31 May 2006

Singabloodypore Is Being Researched

As is Mr Wang I see. The Singapore blogosphere seems to have burst into flames of rumour and fear. As far as I am aware the IPS is a partially business funded and partially government funded think tank. Now by Singabloodypore being researched what I mean is that I have been invited to attend an interview on the topic of the blogging commmunity and possible effects it may have had on the recent elections.

The interview will be conducted face-to-face which as all you smart readers out there know, means in the same geographic location.

So when the request arrived in my inbox a few weeks ahead of when I had planned to spend a few days in Singapore I thought why not, what harm could it do?

"The questions we are interested in include the kinds of space that the Internet helps create as an alternative to the mainstream media, and whether and how the Internet contributes to democratic processes. We have been archiving several dozen blogs during the election period, including yours, with a view to analyzing their content and features. But we would also like to have a quantitative sense of how big the impact of blogs like yours is - and would be grateful if you could grant us an interview either face to face or by email ...

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Govt promises review of new media, 'lighter touch' in next GE

First spotted on Mr Wang.

A related "news" article - Government to review media policies for next GE By Farah Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia

THE Government will review the way it manages new media such as the Internet and podcasts and work towards a 'lighter touch' in the next election, said Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Lee Boon Yang.

Speaking at the 5th Annual PR Academy Conference on new media, Dr Lee said the Government accepts that Internet and new media are evolving and even more people will be net-savvy in five years' time.

'So our policies must also evolve. We will review our policies on the Internet and new media during the election period bearing in mind the changes taking place,' he said.
Call me paranoid.... but is that a promise or a threat?

'Moving forward, we will consider how to better embrace these changes so that by the next GE, we may be able to adopt a lighter touch approach during the election period.'
1. Why should there be a "touch" in the first place?
2. The "touch" that they had this elections obviously didn't affect many bloggers. So I'm a little confused here.

Dr Lee defended the Government's 'cautious' approach during the recent May 6 General Election, saying that certain restrictions must remain to keep the electoral process on an even keel.
Even? Even? Since when have the opposition parties even approached the equality mark by five miles?

Election advertising, for example, was restricted to political parties and candidates.
Which of course, wasn't carried by our reliable media.

'Were we wrong to have adopted a cautious approach? Here, I do not expect a consensus. But my assessment is that we were not wrong to have taken a more cautious approach,' he said.

'While podcasts and videocasts for political advertisements were disallowed during the election period, political parties were able to make their presence felt in cyberspace making good use of their websites to publicise their programmes. This was on top of the ample coverage given by the mainstream media.'
*proceeds to choke on her biscuit*

Dr Lee said interest was also high in other areas such as in individual blogs, podcasts and videocasts. Many blogs ran commentaries, satires, polls, and photos of election rallies.

'The emergence of new media platforms and the fact that many of our young people are tech-savvy supported such intense interest. Many also see the new media as increasing the political space to speak up on the issues brought up during the election campaign,' he said.

'I accept that some will argue that we should let the people be the judge and form their own opinion by accessing all sorts of information and arguments. I agree that this is not without merit. But it is only valid when information available on the Internet is equally reliable and accurate.
Equally reliable and accurate as WHAT? The local media? Now that would be REALLY unbiased.

'Hence we have adopted a cautious approach in engaging the new media during the election period.'

Dr Lee said said the Government adopted a 'light touch approach' in dealing with the everyday use of the internet and will continue to do so and accept that the Internet and new media will remain largely a 'free-for-all'.

'However during the election period when such free-for-all may result in undesirable situations, we cannot take a completely hands-off approach,' he said.
And we come to the conclusion, the warning hidden within the sugary-sweet message. Next elections, we bloggers better watch out.

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Malu-lah, Mati-lah—Seditious Speech As Entertainment

The text and video are from Lee Cane You. A new blog by someone who appears to be immune from the self-censorship virus.

I added the music and the titles. The moving footage was cut from Martyn See's great, but disturbing documentary Singapore Rebel which is BANNED in Singapore. It was supposed to be screened at a Singapore film festival, but the festival director was threatened by Thugs Of The State. In my view, there is no loss of honour if one capitulates to absolute power who cannot, or will not differentiate between bullying and justice. Producing political films is BANNED in Singapore. Yessir folks, another violation of individual and property rights by the good-old-state and its tin-pot despots. I urge you to help Martyn See by signing the petition. To visit Martyn See's blog click here.

