in any country, adding: "Yes, they certainly can, prime minister. Pity many of your compatriots did not see that a couple of weeks ago", around the time of the Nguyen hanging. [Is this paragraph coherent?]

Nguyen, 25, was hanged on December 2 for importing almost 400 grams of heroin into Singapore in late 2002.

Singapore law mandates the death penalty for those convicted of drug trafficking, set at 15 grams for those caught with heroin.

The Nguyen case raised intense interest in Australia, with the Howard government leading a passionate - but unsuccessful - bid for clemency.

During the final weeks of Nguyen's life, The Straits Times gave increasing amounts of space to the drama, and in an editorial at the time it argued the former salesman should not be spared.

The Straits Times has close links to Singapore's ruling People's Action Party and is broadly supportive of government policy, or what local officials call nation-building.

The editorial went on to offer broad praise for Australia's efforts to promote racial harmony, but laced that analysis with caution.

"While racism may be on the rise in the country, Australia's record on this front is better than many other countries, including Islamic ones, now expressing their alarm over the fate of Muslims Down Under," the paper said.

It concluded, "The country's achievement in creating a plural society will be threatened if its leaders do not face squarely, and address frankly, the racism that lingers in Australian society."

Singapore govt says tougher fight at next polls

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's opposition parties will be stronger competitors in the next election, a top government minister was quoted as saying on Monday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was appointed in August 2004, does not need to call an election until mid-2007.

But many observers expect elections to be called as soon as January or during the first quarter, after housing estate upgrading projects worth over S$1 billion were announced in the past six weeks.

Upgrading schemes are common ahead of parliamentary elections in Singapore.

Senior Minister and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong told the pro-government Straits Times that opposition parties have begun gearing up for an election earlier than they did previously and are "in a better shape than before".

"This time they are wiser, they are gearing up early for elections. So now I think competition will be tougher for PAP candidates," Goh was quoted as saying.

Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has dominated parliament in the 40 years since independence.

During the last election in 2001, the weak and fragmented opposition parties -- which were hoping to build on their four seats won in the 1997 poll -- won only two of the 84 seats in parliament; one for the Worker's Party and one for the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

Opposition politicians say they are denied a level playing field and that the election system is stacked against them.

"It's not as if we did not prepare early in previous elections," said Steve Chia, National Solidarity Party secretary-general and parliament member under a best-loser provision.

"But they (the PAP) keep gerrymandering and manipulating the election rules, so we can never be fully prepared."

Singapore opposition parties have frequently complained about the redrawing of electoral boundaries which is common ahead of elections.

They have been the most critical of the so-called Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) which group several single-seat wards into one larger constituency and have the effect of diluting opposition votes.

The PAP says the GRCs are meant to ensure that a minimum number of MPs will come from ethnic minorities, but the opposition says they find it hard to find enough candidates to run in the multi-seat wards.

The opposition parties have been quietly preparing for the upcoming election, organising weekly reach-out campaigns and recruiting new members.

Chia told Reuters that opposition parties have met to discuss possible cooperation in the next election but declined further comment.

Last week a Singapore newspaper said that opposition parties had agreed to avoid three-cornered fights in several constituencies and had agreed to contest all nine single-seat wards and at least six of the multi-seat wards in the next poll.

Goh told the paper he hoped the opposition would field candidates in his Marine Parade constituency, which has not been contested since 1992.

The PAP has not faced a real threat since 1988, which was the last election when the opposition contested more than half of the seats in parliament.

At the last walkover election, in November 2001, only 29 of the 84 seats were contested.

18 Dec 2005

Singapore is a third world country?

I couldn't find the original article (or, rather couldn't access ST as it has to be paid for) but only this blog post.

Not I say one. You think what? I will dare to contradict the title of this book. You have got to be kidding me. But this is the boldest that I have seen in The Straits Times in a long time.

