30 Mar 2006

Email gaffe highlights Temasek's image sensitivities

Wed Mar 29, 2006 2:59 PM GMT

By Sara Webb

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Reporters rarely get a glimpse behind the scenes at Singapore's notoriously secretive state investor Temasek Holdings.

But the company accidentally revealed more than it intended this week when it emailed an internal document to journalists that set out how Temasek officials should reply to tough questions from the press.

"We are trying to find out what happened," said Temasek spokeswoman Eva Ho in an email to Reuters on Wednesday.

The briefing document, received by Reuters and other news media, covers 59 potential questions ranging from the firm's government ownership and potential conflicts of interest to its motivation for buying banks and telecoms companies overseas.

While it is standard practice around the world for company officials to be briefed by "spin doctors" on how to handle the media, the document shows which areas Temasek considers particularly sensitive.

The 13-page briefing spells out what to say when the media ask whether the appointment of Temasek CEO Ho Ching -- the wife of the prime minister -- was "politically motivated" and whether there are conflicts of interest because Lee also heads the Ministry of Finance, which owns Temasek.

"We are not here to discuss politics since we are not politicians or a political organisation. Our CEO is accountable to the board of directors, who is headed by an independent chairman just like any other commercial organisation," is Temasek's official response.


Temasek's chairman, S. Dhanabalan, is a former cabinet minister who entered politics in 1976 and who held several cabinet positions between 1980 and 1993 including Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Trade and Industry.

He was also chairman of DBS Group Holdings , Singapore's biggest bank, which is partly owned by Temasek.

Temasek, which has been snapping up stakes in banks and telecom companies in Asia, already has major holdings in Singapore's blue-chip companies such as Singapore Airlines and telecoms firm SingTel, whose CEO is the Prime Minister's brother.

The document, which mainly covers Temasek's purchase this week of an 11.55 percent stake worth $4 billion in emerging markets bank Standard Chartered, shows how sensitive Temasek is about its image at home and abroad, as well as its relationship with Singapore's government.

"The Singapore government, as a shareholder, is not involved in our investment decisions and business operations, much less in the businesses of our portfolio companies," is the official reply to questions about the government's involvement in business.

Temasek has helped spark a political crisis in Thailand and attracted hostility when it led a consortium that paid $3.8 billion for Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Shin Corp..

"Our investment in Shin Corp reflected our confidence in Thailand's long-term growth," is the answer to two different questions -- question 46, on the Shin takeover, and question 47, which reads: "Now with Standard Chartered, you are seen as taking over Thailand's financial services as well. Isn't this politically motivated?".

One stock reply in the document sounded all too familiar to reporters covering the firm. In case of a news leak about the StanChart deal before the signing of the deal, Temasek spokespeople are instructed to say: "We do not comment on market speculations."

All 59 Questions available here.

Upgrading should be a separate issue from the General Election

To: The Secretary-General of the People's Action Party

We are concerned about the linking of public housing upgrading and estate renewal programmes to electoral support for the PAP in a constituency.

The prioritisation of upgrading programmes should be based on sound criteria and be kept a separate issue from the general election.

These are the reasons:

1) In selecting a precinct for upgrading, the age and condition of the estate and the flats should be foremost considerations. As national agencies, the HDB and the MND have the responsibility to improve the living environment of all Singaporeans.

2) Residents in the opposition wards are fellow citizens and they contribute to this country just like you and me. It is against national cohesion and irresponsible for the government to alienate them by denying them of upgrading programmes and public amenities in their constituencies. The people of Singapore certainly have not entrusted the PAP government to misuse public funds to advance its self-interests.

3) It is important not to turn our parliamentary elections into local council contests. The government should be elected based on their policies and plans for Singapore - not municipal issues. To intimidate voters with withholding upgrading programmes seems to suggest that the ruling party is trying to avoid serious debates on national policies.

The elected government of the day should work for and together with all Singaporeans transcending political factions. The provision of upgrading programmes and public amenities must not be dominated by narrow party self-interests.

We, the undersigned, request that the vote in a general election not be linked to upgrading programmes.


The Undersigned

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Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Committee Movie Screening

DEADLINE: The Screening
Guinness Theatre, Substation
8 pm. Wednesday, 5th April, 2006
Free Admission.

Deadline is a documentary on Illinois Governor George Ryan, who, with 60 days left in office, makes a decision on the fate of death row prisoners. Directors Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson tackle the volatile topic of the American capital punishment system with intelligence, compassion and balance. Furthermore, they capture the extraordinary transformation of one man who holds the power of life and death in his hands.

Deadline is New York-based Big Mouth Productions's sixth feature-length documentary film and both Johnson and Chevigny's second film. Chevigny's directorial debut was Journey to the West: Chinese Medicine Today (2002), distributed by Wellspring Media. Johnson's previous film, Innocent Until Proven Guilty, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1999 and was featured on HBO.

Among other awards, Deadline has won the 2005 Cine Golden Eagle Special Jury Award, the Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award, Best Feature Documentary and Best Director at the Black Point Film Festival, Lake Geneva.W!. It has also screened at Amnesty International Film Festival, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and The Independent Film Festival of Boston.

This screening is organized by The Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Committee, which is a group of concerned individuals who believe that it is wrong for the state to take someone's life. We have organized this film screening as part of our public outreach. We hope to show more people the facts and the myths behind the death penalty.


The Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Committee had gone all quiet since the hanging of Nguyen Tuong Van. When Took Leng How's appeal was disallowed, the group did not push for Took's clemency, in spite of the name of the group. Not sure if this constitutes to double standards for I believe if a group is against the death penalty, they should push for clemency regardless of the crime committed. Maybe Nguyen's case was more unique, an Australian Vietnamese whereas Took is from a neighbouring country whom is about to erect a scenic bridge. Hmm.

28 Mar 2006

More Openness needed in Singapore

In response to the TODAY online news report of, "Mystery of the no-go Feelin' Good Party", I wrote a letter to the press.

What appears to be a mystery about the no-go 'Feeling Good' Party is the lack of written or recorded documentation from the various parties.

Nevertheless, the episode appears to be a repeat of the PLU3 open/closed meeting at the new National Library's Visitor Centre on 10 November 2005. The National Arts Council prevented the group from holding the event at the very last minute even though PLU3 has assured the body that the meeting will not touch on certain issues.

In both instances, it appears the “middle man” are forced into a difficult position in which they are forced to remain silent on the controversies.

Both episodes highlight the the need for local governmental bodies; whether be it the National Arts Council or the police to take an active approach in providing written documentation on their side of the story, so that they would not be accused of being prejudicial. Using phone calls to communicate is by no means professional.

Therefore, organisations which are either the middle-man or who are organising large-scale events should also be wary of further disputes and demand written proofs from the authorities.

While it appears that Fridae is the party that have suffered economic losses; we should also consider the party-goers who have been denied a chance to experience the music of Kate Monroe. As consumers, they have a right to know what has transpired.

This no go party highlights the need for more openness and transparency within our bureaucracies and business. To become a fairer society, whether to companies, consumers or citizens, the bureaucracy, especially, needs to be made more accountable.


This is the original article which appeared on TODAY online...

Mystery of the no-go Feelin' Good Party
Advertised extensively, then cancelled at the very last minute
Tuesday • March 28, 2006

Vinita Ramani

THE party was to have taken place on Sunday, but it was called off at the last minute — on its eve.

And no one seems able to agree on why the Feelin' Good Party, organised by gay and lesbian media events company Fridae.com, was suddenly cancelled.

Boasting Ministry of Sound as its venue, the party — which was advertised in local publications such as I-S and Juice, as well as on radio — was going to feature Australian house music DJ Kate Munroe.

According to a press statement issued and published on its website by the organiser, the same entity behind the banned annual Nation gay party, the "Ministry of Sound received a telephone call from local police demanding that the party be cancelled".

Its CEO Stuart Koe added: "Feelin' Good is simply a party, not unlike any other party held at clubs all around Singapore."

A police spokesperson, however, denied that they had intervened in any way.

What they did after receiving "information from the public" about the party on March 24 was to contact the Ministry of Sound's management to "obtain more details" to plan for possible "traffic or law and order situations that might arise".

Said the spokesperson: "At no time did we advise the management of the Ministry of Sound to cancel the event."

Mr Clement Lee, executive director of the venue's parent company LifeBrandz, also said that Fridae.com's statements were "not completely true" and hinted at other underlying reasons.

"If everything had been above board, the Ministry of Sound would have allowed the party to go on as planned," he said, declining to explain what he meant.