Frankly, I'm EMBARRASSED that Singaporeans have resorted to "begging" their government for liberty. In any "civilised" country, the government terrorcrats who bully peaceful citizens would be arrested, charged in court and thrown into jail—where they so rightfully belong.

Update May 25, 2006: Audio mp3 of the music in podcast format here. [mp3]

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Not that we have a chance in hell of winning in a section which has us competing with opendemocracy. And before anyone asks who nominated the site - it was I, hopelessly self-promoting. The main criteria for entry was that one of those involved on the project has to be resident in the UK and I am aware that there are at least two of us living in Britain.

When digital technologies intersect with civic life, they can impact a small community or an entire nation. The New Media Awards celebrate those UK new media projects that benefit society, government or democracy.

The theme of this year’s awards is The Power of Ideas – with a special emphasis on innovation, usability and efficiency. New media can have a positive effect by pushing boundaries and making information widely accessible.


We are seeking nominations for any UK digital, web or mobile technology project that is creating positive change. It’s free to nominate and you can nominate as many projects as you like! Simply fill out our short, online nomination form.

Closing date: 31 May 2006

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    30 May 2006

    Request for Investigation Corrupted Practice concerning General Election 2006

    From Sg Review.

    date: 05/26/06

    from: Yap Keng Ho ,

    to: Soh Kee Hean -director Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

    subject: Request for Investigation Corrupted Practice concerning General Election 2006

    I took part in GE2006 as Election Agent for candidate Chee Siok Chin of Sembawang GRC wef 10.May.2006, I am also a voter of Tampines GRC, but I am requesting CPIB for an investigation as a member of public. I was prepared to stand for the same election myself but I lack some assenter for the nomination. I am sure you are already aware that miss Chee Siok Chin had already filed complain to Election Judge under parliamentary election act asking for the election to be declared as invalid.

    May I bring to your attention that there is possible corrupted practice in GE2006, in that Lee Hsien Loong both as Rep of Singapore PM cum Finance Minister & GE2006 candidate have committed himself in VOTE BUYING during GE2006.

    This is in particular through the Progress Package by which voters of entire Singapore had been arranged to receive money payable on 1.May.2006 just few days before the polling. Over a million voters and or their family members had received money ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars, just days before they had to cast their votes.

    This inevitably have the strongest effect of VOTE BUYING, in favor to the ruling party which Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew are both belong to, and both stood as candidates for GE2006.

    Lee Hsien Loong being the finance minister & Rep of Singapore PM proposed and implemented the Progress Package, through which voters are given S$2.6 billion in total sum, and he is the PM who is almost the only person who can initiate the dissolve of parliament and call for election. And that the dates of withdrawing the Progress Package and the polling day are only apart by less than a week, so the arrangement that voters are given the handout of S$2.6 billion just before casting their vote have to be the intention of Lee Hsien Loong.

    The criminal intention of vote buying is further affirmed by Lee Hsien Loong himself in his public statement during the election period as reported by the media that he talked about "fixing the oppositions" and "buying the votes". Please refer to affidavit filed by Chee Siok Chin.

    I plea your firm and thorough investigation regarding possible vote buying crime committed by Lee Hsien Loong, and any possible involvement by his father Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in this General Election. Please assure me that your investigation will be fair and of integrity despite the fact that Lees are your direct superiors. CPIB is law enforcement bureau and no one should be above the law. I plea with you to act accordingly to uphold justice and equality.

    I request you also to publicly announce your findings after investigation.

    As I understand as long as there is any criminal intent an action committed especially involving huge sum of money paid to voters when candidates including Lee Hsien Loong himself stand to be voted and return to power, it is to be regarded strictly as a crime. I believe that many individuals had been charged in Singapore based on their criminal intents, and in Singapore's court it is the accused person's burden to prove that he / she is innocent while being presumed as guilty.

