29 Dec 2006

Singapore court denies govt claim over Marcos money

The Philippine Star

Singapore’s High Court has denied the Philippine government’s claim to the $23-million Marcos funds in the city state, the lawyers for human rights victims said Thursday.

In a statement, lawyer Rod Domingo Jr. said at issue in the Singapore case is over $23 million of money originally hidden by former president Ferdinand Marcos in a Swiss bank before being transferred to Singapore.

"Following nine months of briefing and several oral arguments, Justice Kan Ting Chiu of the Singapore High Court entered a judgment denying the (Philippine) Republic’s major defense," he said.

Martial law victims claim the money to partially satisfy their now $4 billion judgment against Marcos, he added.

The Philippine National Bank claims it is custodian of the money for the Republic, Domingo said.

Lead counsel Robert Swift said it is a significant victory on the way to obtaining a final verdict for the entire $23 million of Marcos funds.
"The Singapore Court upheld Singapore’s sovereignty to decide ownership to property located in Singapore," he said.

"The tragedy is that the Republic is so heartless that it opposes every effort by Filipino human rights victims to recover on their judgment.

"The Republic even opposes the US Court-ordered distribution of the first payment of US$2,000 to each victim from monies already collected in the US on their behalf."

Domingo said that "the government’s claims to the money in Singapore are sinking fast."

"I think the Singapore Court is sending a signal to our government that it wants this matter settled or there could be dire consequences," he said.

Despite spending over $1 million in legal fees and the engagement of Singapore’s largest and most influential law firm, the Philippines is losing the case, he added.

Domingo said the Presidential Commission on Good Government’s vaunted defense of sovereign immunity, as in the Arelma case, has once again been debunked and shuttered.

"When will it ever stop working against the oppressed victims of human rights abuses?" he asked.

Domingo said in a 27-page decision, Kan ruled that the arguments made by PNB were arguments of the Philippine government, and not those of PNB.

"The Republic has therefore, by its agent PNB, laid its claim before this Court and has submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court," Domingo quoted the decision of the Singapore High Court. Kan also assessed costs, including legal fees, against the Republic and PNB, he added.

The 9,539 Filipino victims of martial law are part of a class action litigated in the United States against Marcos for torture, killings and forced disappearances, Domingo said.

The Philippine government has asserted that it was awarded the money by the Philippine Supreme Court in July 2003.

The litigation began in 2003 when West LB, a Singapore Bank, was confronted with competing claims for the money and deposited the money to the Singapore High Court.

Early in the litigation, PNB argued the case should be heard in the Philippines, but the Singapore High Court denied that request and assessed costs in favor of human rights victims.

In early 2006 the Philippine government entered the case to try and force its dismissal, arguing it was a claimant to the money but was entitled to sovereign immunity and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Singapore Court.

In 1995, a US jury awarded the human rights victims an amount which, with interest, is now worth $4 billion.

The judgment was affirmed on appeal.

26 Dec 2006

A Loong and winding road

Read the letter to Lee.

From OpenDemocracy
Tom Burgis
21 - 12 - 2006

A year and seventy-two nominees later, openDemocracy readers vote for and against the world's primary Bad Democrat. Tom Burgis opens the envelope.

If there is one offence that makes Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong a worthy Worst Democrat of 2006, it is the lone, corrosive idea he has peddled throughout his two decades in politics to justify his family's iron grip on the southeast Asian city-state.

The idea - which has, in one way or another, been borrowed to lend some moral bunting to some of the year's most scurrilous political acts - is pretty simple.

In a globalised world, the Lee doctrine goes, where dogs in Chicago or Brussels eat dogs Shanghai or Mumbai, there is one commodity that is simply too expensive: freedom.

Singapore therefore cannot afford democracy. Were they not so roundly marshalled, its populace would doubtless immediately down tools, slope off to the woods and indulge in all manner of unproductive behaviour. Grant them a free election and before you know it everyone's splurging the national savings on designer pets and dancing girls.

"Western-style democracy has not always delivered stable, legitimate and effective government", Lee Hsien Loong told newspaper editors - quite correctly, of course - in October 2006. With more than a whiff of sophistry, he went on to explain why this necessitates Singapore's "predictable environment", namely the dynastic rule that began when his father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore's first premier in 1959. Such liberties as a "rambunctious press" or the "clever propaganda" enabled by the internet must be stamped out to ensure order and keep the cash flowing in.

It's a catchy line and has been deployed by almost all the ne'er-do-wells who have graced openDemocracy's monthly list of the men, women and institutions who have done injury to the good name of democracy.

A notorious galère

Take Kim Jong Il, North Korea's bon vivant despot. Even as Koreans starve on scraps of food aid, Kim's songun (military first) policy requires every last resource to be channelled into martial production, the banner under which the party maintains control. His defence minister explained the policy thus: "Comrades, we can live without candies, but we can't live without bullets." But the military can, we must presume, spare enough to keep the Dear Leader in choice Cognac and prime donkey, but then one would expect no less for a leader who, according to this stirring ode, descended from heaven.

Or Alexander Lukashenko, another autocrat with a nice line in rousing if rather ham-fisted musical propaganda. "Listen to daddy", trill his acolytes, "who is the master in the house." The same message was delivered less tunefully when protesters massed on the streets of Minsk to challenge Lukashenko's fraudulent victory in March's elections: keep your nose to the grindstone, or I will apply the grindstone to your nose.

And Lee's line - belied as it is by some of the bravest thinkers of the age, who point to India or Botswana, where democratic governments have slashed poverty - is wheeled out not merely by tinpot dictators, as the staggering hypocrisy with which 2006 started and ended evinces.

In January, Palestinians went to the polls to choose between Fatah, the corrupt incumbents at the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas, its Islamist but more efficient rival. Ringing in their ears were the exhortations of the United States and its allies for Arab states to embrace democracy - a dream for which so many of their Iraqi brothers had so gladly laid down their lives.

When Hamas won, election observers wondered whether this was the tipping point, the moment when, like the African National Congress (ANC) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) before them, the militia would begin its transition from bloodthirsty resistance to political compromise.

They did not get to find out. Infuriated, the United States, the European Union and Israel laid siege to the PA, reducing members of the incipient government to filling the fiscal coffers by smuggling suitcases of currency into their ministries (not the direction, it's worth noting, in which cash-stuffed luggage usually travels).

The Palestinians had made one fatal error. The election was fine - the problem was the result.

It was Leeism writ large: if we the mighty few are not to jeopardise our strategic interests, you the unwashed simply cannot be left to your own devices.

Then, nearly twelve months later, with Gaza and the West Bank still in flames, Tony Blair departed an inutile EU summit to fly to Baghdad, Ankara and Ramallah to deliver another round of lectures on how to be "purer than pure" in public office.

That he made no mention of corruption, impunity or the rule of law may have had something to do with the announcement a day earlier that the UK had dropped a criminal investigation into fraud allegedly committed (who'd have thought it?) during a multi-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Or perhaps Blair's omission was due to the absence from his side of his trusty middle-east advisor and tennis partner Lord Levy - but then he's been terribly busy.

In any case, as the British premier spouted platitudes about safeguarding exports, the rationale was clear: justice is just too damn expensive.

It was, aptly enough, at a gathering of the global financial institutions that even those most indebted to Lee for his lesson in sophistry felt obliged to rebuke him.
The world had watched May's elections, seen opponents intimidated, dissidents chased through the courts and the media shackled, but had averted their gaze. Singapore was churning out millionaires at record rates - why shed any tears for a few woolly idealists?

But at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in September, things were different. Even Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration hawk turned bank president, was compelled to reprimand his host when Lee went one step too far, unleashing his repressive apparatus on outlanders.

Alas, the Singapore model - waved like some map to Elysium in front of poor country governments the world over - does not look to be going anywhere fast.

That said, a fair crop of the seventy-two Bad Democracy nominees over the past year have seen their power curtailed, so we may cling to hope that receiving our shameful gong will hasten the end of the Lee era.

But then, it seems there are those who feel no shame - such as Silvio Berlusconi, the first of our Bad Democrats and entitled, as the only winner to be booted from office, to the last word, with his fabulous insight into the delusions with which the mighty prolong their power: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics", he said at the start of this year's campaign. "I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."