Up to 1,000 tickets had been sold for the event, which was planned with a capacity of 3,800 in mind. The organiser is now offering refunds on the $20 tickets.

DJ Kate Munroe played at Happy, a bar in Tanjong Pagar, instead.

Last year, the Nation party, touted as Asia's largest gay celebration and held here annually since 2001, was thrown into the spotlight after police here denied its organisers a licence.

The party was eventually moved to Phuket.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

27 Mar 2006

Homophobic Lee

Spotted on Singapore Election.

Comments made in October 2005 by Lee Hsien Loong

PM Goh liberalises hiring of gays in Singapore Civil Service, 2003
Channel i
1 min 58 sec - Mar 17, 2006

Singapore Inc on the nose

March 27, 2006

Singapore's Temasek is rich, powerful and on the prowl. But it didn't count on the latest backlash from Thailand, Eric Ellis reports.

IF IT looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck, as goes the old axiom.

And as effigies of Singapore's leaders burning in the streets of Bangkok suggest, millions of grumpy Thais haven't needed a zoology degree to work out that Singapore's Temasek Holdings is a government-owned duck.

Temasek's $3 billion deal to buy Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra out of his family business, Shin Corp, has precipitated Thailand's most serious political crisis in more than a decade.

Thais have poured into the streets demanding "Asia's Berlusconi" resign his five-year rule and pay taxes from the deal on his way out. Thailand's baht wobbles - its collapse prompted Asia's 1997 financial crisis - and worries economists, while deals are put off. The twitchy Thai military stays in the barracks, for now, while Thaksin toughs out this high-stakes game of brinkmanship versus the people.

But what of Temasek, Singapore's self-styled paragon of transparency whose opaque deal making has precipitated South-East Asia's latest economic crisis?

One of the world's most powerful investors, boasting an $US80 billion ($110 billion) portfolio, its Thai adventure is looking increasingly like a spectacular misjudgement for its boss, Madame Ho Ching. She's the wife of Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, whose family's authoritarian 50-year rule of Singapore inspired the inner autocrat in Thaksin that could now prove his undoing.

Temasek's tactic is to effect an air of "Crisis? What crisis?" and deny it has anything to do with Official Singapore. Indeed, its descent to duckdom is never more absurdly displayed as when its army of immaculately groomed spinners demand the world's press and market analysts stop referring to it as "Singapore government-owned" and call it instead an "Asian investment company".

But Thais simply join the dots: Temasek is 100 per cent owned by Singapore's Ministry of Finance. Singapore's Finance Minister is its Prime Minister, Mr Lee, and his wife is Temasek's chief executive.

Thais would probably be furious with whoever did such a backroom deal with Thaksin. But every insistence by either Singapore side that they have nothing to do with the other simply further ignites the Thai touchpaper.

"Come on," says Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "We Thais aren't idiots."

Indeed, as Asia moves to wind back government involvement in the private sector, Thais view with alarm what they see as Thaksin's sell-out to the Singapore Government of their economy: hotels, banks, airlines, property and, now, the main telephone company, a strategic communications satellite and a popular television station. Notes one columnist in the Thailand's The Nation newspaper, "Singapore might change Bangkok's Sathorn Road into Orchard Road and declare it a bubble-gum-free zone".

Sometimes Temasek is its own worst enemy. As Thais raged, a placatory Temasek presented its "managing director, investments," Mr S Iswaran, as the go-to guy to explain the Shin deal.

As a veteran Singapore civil servant, Iswaran was once responsible for Singapore's negotiations at the World Trade Organisation and APEC. He is also the Parliament's deputy speaker and a loyal lieutenant of the Lee family-led People's Action Party. A more faithful flack of the ruling clique would be hard to find.

Singaporeans aren't Thais but they know a good deal when they see one, and many would like to see Temasek out of Singapore's economy too, where government companies control as much as 60 per cent of the action.

They privately question what in fact it was that Ho brought to Temasek in 2001, apart from a powerful husband they already knew. She was hired in 2001 to enliven Temasek's sluggish returns but, in Bangkok at least, the value she purchased for Singapore disappears by the day as protesters vote with their pockets by cancelling subscriptions to Shin's main asset, Thailand's leading mobile phone company, AIS.

Shin shares have fallen 25 per cent since Ho's deal. Her stewardship of Temasek since she became CEO - an appointment her spinners insisted was on merit - has been unremarkable, with some big misses offsetting a handful of medium successes.

Many of Temasek's deals have a strong whiff of national interest about them and Temasek's forays abroad come as Singapore's political leaders worry their developed but tiny economy is maturing, exhorting its business community to secure the city-state's future offshore.

In Jakarta, influential politicians want the Singapore Government to exit its two-year-old investment in one of Ho's better deals, the communications giant Indosat, particularly as another Temasek company, Singapore Telecom - owner of Australia's Optus - already has half of Indosat's competitor Telkomsel. That's too much strategic telecommunications in Singapore hands for their taste and Jakarta has offered Temasek $1.2 billion to buy back the Indosat stake.

But as dissent simmers with the threat of political sanction hanging over it, Temasek has so far refused to sell.

In Beijing too, bureaucrats are questioning last year's wisdom of allowing Temasek a $2.5 billion stake in the Bank of China, believing it might have got it too cheap while wondering what Singapore brings to the table apart from cash.

In New Delhi, the Indian Government recently denied Temasek approval to buy into mobile operator Idea Cellular, India's fifth largest, because SingTel already part-owns another, Bharti, the largest.

Temasek struggles too in the US. It paid $US250 million in 2003 for 62 per cent of ailing cable operator Global Crossing, believing it got a bargain for a fibre optic network that cost $15 billion to build. But the company has since been dogged by one disaster after another and Global Crossing lost $US600 million in 2004-05.

There have also been setbacks in Australia, where Canberra recently denied Temasek's 57 per cent owned Singapore Airlines access to the lucrative route between Sydney and Los Angeles.

Surgery is needed at home too. Temasek-controlled DBS Bank recently took an unexpected $700 million charge on its Hong Kong operation, the former Dao Heng Bank.

Its wafer business, Chartered Semiconductor, has been a headache on Ho's watch, accumulating losses of more than $1 billion, while its share price has fallen 90 per cent since 1999.

Temasek's own figures described shareholder returns of just 1 per cent over the five years to March 31, as against the gain in Singapore's Straits Times index of 2.7 per cent over the same period.

Still, at least Singaporeans now know what's happening to their money. Notoriously secretive, Temasek only first publicly revealed its accounts in 2004.

Says Thai academic Pongsudhirak: "This is the last straw. Temasek has underestimated the political fallout here. This deal has not been transparent, everything has not been fully accounted for. Whether they like it or not, Temasek has made itself a player in Thai politics and that puts its investment at risk."

Meanwhile, Asia looks on with a bemused combination of mild concern that Thailand's worries could again spill outside its borders as in the late 1990s but more Schadenfreude at Singapore Inc's discomfort. As many in the region tactfully like to say, wealthy Singapore is admired by its neighbours if not necessarily always loved.

Eric Ellis is Fortune magazine's South-East Asian correspondent.

Tired election strategies

A party desperately clutching at straws.
An election gimmick that didn't quite work the first time round.
The same election gimmick used yet again this year.

Gentle readers, I refer not to the "by-election" strategy in this post, but the Whiteshirt "lifting of the whip" strategy.

This year, Mr Peanut Goh has promised to allow Messrs Eric Low and Seetoh Yih Pin, the challengers in the opposition-held Hougang and Potong Pasir ridings, freedom from the party whip in the next Parliament if voters deliver these two long-time oppo wards to the Whiteshirts.

Never mind that some political experts in the Channelnewsasia article see Peanut Goh's move as inconsistent, unprincipled, and damaging Whiteshirt credibility and party discipline - we've been here before. Cue to the previous general election, where Mr Peanut Goh promised to select new MPs to form a Shadow Cabinet to keep policymakers on their toes.
When criticised during the recent General Elections of a lack of checks and balances on the Government, PM Goh Chok Tong had this response - the People's Action Forum. The group, described by the PM as a Shadow Cabinet, is to ensure more debate in parliament. However, unlike other countries where the Shadow Cabinet is formed by the Opposition, Singapore's Shadow Cabinet will be drawn from the ruling party, with 20 PAP MPs and Ministers serving a 2-year run. The Party whip will be lifted so they don't have to toe the party line and can even vote against party decisions.

Whither Peanut Goh's Shadow Cabinet today?

26 Mar 2006

Fridae’s Feeling Good party cancelled. Deja-vu anyone?

This is a duplicate article of the one posted in http://blog.sayoni.com by the same author.

