22 Jan 2006

The three layers of the Liberty League issue

There has been a flood of information about the LL issue in the past few weeks, so hopefully, this will clarify things a little bit.

I'm also adding all related links to this issue, hopefully in chronological order:

The CNA article that started it all
Pleinelune's response
The Sayoni article(duplicate of one in SBP) that got tomorrowed
News Article from Fridae.com
Media Release from PLU
PLU's email to redqueen and signel
Yawning Bread's article - "Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group"
Liberty League's funding raises questions - Fridae.com

Liberty League Website
The 3 layers of the Liberty League issue

Because the Liberty League issue evolved over a period of a week, the discussion about it in various web forums got rather confused. Different commentators focussed on different aspects of the case at different times. The result is that the nub of the matter is no longer clear.

Here, I am going to try to correct the situation by giving some structure, chronologically and logically, to the case.

You will also notice, however great my disagreement with the ideology of Liberty League and the ex-gay movement in general, it's actually tangential to the matter. They can believe what they want to believe, but what concerns us as Singaporeans are the decisions and actions of the government.

You will see below that the debate comes in three different layers.

1. That the decision to give government funding to Liberty League was unwise;
2. That a government ministry and its quasi-independent body that dishes out funds on its behalf, failed to perform due diligence before giving out public money, and the grant was in technical breach of its own eligibility criteria;
3. That it was unacceptable for the government to censor an emerging newspaper story.

It is possible for reasonable people to disagree on one level and agree on another, which is why the debate gets confused so easily. Thus it is advisable when evaluating the issue, to say exactly which level you agree with and which you disagree with.

* * * * *

On 13 January 2006, TV network ChannelNewsAsia reported that the government had given a grant of S$100,000 to Liberty League. See report.

Since People Like Us (PLU) was familiar with the name Leslie Lung, the person behind Liberty League, the group began making some enquiries.

Separately, unknown to PLU, a reporter also thought the story quite strange and started doing her own checks. She would later contact PLU.


Key background:

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) gave a grant of $100,000 to Liberty League, a group that appears to espouse an fundamentalist Christian ex-gay objective.

The grant was funnelled through the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC).


1. Unwise decision

What was uncovered about Liberty League can be seen in the earlier article Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group See also PLU's press release. At first, the chief concern was that Liberty League would not be a suitable organisation giving talks to school children about sexuality issues, since they appear to espouse a distinctly Christian point of view (when the majority of Singaporean children are non-Christian) and adopt a stridently anti-gay position. Such an approach hurts rather than helps the psycho-social development of gay and lesbian teenagers, at the same time as it fosters homophobia among their peers [1].

So the first level of disagreement would be that it was very unwise of the government to give endorsement and financial support to this group.


2. Technically faulty decision

Further investigation revealed that Liberty League should not even have qualified for the grant, based on the criteria listed on the website of the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC), a sub-unit of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).

It appeared that 3 of NVPC's own criteria were breached, for the website said applicants must show that

* it is a new initiative, significantly different from anything offered by other parties;
* it is non-profit;
* it is secular.

More details of each of these 3 breaches:



In a letter published in the online edition of the Straits Times, on 17 Jan 2006, Sarah Wong posed about 10 questions regarding the Liberty League matter.

Her top-most question, in a nutshell, was why are we paying an outside organisation to give talks when we've already paid teachers to teach the subject?

Another question was, what kind of teaching can we do when the law is so out of date?


(a) It's neither new nor different

It is common knowledge in Singapore that another group 'Choices' have been giving these talks for years in schools. Moreover, Leslie Lung himself had been giving such talks personally, as the article Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group described in depth. So, how can this be a "new" initiative?

(b) Is it really non-profit?

Liberty League Pte Ltd does not indicate anywhere that it is a
non-profit company. Normally, non-profit companies are not "Pte Ltd", but just "Ltd", (or "companies limited by guarantees" in technical jargon).