23 Dec 2006

Singapore's international complaint dismissed

The pursuit of a physician across borders has fallen at the high court.
Rex Dalton

Biopolis is recruiting international experts, who will watch this case with interest.
A British court has cleared the way for a prominent English epilepsy expert to return to research, after a protracted international dispute over studies four years ago in Singapore.

On 21 December, the British High Court ruled that British authorities acted appropriately when they dropped an investigation of improprietries against neurologist Simon Shorvon, now a professor at University College London.

The ruling is a setback for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), which had pursued its case against Shorvon, whom it had found guilty of professional misconduct, across international borders.

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

Last year the British General Medical Council (GMC) decided to drop their own inquiries into Shorvon, having found no grounds for action. This decision was not received well by the SMC, which, in an unprecedented move, filed a case in the High Court of Justice in London. It claimed that the GMC's decision was unsustainable and breached a duty of fairness to the SMC in not having consulted it properly.

The High Court has now dismissed this claim, saying the British medical council's decision was rational and sustainable.

"This judgement removes an unjustified slur on my reputation," reads a statement from Shorvon, who is now a professor and subdean at the Institute of Clinical Neurology at University College London, UK. "I am delighted."

"I hope now that I can be left in peace to pursue my research," he adds. He has not been able to apply for grants during the legal fight.

I hope now that I can be left in peace to pursue my research.

Simon Shorvon

Medical councils rarely pursue physicians beyond the borders of their own country with such aggression. The case will likely be watched with interest by others in the field, as Singapore is actively recruiting leading international researchers for its Biopolis complex, a futuristic centrepiece of biomedical research.

A spokeswoman for the Singapore Medical Council would only say that the judgement was under study. An appeal is possible.

Head hunted

Shorvon was recruited in 2000 from University College London to direct Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute. But shortly thereafter, he became embroiled in conflict.

He was accused by Singapore officials of obtaining neurological information on 13 patients without consent, recruiting them for his research without proper consent, and changing their medication levels without proper consent. He was dismissed in 2003 by the Institute. Neuroscientist Lee Wei Ling, the daughter of former prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, replaced Shorvon as the institute's director.

The SMC found Shorvon guilty of professional misconduct in 2004, after he had returned to the United Kingdom. He was fined and removed from the register of medical practitioners in Singapore.

Shorvon has denied emphatically any impropriety. He declined to be interviewed this week.

The British General Medical Council became aware of the situation in 2004 and Shorvon, by then in London, sought a UK review to help to clear his name. In 2005, it determined the allegations in Singapore could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and halted its inquiry.

21 Dec 2006

Point-by-Point rebuttal to Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement

21 Dec 06

Below is a reply by Dr Chee Soon Juan to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement dated 20 December 2006.

Point 1: Marking of food trays.

MHA: It is normal Prisons procedure to record the food consumption of inmates under close watch. This procedure applies not just to Chee Soon Juan but to all such inmates.

CSJ: When the question of marking was first raised by my wife, Ms Huang Chih Mei, and sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, on 4/12/2006, Monday, both Mr Chandra Kumar (MHA official) and Queenstown Reman Prison (QRP) Superintendent Hoon categorically denied that prisoners’ trays were marked, unless it’s for vegetarian food. I am not a vegetarian. If it is the "normal" practice to mark the food trays of inmates under close watch, why did Mr Chandra Kumar and Mr Hoon say they had no knowledge of the marking?

In this connection, the food trays of Chee's associates, Yap Keng Ho and Ghandi Ambalam were also marked to allow Prisons to monitor their food intake. This was done following Yap's declaration that he was going on a hunger strike.

Point 2: Food trays were not marked on previous occasions

MHA: For Chee especially, the marking of food trays should not be new as this procedure was applied to him when he was in prison in Oct 2002 and again in Mar 2006. He had no complaints then about the marking of his food tray.

CSJ: My foodtrays were most definitely not marked on previous occasions when I was imprisoned. On this point, the MHA first it says that my food tray was marked "following Yap's declaration that he was going on a hunger strike." [emphasis added] But it later says that my food tray was also marked on previous occasions on Oct 2002 and Mar 2006. How can this be when Mr Yap was not even in prison when I was incarcerated in 2002 and in March this year?

Point 3: Allowed to choose among unmarked trays

MHA: To address this and assure him, Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked
trays from 2 Dec 2006 but he continued to persist in not eating.

CSJ: This is not true. I repeatedly told prison officials that I did not want to continue to eat prison food until I saw my wife. QRP refused to allow my wife to see me until 4/12/2006 (eight days after I stopped eating the food in the marked trays). When I was finally allowed to see my wife on 4/12/2006 in Changi General Hospital, and after Mr Chandra Kumar gave the assurance that I could select from unmarked food trays, my fears gradually eased and agreed to eat the food served in the hospital. The first time that I was told that I could choose from unmarked trays was 4/12/2006 (at the CGH) and not 2/12/2006 (while I was still in prison) as claimed by the MHA.

It is therefore wholly untrue for the MHA to say that although "Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked trays from 2 Dec 06 but he continued to persist in not eating." CGH’s records would unequivocally show that I had eaten the food on the same day that Mr Chandra Kumar assured me that I could choose from unmarked trays.

Point 4: Insisting on eating home-cooked food.

MHA: He also persisted in his demand that he would only eat home-cooked meals prepared by his wife. (Prisons policy, which applies to all inmates, does not allow this.)

CSJ: Again, it is not true that I insisted on eating only home-cooked food. During the hospital visit on 4/12/2006, my family was allowed to buy me some biscuits & packet drinks for me. I consumed these. I clearly indicated that I didn’t want food that was in marked trays or those handled by prison officials. To reiterate: After Mr Chandra Kumar assured that I could choose from trays that were not marked, I then started to eat the hospital food.

Point 5: Refusing to eat hospital food.

MHA: Chee refused to eat even the meals served by the Changi General Hospital...

CSJ: As mentioned above, I ate the food served by CGH during my stay at the hospital. This is easily verifiable in the hospital records. There was even a CCTV in my hospital room recording this. MHA can eaily produce this to prove who is not telling the truth.

Point 6: Request for medical records.

MHA: Chee claimed that he and his family members have repeatedly asked for a complete set of his medical report but have not received them. This is certainly untrue. Chee only gave his consent to the authorities for his medical report to be released to his sister on 14 Dec 06.

CSJ: The facts are incontrovertible. My lawyer faxed QRP a letter on 13/12/2006 asking for the medical records. My sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, also faxed a letter requesting for the said documents on 12/12/2006. QRP have these faxed letters and should produce for the public to see. I myself asked for the medical results when I returned to QRP on 7/12/2006. It is therefore yet another lie for the MHA to say that is "certainly untrue" that my family and I had repeatedly asked for the medical reports.

Point 7: No sleep deprivation.

MHA: On his return from Changi General Hospital, Chee was placed in a cell equipped with CCTV. The lights at such cells are kept switched on from 6 pm to 8 am the following day…

CSJ: First, let it be noted that the prison had admitted to keeping the lights on in my cell throughout the night and morning hours (6 pm to 8 am the following morning). I repeatedly complained to the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the lights at night were keeping me awake and this affected me tremendously. There is a reason why we all turn off the light when we sleep at night – our bodies respond differently to light and darkness. Keeping the lights on during sleeping hours for a prolonged period (in my case, for a straight nine days/nights) deprives one of proper rest and this affects one’s health.

Point 8: Prison needs to monitor inmates with suicidal tendencies.

MHA: [The lights are left on] for visibility to enable prison officers to monitor inmates under close supervision, including those with suicidal tendencies or who may cause self-inflicted injuries.

CSJ: The MHA needs come up with more credible answers. Suggesting that I had "suicidal tendencies" or "may cause self-inflicted injuries" is complete and utter rubbish. Psychiatrists at QRP and CGH have examined me, and if the results indicated that I was suffering from any "suicidal tendencies", they should produce it. Obviously, the turning on of the lights at night is just an excuse to deprive me of sleep and affect my psychological health. Is it not possible for the prison to use an infra-red camera to do the recording with the lights off?

If the prison is really monitoring inmates had "suicidal tendencies" or "may cause self-inflicted injuries", why did it not similarly monitor Mr Yap Keng Ho who had announced publicly that he was conducting a hunger strike while imprisoned?