March 25, 2006 (Singapore) – Feelin’ Good, a party organised by gay and lesbian media and events company Fridae, has been cancelled after the venue, Ministry of Sound, received a telephone call from local police on Friday evening demanding that they cease venue provision for the event.

According to Mr. Clement Lee, executive director of Ministry of Sound’s parent company LifeBrandz, Mr Kelvin Yeo, Compliance Management Officer from Tanglin Police called on Friday evening after office hours demanding that the club cancel the event, failing which enforcement officers would come to the club on Sunday to shut the party down. The reason given by the police to Mr. Lee over the telephone was that the party would “promote gay activities.”

Whilst Singapore laws prohibit gay sex, there are no laws against being gay. As recently as 2003, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was interviewed in Time Magazine about the Singapore government’s non-discrimination policy for employment in the civil service, and was quoted saying gays are “just like you and me.”

Singapore has a thriving gay scene that includes more than dozen organisations, bars and establishments catering primarily to a gay or lesbian clientele. Feelin’ Good would have been Fridae’s first party in Singapore in more than a year and a half, featuring popular Australian DJ Kate Monroe.

In response to previous criticism by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that Fridae’s parties “should not be targeted at gays alone” (December 2004), Feelin’ Good has been actively promoted to the mainstream public through a variety of media, including Lush 99.5FM radio and local publications IS and Juice.

“The reaction from the police has been completely unexpected,” said Dr Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae. “Feelin’ Good is simply a party, not unlike any party held at clubs all around Singapore. There is no legal justification for what the police has done. This is yet another example of institutionalised discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Fridae regrets the turn of events and will offer full refunds to ticket holders. Please refer to the website www.fridae.com/feelingood for the refund process. We would also like to thank the community and our sponsors for your continued support and understanding.

First off, I would like to say that yours truly hasn't been to a single gay party, pub or club in her entire life. So I am really wondering how the Homosexuals were able to "encourage" me to enter a gay lifestyle. I am sure it has absolutely nothing to do with all those cute girls I was fawning over from young, when I didn't even know that lesbians could get it on.

Secondly, I'd like to offer my condolences to Mr Kelvin Yeo for having been made the national (and international) laughing stock, and having to be the mouthpiece for our darling government who just LOVES to control the lives of its citizens to a tee.

Thirdly, I'd like to tell all the gay citizenry in Singapore: emigrate, darlings. As soon as you can - leave this hell-hole behind, and don't look back. Don't hope for anything from Minilee, or that he is any different from his father.

Maybe what Fridae should do is to organise mass deportation to other countries for all gay and lesbian people - let's see if Minilee steps in and says that it would promote a "gay lifestyle", or is not "in their national interests".

Thai senator expresses concern over Shin Corp sale in letter to PM Lee

Thailand's Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, has written a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi.

He has expressed concern over the potential effect on bilateral relations because of the acquisition of Shin Corp by Temasek Holdings.

The sale of Shin Corp caused massive protests in Thailand with many protesters calling for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra over charges of corruption.

In Thailand, protestors have taken to the streets, claiming that the Thaksin family profited through legal loopholes to avoid paying tax.

In his letter to Mr Lee, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan stressed that the relationship between the two countries must not be jeopardised because of a single business transaction.

He said: "The relationship between our two countries must not be jeopardised as a result of a single business transaction, especially since Singapore is respected throughout the international community for her belief in the values of transparency, accountability and good governance."

In his reply on behalf of PM Lee, Singapore's Ambassador to Thailand, Peter Chan said the Republic shared the same concerns over the protests in Thailand.

And said that Singapore's stand is that Temasek and any other Singapore company that invests in Thailand must comply with Thai laws.

He added the government believed this is what Temasek is doing, and it does not expect any special exemptions.

Mr Chan said: "Temasek and any other Singapore company that invests in Thailand must comply with all Thai laws and regulations. That is what we believe Temasek is doing, and we do not expect any special exemptions or privileges for it."

In their replies, Mr Chan and Speaker Mr Abdullah both hoped that Singapore-Thailand relations will continue to strengthen. - CNA/ch

24 Mar 2006

Backlash for Temasek over ‘Singapore imperialism’

By John Burton of The Financial Times
Published: March 24 2006 00:27 Last updated: March 24 2006 00:27

When Thai protesters recently set alight pictures of Ho Ching, chief executive of Temasek Holdings, it was a further indication that the Singapore state investment company was facing growing political problems as it expands across Asia.

The burning of images of Ms Ho and her husband Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, was part of protests in Bangkok over Temasek’s $1.9bn (£1.1bn) purchase of Shin Corp from the family of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister. Demonstrators are angry that the family used legal loopholes to pay no tax on the deal.

But the protests also underscored the fact that Temasek is becoming a target of a nationalist backlash in Asia, with critics raising questions about its close links with the Singapore government and its secretive nature.

Singapore “should adhere strictly to transparency and good governance”, said the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which is leading the Thai protests. It also accused Temasek of “colluding” with Mr Thaksin.

“I’m worried about how this will affect Singapore’s standing in south-east Asia, since Thailand is probably our closest friend in the region,” said a Singapore-based political analyst.

It is not the first time that investments by Temasek and its affiliated companies have been greeted with suspicion.

When Singapore Telecommunications bought Australia’s Optus mobile phone operator in 2001, opponents warned of “Singapore imperialism”.

Indonesian lawmakers are lobbying for Temasek’s ST Telemedia to give up control of Indosat, a mobile phone operator, because they worry about Singapore’s dominance in the local telecoms sector, with SingTel a main shareholder in another mobile operator, Telkomsel.

China decided to halve Temasek’s proposed 10 per cent investment in Bank of China because of concerns about Singapore’s growing influence in the local banking sector. Temasek is the only foreign investor to have stakes in three Chinese banks, including China Construction Bank and China Minsheng Banking.

Temasek has tried to distance itself from the Singapore government in spite of being 100 per cent owned by the Finance Ministry. It describes itself as “an investment company based in Singapore” whose decisions are based solely on commercial criteria. It says associated companies act independently of Temasek in making investment decisions in spite of Temasek being represented on their boards.

But some foreign authorities do not find that explanation persuasive. South Korean regulators this week blocked Singapore’s DBS Bank from buying Korea Exchange Bank because of its links to Temasek, which is the bank’s biggest shareholder.

Temasek is classified in Korea as a non-banking group, barring it from owning more than 10 per cent of a Korean bank. The regulators suggested DBS’s ownership structure meant it was acting on behalf of Temasek, although DBS denies the bank’s management is influenced by Temasek.

India last year vetoed a bid by ST Telemedia to buy a stake in Idea Cellular, a mobile operator, because SingTel already held a interest in Bharti Televentures, the market leader.

Indian law prevents a foreign investor from having big stakes in two telecoms companies. Temasek argued unsuccessfully that SingTel and ST Telemedia were separate entities in spite of having common ownership.

Some critics have seen a political agenda in Temasek’s investments as Singapore seeks to increase its influence in the region. Temasek says there is no government involvement in making deals.

Analysts suggest Temasek could gain greater trust by becoming more open about its operations. But Ms Ho and other Temasek executives have refused to make themselves available for media interviews, which has given rise to an image of secrecy.

“It would be better for Temasek if it engaged the media more actively to allay suspicions,” said Mr Bhaskaran.

Singapore Courts Friends, Wins Enemies

From The Guardian

Singapore's business-minded leaders say they want to be friends with everybody. That makes sense for a tiny island state of 4 million people trying to make a living in a volatile region increasingly dominated by China and India.

But as protests in Thailand against the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, have intensified, Singapore has found itself on the receiving end of a highly unamicable barrage of insults and threats from its large neighbour to the north.

Posters of Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, have been burned in public; the Singaporean embassy in Bangkok has been besieged; and a boycott of the country's products has been urged. Protesters brandish placards saying: "Thailand not for sale" and "Singapore get lost".

Sondhi Limthongkul, a leader of the Thai opposition People's Alliance for Democracy, accused Singapore of "economic imperialism", and warned of serious consequences this week. "If you don't stop, should the Thaksin government change - and he will go down soon - we will make sure that your activities in Thailand go down with him," he said.

Thai anger centres on January's tax-free $1.9bn (£1bn) sale of Shin Corp, a telecoms conglomerate founded by Mr Thaksin and owned by his family, to Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government's state investment arm.

The opposition portrays the deal as a threat to Thai sovereignty and control of key national assets such as satellites. It wants the sale rescinded and allegations of insider dealing investigated as part of its wider campaign to strengthen democracy and public accountability.