    The fact that the S$2.6 billion is not private fund, but entrusted in the care of Lee Hsien Loong under his capacity as PM cum Finance Minister, show that he is in position with the most ability to abuse this fund for the electoral gain of his ruling party PAP as well as his father and himself. This is the fact that had disturbed me the most.

    Acting for myself according to my conscience for fairness; justice & equality, I made this request to you as director of Corrupted Practices Investigation Bureau to perform your official duty according to law and constitution of our republic.

    Thank You,


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    Singapore's Unique Multiculturalism

    From SBS Radio - World View
    30.5.2006 17:45:44

    Singapore's government keeps a tight grip on many things.

    Multiculturalism and religious tolerance is one of them.

    The city-state is so tiny that harmony between the three main ethnic groups is essential to maintaining the economy.

    After race riots in 1969, the ruling party put in place firm multicultural policies.

    As Rebecca Henschke reports, the government controls where people live, the make-up of political parties, and what languages young people learn at school.

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    JBJ hits out at New Workers' Party

    Veteran politician says current WP should confront more

    His fiercest opponent — Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew — has labelled his style as anything from "gutter politics" to "street fighter" tactics. Opposition veteran J B Jeyaretnam prefers to describe his methods as "confrontational" instead.
    But there is one observation about his approach that Mr Jeyaretnam shares with MM Lee: That it is no longer a feature of the Workers' Party.

    And, looking at the recent General Election (GE), Mr Jeya-retnam doubts it will make a comeback within the party he used to lead. He said: "I can't see it happening under (secretary-general) Low Thia Khiang. (He) hasn't shown himself … willing or ready to take on the PAP on the most crucial issue of the system of government in this country."

    Mr Lee had said last month at the 50th anniversary dinner of the Foreign Correspondents Association that Mr Low is moving in the right direction after having "got rid" of Mr Jeyaretnam and his "Third World" politics. The latter, though, is not making any concessions about his approach.

    "I don't believe confrontational politics is wrong, which is what the PAP would seem to imply. They talk about constructive criticism. Of course, to them, constructive criticism is criticism within the parameters they've laid down," he said.

    Which is why, he added, Mr Lee was pleased to see the back of someone like him who would challenge the system. But is the veteran Opposition politician calling time on politics now?

    "I haven't quite decided. A lot will, of course, depend on my health and if my strength will permit me to continue," said the 80-year-old, who had "great hopes" of getting discharged from his bankruptcy to contest the GE. He admitted that, with the polls over, the urgency to pay his debts from the lawsuits against him had passed. "Yes, I'd like to be discharged, but it's no longer a pressing matter," said Mr Jeyaretnam, who was speaking about the GE at an FCA luncheon last week.

    These elections, with more media publicity of the Opposition in the lead-up to the polls than in previous elections, raised expectations that "some real issues would be debated", he said, citing issues about the widening wage gap, unemployment, workers' rights, healthcare, education and the cost of living. But he did not see this happen. If it had and the WP had a real go at the issues, "they might have captured Aljunied".

    And Mr Jeyaretnam is not very optimistic about the Opposition's chances in a Group Representation Constituency at the next GE. "The flagship constituency didn't do as well as the flagship constituencies in the previous elections under the WP," he said, referring to the 1988, 1991 and 1997 polls.

    In those elections, the WP got 49.11 per cent of the Eunos vote, 47.62 per cent in Eunos again and 45.18 per cent in Cheng San, respectively. In this GE, the WP won 43.91 per cent in Aljunied. Nonetheless, he does think that democratic ideals are on the rise among young Singaporeans.

    "Going around, selling my book in Singapore, I've had hundreds of students buying the book," he related. "But, I've also noticed this: Once they leave the universities … either their energies or their enthusiasm are sapped as a result, I suppose, of the seen and unseen pressures of society.

    He cited family pressure and the climate of fear as the main counterbalances to the desire for change and greater freedoms. Although more young Singaporeans are joining the Opposition, it is not enough to convince him that the fear factor is ebbing. He has a sterner litmus test — one that is true to his style of politics.

    "It's when you have people who are prepared to stand up, march through the streets of Singapore, hold a public rally. Then they can say 'we are no longer afraid'," he told Today.