Point 9: Sleeping without trouble with lights on.

MHA: Prison officers observed that Chee's cell-mates slept without trouble. At his request, Chee was also given valium and was observed to have rested at least 6 to 7 hours each night. This was recorded by the CCTV camera.

CSJ: I and my cell-mates had great difficulty sleeping with the lights on. As mentioned, I repeatedly requested the prison doctor, psychiatrist and Superintendent to turn off the lights at night. It is silly for the MHA to continue to argue that I and my cellmates "slept without trouble" for more than a week under bright lights when everyone knows that our biological functions and circadian rhythms are disturbed the lights are on at night.

Point 10: Books were not taken away as punishment.

MHA: When he was referred to the hospital, Chee brought with him 7 books for his reading while in hospital. On his return, these 7 books were required to be subjected to security screening. This is a standard security procedure for all items, books included, which are brought in from outside into the prison.

CSJ: These seven books were among the 32 books that I had first brought with me to the QRP when I was first taken to prison 23/11/2006. At no time did the seven books leave the sight of prison officials to and from CGH.

Point 11: Refusing medical assistance in prison.

MHA: Between 25 Nov 06 and 4 Dec 06, Chee resisted blood tests (to establish the cause of his purported nausea) and medical assistance from the prison medical officer and the doctors of Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: I only refused to have invasive measures that required needles to be inserted into my body. This would include the drawing of blood by a syringe and application of IV drips. During the said period, I repeatedly requested to be allowed to see my family before I would consent to such invasive procedures. The prison, however, adamantly refused to allow me to see my family. However, I continue to allow my blood pressure to be taken, my ECG to be monitored and gave urine samples.

I also agreed to all non-invasive procedures to be conducted on me (two CT-scans, an ultra-sound scan, two X-rays, and urine samples). I allowed blood to be drawn after I was allowed to see my family.

Records in QRP and CGH would back up my account of the matter. Would the MHA make public these medical records so that the truth can be ascertained once and for all? By refusing to disclose these facts, the MHA is trying to cover up the truth.

Point 12: Strangely resumed eating at CGH.

MHA: Then just as strangely as Chee had stopped eating on 28 Nov 06, Chee abruptly resumed eating his meals on 4 Dec 06. He ate his dinner ordered from a menu of choices at Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: There was nothing strange that I started eating the food at CGH. I have said all along that I wanted to see my wife first before I would resume eating. I consumed hospital food when my wife was allowed to see me on 4/12/2006. That was also the day when Mr Chandra Kumar promised us that there won’t be any more markings on my food either in CGH or QRP.

Point 13: Deciding to eat when returned to prison.

MHA: On his return to prison, and when he was placed in a cell under CCTV observation, Chee decided to eat prison meals and behaved well enough to be eligible for remission of his sentence.

CSJ: I started to eat prison food after assurance from Mr Chandra Kumar and Suprintendent Hoon that there won’t be any more markings on my food. I was also threatened that my yard time, family visits, and even consultation with lawyers would be denied if I did not eat the prison food.


From the above it can be seen that the MHA’s statement is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies. The Government should provide documents and recordings that it has in its possession to reveal the truth rather than make statements that it can neither substantiate nor prove

20 Dec 2006

Politics is no laughing matter in Singapore

By Geert De Clercq | December 20, 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chewing gum, homosexuality, public protests... the list of things frowned upon is long in Singapore. But satire? Yes, that too. Seriously.

Political humor is playing a bigger role than ever in the city-state, and despite government's insistence that politics is no laughing matter, satirical websites are blossoming.

TalkingCock.com, an irreverent website that relentlessly pokes fun at the Singapore "gahmen" (government), gets 4 million hits per month in a country of 4.4 million, while popular blog mrbrown.com receives some 20,000 downloads per day for its droll podcasts about life in Singapore, up 10-fold from a year ago.

"These websites touch a popular vein. They deal with issues of everyday life in a language that can be understood in the kopitiam (coffee shop). It's like the parables of Jesus," said researcher Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Others say government disapproval of these websites has added to their appeal.

Colin Goh is the only public face of the large collective that puts together TalkingCock.com, a website named after the term for "talking nonsense" in "Singlish" -- the local patois of English laced with Hokkien Chinese and Malay words.

"The others do not want to reveal their identities, they are too scared," said Goh, a former lawyer with degrees from University College London and New York's Columbia University.

Goh and friends set up TalkingCock in 2000 in New York, where he lives. The project has since grown into a huge, rambling site with dozens of anonymous contributors.

Goh insists the site's focus is on humor, not on politics.

"All humor is about daily life. It just so happens that in Singapore, the government occupies such a large part of our lives," said Goh, who is also an award-winning film director.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of TalkingCock.

In his national day speech on August 20, Lee actually showed a slide of TalkingCock.com.

"If you want humor, you go there. Some of the jokes are not bad. Not all of them," he said.

In another speech on April 1 -- April Fool's day -- Lee said there was space for political debate in Singapore, but stressed that discussions on politics must be taken seriously.

"Countries can become unstable if political figures are not given basic respect and acceptance," Lee was quoted as saying by state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

Goh said he vaguely agrees with the government that jokes are no substitute for real political discourse.

"It is bad for the satirist when people look to the satirist for alternative serious political commentary. We'd be very happy to go back to our court jester status," he said.

Singapore print and broadcast media are government-owned or controlled, but on the Internet anti-government views abound.

Catherine Lim, Singapore's best-known fiction writer, said the government's allergy to satire is not surprising.

"It's a very Asian, Confucian thing, especially if you take it to the point where you make them lose face. That is absolutely intolerable, even in a society as modern as Singapore," said Lim, who has angered the government before with her criticisms.

Australian academic Garry Rodan, who has written extensively about Singapore politics, said the Singapore government is not comfortable with political jokes because "humor challenges the notion of a foolproof meritocracy."

Lee has said repeatedly that the government tolerates dissent but would respond to criticism that it disagreed with.

"Because if we don't respond, untruths will be repeated and will be believed, and eventually will be treated as facts and the Government and the leaders will lose the respect of the population and the moral authority to govern," Lee said.


mrbrown -- the Internet moniker for blogger Lee Kin Mun -- was the first satirist to find out what that response could be.

In July, his weekly column in state-owned newspaper Today was axed after he had poked fun at a series of price hikes that followed soon after the May 6 general election.

"It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government," the information ministry wrote in a blistering reply.

In his National Day speech, Lee said the satirical column had "hit out wildly at the Government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone."

One of mrbrown's podcasts had a starring role in the run-up to the elections when it mocked the way the government harped on for days about an opposition candidate's bungled attempt to submit an election form.

mrbrown's podcast parody of the affair as a food stall vendor hounding a customer over an order of a bowl of minced pork noodles was downloaded 200,000 times and spread like wildfire in the blogoshpere.

Like others in Singapore's lively Internet scene, both mrbrown and Goh are worried about an upcoming revision of the penal code, which could take into account "new technological developments" such as the Internet.

"At any time, the government could drop the guillotine on us. So, not very funny times, I'm afraid," Goh said.

19 Dec 2006

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

From CNN. However this is nothing new nor unique to Singapore.
Singapore flames 'uncaring elite'
POSTED: 0551 GMT (1351 HKT), December 19, 2006
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

"If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the Gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.

Welfare as a dirty word
Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidized and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on November 13.

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favor of the lower-income groups".

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.

Marie Antoinettes
Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $6,500 a month, while such families make up just 13 percent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical Web site TalkingCock.com, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

And where does this income inequality begin...

1. Singapore Prime Minister's Basic Salary US$1,100,000 (SGD1,958,000) a year
Minister's Basic: US$655,530 to US$819,124 (SGD1,166,844 to SGD1,458,040) a year

2. United States of America President: US$200,000 Vice President: US$181,400
Cabinet Secretaries: US$157,000

3. United Kingdom Prime Minister: US$170,556 Ministers: US$146,299 Senior Civil
Servants: US$262,438

4. Australia Prime Minister: US$137,060 Deputy Prime Minister: US$111,439
Treasurer: US$102,682

5. Hong Kong Chief Executive : US$416,615 Top Civil Servant: US$278,538
Financial Sec: US$315,077

Source: Asian Wall Street Journal July 10 2000

18 Dec 2006

Vote For Lee Hsien Loong

For twelve months, openDemocracy's readers have visited shame upon the heads of the planet's worst despots, kleptocrats, finaglers and warmongers. Our monthly Bad Democrat poll has put six candidates to the public vote. Each winner has been notified of his achievement and now goes forward to this, undoubtedly one of the least coveted prizes in politics, the Bad Democrat of the Year award. You can vote for your choice below, or, if you prefer, send a cheque to the usual address.