But Singaporean officials say the Shin Corp row has nothing to do with them. "Temasek operates like any other company," said Angelina Fernandez of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country's central bank. "Even though it is government owned, it is not government directed. The ministry of finance does not tell Temasek what to do."

Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore's minister for trade and industry, said the sale had become enmeshed in domestic Thai politics but admitted the government had been caught on the hop. "Obviously we were surprised," he said. "We didn't expect it would provoke such a reaction." Mr Lim said the opposition's boycott had "not gained traction" and predicted bilateral relations would suffer no lasting harm.

Singapore's hard-nosed brand of free-wheeling, free-market capitalism, and what critics see as a concomitant lack of concern for democratic rights and civil liberties, has caused controversy before. Campaigners say significant Singaporean investment in Burma, which is run by a military junta, undermines UN-led efforts to encourage reform.

And Singapore's enthusiastic pursuit of regional free trade agreements is not wholly shared by some fellow members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) concerned at the social and cultural impact of too-rapid economic change. Mr Lim would like to see Asean function as a European-style common market of 500 million people. "Others don't share Singapore's sense of urgency," he said.

Majority-Chinese Singapore's be-friends-with-everybody policy is further complicated by history. The prime minister urged expanded trade with China during a recent visit to Beijing. But the former British colony remains an important western ally that affords naval facilities to the US Pacific fleet, keeps on good terms with Japan, and harbours secret sympathies for Taiwan. As Sino-American strategic competition in Asia hots up, it may eventually be forced to take sides.

Singapore's precociousness has also fuelled regional jealousies, illustrated by a bizarre row with Malaysia (from which it broke away in 1965). Malaysia wants to replace the causeway linking the countries with a bridge. Singapore has not agreed so far. It cites the high costs - but deeper concerns about its "over-bearing" neighbour are also in play.

Impatient at the delay, Malaysia has now decided to build its half of the bridge anyway, regardless of whether it actually leads anywhere. "Singapore is the most insolent neighbour in the world," one Malaysian MP said this week - showing once again that friendly bridge-building is uphill work.

23 Mar 2006

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

You Tube Link

Does government control produce a utopian society or an oppressed people?

This fast-paced, music video style documentary explores this through the chewing gum ban in Singapore.

From Final Destiny.

Singapore film-maker says again questioned by police

Tue Mar 21, 12:25 PM ET
Yahoo News

A Singapore film-maker says he has been questioned again by police over his documentary about an opposition politician.

Martyn See told the Foreign Correspondents Association that he was questioned for about 30 minutes on Monday over his short documentary "Singapore Rebel" about Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party.

See's "Singapore Rebel" has been classified by local censors as having violated the Films Act because of its political content.

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos, as well as movies directed towards any political end such as promoting political parties.

See has not been charged but the maximum penalty for making a political film is two years in jail or a 100,000-dollar (61,850 US) fine.

"It's arbitrary, the way they term a political film, what constitutes a political film," See said. "Until today I've not been told why 'Singapore Rebel' is a political film."

He said he has now been questioned three times by police since last May after he was asked to withdraw the film from the Singapore International Film Festival following the censor's verdict that it was political.

"I think it's a landmark case," said See, 38.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last September denied backtracking on his promise to encourage political debate in Singapore, saying the trend has been towards opening up.

"But that doesn't mean the laws don't have to be enforced," he said.

Chee, one of Singapore's few opposition politicians, was jailed Friday for an unprecedented eight-day term after questioning the integrity of the judicial system.

It is the first time a Singapore court has jailed anyone for an offense known as "scandalizing the court".

The attorney general lodged the contempt application with the High Court after a February 10 hearing at which Chee was declared bankrupt.

That declaration followed his failure to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (307,000 US) in damages to the city-state's founding father Lee Kuan Yew -- the current prime minister's father -- and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.

Lee Kuan Yew, Goh and other members of the People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, have a history of taking legal action against their political opponents and media critics. They argue they do so to protect their reputations.

Surreal or Banal Moment for Protests in Singapore?

Originally spotted on Asiapundit and clicked through to bobafett81

Jodi Ruckley, 33, a volunteer with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), drressed as a bear, protesting the use of the palace's Houseguards bearskin hats, struggles with a policeman as she is placed into a police van at the gate of the Istana or Presidential Palace where Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was expected to arrive on Friday March 17, 2006 in Singapore. The queen, who arrived in Singapore late Thursday after completing a five-day visit to Australia, is making her first trip to the city-state in nearly two decades at the invitation of the city-state's President S.R. Nathan.

A policeman questions Jodi Ruckley, 33, a volunteer with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), dressed as a bear, protesting the use of the palace's Houseguards bearskin hats, as she stands at the gate of the Istana or Presidential Palace where Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was expected to arrive on Friday March 17, 2006 in Singapore.

Singapore police detained an Australian animal-rights demonstrator dressed in a bear suit (L) who staged an illegal protest as Queen Elizabeth II started a state visit

Related Article:
Aussie disrupts Queen's Singapore visit

It reminds me of Jeff Koons 1988 sculpture, apart from the notion that the above images are more menacing.

22 Mar 2006

Take 3 for Rebel director

Sign the Petition to END THIS HARASSMENT .

Martyn See questioned about Singapore Rebel again; new film goes to the censors this week

Wednesday • March 22, 2006

Derrick A Paulo of Today

IT HAS been 10 months since the police opened the case on Singapore Rebel — a documentary on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan — and its director Martyn See, and investigations are still underway.

On Monday, Mr See was called down to the Police Cantonment Complex for a 30-minute interview to "clarify what (he) had said before" to investigators, the 38-year-old told reporters yesterday, at a luncheon with the Foreign Correspondents Association.

It was the third time he had been questioned about his 26-minute movie on Dr Chee, following a report lodged last year by the Board of Film Censors. The Board believes Singapore Rebel is a party political film, and hence, an offence under the Films Act.

Last August, Mr See was asked to surrender his video camera and tapes of the documentary to the police. On Monday, he asked if he could have his equipment back, but was told he had to wait until the "completion of the case".

The police confirmed that Mr See had been interviewed on Monday, but said that it would not comment any further as the matter was still under investigation.

Mr See's latest venture is a 49-minute feature on former journalist Said Zahari, 78, who had been arrested in 1963 by the Government on suspicion of subversive activities. He was detained for 17 years.

The film, Zahari's 17 Years, may be screened at this year's Singapore International Film Festival (Siff), despite what happened to Singapore Rebel last year.

Siff is sending the film to the censorship board for approval this week. Mr See does not believe that his new film would be considered "party political" as it covers a current event, namely the launch of Mr Said's book next month.

The freelance film editor is considering more such documentaries, including one on Chia Thye Poh, who was detained under the Internal Security Act from 1966 to 1989.

"They're getting old. How many more years do they have to live? And their stories have not been documented," said Mr See.

The film-maker said that he made Singapore Rebel to get people interested in political issues.

If Mr See is charged, however, he faces a maximum penalty of two years in jail or a $100,000 fine for making a party political film.

Thais march on Singapore embassy

From the BBC...
Protesters are demanding Mr Thaksin's resignation
Thousands of people have marched on the Singaporean embassy in Bangkok in the latest of a series of protests aimed at ousting the Thai prime minister.
Thaksin Shinawatra's opponents are particularly angry about a tax-free sale of his family's stake in a Thai telecoms giant to a Singapore company.

The latest protest came as Thailand's election chief reportedly said he could not postpone a controversial poll.

Mr Thaksin called the snap election for 2 April in a bid to regain legitimacy.

Election Commission chairman Vasana Puemlarp last week cast doubt on whether the poll could go ahead due to a vow by the main opposition to boycott the election, leading to concerns over whether enough MPs could be returned to fill parliament.

But on Tuesday he told a Bangkok radio station that such a ruling was not within his powers, according to Reuters news agency.

"The law doesn't allow me to set the election date," he reportedly said, adding that only the prime minister could make that decision.

Mr Thaksin is campaigning hard in rural areas

There are particular concerns about the election in two-thirds of the constituencies where the ruling Thai Rak Thai party would be unopposed if the election boycott goes ahead, as candidates need to win 20% of the available vote to be elected.

This could be a problem in the restive south, where the party's unpopularity in the face of a long-running insurgency meant the party did not win a single seat in the last election in February 2005.

On Sunday, the main opposition Democrat Party alleged that Thai Rak Thai officials were involved in a plan to hire candidates to stand for small opposition parties to get round this problem.

The Election Commission has pledged to look into the claims, and on Tuesday said it had ordered the transfer of the three officials in question pending an investigation.