    By his own admission, it is a style that seems very much out of fashion. - /sh

    29 May 2006

    Guest Workers or Indentured Labor? Life in Singapore's Little India

    From New America Media

    SAMAR, News Feature, Rupali Ghosh, May 26, 2006

    SINGAPORE - After a late dinner, sometime close to midnight, a small group of us make our way through the grid of narrow lanes that is at the heart of Singapore's Little India district. The street side restaurants that do brisk business during the lunch and dinner rush are winding down and there are few people on the streets at this hour.

    The waiters, nearly all Sri Lankan Tamils at a Chettinad dhaba we walk past, are wiping down the plastic tables with wet cloths, piling chairs on top of tables in that classic end-of-day small eatery gesture and dealing with the last dinner guests and their endless demands: "Filter coffee irruka?" asks one Tamilian diner ("Do you have filter coffee?") "Roti—two more," says another though he has been told that the kitchen is closed for the night. Behind the old-fashioned cash register of the dhaba, the night manager pauses picking his teeth with a wooden toothpick as he instructs a young man cleaning out the sweet counter to pack all the remaining mysore pak sweets into three cardboard boxes. More work for the young man who has been on his feet since five that morning.

    Little India is one of Singapore's must-see tourist attractions. Anchored by the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple, Tekka Market and Mustafa's famous 24-hour mall, this maze of streets is crowded with small eateries, shop houses, sweet shops and ethnic grocery stores specializing in produce from the Indian subcontinent. The name Little India is an inaccurate guidebook generalization as the area correctly represents the food and culture (to an extent) of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. The area is also the nerve center of Singapore's subcontinental migrant labor force and Little India descriptions frequently appearing in tourist guides carry a light warning about Sunday evenings "when the migrant labor force comes out on the streets of Little India."

    Warnings also abound from chatty taxi drivers—usually Chinese or Malaysian—one who helpfully alerted us to the big crowd on Desker Road (the red light quarter of Little India bordered by specialty Indian restaurants and frequented by migrant workers on weekend nights): "Don't go to Desker Road side, very crowded with black Indians on Saturday night."

    In Singaporean society, where racism runs just below the surface of everyday life, there is a tendency to look down upon "black Indians" a derogatory term used by the majority Straits Chinese population that refers to Sri Lankan Tamils—one of Singapore's three primary ethnic groups (the other two groups being the Chinese and Malays).

    Naskar came to Singapore from Bangladesh one year ago. He works in the kitchen of a small eatery in Little India. His workday usually starts at 5am, when he accompanies another worker to the wet produce markets. Not a professional cook yet, Naskar does all the routine backbreaking kitchen jobs like peeling and dicing vegetables, cleaning and cutting fish, kneading and rolling luchi and chapati dough in the hot, noisy endlessly active restaurant kitchen. Probably the busiest times of the day are after the lunch and dinner rush when he is on utensil wash-up duty with another worker.

    Naskar looks forward to Sunday nights when he goes down to Mustafa's with other restaurant workers after work. He does not get a day-off, which is the usual practice among the unskilled labor workforce throughout most of Singapore. Naskar's family lives in Mymensingh, Bangladesh and he sent money back home twice in the last year.

    He doesn't disclose his wages but hopes his work contract will be renewed soon for another two years. According to Singapore labor laws, a migrant worker must leave the country as soon as his work permit is cancelled or expires. Though Singapore has historically been heavily dependent on migrant labor, or foreign workers as they are called here, for its economic progress, there is little open dialogue about the living conditions and rights of these workers both in the government-controlled media under the umbrella of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and in the general public space.

    Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MoM) oversees all aspects of issuing work permits for foreign workers. According to government guidelines, unskilled and semi-skilled foreign workers are issued the R Pass (R1 and R2). The R1 pass is issued to semi-skilled foreign workers who possess some degree of practical training. The R2 pass is issued to unskilled foreign workers. R pass holders are not allowed to bring their immediate family members into the country. They are also subject to a security bond and medical examination requirements. If an employer fails to pay the required security bond, work permits are cancelled and the worker must leave Singapore within a week. In addition, the employer must post a S$5000 security bond with the government to guarantee the "good behavior and eventual repatriation" of the foreign manual worker.