Vote for Lee Hsien Loong Click Here
It was only when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank rolled into town in September that the extent of the suffocating control the premier exerts on Singaporean society was write large. Even Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con hawk turned World Bank president, described the regime as "authoritarian". Chee Soon Juan, the opposition's most vocal politician, and his fellow democracy campaigners had been banging on about such abuses for years – and generally had their arguments brushed away with a copy of the city-state's economic growth figures. Elections in May saw websites that fell short in their sycophancy blocked. Lee and his father – who continues to hold the dubious post of "minister mentor" – have taken adopted a litigious strategy to maintain their grip on power: if it moves, sue it.


What really happened in prison

Chee Soon Juan
18 Dec 06

In response to the Ministry of Home Affair’s (MHA) statement (ST, 2 Dec 2006), allow me to state what really took place during my recent imprisonment at the Queenstown Remand Prison from 23 Nov-16 Dec 2006.

When I consumed my meals on the first two days of my jail term, I experienced acute nausea, dizziness and extreme distortion of my auditory senses. Sounds like the jangling of keys or my cell-mates urinating in the latrine became unbearably loud.

When I subsequently skipped a couple of meals, these symptoms did not occur. When I resumed eating, the negative effects re-appeared. This made me rather suspicious and nervous.

Food tray marked

My suspicion was heightened when I noticed that my food tray was marked with the letter ‘S’. Those of my two other cell-mates were not so marked. I then compared the contents of my rations with theirs and found that the servings were similar.

I subsequently found out from my wife that when she asked a Mr Chandra Kumar, who would only identify himself as a “prison officer” from the MHA, he categorically denied that prisoners’ food trays were marked.

I then decided to stop eating whereupon the symptoms I described earlier went away. I told the prison authorities, including the doctor, about the matter and said that I wanted to see my wife.

After a few days without my eating, the doctor said that he wanted to run some tests to check on my health. I consented to giving him urine samples but indicated that I did not want any invasive procedures to be conducted, including extracting blood samples.

Given what I had just experienced, I did not want the prison authorities inserting anything into me such as pricking my finger for blood-sugar tests, taking blood samples, or putting me on intravenous drips.

I repeated that I wanted to see my wife first (to seek independent opinion) before I gave consent to such invasive procedures, however minor they were. Given the circumstances, I had to be extra cautious.

I, however, continued to give urine specimens and allowed my blood pressure to be monitored.

The prison authorities remained intransigent for an entire week until Sunday, 3 Dec when the doctor decided to admit me to Changi General Hospital (CGH) because my blood pressure had begun to fall and traces of blood continued to be present in my urine.

The following morning on 4 Dec, I again indicated to the doctors at CGH that given the situation, I wanted to see my wife first before I agreed to any invasive procedure to be done. But I did not object to X-rays and CT-scans being conducted on me.

When the authorities finally allowed my wife and sister, Chee Siok Chin, to visit me at CGH that morning, I felt more at ease and subsequently consumed the hospital food and allowed my blood to be drawn for tests.

I was informed that all the tests and consultations showed that there was nothing inherently wrong with me that caused me to refuse to eat the prison food or to experience the symptoms when I ate it. Which brings me back to the question: What caused my symptoms when I first ate the prison food?

Sleep deprivation tactics?

When I was subsequently discharged and transferred back to prison on Thursday, 7 Dec, it was already dinner time. When the food trays were brought in, I was told to choose one out of the three (the marking was no longer there).

I did not want to eat the dinner partly because I had an aversion to the food and partly because I had had a late meal at the hospital just before I was brought back to prison.

The prison official in charge gave me five minutes to start eating failing which my family visit, yard time, and consultations with my lawyer would be canceled. When I did not comply, I was taken back to my cell.

The books that I had taken with me to the hospital and brought back were then taken from me. When I asked for them, I was told that they were undergoing “censoring”. I told the officials that they were the same books I had with me since the first day of my imprisonment and asked why they were being censored only now. I received no explanation. The books were only gradually returned to me the following day.

That night the light in my cell was left on the entire night and morning which made sleep impossible. This went on for the remaining nine days of my imprisonment. I told the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the refusal to turn off the lights at night was affecting my ability to rest and sleep and this, in turn, affected my health adding to my inability to eat during the day. Obviously, this fell on deaf ears.

I nevertheless tried to eat as much as possible, usually managing a few mouthfuls, just so that I would not be accused of deliberately refusing to eat. Because of the sleep deprivation, I was not able to gain back the weight I had lost (about 5 kg) when I refused to eat the food during the first week of my incarceration.

Lastly, my lawyer, my family members and I have repeatedly asked for a complete set of my medical test results to be given to us. To date, after more than a week, we still have not received it.

Given what I have just revealed, it is imperative that the Government answer the following questions:

1. Why was my food tray marked ‘S’ when others’ were not?

2. Why were my books taken away from me when I returned to the prison from the hospital?

3. Why was the light in my cell left on throughout the night thus depriving me of sleep?

Scholars past their prime are in dire straits

Thanks to oviraptor, who pointed me to this post on Sammyboy's forums:

Dec 16, 2006
Don't knock us, our rice bowls are not iron
Military and civil service high-fliers nearing or past their tenures struggle to keep up in corporate world

By Ho Ai Li & Susan Long

A WELL-KNOWN chief executive of a global company here tells how he receives persistent calls from former scholars who have graduated from Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College.

Some are military officers about to hit 45. Others are from the Government's elite administrative service, in their 50s and nearing the end of 10-year tenures.

Some are so desperate to 'sell' themselves that they ask what time he will be in the gym so they can run on the treadmill next to him and make their pitch.

'It's very sad,' observed the CEO, who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity. 'In Singapore, above 45, you cannot be looking for a job. The job must be looking for you.'

Things are getting tougher for military or civil service high-fliers nearing or past their shelf life. Previously, most were absorbed by government-linked companies (GLCs) or statutory boards when it was time to leave.

But these days, GLCs - which are becoming more bottom-line-driven and moving from passive asset management to aggressive overseas expansion - prefer to hire those who can hit the ground running from Day One. These would be people with experience in global banking, financial services, mergers and acquisitions, leisure entertainment and customer relations.

Unfortunately, those leaving the military and civil service lack that global perspective and struggle to keep up, say corporate observers and recruiters.

According to human resources consultancy Hewitt Associates country head Na Boon Chong: 'The challenge has moved from managing a large organisation to helping guide the company through significant industry changes. The latter requires depth of specific industry experience, which retiring civil servants or military officers often lack.'

Finding them a job in the private sector is also a problem. Singapore's contract manufacturing industry is shrinking and the growth of home-grown companies with pockets deep enough to hire such high-calibre candidates is just not able to keep pace with the conveyor belt of government scholars today. Each year, the public sector gives out about 250 scholarships.

What aggravates matters, said executive headhunter Richard Hoon, is that former military men can be too used to the regimented life.

'Maybe only one out of 100 can adapt to the corporate world. The rest have to work hard and undergo personal coaching to be 'demilitarised',' he said.

'They have a certain bravado, talk in a certain way and have a certain mindset that's not attractive to employers. They used to be officers, always managing others. But stripped of their uniform, they're just ordinary people with a difficult transition to make.'

Many also lack the soft skills so necessary in the business world.

Outplacement specialist Paul Heng said: 'Stories are plentiful about ex-civil servants and army officers who behave as if they are still sitting in their ivory towers, giving orders to the troops. Some are downright patronising.

'They need to inspire confidence in interviewers that, not only can they do the job, but they can also assimilate into the company culture and work well with others.'

The 'cultural re-adaptation' process can take months, even years. As such, this group now competes with the droves of other over-40, out-of-work managers looking for work.

Some complain that while the Government exhorts industry to hire older workers, it is not quite walking the talk itself.