Traffic came to a halt in Bangkok's commercial district on Tuesday as the marchers moved towards the embassy chanting "Thaksin get out".

"I politely ask Singapore to stop cooperating with Thaksin to loot Thailand," protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the crowd, calling the deal "economic imperialism".

Mr Thaksin, who denies any wrongdoing, continued his campaign in rural areas, where he is still popular.

Addressing a crowd in the northern city of Chiang Rai on Monday evening, he criticised the protest leaders.

"They want a new government, but they forget that there is big support for this government," he told a cheering crowd.

See more images of the protests.

Singapore - Least "Dear"

Singapore boasts the lowest business costs of any major industrialised country, according to a new study.

The cost of launching and running a business in Singapore is much lower than in the US, Japan or any major European nation, KPMG found.

This was mainly due to its much lower labour costs, with average wages well below other countries in the study.

France and Italy have overtaken the UK in terms of "cost-competitiveness" since 2004, the study found.

Labour costs key

The bi-annual study - which covers 128 cities in nine countries - is based on the costs of setting up and running businesses across different industries over a 10-year cycle.

The research takes into account key factors such as wages, business taxes, rent, and energy costs.

1: Singapore
2: Canada
3: France
4: Netherlands
5: Italy
6: United Kingdom
7: United States
8: Japan
9: Germany
Source: KPMG-2006

Singapore topped the "cost competitiveness" league after being included in the study for the first time.

Average wages there are considerably lower than in the other countries included in the study, despite the fact that Singapore now boasts GDP per capita equivalent to some European countries.

The study concluded that labour costs are the most important factor for businesses when deciding where to locate their operations, followed by the cost of finding and securing premises and taxes.

"What we are really seeing here is the price that the UK is paying for having a successful economy" Ian Barlow, KPMG quotes.

Canada was judged the second most competitive country in terms of business costs. The US came seventh while Germany was deemed the least competitive.

The UK lost its position as the most "cost-effective" European country, falling behind both France and Italy.

Not cheap option

KPMG said wage costs were higher in the UK than in France and Italy, a product of its low employment and its skilled workforce.

"What we are really seeing here is the price that the UK is paying for having a successful economy," KPMG partner Ian Barlow said.

"The UK no longer really markets itself as a low cost option to access the European Union market."

Employer groups have called on the British government to reduce the tax burden on companies in Wednesday's budget.

Ahead of the budget, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced he had asked 12 top business leaders to advise the Treasury on improving the UK's competitiveness.
In other words, Singapore is cheap!

21 Mar 2006

A potential problem

Survey shows 10% Indonesians justify suicide bombing, 40% want sharia laws.
Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta Post.
Mar 18, 2006

Islamic conservatism is a growing force to be reckoned with across the country, with research indicating about 40 percent of citizens would support the replacement of state laws with sharia and one in 10 consider suicide bombings justified in some circumstances.

A survey conducted in late January by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) found 40 percent of respondents approved of adulterers being stoned to death, 34 percent did not want to see another female president and 40 percent accepted polygamy.

On a thief's hands being chopped off, 38 percent of respondents said the punishment fitted the crime.

The survey involved 2,000 respondents from different backgrounds nationwide.

In presenting the survey results on Thursday, a senior researcher at the LSI, Anis Baswedan, said it was clear that certain Muslim groups had already embraced sharia as a value system as evidenced by their support for conservative organisations, such as the Islam Defenders Front and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council.

On the whole, respondents were less acquainted with right- and left-wing extremist groups, such as the Eden sect, the Liberal Islam Network, Syiah, Hisbut Tahrir and Ahmadiyah.

Anis said, however, that despite the obvious support for conservative organisations, the majority of Muslims did not want to see the existing election system replaced, as was indicated by the results of the 2004 general election.

Muslim-based parties advocating the adoption of sharia did not fare well in the legislative election.

Likewise, the presidential candidates nominated by them did not get the support they were counting on from mainstream Muslim groups.

Yet, the majority of respondents saw eye to eye with the country's largest Muslim organisations -- Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

On the other hand, the survey also revealed that one in 10 people tolerate suicide bombing and other attacks on civilian targets in the name of Islam.

Anis said the strong support for conservatism and "radicalism" had much to do with what respondents called the negative influence of Western culture and the global injustice blamed on the US as a superpower representing the West.

Sixty two percent of respondents were of the opinion that Western influences had brought no good to Indonesian Muslims and between 22 and 49 percent held the US responsible for global injustice.

Amin Abdullah, rector of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, said he was not surprised by the survey results as conservatism had long flourished in the country but, despite strong conservatism, Muslims did not want to replace the existing state ideology with an Islamic one.

"The majority of Muslims have been moderate and accepted pluralism because Indonesia - as the most populous Muslim nation - lies far from the centre of Islam, the Middle East, and this has made Islam in Indonesia rather different from that in Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said, adding that conservatism here had gotten stronger on the eve of the reform era in 1998.

Imam Prasodjo, a sociologist of the University of Indonesia, disagreed with the parameters the survey used to measure radicalism, saying they were relative.

"Women oppose polygamy, all communities dislike mixed marriages and all human beings are against terror acts," he said.

The two agreed that, despite the strong grip of conservatism, the "silent majority" supported the two largest Muslim organizations, which see themselves as tolerant of modern ways of thinking.

Oh my, this is quite worrying for the SEA countries.

Looks like the US will have to work very hard to improve its image with the Muslims to pare the growing radicalism of Islam in Indonesia.

Consumer boycott gaining momentum

By Lan Anh Nguyen 20 March 2006 21:01

Consumer groups leading the boycott campaign against Singaporean products and services yesterday claimed that the campaign is gaining momentum, with a particularly significant impact on mobile-phone service provider Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS), a Shin Corp subsidiary.

The consumer activists cited a recent ABAC opinion poll that shows that 11 percent of AIS subscribers who were interviewed said that they have already stopped using AIS services, while 10.5 percent said that they are planning to do so.

“The number is getting higher,” said Saree Aongsomwang, executive director of Foundation for Consumers, which has been calling on Thais to boycott Singaporean services and products as a way to pressure Singapore’s Temasek Holdings into withdrawing from the Shin Corp deal.

“Right now, AIS has 16.5 million subscribers. If 20 percent of them drops out, that means AIS will lose more than three million customers.”

AIS yesterday said that it can’t measure the impact of the boycott because the statistics are not yet available, but confirmed that there is a wave of customers dropping out from the company, and “ a few hundred” customers have canceled their subscriptions because of political reasons.

“People didn’t give us the main reason, only a few hundred subscribers said they are boycotting our services,” said Wichian Mektrakarn, AIS vice president.

Wichian said the company feels threatened by the boycott and has been trying to fix the situation by explaining its position to customers and launching several promotion programs, but the effort seems to be yielding no visible results.

“We try to explain to the ones who want to listen to us, and we are launching lots of promotion programs. But most people don’t pay attention, they are overwhelmed with political sentiment. It’s the emotional effect. There is nothing we can do [about it],” said Wichian.

The activists said their ultimate objectives are to pressure caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra into stepping down and stop the Singaporean government from buying into Thailand’s core businesses and so-called natural resources, such as Shin Corp.

“Normally, customers think they are powerless. We believe customers are king and they can do their own reform by boycotting services and products. We want to use the same power to support political reform,” said Saree.

AIS said its business has been slowing down in comparison with the same period last year, a situation shared by many other businesses, as most people are in a “wait and see” mood.

Wichian said, however, AIS won’t denounce the consumer groups for their campaign.

“They have the right and liberty [to do so]” said Wichian. “ We just try to provide the best services.”

20 Mar 2006

Submissions by Dr Chee

[Below]is from the desk of Dr. Chee. Pse consider to carry it on your blog.


(Revised with additional references)
As the AG has preferred a charge against me, I believe I am entitled to a trial here. I can call witnesses to demonstrate the truth of my tatements and to document with precision how the courts in Singapore have been used by the PAP Government to maintain its chokehold on the country.

I have said before I will not run away. I am here to face my accuser and the very people whom I have criticised. I am here to speak the truth, whatever the consequences may bring. If you are going to charge me for contempt of court, at least have the decency to allow me the opportunity to defend myself. There is nothing honorable in a fight wherein you blind and incapacitate your opponent.

Defamation without trial

This hearing has it roots from the defamation suits that Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong took against me in 2001.