    The insecurity of life as an R Pass holder in Singapore is pretty much how life is on the other side of any guest worker program. For the host country, a guest worker program is a good deal: a wealthy country gets sufficient supplies of cheap labor to do all the jobs no one else wants to do, without having to invest anything in the welfare of that labor force. For the worker, it is a period of hard (oftentimes demeaning or dangerous) labor with the ability to occasionally remit money back home, a constant sense of alienation and isolation heightened by an enforced separation from home and family and no legal rights to speak of. Interestingly, this is exactly the kind of life the United States senate foresees for its 12 million undocumented workers sometime in the very near future.

    In Singapore, where most of the migrant labor falls under the category of manual worker—either domestic or construction worker—the insecurity of the R Pass is heightened by the S$ 5000 security bond, that often becomes the proverbial sword of Damocles over the head of the migrant laborer, especially in the case of domestic foreign workers.

    Domestic Foreign Workers (DFWs) is a face-saving euphemism for household servants that in Singapore refers to maids who are generally treated more like slaves than free human beings. Domestic worker abuse in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong has been widely documented by international NGOs like Human Rights Watch in the past. Abuse which is so rampant that it is now considered normal includes keeping domestic workers housebound so that outside human contact cannot "spoil them"; making them work long hours; and not giving workers a single day off. Actually, a monthly day-off is offered to maids in many homes, but if they work on that day-off they are given an extra S$20, so they usually end up working through the day-off for the extra cash. In Singapore, an Indonesian maid earns around S$200 a month—though ex-pat employers pay quite a bit more, as well as usually offer better working conditions. Filipino maids earn higher salaries, ranging between S$300–400. Sri Lankan and Nepali maids earn around the same, or less than Indonesian maids. [US$ 1 = S$ 1.60]

    Off and on half-hearted debates on the need for a weekly day-off are published in the comment pages of the Straits Times newspaper (the largest selling English daily in Singapore published by the Singapore Press Holdings), but the general consensus is with the Ministry of Manpower—domestic workers shouldn't get a single day off as this is cruel and unfair to elderly people and children dependent on these workers; also the absence of domestic help will disrupt the schedule of working mothers and impact productivity in their white-collar jobs.

    Srimala, 37, works with an Indian family living in an HDB housing estate (government housing) on Farrer Road. She came from Sri Lanka and says she was fortunate to be chosen by the Indian family from the maid agency with which she was registered.

    Srimala has been living with the Indian family for three years now. They have been the longest three years of her life. Dressed in a navy blue ankle length shapeless sarong like skirt and grey shirt, her lined and weathered face looks closer to fifty than forty. She talks in short furtive sentences about her life and will not disclose any details she thinks may reveal the identity of her employers. Her employers live in a five-bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of the housing estate. She works for a family of six people: two elderly parents, their son and his wife, one 10-year-old son and a little baby. She usually works from 5 am to after midnight.

    Her early morning chores include cleaning the apartment, making the beds, washing the windows (of the twelfth floor apartment) before preparing a traditional breakfast for the family.

    Srimala accompanies the elderly grandmother to the supermarket everyday to shop for fresh vegetables; she cooks the meals; sorts out the washing (done in a washing machine but manually dried out in the sun on two long poles attached to the windows as is the custom in most HDB apartments); bathes the baby; makes numerous cups of coffee and tea for the grandfather and finally washes the dishes. She sleeps between three and four hours a night, does not get a single day off and yet says she is fortunate to be chosen by an Indian family. The reason being that local Chinese families are known to be even stricter employers going to almost insanely inhuman lengths to keep their maids virtual house prisoners. Srimala is allowed out on her own (whenever she has the time, which is usually never). She is also allowed to call her family back in Sri Lanka from a public pay phone, as she is not allowed to own a cell phone, and send them letters. She has been given an old blanket on which she can sleep in the kitchen and has never been beaten or abused verbally by her employers.