In 1998, the career span of military officers was reduced from 27 to 23 years, meaning that those who joined after 1998 would retire at about 42, instead of about 45 previously.

Since 2000, the Administrative Service has ruled that those appointed to Public Service Leadership jobs will have only 10 years' tenure for each position, such as permanent secretaries, deputy secretaries or chief executives of major statutory boards.

The rationale is to maintain a steady turnover, help the organisation avoid becoming too settled in its ways, and encourage young and capable officers to remain in service and strive for top posts.

What that means, a fast-rising administrative officer said, is that you have to actively work towards your next tenure during your current one.

'If you get promoted to permanent secretary too early, or something goes wrong, you miss a step and can't get to the next level. The conveyor belt of scholars relentlessly moves on and pushes you out. And there you are - yet another out-of-job older worker,' said the officer, who is in his 30s.

His own exit plan? He is banking on regional demand for senior civil servants with deep policy expertise and operational experience.

At 37, another government scholar who is now doing well sometimes worries whether he will be able to survive on the outside in his mid-40s.

'Honestly, a lot of us have no idea what we can do outside,' he said. 'Our rice bowl is not iron or as glamorous as people think it is.

'I know people think we have it made and are so well-trained that we can easily be absorbed into industry. But it's a misperception that needs to be corrected because there's obviously a mismatch between what the public sees and what our potential employers see.'

With the clock ticking away, he has begun finding out how he can get into financial advisory work. He is also managing his expectations downwards and keeping his commitments spare, by not upgrading from his Housing Board flat.

Also cautious is a former government scholarship holder and Cambridge graduate now working as a researcher.

At 45, and having seen the corporate carnage that claimed some of his 40-something peers, he is considering starting a cafe or getting trained to be a masseur.

'In your 40s and 50s, more than at any other time, you need financial stability. Yet, it's the age when you're the most vulnerable,' he said. 'There's a heartless bottom-line economic calculation going on and companies are quite happy to cut you loose.

'The slippery slope to unemployment can start suddenly. It can be one year, one bad move down the road. The tragedy for scholars is that they have always been on an ascending path. The thought of levelling off or falling down is scary.'

But there are stories of courageous and successful transitions too, like that of lieutenant-colonel-turned-entrepreneur Nicholas Koh, 46.

The former deputy head of naval logistics (platform systems) and navy scholar had the option of staying on till 47, but chose to 'bite the bullet early'.

In 2002, at 42, he took a smaller gratuity package and left to join ST Engineering as vice-president of defence business.

'I wanted to get out early and start gaining valuable corporate experience to build my future while I still had energy,' said the father of two teenagers. 'I didn't want to get too used to a comfortable life.'

In 2003, he quit the job that paid around $150,000 a year, took a painful pay cut and set up Victory Knights Management Consultancy.

'It was my baptism of fire. I decided to fight for it out there. No point looking for short-term havens,' he said.

His firm administers a marine technology master's programme offered by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Last year, it also ventured into Oman, where it helps to incubate environmental technology and property development companies.

'Out there in the commercial world, it's war. Generals and colonels who are able to fight a war should be able to fight for themselves. If they can't, they don't deserve their former rank and status,' he declared.

'Public funds have been used to groom them in the past, so they should come out into society and create new ways to contribute back to Singapore's economy.'

More on this at a later date.

15 Dec 2006

Competition or collusion?

Indonesia accusing Temasek of 'collusion'. Now I have seen everything.

Anti-competitive complaint against Temasek-linked telco investments in Indonesia may spark probe

Thursday • December 14, 2006

Tor Ching Li

TEMASEK Holdings' growing pains strike again — this time not in the streets of Thailand over Shin Corp, but in Indonesia over its control of the two largest telecommunications companies there.

An official at the Indonesian Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) confirmed with Today that a complaint had been filed against Temasek and its linked companies, ST Telemedia and Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) — they own stakes in PT Indosat and Telekomunikasi Selular (Telkomsel), respectively — on grounds of price-fixing and blocking a new entrant, Bakrie Telecom.

"We are still clarifying the complaint and finding evidence, so there is no case yet," said the KPPU official. Should evidence of anti-competitive behaviour be found, further investigations spanning up to 150 days will commence before a decision by the KPPU is made.

In a related move, the Indonesian government yesterday granted Bakrie Telecom, which currently operates only in some cities on Java island, a licence to operate nationally, according to Reuters. Bakrie Telecom is controlled by the family of Indonesia's chief social welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie, and has slightly over a million subscribers.

Until now, the new market player has been trying to expand in a telecommunications industry that has Telkomsel and Indosat enjoying 80 to 90 per cent of the cellular pie. Since 2002, ST Telemedia has gained a 42-per-cent stake in Indosat while SingTel holds 35 per cent of Telkomsel's shares.

Asked to comment on the allegations, ST Telemedia's spokesperson Melinda Tan said: "ST Telemedia is a firm advocate of open competition. Our operations in Indonesia, Singapore and elsewhere are a testimony of this business philosophy."

She added that there is no Temasek management on the ST Telemedia board. Indosat's board of commissioners and board of directors, who are responsible for matters such as setting tariffs, are elected by the shareholders. "As a listed company in Jakarta and New York, Indosat is required to comply with (those) Exchanges' strict corporate governance and transparency guidelines, which will not allow such collusion as reported in the media," said Ms Tan.

SingTel declined to comment on its overseas operations. But analysts think this latest episode could be just another bump in Temasek's turbulent foray into the Indonesian telecommunications market.

When ST Telemedia's deal with Indosat was concluded in 2002, staff of the company took to the streets in Jakarta, fearing a dominant Singaporean presence in Indonesia's mobile phone market. A group of political dissenters who opposed President Megawati Sukarnoputri's administration also sought to annul the sale.

Last July, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla — who has pro-nationalist views on business ownership — was quoted as saying that the government was eyeing ST Telemedia's stake to boost its ownership of strategic state enterprises. The Indonesian government now owns 15 per cent of Indosat and 65 per cent of Telkomsel.

CIMB-GK Research regional economist Song Seng Woon thinks that the issue is likely to blow over, but urged Temasek to be more cautious with its foreign investments and "pay more attention to the political risk factor".

Pretending not to be Elitist is Hypocritical

I am distraught to read Adrian's article which seems to propagate his opinion that the elites are right to be above the rest.

This is echoed in his sentences, " we must teach these students discretion. Just because they believe in something (and are right), they are not obliged to loudly and widely broadcast it. Or use emotional or inflammatory language." and "So being humble, or pretending to be, is a good tactic that will pay off when the wheel of fortune turns."

Does he mean to tell us that it is perfectly all right for elites to "look down" on others as long as we do it in a hush hush or politically correct way?

Moreover, what is precisely the meaning of an "elite"? According to him, it seems to be studying in Raffles or living in private housing.

Does it encompass wealth or material acquisition? Does it include decision makers, leaders and bureacrats (and their children) in governmental and public sector?

Elitism breeds arrogance. Pretending not to be elitist but having that idea is hypocritical.

I expected TODAY to practise much better taste when choosing to print an opinion piece. This article hits rock bottom.


Elites, be not proud
Friday • December 15, 2006
Adrian Tan

RECENTLY, there has been a lot of hand-wringing in the media and among Members of Parliament, about public attitudes to the elite and how the elite contribute to these attitudes.

In particular, a fair amount was said about the attitudes of students in "elite" schools.

Elites have always been with us. While we can, and must, have a society that recognises the diversity of talents, the idea of creating many elites, as has been suggested, sounds Alice-in-Wonderlandish: "At last the Dodo said, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'"

Many students in elite schools have always thought themselves better than others from "lesser" schools and perhaps other people in general — with or without the help of their teachers.

I speak from experience, having spent the six years from Secondary 1 to Pre-U II in the most elite school at the time (although ex-pupils of St Joseph's Institution, National Junior College, Catholic High and Anglican High would dispute that, naturally) albeit at the wrong end of the examination lists.

Among such schools during my time, there was a lot of elitism which local political scientist Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan defines as an "often exaggerated in-group sense of superiority" and a dismissive view of others' abilities.

But we didn't have much opportunity to boast of these attributes because we didn't have the Internet. Today, the Internet allows students from premier schools to boast about their "superiority". They can make fun of and insult students from "lesser" schools and their "loser" elders. And other people read such stuff and rightly get upset.