(c) It is not secular

As can be seen from the details in the Media Release, Liberty League is Christian-linked and religiously motivated. Furthermore, PLU had in hand a written first-hand account from a school student who was in the audience listening to Leslie Lung speak in one of his earlier lectures. There was repeated mention of God, Christianity and the Bible.

The above suggests at least 3 possibilities:

1. the NVPC had been misled;
2. the NVPC had failed to do proper background checks;
3. the NVPC made special exceptions for Liberty League
(in which case, why?).

This is the second level of our concern: a possible failure of good govenance procedures, and possible absence of due diligence.



Not that Choices is any better. It too spreads the message that homosexuality, masturbation, etc are all deviance. It's strategy is to lay guilt on very thickly.

Then it is wants people to "come to Christ" so that they can be relieved of that guilt.


People Like Us decided that we ought to play the role of concerned citizens fully. The group asked for a meeting with NVPC (the email copied the Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, as well) in order that we may exchange thoughts and present to them what we knew.

The meeting was not pleasant. NVPC (plus one MCYS representative) took the position that they would not tell us anything at all. Everything was confidential. They would not exchange thoughts nor truly engage with us on the ground that everything was "confidential".[2]

From the start, the body language was extremely frosty and suspicious. I had the feeling they came to the meeting with the view of "let's find ways to shoot the messenger before we get shot".

But it doesn't matter; our conscience is clear. We have done our part as citizens. If nothing is done despite our giving facts to NVPC and MCYS, then we know, and we will be in our right to say, where the failure lies.


3. Censorship

Meanwhile, separate from what PLU was doing, the reporter tried to get MCYS [3] to give her a comment in response to her questions. For 3 days, they did not respond. Nonetheless, MCYS was aware that a news story was brewing.

The newspaper story was supposed to be in Friday's edition (Jan 20), but minutes before it was to be filed, a call came from a ministry to stop the story.

What exactly was the motive behind this Stop order, we don't know.

This is the third and most serious level of concern. It is now an issue of transparency and accountability with public money and public trust.

© Yawning Bread





The body language of the NVPC officer suggested to me that it was a surprise for him to learn that Liberty League was a Private Limited Company. More - with just $10 in paid-up capital.

Why is this important?

Because NVPC's grant conditions say that the recipient has to match NVPC's funding with 30 to 50% of their own money.

This means Liberty league has to come up with $43,000 to $100,000 from their side.

It can either come from capital, donations, loans or earnings.

There's clearly insufficient capital. They'll find it hard to ask for donations, because they're not registered as a charity. They can ask for loans but how will they pay them back?

As for earnings, e.g. charging the schools for giving talks, this would raise an even bigger question. Sarah Wong, in her letter to the Straits Times had already asked why we're paying a group to teach what teachers are themselves paid to do? Now we want the schools to pay for talks that the NVPC is funding?

I posed the question to NVPC - have you thought about how they're going to deliver their side of the bargain? If after you've given out $100,000 and it's been spent, there's not a lot of recourse, is there?



Footnotes

1.

One person I know wrote a letter to the Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, pointing out to him that by spreading a message that is professionally discredited and known to cause long-term mental distress, Liberty League and its funder, MCYS, could be accused of tort. Tort means causing damage or injury by a willful or negligent act, and is a basis for a civil suit.

2.

This explanation is not as good as it sounds. For example, I asked them what were the grant conditions given to Liberty League? What were they actually supposed to do in return for the grant? They repeated that it was confidential and they had to seek Liberty League's permission to reveal their communication.

I said to them, it cannot be confidential because when they're disbursing public money, they should be accountable publicly for it. I wasn't asking them what Liberty League said in its application. I was asking them what NVPC said at the moment that it acted in its official capacity. The terms and conditions of that contractual arrangement should be a matter of public record.

They had no real reply to this and just stonewalled the rest of my requests.
Return to where you left off

3.