    Srimala knows fellow-Sri Lankan women who are not so fortunate. A younger woman from her own village employed by a Chinese family in another HDB block not too far from where Srimala is, can never go outdoors without her Chinese mistress with her. So the only places she goes to are the local wet market and shopping center where she carries her mistress's shopping bags. She does similar work to Srimala without a single day off, except that she also has to wash the windows from the outside (of a sixth floor apartment), clean her employer's car and iron a hamper of clothes everyday. She has to sleep in the room of one of the teenage daughters of the house, which means she needs to sleep when the girl is ready to sleep (usually after 1 am) and cannot even sleep in privacy. She is also regularly verbally abused by her employer and is threatened that she will be "kicked out of the country" as the employers will withdraw the security bond they have posted.

    The woman is not allowed any contact with her family and is never left by herself as her employers are convinced she will use the opportunity to mix with "bad men and get pregnant." Also, her hair is regularly cut by the employer as she feels the woman's "long hair is dirty and falls all over the apartment."

    The saddest thing is that for a domestic worker like this unfortunate woman and Srimala there is no recourse or even a place where they can go and lodge a complaint against inhuman employers. These women are too scared to take any official action with the Ministry of Manpower (which does operate a kind of help-line service). In the almost total absence of any non-governmental agency to help them, they usually just suffer in silence.

    Filipino domestic workers are more organized in Singapore these days, especially after the 1995 Flor Contemplacion case. Flor was a Filipino domestic worker who was arrested for the murder of another domestic worker, Delia Maga and Maga's employer's child Nicolas in 1991. At the time, according to media reports, the Singapore police claimed that Flor had committed the numbers after "snapping" from the strain of her dawn to midnight routine for three years with her Singaporean employers. Flor was executed in 1995 resulting in an angry and loud protest from the Philippines—spearheaded by Filipino NGOs in the Philippines and around the world that believed Flor had not been given a fair trial. The Singapore government was accused of acting insensitively and the entire Philippine embassy staff in Singapore was sacked for reacting too slowly to Flor's case. This incident considerably damaged Singaporean diplomatic relations with the Philippines and also led to more stringent regulations by the Ministry of Manpower regarding FDWs in Singapore. Currently the MoM runs orientation programs for Singaporeans who want to employ FDWs. The programs are supposed to educate and sensitize prospective employers about domestic workers and how they should be treated.

    The Filipina women meet regularly at the Lucky Plaza center in Orchard, Singapore's central shopping district, where there is some amount of counseling available. However, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Burmese maids (in much smaller numbers than Filipinos and Indonesians) lack any sort of cohesive organization and are usually exploited both by their employers and the agencies that recruit them.

    Construction workers are probably the most organized of unskilled foreign labor in Singapore—and also the best treated with regulated work hours, periodic health screening and some protection against exploitation. Workers in the cleaning industry (garbage disposal workers and sweepers who clean the streets and buildings) could do with some of that organization.

    Yunis Mohammad is a contracted cleaner at a Holland Village HDB housing complex. All Singapore apartments are fitted with a garbage disposal chute. The idea is that regular household waste is required to be bagged securely and dropped down the chute. Big items like packing materials, newspapers, old books, etc. are supposed to be collected and disposed off at the "big garbage collection bins" placed somewhere within the complex conveniently accessible to all residents. Glass and other dangerous waste should also be placed in these bins. In practice, Yunis says, residents "throw everything down the chute, including glass bottles, big books, newspapers everything." The glass bottles naturally shatter meaning that the chute cleaners regularly get their hands cut and slashed with pieces of glass.

    Yunis who usually a works a 6am-6pm shift with a short afternoon break, is from Bangladesh and lives in one of the dormitory-style buildings rented out to workers in Little India.

    He has had his hands cut countless times on shards of glass and broken bottlenecks. The stink of decomposing garbage in the chute is nauseating and stays with Yunis long after his 12-hour shift is done. He describes cleaning the chute as a hellish job as most often tenants have barely secured their trash in the garbage bags and everything from soiled sanitary napkins to leftover meals and half-eaten rotting fruit needs to be manually cleaned out of the chute bins.

    Yunis chose to become a contract cleaner as that was the only job available to him, and given that sending him from Bangladesh to Singapore cost his family more than they could afford in agent fees and other charges, he needed to begin repaying the debt as soon as he could. Also, Yunis knows the reality of his life and says he "would never make this much money in Dhaka." When he returns home on visits he takes back things that will be useful—electric fans, wristwatches, clothes, kitchen utensils and gold jewelry. He says he can buy all of these things at the best prices from Mustafa's.