So, what should we do?

Trying to persuade them that they are not the "special ones" is a waste of time because they "know" otherwise. Most of them will only learn the hard way when they miss the glittering prizes they think they deserve.

The most important thing that can be done is to remind these students constantly that — in the words of the prime minister, albeit in a slightly different context — they "must not end up selfish".

In my time, the premier schools and Government ministers (especially then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) constantly said that those who were smarter or better off ought to help others.

Unfortunately, as Singapore prospered, this message — while still being articulated — got lost amid other messages and background noise. So, I am glad that Mr Lee Hsien Loong has emphasised that the winners in a meritocracy "must not end up selfish".

Another reason to articulate this message loudly and repeatedly is that today, unlike in my time, scholars come from wealthier families. The Public Service Commission is reported to have said that in the last five years, one in three students awarded scholarships are from families that have household incomes of $10,000 a month, even though official statistics show that such families make up just 13 per cent of all households here. Students from households on monthly incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship holders.

And I was surprised to read that of 21 classmates of a Raffles Junior College student, only four live in public housing. In my time, most of my Raffles Institution pre-university classmates lived in public housing.

All this means that the sense of superiority and entitlement is less likely to be tempered by the duty to help others. Hence, the need for reminders.

Secondly, we must teach these students discretion. Just because they believe in something (and are right), they are not obliged to loudly and widely broadcast it. Or use emotional or inflammatory language.

They should be reminded that Singapore is a safe place, and it is in their interest to keep it that way.

I have lived in Sydney and Manila, where a remark like "get out of my elite, uncaring face" could result in severe consequences.

And finally, these students should be reminded that just because they are doing well now, this may not continue. The world is unpredictable and messy. Even making decisions that maximise success, does not always lead to the desired outcomes.

So being humble, or pretending to be, is a good tactic that will pay off when the wheel of fortune turns.

The contributor was in the legal and stockbroking professions. He is now a freelance financial writer.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

14 Dec 2006

Singapore: Government misusing the law to muzzle critics

Below is Amnesty International's public statement regarding Dr Chee Soon Juan's current imprisonment. It was issued very shortly before we learned that he is to be released Saturday, December 16. Five days later, he will face another trial, this time for attempting to leave the country in April without official permission to attend a conference of the World Movement for Democracy.

Given concerns about his health and treatment while incarcerated, he is to address that issue when he is released.

All good wishes,

Margaret John
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada


Public Statement

AI Index:
ASA 36/005/2006 (Public)
News Service No:321

14 December 2006

Singapore: Government misusing the law to muzzle critics

Amnesty International called on the Singapore government to stop using restrictive laws and defamation suits to muzzle critics and opposition party members. Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), is in his third week of imprisonment having been convicted of speaking in public without a permit.

Amnesty International is concerned about the continuing use of restrictive laws and civil defamation suits in Singapore to penalise and silence peaceful critics of the government. Laws allowing the authorities to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly which violate international standards, combined with a pattern of politically motivated defamation suits, have served to maintain a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship in Singapore. This climate continues to stifle freedom of expression, deter the expression of views alternative to those of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and dissuade many Singaporeans from exercising their right to take part in public affairs.

Chee Soon Juan was sentenced on November 23 under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act to five weeks in jail after refusing to pay a S$5,000 fine for speaking in public without a permit prior to the country's general election in May. In a video message before he was taken to prison, Dr Chee said "...we need courage. Courage to tell the Government that no matter what it does to us, we are willing to pay the price to win our freedom and to establish democracy in this nation of ours." He hugged his wife and three children before the police led him away.

On 3 December Dr Chee was transferred to hospital to undergo tests after the prison's doctor found traces of blood in his urine and low blood pressure. Dr Chee had reportedly suffered nausea, strong headaches and abdominal pain. Due to his concern that his symptoms were being caused by the food he was being given in prison Dr Chee had refused to eat prison food since 26 November. He resumed eating while in hospital. Dr Chee was discharged from hospital on 7 December and transferred back to prison.

When Chee Soon Juan is released, he faces seven other similar charges. It is the second time this year and the fifth time overall that Dr Chee has been jailed following the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

Two SDP supporters were also jailed for speaking in public without a permit alongside Dr Chee. Gandhi Ambalan, who refused to pay S$3,000, was sentenced to three weeks in jail. Yap Keng Ho was given 10 days in jail after refusing to pay a S$2,000 fine.

Chee Soon Juan's sister, also a senior member of the SDP, Chee Siok Chin and SDP colleagues Monica Kumar and Yap Keng Ho, are subject to a court case after failing to pay S$23,550 for legal costs incurred after challenging the move by police to disperse a peaceful protest involving Chee Siok Chin and three companions in August 2005. In order to stave off bankruptcy proceedings, Chee Siok Chin, Monica Kumar and Yap Keng Ho reached a settlement in November 2006 under which they will collectively pay monthly instalments of S$800. Chee Siok Chin appealed for public donations. Chee Siok Chin ran unsuccessfully as an SDP candidate in this year's general elections but were she made bankrupt she would be barred from contesting any future election.

Other opposition figures have been declared bankrupt, including Chee Soon Juan and former leader of the opposition Workers Party J B Jeyaretnam, following civil defamation suits launched by prominent members of the ruling PAP. In November, J B Jeyaretnam made his fifth unsuccessful application to have his bankruptcy annulled.

Dr Chee, a recipient of the Defender of Democracy award by Parliamentarians for Global Action is recognised internationally as a human rights defender. A leading member of a number of international human rights bodies he has done research in Australia and the USA, and is the author of a number of books about human rights and democracy. He has expressed determination to continue to press for non-violent change in Singapore, regardless of the consequences to himself.

Amnesty International remains gravely concerned that restrictive laws and civil defamation suits continue to be used in Singapore to stifle criticism and debate, which is a clear violation of international law and standards on freedom of expression and belies the government's repeated claims that it is building an "open society".

Citizen Journalism at its Bloodiest

Spotted a link to this on Tomorrow.sg and I have no idea regarding who posted it or when the incident or rather 'attempted murder' took place. It first appeared on Locksley's blog - Random Thoughts of a Disturbed Mind.

Please be warned that this contains extremely graphic violence...
I have to admit that I think this is an extremely rare event in Singapore, someone getting stabbed, however the official crime statistics are simply that, official.

13 Dec 2006


One-party ideological dominance and the personalization of news in Singapore 21
Soek-Fang Sim

Political issues are typically covered by quality dailies as hard news; in the case of the Straits Times*a highly regarded English-language newspaper in Asia and the national daily in Singapore*hard political news acquires a human-interest feel despite journalists’ efforts to follow hard news conventions and to inject controversy into their coverage. While in liberal societies, this phenomenon has been attributed to commercialization, I argue that in Singapore, this human-interest element could be traced to the ideological dominance of the one-party government. In the absence of alternative frames, the official framing of national issues as questions of personal morality becomes the dominant ideological frame for journalists. There are two significant consequences of the shift from a political to a moral frame: the distinction between hard and soft news is blurred and media discourse becomes de-politicized.

KEYWORDS authoritarianism; ideology; news genre; Singapore; soft news

Introduction: Ideology and News Genre
Singapore is no ordinary authoritarian country. On the one hand, it is undeniably authoritarian, being listed among the company of Vietnam, China, North Korea and Myanmar as states that do not endorse the Union of Civil Liberty. On the other hand, it has been praised and upheld as a paragon by leaders of the free world. President Bush highlights Singapore as ‘‘an example for . . . the world of the transforming power of economic freedom and open markets,’’ while Prime Minister Blair considers Singapore the best illustration of the parallel achievements of economic success and social cohesion.

The descriptions heaped upon Singapore such as ‘‘popular dictatorship’’ and ‘‘soft authoritarianism’’ indicate that ‘‘although clearly authoritarian, Singapore is not a dictatorship but a hegemonic state, in the Gramscian sense . . . it is based not simply on coercion, but also consensus’’ (Castells, 1988, p. 78). Singapore has also been called ‘‘a classic case’’ of hegemonic authoritarianism, where a relatively institutionalized ruling party monopolizes the political arena (Diamond, 2002, p. 25).