In my applications I had indicated to the courts that I needed the services of Queen’s Counsels (QC) as no Singaporeans would take up my case. I am not alone in this predicament. Mr Tang Liang Hong also had great difficult in finding local representation when he was fighting his own defamation suits with the PAP. Mr J B Jeyaretnam experienced a similar plight, saying "No lawyer in Singapore wants to do political cases. It's a very sad commentary. Lawyers here are too scared for their own livelihood.” Mr Charles Gray QC who had represented Mr Tang in 1997 said in his submission to the court of appeal that it was “no credit on the legal community that Tang had been unable to find any lawyer (apart from Mr Jeyaretnam himself and, briefly, Mr Peter Low) willing to represent him.”

It is a telling indictment of the legal and judicial systems in Singapore when Singaporean lawyers fear doing what they have been trained to do and sworn to uphold – justice and the rule of law. The judiciary must ask itself how and why Singaporean lawyers are afraid to take up such cases when foreigners are not.

I was told by the courts that my case wasn’t complex enough to warrant my engaging a QC. The funny thing was that my opponents had solicited the services of Mr Davinder Singh, Senior Counsel which I understand is the Singapore version of a Queen’s Counsel. Mr Singh, whom I am sure you are aware, is an experienced lawyer in defamation suits.

How much more onesided can the fight be? In one corner you have a Senior Counsel and the chief of one of the biggest law firms in Singapore of more than 150 lawyers, I believe, and in the other corner, a psychologist with zero training in law. But the referee didn’t seem to care and allowed the fight to proceed. How the courts could be assisted to come to a fair decision when one side did not have legal representation did not seem to be a matter of concern to the judiciary.

So my case hobbled along and came to its inevitable demise when Messrs Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong applied for summary judgment where the case was heard in chambers before the registrar. Expectedly, the matter was awarded to the plaintiffs which meant that there would be no trial, no calling for witnesses and no crossexaminations.

In the meantime, I had gotten legal advice that the matter contained issues that necessitated a trial. But what could I do? So no lawyer and no trial. The courts then proceeded to award the plaintiffs $500,000. I have already paid $400,000 in costs and damages in another defamation lawsuit involving my dismissal from NUS and, as a result, I don’t have much left to pay Lee and Goh.

The question that I want to ask is: Why have the courts been so unfair to me? By not allowing me QCs and thereby legal representation, and then not giving me a trial, and subsequently ordering me to pay Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong half a million dollars, both of whom are millionaires by the way, and then making me a bankrupt when I am unable to, is to not only punish me but also my wife and children. Is this how justice is meted out in Singapore? If you were me, would you also not have grave doubts about the entire system?

Trials gone bad

One need look no further than the suits of the PAP leaders against Mr Tang Liang Hong to understand how problemaic our judicial system is. The legal events that led to the bankruptcy of Mr Tang make for sordid reading.

I will cite a few instances:

During the 1997 elections Mr Tang had made a police report complaining about the accusations PAP leaders had made about him. The PAP leaders accused Mr Tang of making public the contents of the report to the news media and proceeded to sue Mr Tang and ultimately obtained more than $3 million in judgment. This subsequently made Mr Tang, who now lives in exile, a bankrupt.The horror of it all was that it was later revealed, during crossexamination by the late George Carman QC, who was representating Mr Jeyaretnam, that Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng had ordered the police to give him a copy of the report, which by the way is confidential, passed it on to Mr Goh Chok Tong who was then the prime minister and who then gave it to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew who disseminated the report’s contents to the media.

Two questions begged to be asked:

Why was a confiential report made available to the PAP when it was confidential? Remember, the information was later used by the PAP leaders to sue Mr Tang in their private capacities. Why was Mr Tang found guilty of defamation when it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew who had released the information contained in the police report to the media? Does it make sense for Mr Lee to disseminate the information and then sue Mr Tang for defamation? More incredibly, Mr Jeyaretnam had held up an envelope during an election rally and informed the public that Tang had made a police report. For that he was also sued and convicted of defamation despite he fact that he neither revealed the contents of the police report nor mentioned anything in detail about the PAP politicians. In the Tang Liang Hong case, it will be remembered that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had made a statement in his affidavit that the town of Johor Baru was “notorious for shootings, muggings and carjackings.”

In the ensuing uproar on the Malaysian side, Lee was forced to retract his statement and apologize to Malaysia. Lee then applied to have his statement removed from his affidavit. But Tang queried the move on a point of law: that the rules of court stated that an affidavit or parts of it may be struck off only on the grounds that it was “scandalous, irrelevant, or oppressive.”

The judge allowed Lee’s application saying that the judiciary “should help Singapore maintain good bilateral relations.” Maintaining good bilateral relations is the work for the Executive Branch of the Government, in particular the Foreign Ministry. The judiciary’s role is to ensure that justice is meted out in accordance with court rules and the law to contesting parties. I will submit more on this point a little later.

To heap insult upon the already enormous injury, the judiciary then ordered Tang to pay cost for the application even though Mr Lee was the one who had made the statement about Johor Baru and it was Lee who had applied to have the offending words removed! Similar occurrences happened in my own case. In 2004, I had informed the courts that I would be away in the United States to do a fellowship until September that year. In July while I was still away, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong applied for the hearing to assess damages to be brought forward. The Registrar then wrote to me, knowing that I was away, to attend court to ”confirm the new dates” proposed by the plaintiffs. I found out about this only when I returned to Singapore in September. The fact that the plaintiffs changed their minds about the application and decided to stick to the original dates was cold comfort to me. Going back to the Tang case, It will also be recalled that Mr Tang’s wife was named a codefendant to the suit even though she had nothing to do with case. Be that as it may, when Mrs Tang tried to visit Johor Baru one day, she was stopped by immigration officials who proceeded to impound her passport. Mr Lee Kuan Yew later said in court that “we were compelled to seize her passports for the purpose of satisfaction of judgments to be obtained by [the plaintiffs].” We? Since when was there a law to allow plaintiffs in defamation suits to seize the passports of defendants? Where was the judiciary to prevent such an abuse of power?

International criticisms

These events were not conjured by me for fun. They were actual occurrences. They are incontrovertible facts that demonstrated how the judiciary has bent over backwards to accommodate those in power at the expense of the political opposition in Singapore. These occurrences have led international observers to come to the conclusion that the judiciary is indeed influenced by the executive. Ross Worthington, in his paper Hermes and Themis: An Empirical Study of the Contemporary Judiciary in Singapore, listed the observers: (p. 492)

“Criticism of the Singaporean judiciary has been made by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Asia Watch, by judicial institutions such as the Bar Association of the City of New York, the International Commission of Jurists in Canada, Australia, and its international office in Geneva, the Privy Council and eminent internationally renown senior counsel such as John PlattsMill QC, Frank Galbaley QC, Anthony Lester QC, Geoffery Robertson QC, Judge Paul Bentley, and Stuart Littlemore QC. These critisims have usually been based on judgments in political cases in Singapore, not on the basis of political belief, but according to the established legal principles of common law nations, the same standards Singapore professes to follow.”

[Defamation lawsuits have] done little to overcome the courts’ reputation as improperly compliant to the interests of the country’s ruling People’s Action Party. – International Commission of Jurists “What emerges…is a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests. Lawyers have been cowed to passivity, judges are kept on a short leash, and the law has been manipulated so that gaping holes exist in the system of restraints on government action toward the individual.” – New York City Bar Association Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada: “The use of defamation suits in Singapore to prevent political statement belies any notion that Singapore is a democracy. Democracy is the right to participate in one’s governance and to receive, distribute and debate information regarding issues of public concern and the performance of public officials without the risk of civil or criminal penalties. Singapore has failed to protect these rights. Singapore has also failed to honour its obligation to promote and protect the rule of law (a state of affairs in which there are legal barriers to government arbitrariness and legal safeguard for the protection of individuals.)” Retired Canadian judge Paul Bentley: “The issue of' whether the filing of' defamation suits affects freedom of expression and peaceful democratic discourse in Singapore is beyond question for me. The more pressing concern is whether international condemnation of the practice and faint signs of growing domestic distaste for it, will be sufficient to change the government's tactics against its political opponents.”

Professor Ross Worthington had conducted an empirical study on the judiciary in Singapore and this is what he found: On the subjugation of the judicial branch of government (p. 491) “This is a system of governance which, however, has been extensively criticized for its lack of transparency, accountability, and democratic behaviour. In particular, there has been a continuing concern that the ruling Peoples Action Party (PAP) governments have produced a political system in which all branches of government, including the judicial, have been subjugated to the executive branch. This has led to considerable criticism of the Singaporean judiciary…”

On the control of the subordinate courts (p. 497)
“This practice of actively ensuring that there is no professional judiciary within the subordinate courts subjugates these courts directly to executive power; they are not part of an independent judiciary but an arm of executive government, part of the Singapore Legal Service, and they carry into that role the norms characteristic of the civil service including implicit support for the political executive and its power arrangements.”