Singaporean writer, Gerrie Lim had this to say in an interview with our esteemed newspaper today…

“Singapore is basically a country that likes to think of itself as a First World country. But it's not. It's really a Third World country that pretends to be a First World country”

That should warrant response by the highest echelons…. :) Talking about the education system here during the 1970s, he said,

“The school system here sucked. If you asked a question that was not part of what the teacher put on the board, she would say: 'It's not in the syllabus, you don't need to know.' How stupid is that?”

Ministry of Education, is this true? If not, surely we can have a rejoinder :)

"I didn't really want to do a degree here. I just couldn't see myself fitting into NUS. Yuck!"

He criticized NUS you know, a world Top 20 institution.

A point-for-point rebuttal expected, Singapore style :)

16 Dec 2005

Human Rights Issues in Singapore

International Human Rights Day was over just recently but we should not forget the whole urgent notion of expanding civil and political expression in Singapore.

Singapore is shamefully not a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It just goes to show us how uncommitted the regime is trying to establish our rights as individuals to determine politics in Singapore. The regime in its feeble defence has given excuses that human rights issues will be gradually implemented in future only when the time is appropriate. Right.

What are the regime's past excuses for not expanding civil and political rights in Singapore? These are:

Communitarianism - the rights of the community comes before that of the individual

Relativism - Western notions of human rights cannot be applied totally in Singapore

Prioritising - that economic stability takes precedence and only when Singapore reaches a certain level of social stability and economic affluence can benevolent authoritarianism be rolled back

I would not criticise the communitarianism and relativism excuses for now and would only focus on the Prioritising argument. This argument is especially stale. It is also the easist to understand and confirms that at least one of the regime's excuses on why Singapore is not ready for more civil and political rights is pure rubbish. And if one argument is total nonsense, what about the other two? The deck of cards slowly collapses.

Hasn't Singapore reached a laudable GDP per capita level such that we, as a political community, are ready to allow and encourage some peaceful protests and democratic dissent?

The UN rates Singapore's human development (education, standard of living etc) as fairly high according to world standards. Singapore is easily one of the better off countries in the world, something that the regime always tries to remind the supposed ingrates among us. Yet, Singapore is one of the most restrictive globally in the area of political rights and civil liberties.

If we are ranked 140th in the UN Human Development Index, then I will buy the idea that some benign dictatorship is apt and economic priorities come first. Humans fundamentally demand a right to economic security and social stability. These come first, food on the table and roof over our heads. But we are nowhere the bottom in the UNHD index but yet this pathetic lack of civil and political rights remain. It is as if we were still economically struggling Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s. Look at the recent state of such rights being dismissed by the regime:

Article 19 of the Covenant

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The examples of Joshua B Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan are telling. They certainly do not have the right to peacefully express their political views without direct interference and intimidation from the regime. Even ordinary citizens standing on the sidelines are made to watch their mouth.

Article 21 of the Covenant

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Remember the 4-person CPF protest and the police's reaction? Wasn't that a blatant disregard of the right to peaceful protest as permitted in the laws of the land?

Something is rotten in the state of Singapore.

Rhetoric versus Reality


In his inauguration speech on 12 August 2004 as Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong's jested, "Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore." On the anniversary of his swearing-in, the Singapore Democrats launch this segment to track how Mr Lee intends to fulfill his vision. Don't hold your breaths, folks.


Dec: High Court Judge V K Rajah dismisses an Originating Motion taken up by Chee Siok Chin, Monica Kumar, and Yap Keng Ho against the Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng and Police Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui that the police acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it ordered the protesters to disperse. Mr Rajah said that citizens do not have the right to stage protests against the Government because "domestically as well as internationally, public governance in Singapore has been equated with integrity. To spuriously cast doubt on that would be to improperly undermine both a hard-won national dignity and a reputable international identity."

Dec: Police called up Chee Siok Chin, Monica Kumar, Tan Teck Wee, Yap Keng Ho, Chee Soon Juan, and Lim Tung Hee for questioning over the protest held outside the CPF Building on 11 August 2005.

November: Government refuses People Like Us a permit to hold a GLBT forum in National Library Board.

Sep: Police called up Internet activist Mr Jacob George for questioning in relationship to Mr Martyn See's making of the film Singapore Rebel featuring SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan. The move is widely seen as an attempt by the Government to intimidate activists who are increasingly critical of the PAP's control of information flow in Singapore.