My understanding from unofficial sources is that the reporter first approached NVPC for a comment, but the immediate reaction from NVPC was that "the matter has gone up to MCYS", which was why for the following 3 days, the reporter was expecting a comment from the ministry, not from the immediate grant-giver, NVPC.

This throws some interesting light on NVPC itself. On its own website, www.nvpc.org.sg, it claims to be a "non-profit, non-government organisation", yet the moment a slightly challenging question is posed to them, the matter is passed "up to" the ministry. How "non-government" is that?

You draw your own conclusions.

14 comments:

akikonomu said...

I hold that Alex Au can do no wrong, that every word he speaks is the true way of understanding social reality, and pleinelune is his most noble messenger!

Let me just parody Alex Au's logic of "NGO is funded by the gahmen, and hence not independent" argument, and you tell me if he's all-knowing and always right:

1. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. Therefore, according to your logic, Oxfam is not independent!
2. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision US collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Therefore they are run by the government!
3. Médecins Sans Frontières gets 46% of its income from government sources. It's a stooge of the French government! It's NOT an NGO!

pleinelune said...

You are twisting my argument, Akikonomu.

I said - NVPC, although registered a governmental organisation, has close ties to the MCYS. Something this big will not have been passed without prior MCYS approval.

If they are using government money DIRECTLY - like, taking from the government and passing it straight to LL, with NVPC merely there as a middleman, then I guess your argument holds true. The public would not know much about contracts behind it, and may not need to. But that raises disturbing questions about the Government's agenda.

BUT, if NVPC is funding LL from their own pool of money, then it becomes a public issue. We have a right to say where that money should go.

Ad hominem arguments don't work, Akiko. Whatever Alex is, or whoever I am, it has no bearing on this whole issue, and you are wasting time trying to discredit me and him instead of coming up with credible arguments. Alex may not know everything, granted. You don't, either.

I think you are also forgetting the key issue here: the government gave a grant to a religious group, to go out and "convert" gay kids. If you are completely okay with that agenda, fine, don't argue with me anymore.

The Legal Janitor said...

Akikonomu:

What Alex Au says is irrelevant. Whether the government runs whatever organisation is also irrelevant.

The main issue is that the government is wasting money on useless ventures, and as a concerned taxpayer I want them to be accountable for that waste.

Reduce the size of government!

pleinelune said...

Amen to that. Then, perhaps, they would actually have money on "expensive shopping trips" such as helping the poor.

b is for... said...

I suggest that you re-examine your evidence and distinguish between Liberty League and Mr Leslie Lung.

Where is your evidence that Liberty League (as opposed to Mr Leslie Lung) is a religious organisation? Where is your evidence that Liberty League (as opposed to Mr Leslie Lung's past practices) will preach ex-gay values?

If indeed Liberty League turns out to be the monstrous organisation that you make it out to be, then - yes - I agree that we should discredit it. But there is currently not enough information on Liberty League itself, other than inferences that people draw from Mr Leslie Lung's actions in the past, to reach such a conclusion.

Kelvin Wong said...

Would you belief in an organisation runned by a white supremist that they are out to promote equality amongst the races?

Would you belieft in an organisation runned by a Nazi that they are out to promote human rights for Jews and homosexuals and that everyone should be treated equally?

pleinelune said...

If he was truly as you say, then he would be ex-ex-gay. Or rather, transexual. That doesn't seem to be the case... he is still preaching to everyone that being gay is wrong, if you caught Tab TV.

Yawning Bread said...

The paid up capital of Liberty League Pte Ltd is $10. There are 10 shares of $1 each.

7 of those shares belong to Leslie Lung Sze King

3 of those shares belong to a certain Vena Lung Wei Na, who shares the same address as Leslie Lung.

Is it meaningful to distinguish Liberty League's position on various matters from Leslie Lung's?

Anonymous said...

it is necessary to show that the system is opening up; at the same time, to show that you have the muscle (or money) to support what you believe in, and show disapproval what you do not

chingay said...

perhaps what we need is information on Leslie Lung after he proclaimed himself an ex-gay

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