On appointees to the Supreme Court (p. 499)
“Almost half of appointees to Supreme Court are drawn from the Attorney General’s Chambers or were formerly senior officers of this department before going into private practice and then into the judiciary. If we accept that it is irrelevant for senior civil servants to be PAP members or cadres as it is both illegal for them to be members of a political party and they can have allegiance to the party without such a formal status, those appointed with formal or informal affiliation to the PAP form 85 percent of Supreme Court appointees. Those not obviously linked to the PAP comprise 15 percent.”

On the abolition of appeal to the Privy Council (p. 502)
“The last vestige of complete independence in the judicial system, appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, was abolished in February 1994, despite Lee Kuan Yew’s previous insistence that Singapore should ‘allow a review of the judicial process that take place here in some other tribunal where obviously under influence cannot be brought to bear’. The abolition of appeals to a nonSingaporean tribunal is, in itself, no cause for concern; New Zealand acted in 1996 to do likewise, as has Australia. The principle concern is that the indigenous judicial system be sufficiently mature to defend the rule of law, maintain the independence of the judiciary and, at the most basic level, be able to provide balance in the exercise of state power over citizens.

Given that the Privy Council and several international judicial organizations had castigated the Singaporean judiciary for failing to uphold such standards, it is difficult not to conclude that the executive replace the Privy Council with a domestic Court of Appeal as a means of maintaining executive control of the judiciary and minimizing international criticism of the judicialexecutive nexus and the executive’s occasional overt abuses of power.” In the US State Dept Human Rights Report 2005, it is stated that “The following human rights problems were reported” one of which was “executive influence over the judiciary.”

The report went on to say that “Some judicial officials, especially supreme court judges, have ties to the ruling party and its leaders… Government leaders historically have used court proceedings, in particular defamation suits, against political opponents and critics. Both this practice and consistent awards in favor of government plaintiffs raised questions about the relationship between the government and the judiciary...”

All the instances that I have cited, there seems to be almost universal agreement about the lack of judicial independence in Singapore. Given this isn’t there a possibility that there may be, just may be, a kernel of truth in all their observations.

You may say that all these organizations and individuals are somehow stupider than the judicial and legal officials in Singapore when it comes to interpretation of the law. Or may be they are all angmohs (Caucasians) who are intensely jealous of Singapore’s success and want to sabotage it. They are all either telling lies or deeply mistaken, the whole lot of them: AI, ICJ, Professor Ross Worthington, the US State Dept and so on.

Maybe you can try to make this to be the case that everyone else is wrong except you. But what is most important is what does the average reasonable person thinks.

But let us for the moment assume that everyone else is wrong and that the AG and the Courts are right. You will recall that in the Christopher Lingle case, the AG admitted, and the courts agreed, that when the American academic said that some Asian governments used “compliant” judiciaries to bankrupt opposition politicians, he was referring to Singapore.

Let’s pause for a moment here and take a closer look at the absurdity of the present case. The AG and the courts acknowledge that“compliant” judiciaries are used to bankrupt opposition politicians in Singapore. That’s what you said. Yet when I agree with you and say the same, I am charged for contempt of court. Does this make any sense to you?

The only way that I can be convicted for contempt of court is if you admit that the AG and the Courts had lied in the Christopher Lingle case because it is not true that the Singapore judiciary is “compliant” when it came to defamations suits involving opposition politicians. But if you are speaking the truth, then so am I. And if I am speaking the truth, how can I be in contempt of court. Isn’t truth what courts seek? On this point allow me to point out that in Nationwide vs Mills
(p 39):
“It is not neccesary, even if it be possible, to chart the limits of contempt scandalizing the court. It is sufficient to say that the revelation of truth—at all events when its revelation is for the public benefit—and the making of a fair critisim based on fact do not amount to a contempt of court though the truth revealed or the critisim made is such as to deprive the court or judge of public confidence. The critical difference between the scope of s. 299(1)(d)(ii) and the scope of contempt of court is that the latter does not purport to supress justifiable or fair and reasonable critisim which exposes grounds for loss of official repute, but s. 299(1)(d)(ii) purports to supress all critisim which is likely to bring the Commission into disrepute including critisim that is justifiable, fair and reasonable.”

The truth of the matter is that convicting and punishing me for contempt does not and cannot change reality, it cannot elevate the reputation of the Singapore courts. Its like the big bully punching out the little guy for calling him a bully. Please don’t for one minute think that I am attacking you, sir. I respect you as a person and I hold have only the highest regard for your intellect.

But I cannot in good conscience continue to allow it to go unremarked when our judicial system is in such a dismal state. I am not foolish. I know the power that you wield. It is power backedby handcuffs, prison cells and, utimately, guns, the combination of which keep heads bowed and mouths shut. I don’t possess or have at my disposal such enormous power. I have only my freedom with which to wage this battle. But I also have something that is far more powerful than all the physical force that you can muster – and that is, the truth. And if you realise the power that truth posseses you will see how lopsided this contest is, and you will have the wisdom, I pray, to get on the right side. What you do to me today, the sentence that you will hand down, will be temporary. But the infamy that you will have to live with will go down in the annals of Singapore’s history and that will last forever. I plead not for leniency but for reform, that good and wise minds prevail in this room today.

Speaking truth to undemocratic power is never easy for it invariably invites reprisal. I do not want to go to prison for I have have a lovely wife and three beautiful children wanting me to come home. Having to leave them under such circumstances is the most painful thing I have had to do. But living with the shame of keeping my head bowed when injustice permeates our society is infinitely worse. I want to be free but freedom is nothing when one cannot speak the truth to power.

19 Mar 2006

Thai protesters burn images of Singapore PM

Fri Mar 17, 2006 4:07 AM ET
By Pracha Hararaspitak

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters burned posters of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outside the city state's Bangkok embassy on Friday as a campaign to oust his Thai counterpart, Thaksin Shinawatra, took a nationalist twist.

Waving placards saying "Thailand Not for Sale, Get Out", several hundred protesters urged a boycott of all things Singaporean in answer to the takeover of telecoms giant Shin Corp by its state investment arm, Temasek, from Thaksin's family.

"If Singaporeans faced the same situation as we do now, we believe Singaporeans would also rise up to do what we are doing," said Somsak Kosaisuk, a key member of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is trying to kick Thaksin from office.

They also torched models of Singapore Airlines planes, its "merlion" national mascot and pictures of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, the Temasek boss.

The political crisis has already caused the Thai stock market and baht to wobble and is now raising long-term economic concerns, with ratings agencies looking at growth forecasts and companies delaying public flotations or investment projects.

The anti-Singapore sentiment, which stems from outrage at Thaksin's family paying no tax in January's $1.9 billion Shin Corp deal, now appears to be hurting business.

According to Chainid Ngow-Sirimanee, head of builder Property Perfect PCL, Singapore firms have delayed decisions on potential Thai property investments worth $256 million.

DBS Group Holdings, which had been thought keen on raising its stake in Thailand's TMB Bank PCL, had yet to make up its mind on whether to go ahead, a spokesman said. Analysts attributed the delay to politics.


Thaksin, who remains defiant in the face of the middle-class metropolitan movement to oust him, hit the provincial campaign trail once again, rallying his core rural support base for snap elections called on April 2.

The Election Commission says the poll, which Thaksin has billed as a referendum on his leadership, may have to be postponed as a boycott by the three main opposition parties is likely to render it constitutionally unviable.

Thaksin, who is accused of corruption, cronyism and eroding the checks and balances of the 1997 constitution, does not agree.

"April 2 is the day for people to choose whether to let mob rule prevail or give the democratic process a chance to work," he told sugarcane farmers in the western province of Kanchanaburi, home to the famous "Death Railway" bridge over the River Kwai.

"I represent the democratic process. If you agree with the opposition boycott, you can abstain," he said, referring to one of the options on Thai ballot papers.

More than 100,000 people hit the streets this week calling for his head, sparking fears in the royal palace and army of a repeat of the bloodshed during a "people power" uprising against military rule in 1992.

However, both sides appear to be going out of their way to avoid violence.

Police marshalling the protests have been good-natured and unarmed and Thaksin switched a meeting from Government House to avoid confrontation with thousands of protesters camping on its doorstep.

A 20,000-strong pro-Thaksin "caravan of the poor" which arrived in northern Bangkok on Friday also vowed to steer clear of its political adversaries.