Sep: Police are investigating the case of the eight mysterious white elephants. Someone stuck eight cardboard cut-outs of white elephants in protest against the Government's refusal to open the Buangkok MRT station because of low traffic volume.

Aug: Riot police, in full battle gear, were sent in to break-up a peaceful protest by four activists who were protesting against the non-transparent nature of the NKF, CPF, GIC and HDB. About 40 police officers were present. They confiscated the protesters T-shirts.

Aug: Police threaten organisers of an anti-death penalty concert that it would not give the license if the photograph of the late Mr Shanmugam was not removed from the concert posters. The police said that they did not want to glorify an executed person. Mr Shanmugam was executed in May 2005 after he was convicted of smuggling
marijuana into Singapore despite strong protests from the SDP and civil society.

Jul: Police attend Dr Chee Soon Juan's book launch on nonviolence, videotapes the proceedings, seizes a CD, and takes down the particulars of the speakers. Investigations on-going.

Jun: Police warn would-be protesters at the Olympic vote held in Singapore that they would be arrested. A group of small businesses have threatened to stage protests against London's bid for the 2012 Olympics

Jun: Courts seal files relating to the defamation suit brought by Chief Justice Yong Pung How against his former remisier Boon Suan Ban, who has been detained in the Institute of Mental Health at the President's pleasure since March 2005.

May: Government bans workshop organised by Singaporean activists on non-violence.

May: Immigration authorities prevent Nonviolence International trainer, Mr Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, from entering Singapore to conduct non-violence workshop.

May: Student blogger, Mr Chen Jiahao, receives an email from Mr Philip Yeo, a powerful state executive, who threatens to sue Mr Chen because he had made disparaging remarks in his blog about Mr Yeo's company. The blogger apologised and removed the said article from his website.

May: Two Falungong practitioners imprisoned for handing out DVDs and gathering in public without permits.

Apr: Government bans Amnesty International's Mr Tim Parritt from speaking at a public forum on the death penalty in Singapore.

Mar: Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam's application for a march to protest the Government's decision to allow casinos to be built turned down.

Mar: Police threaten filmmaker Martyn See with prosecution unless See withdrew a film he made about Dr Chee Soon Juan from the Singapore International Film Festival. See withdrew his entry but got a call from the police for questioning anyway. Investigations on-going.

Mar: Chief Justice Yong Pung How sues his former remisier, Mr Boon Suan Ban, for defamation because Mr Boon was apparently pestering the Chief Justice on an outstanding financial matter when Mr Yong was the chairman of a bank. The Attorney-General charges Mr Boon for criminal defamation. The financier was subsequently acquitted because he was of "unsound mind". But Mr Boon was detained at the Institute of Mental Health, where he remains at the President's pleasure.

Mar: Police reject an application by a local gay Christian support group to hold a concert because the Media Development Authority said that the show would "promote a homosexual lifestyle."

Jan: Dr Chee Soon Juan was ordered by the High Court to pay $500,000 in damages plus legal costs to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong.


Dec: Police reject an application by a Hong Kong based gay portal to hold a Christmas party as "the event is likely to be organised as a gay party which is contrary to public interest."

Dec: Mr Lee Kuan Yew tells the Foreign Correspondents Association: "We are not that daft. We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests and what we have is working. You are not going to tell us how to run our country."

Nov: The Court of Appeal upholds a High Court decision to deny the application by Mr J. B. Jeyaratnam to be discharged from bankruptcy for money owed in lawsuits taken by PAP officials.

Sep: Courts proceed with the hearing to assess damages that Dr Chee Soon Juan has to pay Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong despite Dr Chee asking for the date to be postponed because he was away in the US.

Sep: The Economist pays $390,000 in damages plus legal costs to Mr Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew for a report on Temasek Holdings, headed by the prime minister's wife, Ho Ching.

Sep: The Government will allow certain international NGOs to register in Singapore except those whose activities relate to human rights, gender issues, religion, ethnicity and martial arts.