How is this monopolization of the political or ideological arena achieved and how does it impact journalism? An analysis of the Straits Times’ news coverage would throw considerable light on these questions. As a quality daily where journalists claim and do comply with professional standards of journalism (such as following a hard news format and injecting controversy into news coverage), the resultant human-interest feel of political news points to the influence of one-party ideological dominance on journalism. It is my argument that in the absence of competing frames, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP)representation of national issues as questions of personal morality (e.g., what Singaporeans, not the government, ought to do) monopolizes the ideological arena and exerts visible influence on media discourse and news genre: (1) news genres are blurred as hard news becomes dominated by the (human-interest) focus on personal morality; and (2) media discourse is de politicized by the focus on moral (rather than political) controversy.

To delineate the impact of hegemonic authoritarianism on news, I outline the contemporary debate around news and democracy, then I describe and explain the shape of news in Singapore. [To continue readng...]

Release Ching Cheong

Dear colleagues,

Release Ching Cheong under Medical Parole ASA

Ching Cheong has been detained for over one-and-a-half years. We are extremely worried about his deteriorating health. The Hong Kong Journalist Association has initiated a worldwide signature campaign calling on the Central Government to grant an early release for Ching Cheong under medical parole for humanitarian reasons. We also urge the Hong Kong government to assist Ching and his family to the greatest possible extent.

We anticipate your active participation. You can sign on the following form and fax it to us via 2572-7329. You can either join our campaign on 16 December outside the front gate of Sogo Department Store, East Point Road, Causeway Bay or sign up via chingcheong@hkja.org.hk before 5pm on 21 Dec 2006. We will send the signatures to the HKSAR government to express our concern on 22 December 2006, Ching’s birthday.

Mr. Ching Cheong, the chief China correspondent for the Singapore Straits Times, who has been sentenced by the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court to five years imprisonment, having been charged with espionage offences. Mr. Ching Cheong was detained by the State Security Bureau in April last year .

Best regards
Ms Serenade Woo
Chairperson of the HKJA

11 Dec 2006

Freedom Walk: Free to walk?

From the Singapore Democratic Party.
11 Dec 06

On Sunday 10 December 2006, a group of human rights advocates in Singapore walked down the heart of of the city to mark the International Human Rights Day.

The group consisting of about 20 men, women and children were dressed in bright yellow T-shirts that read "Free to Speak", "Free to Walk" and "Free to Gather".

Starting from Hong Lim Park, the participants ended the 8km walk outside the Queenstown Prison where one of our own human rights and democracy advocates is still serving his jail sentence for having claimed his rights as a citizen of the country. Dr Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned no less than five times, all for exercising his right to speak.

The group gave out flyers to passers-by during the walk. Several of the advocates stopped at the Istana to hand a flyer to the President of the Republic.

Along a quiet stretch at Tanglin Road the police attempted to violate our right to walk peacefully and in small groups. Mr Gandhi Ambalam, one of the two men who had been imprisoned with Dr Chee, was accosted by the police. He was asked to disperse. The reason given to him was that an illegal assembly was taking place. Mr Gandhi explained that he was walking with only one other and the rest of the participants were walking in small and scattered groups. After assessing the situation, the police allowed Mr Gandhi to walk on.

The entire group arrived at the Queenstown Prison at about 7.15 pm.

This was the first time many in the group were taking part in an event to raise awareness for human rights in Singapore. One participant said that he had not "felt so alive in a long time." Another was so inspired that he remarked that he wished he had brought the Singapore flag to wave it as the group walked along.

The activists were happy that we were able to complete what we had set out to achieve, which was to mark Human Rights Day and to stand in solidarity with our friends whose rights to free speech were denied.

We would like to thank those who joined us along the way and finished the walk with us. Their presence and company was encouraging, if not inspiring.

The group will continue to raise human rights awareness among Singaporeans so that we can claim and exercise our rights.

9 Dec 2006

America: Freedom to Fascism

The Site

[Approx 1 hour 49 Minutes]
Singapore is unique they say and run like a large corporation...

"The system functions like a big corporation, designed to maximise profit. The Government maintains an upbeat information department, frequently holding press briefings lauding economic achievements but rarely or publicly discusses substantive matters of policy and politics." Eric Ellis

8 Dec 2006

Release Opposition Party Leader

Singapore: Release Opposition Party Leader
07 Dec 2006 23:14:37 GMT

Source: Human Rights Watch
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.
(New York, December 8, 2006) ? Singapore opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan is being arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to free expression and should be immediately and unconditionally released, Human Rights Watch said today. In the meantime, Chee should be transferred from the prison ward in Singapore's Changi General Hospital to the hospital's regular in-patient facilities to ensure he receives appropriate medical care and is released home to complete his recuperation. Chee was arrested on November 23, 2006 for speaking publicly without a permit on April 22, 2006 in opposition to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Singaporean authorities for years have relied on repressive laws to jail and bankrupt Chee, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Since 1999, the authorities have jailed Chee on three other occasions for violating the city-state's laws restricting public speech and assembly.

"Once again, the Singaporean government has reacted to public criticism by jailing the critic," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "Dr. Chee should be released immediately, before his health deteriorates further."

After the Subordinate Court mandated a Singapore $5,000 (US$3,200) fine or a five-week prison term for Chee's speaking publicly without a permit, he chose prison. Two days after he entered Queenstown Remand Prison, Chee complained of nausea and lightheadedness after he ate. He cut back his food intake and reported his symptoms to prison authorities and to his family when they visited on November 28. According to family members, prison officials responded indifferently. A family spokesperson reported that he remained untreated for more than a week after his first complaint. It was not until December 3, when Chee's blood pressure dropped precipitously, blood was noted in his urine, and he was complaining of abdominal pain, that prison authorities finally transferred him to the hospital's prison ward.

Prison officials informed family members they would be allowed only one visit to Chee, and that they would be notified when he was discharged back to prison. Since then, family members have had no contact with Chee, the prison doctor or any other prison official, the hospital doctor in charge of the prison ward, or a member of the nursing staff. Questions about medical tests or results have gone unanswered.

"It's as if Singapore's draconian restrictions on free speech apply to Dr. Chee's doctors," said Adams. "The government seems to think that the less that anyone other than the relevant authorities know, the easier it would be to contain public attention to the message he carried. But a vibrant outspoken civil society is just what the doctor should order for Singapore."

HRW news

7 Dec 2006

China's educational authority warns students against seven Singapore institutions

The following is a topic and a turn of events that has a strong effect on me. Having lived and worked in Singapore for a number of years, I have gained an insiders view of two of the schools listed below. The academic staff, the administration staff and the students have as far as I am concerned been second to none. So when news like this is released it always saddens me and makes me concerned for their positions.

However the management style, that I have witnessed in these institutions, is as far as my humble opinion is concerned a joke. Loyalty and trust is demanded from the staff and yet that loyalty is not repaid by sound managerial decisions. Working in an 'educational' institution that demands your silence, that smothers criticism at birth and has one driving force - maximisation of profit - is a soul destroying experience. Yes they speak of 'education' on the rare occassion but only if it enhances their marketability. As soon as you get close enough and involved enough you realise that something lurks beneath the surface.

There is something rotten in the so-called 'Education Hub' of Singapore and it lies at the feet of the senior management and in Singapore that usually refers to the owners.

The suspension and expulsion of institutions from the CASE scheme is a worthy intervention. Case outlines its 'vision/mission' statement as
": Protect & enhance consumers' interest through information, education & to promote an environment of fair & ethical trading practices."

So what 'fair and ethical trading practices' have these institutions breached?

The only other issue I have is to ask 'when and how has this knowledge been disseminated to local Singaporean students?'

Chinese students are being warned not to apply to seven private schools and training centers in Singapore.

The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) recently disqualified seven private schools. They are the Oriental School of Business, Singapore Institute of Commerce, Louis Preston School of Business, Louis Preston Travel & Tourism Training Center, Stansfield College, Lions Club of Singapore Nanyang, and Froebel School of Education.

Chinese students can log on to China's Ministry of Education website as www.jsj.edu.cn, to check the qualifications of schools abroad.

Source: Xinhua

Freedom Walk

Singapore Democratic Party
06 Dec 06

A group of individuals will come together to mark the International Human Rights' Day on Sunday 10 December, 2006.