"We don't want to clash with them," said Attarit Singhlor, head of the 3-km (2-mile) convoy of trucks and home-made tractors which snaked its way slowly down from the impoverished northeast as the political crisis in the capital deepened.

"We'll make statements and express our requests for the prime minister to help on land, land deeds and funding for organic fertilizer projects, then leave Bangkok," he said.

Dr. Chee Soon Juan has a Petition

To: Singapore Judiciary

We, the undersigned, would like to request that Dr Chee Soon Juan be released from prison. It is the strong belief of the undersigned that the sentence was uncalled for. We also denounce the heavy damages awarded in the recent libel suit against him.


The Undersigned

View Current Signatures

The Petition for the Release of Chee Soon Juan from prison for wrongful conviction Petition to Singapore Judiciary was created by and written by Diana Chua Tian Qi (dianachua@hotmail.com). This petition is hosted here at www.PetitionOnline.com as a public service. There is no endorsement of this petition, express or implied, by Artifice, Inc. or our sponsors. For technical support please use our simple Petition Help form.

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Message from behind bars

Received via email

Dear friends,

Chee Soon Juan's wife and three children visited him at the remand prison this afternoon (Sat, 18 March). This will be the only visit until his release on 24 March.

During this short visit, he had asked Mrs. Chee to convey this message to you:

"I am doing fine. My spirits are up and I have you to thank for this. There are many individuals and organizations whom I would like to send my personal thanks but am unable to do so from here and through this very brief visit.

The Amnesty International, the ICJ, Human Rights First, SEAPPA are among the many organizations that have lent their invaluable help.

I am grateful to the diplomatic community in Asia, Australia, Europe and the US for all that they have done. It is precisely due to the involvement of and attention from the international community that has deterred the Singapore government from wielding its usual unbridled power.

The Singapore authorities are keenly aware that the world is watching them and that it is due to this that they cannot continue to use such oppressive and unjust measures to silence democracy advocates and dissenting voices.

I also thank friends and supporters from Singapore and beyond. Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, well-wishes and tireless efforts."

Chee Soon Juan

17 Mar 2006

Dr Chee's Podcast

Dr. Chee Soon Juan was declared a bankrupt after failing to pay $500,000 in libel damages awarded to Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. In Feb 2006, Dr. CSJ was charged with contempt of court for a statement he made at the above bankruptcy hearing in which he stated that the judiciary is not independent and fair, especially in cases involving opposition politicians. On 17 Mar 2006, he was sentenced to jail for 8 days after refusing to pay his fines of $6,000. Dr CSJ should not be in jail at all.

From Dr Chee's personal/family blog.

Listen to the podcast made an hour before Dr Chee was sent to prison - again!

Thai protesters burn images of Singapore PM

"If Singaporeans faced the same situation as we do now, we believe Singaporeans would also rise up to do what we are doing," said Somsak Kosaisuk

Actually I don't think Singaporeans would or could rise up...
By Pracha Hararaspitak | March 17, 2006

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters burned posters of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outside the city state's Bangkok embassy on Friday as a campaign to oust his Thai counterpart, Thaksin Shinawatra, took a nationalist twist.

Waving placards saying "Thailand Not for Sale, Get Out," several hundred protesters urged a boycott of all things Singaporean in answer to the takeover of telecoms giant Shin Corp by its state investment arm, Temasek, from Thaksin's family.

"If Singaporeans faced the same situation as we do now, we believe Singaporeans would also rise up to do what we are doing," said Somsak Kosaisuk, a key member of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is trying to kick Thaksin from office.

They also torched models of Singapore Airlines planes, its "merlion" national mascot and pictures of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, the Temasek boss.

The political crisis has already caused the Thai stock market and baht to wobble and is now raising long-term economic concerns, with ratings agencies looking at growth forecasts and companies delaying public flotations or investment projects.

The anti-Singapore sentiment, which stems from outrage at Thaksin's family paying no tax in January's $1.9 billion Shin Corp deal, now appears to be hurting business.

According to Chainid Ngow-Sirimanee, head of builder Property Perfect PCL, Singapore firms have delayed decisions on potential Thai property investments worth $256 million.

DBS Group Holdings, which had been thought keen on raising its stake in Thailand's TMB Bank PCL, had yet to make up its mind on whether to go ahead, a spokesman said. Analysts attributed the delay to politics.


Thaksin, who remains defiant in the face of the middle-class metropolitan movement to oust him, hit the provincial campaign trail once again, rallying his core rural support base for snap elections called on April 2.

The Election Commission says the poll, which Thaksin has billed as a referendum on his leadership, may have to be postponed as a boycott by the three main opposition parties is likely to render it constitutionally unviable.

Thaksin, who is accused of corruption, cronyism and eroding the checks and balances of the 1997 constitution, does not agree.

"April 2 is the day for people to choose whether to let mob rule prevail or give the democratic process a chance to work," he told sugarcane farmers in the western province of Kanchanaburi, home to the famous "Death Railway" bridge over the River Kwai.

"I represent the democratic process. If you agree with the opposition boycott, you can abstain," he said, referring to one of the options on Thai ballot papers.

More than 100,000 people hit the streets this week calling for his head, sparking fears in the royal palace and army of a repeat of the bloodshed during a "people power" uprising against military rule in 1992.

However, both sides appear to be going out of their way to avoid violence.

Police marshalling the protests have been good-natured and unarmed and Thaksin switched a meeting from Government House to avoid confrontation with thousands of protesters camping on its doorstep.

A 20,000-strong pro-Thaksin "caravan of the poor" which arrived in northern Bangkok on Friday also vowed to steer clear of its political adversaries.

"We don't want to clash with them," said Attarit Singhlor, head of the 3-km (2-mile) convoy of trucks and home-made tractors which snaked its way slowly down from the impoverished northeast as the political crisis in the capital deepened.

"We'll make statements and express our requests for the prime minister to help on land, land deeds and funding for organic fertilizer projects, then leave Bangkok," he said.

Interview with Martyn See

A radio programme [approx. 13 mins] emailed to me by Brian C. Johnsen which includes audio extracts from Singapore Rebel and an interview with Martyn See.

Centre Street Or visit the site.

Summary: We are privileged here to have our democratic rights honoured. Except for the occasional violent protest, all is peaceful in the West. So why should we worry about politics in the island state of Singapore?

Credits: A heartfelt thanks to filmmaker Martyn See Tong Ming, who was willing to be interviewed.

Aussie disrupts Queen's Singapore visit

A protest in Singapore, are you sure? I want pictures to prove this.

Jodi Ruckley even had her placard and bear suit returned to her, luckily she wasn't carrying a placard and wearing a T-shirt demanding transparency of the CPF and NKF.

From The Age
March 17, 2006 - 4:55PM

An Australian animal rights activist in a bear suit disrupted a Singapore visit by the Queen to protest against the bearskin hats worn by the soldiers who guard Buckingham Palace.

Two police officers detained the member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) near the presidential palace, not long before the Queen arrived for a ceremonial welcome from head of state SR Nathan.

It also occurred hours before Prince Philip was to open a new Singapore office for the environmental group WWF International, of which he is president emeritus.

Jodi Ruckley, 33, from Sydney, was led to a police van after brandishing a placard saying "God save the bears".

She was released later without charges. Her bear suit was also returned.

Protests are banned in tightly-governed Singapore unless organisers obtain a police permit in advance.

Ruckley threatened further protests during the queen's two-day Singapore visit, saying she was prepared to risk further police action on behalf of the bears.

"To tell you the truth it is risky but ... that's nothing compared to what they're going through," she said.

The Queen arrived in Singapore, once a colony and now a republic, on Thursday night for a two-day state visit after she opened the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

PETA opposes the use of Canadian black bear pelts for the Grenadier Guards' furry ceremonial hats.

The Grenadiers are a part of the regular British army but are best known as the Royal Guard in London.

"We are not giving up till they change to synthetic fur," said PETA spokesman Jason Baker.

As well as the Grenadiers, bearskins are worn with ceremonial tunics by Britain's Welsh, Irish, Scots and Coldstream Guards regiments.

The bears are hunted in Canada and their skins shipped to Britain, and activists as well as some parliamentarians say they should be replaced with fake fur.

The bearskins are thought to have been adopted from France's Imperial Guard after Britain defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.

It features in ceremonies such as the Trooping of the Colour, which are traditionally led by the monarch.

Recently a group of British Labour MPs tabled a motion seeking a ban on the towering headgear.

The UK Ministry of Defence said that it had begun trials of synthetic materials as a response to animal welfare worries. Early results have shown fake material goes frizzy in London's weather.

© 2006 AAP