    In the absence of any grassroots movement in Singapore that can provide a support structure to migrant labor in terms of counseling, legal and medical advice and other assistance, places like Mustafa's in Little India have become surrogate social clubs for these workers. Mustafa's is a sprawling, four-story mall that is a combination of hyper-mart, foreign exchange center and social space with coffee stalls and eating places on its premises. Being open 24/7 makes it convenient for workers to meet here even at the end of a long workday.

    In Singapore, NGO activity and advocacy for migrant labor has a brief, rather unproductive history. The little activism that existed in the late Eighties was effectively stubbed out with the so-called "Marxist Conspiracy Case" in 1987, and in the years that followed even socially aware Singaporeans have been reluctant to involve themselves in migrant labor issues because of its "socialist overtones." In May, 1987, 22 people were arrested under the Internal Security Act for allegedly threatening state and national interests. The arrested included Catholic social workers and lay workers at the Geylang Catholic Center for Foreign Workers. The Center used to lobby for better wages and more humane employment conditions for foreign workers of all faiths. However, the Church was seen as a "cover for political agitation" and the Geylang Center was shut down. As a result of this incident, religious organizations and other civil society groups have steered clear of migrant labor issues.

    With the Flor Contemplacion case of 1995, international attention was once again focused on migrant labor conditions in Singapore and the backlash from the case resulted in a gradual increase—to an extent—in networking and some advocacy for migrant, especially domestic workers here. Though, as said earlier, a lot of this organization really focuses on Filipino domestic workers and groups assisting them. It remains to be seen if other civic societies can take their cue from these organizations and work towards empowering people like Srimala and Yunis Mohammed.

    After stints in Tokyo and Taipei Rupali Ghosh is currently based in Singapore. When not moving house, she works as a freelance journalist and editorial consultant for the Pacific Asia Resource Center.

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    Overseas voting - Version PAP

    Overseas voting - Version PAP
    Damaso G Magbual
    May 25, 06 2:23pm

    Overseas voting was introduced in April 2001 ‘to provide Singaporeans with strong links to Singapore to have their say through their votes’.

    However, a cursory reading of the provision of the law on overseas voting will tell us that it does not enfranchise overseas Singaporean citizens as a whole but only those who have direct (government employees) or indirect (employees of international organisations of which Singapore is a member) affiliation with the government.

    There definitely is merit in the observation of a student in Canada when he said that there is “…unequal rights to vote for all Singaporeans … who are not associated with any government or public agency” referring to himself and all Singaporeans who are similarly situated.

    Voting is a basic human right and not a privilege, which the state grants to its citizens. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights speaks of suffrage as universal, it means all citizens of a given state, who are not reasonably restricted by law, have the right to vote. A primary concern of the right of suffrage is participation and international norms favour expanding rather than restricting this right.

    Principle of non-discrimination

    Hence, Singaporeans who have no direct or indirect affiliation with the government staying overseas and are not allowed to vote are arbitrarily denied a basic human right. This violates the principle of non-discrimination in the treatment of voters’ eligibility, which is an essential characteristic of a free and fair election.

    Some jurisdictions/democracies (India, Taiwan, Chile) do not grant their citizens residing outside the country voting rights. There are two basic reasons for this.

    First, the setting up of systems and procedures on how the overseas citizens can vote on election day is in itself an administrative nightmare to the electoral body. Then there is the difficulty of designating the electoral district/constituency to which the votes will be assigned. Both reasons may not apply to Singapore. It is a known fact that the technological advance of Singapore is the envy of its Asian neighbours. Hence, setting up systems for overseas voting that will cover all Singaporeans should not pose any problem.

    Secondly, the city/state has a limited number of districts/constituencies (23 SMCs and GRCs), unlike India, which is the biggest democracy in the world. Again, designating the district of an overseas voter should not present any problem given Singapore’s level of technological sophistication.