Organizations and individuals all over the world have been celebrating this day since 1950. The adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on 10 December 1948 at the United Nations General Assembly.

In Singapore, a group of human rights advocates will commemorate this day by walking through along the busiest part of the country to raise the awareness of human rights among Singaporeans. The group hopes to pass on a message of hope and encouragement for all to respect and honour the rights of all individuals.

The group will gather at Hong Lim Park and will proceed to walk in small teams, relay-style, from Hong Lim Park, down Orchard Road, Tanglin Road and end off at Margaret Drive.

The public is welcomed to cheer us on or come and speak to the "walkers" at any point during the event.

The details are as follows:

Start point: Hong Lim Park
End point: Margaret Drive (outside Queenstown Remand Prison).
Date: Sunday, 10 December 2006
Assembly time: 4pm
Finish time: 6.30pm


If you have yet to watch France24 live on the internet I suggest that you do so now. Seriously I think this is potentially huge.

Click on the image to see the old and new media debate in a whole new light. The more I watch it the more I want to tell everyone to go there and just see for themselves...

6 Dec 2006

Talk of Paris

To show you that one of France 24’s main goal is to include interactivity in their strategy, here is a trailer of the” Talk of Paris” , the highlight show animated by Ulysse Gosset, famous French journalist.

Uploaded by FRANCE_24

This show will give you the opportunity to interview world leaders and opinion makers by asking them all the questions you want. Nothing more simple: just upload a video of your question and post it on the Dailymotion group dedicated to the show. It might be aired on “the Talk of Paris”

The first guest will be José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, December the 8th at 7 pm.

Maybe the MDA could learn a thing or two from an approach that wishes to engage in dialogue rather than all this chatter about 'regulation and control' or else....

5 Dec 2006

time for bloggers to self-regulate

A community code may help deflect official intervention

Tuesday • December 5, 2006

Dharmendra Yadav

WITH Malaysia contemplating tough Internet laws to control bloggers, and controversy in China over the move to get bloggers to register their real names, it looks like some governments are prepared to challenge popular wisdom and attempt to bridle the Internet. ['Some governments' - don't you mean 'authoritarian states']

And no wonder, with an estimated nine million blogs in cyberspace and one more born every 7.4 seconds, according to The Scientist magazine. [Technorati puts it at 55 million]

Before state regulators step in with the heavy hand of the law, should the blogging community pre-emptively introduce some form of self-regulation? [No and they already have - you mention the interventions yourself a few paragraphs later.]

There is reason for authorities to take seriously the growing power of blogs. Last week, it was reported that an online survey by Microsoft found that about half of Internet users in Singapore think blogs are as trustworthy as mainstream media. [By take seriously you mean 'control' rather than actually engage in dialogue.]

Politicians have acknowledged the need to engage this growing cyber-constituency and begun using blogs to communicate their thinking on issues of the day. [Yes they communicate their thinking to us - they do not however engage in an open debate on policies with their readers. They use it as yet another soap box to talk at us.]

The power of blogs has also created unique issues for our law enforcers. The zero tolerance policy on negative ethnic and religious content has seen a handful of individuals convicted or warned, while the recent proposed amendments to the Penal Code — if passed — would give our police and state prosecutors more teeth to deal with offending blogs. [So the government already intervenes then and they intend to further impose regulation on bloggers.]

Yet, for all this, few preventive steps have been taken in Singapore to help bloggers stay out of trouble. Whatever has been achieved so far has been piecemeal. [Preventative steps - prevent us from doing what? Speaking freely in open debate - discussing the laws and government policies, talking about 'out-of-bounds' topics that undermine freedom of speech or simply calling your boss an asshole.]

In August, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University held a workshop to help bloggers write in a lawful, responsible manner, covering basic issues of copyright, defamation and so on. [Maybe next year they will invite me and I can give a talk and demonstrate how to get around internet blocks and how to set up proxy servers to access the 'free-internet'.]

Some employers such as IBM provide their employees with guidelines relating to their personal websites or blogs. My own employer in the financial sector has a similar policy. Recognising that what employees share on their personal blogs can reflect on the organisation, it gives them tips on how to write constructively and stay within the limits of the law. [so your blog is defined by the organisational culture that you work in - a rather determinist interpretation of the self - is there nowhere on the blog for 'you'.]

Unfortunately, the use of such policies are limited to the larger organisations. [Don't you mean FORTUNATELY] What of the larger proportion of bloggers employed in smaller organisations, or who are self-employed or students? [Run free bloggers, and be cautious of those saying that they are here to protect you by controlling you.]

At a conference last week, director of British Press Complaints Commission Tim Toulmin suggested that "blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the United Kingdom". [A voluntary code - But blogs and bloggers are not the same as Newspapers and journalists, I suggest that Tim goes and reads some articles on the 'New Media'.]

Such a code could provide avenues for "people angered at content" to seek redress. [Blogger already does - they are called email addresses and some sites even have 'report this site' facilities in the top right hand corner. This one doesn't by the way.]

Meanwhile, Cyberjournalist.net, which is linked to the Online News Association in New York, has proposed a Bloggers' Code of Ethics which it encourages bloggers to use. [Code of ethics or an attempt to 'professionalise' the discourse - and I use the word 'professionalise' in the pejorative sense.]

The code lays down best practices for bloggers to "be honest and fair", to "minimise harm" and to "be accountable". This is modelled after a similar code for journalists created by the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States. [Maybe you can get the Media Development Authority of Singapore to adhere to these 'best practices' - it might improve their RSF ranking.]

Perhaps these are ideas that the Media Development Authority can look into. [Yes and apply to the Straits Times, Channel News Asia and the Today paper.] Or even better — given bloggers' instinctive aversion to anything state-prescribed — perhaps local denizens of the blogosphere could get together to evolve their own self-regulating code. [Step right up all those who claim to represent the Singapore blogosphere - maybe Mr Brown or AcidFlask could chair the group.]

They could take their cue from the Media Bloggers Association (MBA) in the US. This is "dedicated to promoting, protecting and educating" its members; supporting the development of "citizen journalism" as a distinct form of media; and helping to extend the power of the press — with all the rights and responsibilities this entails — to citizens. [Extend the power of the Singaporean press - are you having a laugh, the PAP already contol the national press now you are arguing that the Singaporean Press should get control of the online community.]

The MBA, one blogger argues, does valuable service by "helping to shield bloggers from intimidation and frivolous defamation lawsuits, a problem that has been getting worse recently". [So set up a self appointed quango to control bloggers and bring an end to 'frivolous defamation' cases by encouraging self-regulation or is it self-censorship. We are not children who need your care and protection.]

Perhaps the Singapore Press Club can play a similar role, if it amends its constitution to appeal to a wider category of citizen journalists — although it would not be surprising if its leadership prefers to focus its resources more on full-time journalists in the mainstream media. [Is that the same Singapore Press Club which is populated by the journalists who have seen their ranking in the Reporter Without Borders table slip the last few years?]

A more obvious route is for bloggers to form their own association. There are already informal channels for collaboration among bloggers, which they may wish to take further. Some got together to organise the Singapore Bloggers Convention last year. Another fruit of collaboration is Tomorrow.sg, a blog aggregator featuring current postings from the local blogosphere. [A more obvious route would be for bloggers to continue on regardless and ignore -objective calls- to regulate or organise ourselves at someones bequest. Ignore calls to remove videos and podcasts during the elections etc... - as we did.]

There is an increasing need for bloggers to stand up, represent and self-regulate their own community more formally. This is also ideal. Otherwise, like other media, blogs may soon find themselves under closer scrutiny by media regulators in Singapore. [There is an increasing need for bloggers to ignore such calls to adhere to the 'best practices' of a government that undermines their rights as citizens to speak freely and openly on all subjects that they see fit. There is an increasing need for bloggers to acknowledge that they are NOW under close scrutiny by media regulators in Singapore. There is an increasing need for bloggers to ignore prophets and seers, who claim to know the way. There is an increasing need for bloggers to spot a wolf in sheeps clothing...]
The writer, a corporate counsel, blogs at thinkhappiness.blogspot.com. These are his own views. [And the only reason we are able to publish them in the State Controlled Press is because he says what we want to say, but he is a blogger and so might appeal more to other bloggers and not be seen for what it is - an article in the Today Newspaper...]