    Some countries have certain restrictions on overseas voting but these restrictions are not on the right of citizens to vote. The restrictions are on their participation in a given election. France and the Philippines for instance, allow their overseas citizens to vote in some elections (national elections as against local elections) or for some positions (national versus local constituency). This avoids the difficulty of designating specific constituencies for the overseas votes.

    Singapore restricts the rights of certain voters; the two examples cited restrict the type of election and the position to be voted upon. The former violates the basic principle of equality before the law and therefore discriminatory. The other two do not.

    Discouraging support

    The provisions of the Parliamentary Election Act that defines overseas voting is not only discriminatory to the overseas citizens but denies the political contestants who do not belong to the People’s Action Party a level playing field. Voting rights to overseas Singaporeans are limited to those with ties or affiliations with the government.

    The PAP has been the dominant party - a virtual hegemony - since Singapore became independent. Those allowed to vote, since they are overseas by reason of their ties to the government are presumed if not expected to vote for the PAP. This certainly places the other parties at a distinct disadvantage.

    The restriction on overseas voting to Singaporeans with ties to the government tends to confirm the perception that the PAP as the ruling party, has thrown at the opposition every possible obstacle to grow and develop as viable parties.

    Too often changes in policies have almost always made it more difficult for opponents of the PAP to compete. The provision of block voting for the Group Representation Constituencies, the redrawing of political districts, and now the discriminatory provision of the overseas voting, all tend to confirm the impression that indeed the PAP has done everything to discourage support for the opposition.

    The graduate student in Vancouver, Canada has a legitimate grievance in that the law is discriminatory. Hence, either the law allows all overseas citizens the right to vote or confine the right of suffrage only to citizens residing in the country. This is equality before the law!

    DAMASAO G MAGBUAL is attached to the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel).

    No wonder Singapore is the 83rd most democratic country in the world!
    Vote For LHL!

    28 May 2006

    Amnesty to target net repression

    From the BBC
    Internet users are being urged to stand up for online freedoms by backing a new campaign launched by human rights group Amnesty International.

    Amnesty is celebrating 45 years of activism by highlighting governments using the net to suppress dissent.

    The campaign will highlight abuses of rights the net is used for, and push for the release of those jailed for speaking out online.

    It will also name hi-tech firms aiding governments that limit online protests.

    Pledge bank

    Called Irrepressible.info, the campaign will revolve around a website with the same name. While the human rights group has run separate campaigns about web repression and the jailing of net dissidents before now, Irrepressible.info will bring them all together.

    It aims to throw light on the many different ways that the freedom to use the net is limited by governments.

    For instance, said a spokesman for Amnesty, around the globe net cafes are being closed down, home PCs are being confiscated, chat in discussion forums is being watched and blogs are being censored or removed.

    I believe the internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the internet and on companies to stop helping them do it
    "The internet has become a new frontier in the struggle for human rights," said Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International.

    "Its potential to empower and educate, to allow people to share and mobilise opinion has led to government crackdowns."

    Ms Allen added that there were growing numbers of cases in which those who have turned to the net to discuss change or protest about government policies have been jailed for what they said.

    For instance, she said, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year jail sentence for sending an e-mail overseas which detailed the restrictions the Chinese government wanted to impose on papers writing about the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

    Hi-tech firm Yahoo helped identify the journalist via his e-mail account. Amnesty is calling for the jailed journalist to be released immediately.

    Profit and principles

    The campaign will seek to get net users to sign a pledge that opposes repressive use of the net. The pledges will be collated and presented to a meeting of the UN's Internet Governance Forum that is due to meet in Athens in November 2006.

    Amnesty wants to get people using an icon in e-mail signatures or on websites that contains text from censored sites.

    The group also wants to run an e-mail campaign to target companies to stop putting "profit before principles" and respect human rights everywhere they operate.

    Reports will be prepared on those countries that place restrictions on what can be said online or use it to keep an eye on those expressing discontent.

    "Irrepressible.info will harness the power of the internet and of individuals to oppose repression and stand up for free speech," said Ms Allen.

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    27 May 2006

    Singapore Opposition Party to Fight Ban on Podcasting

    From Podcasting News.

    May 26, 2006
    Defeated Singapore Democratic Party candidate Ms Chee Siok Chin has filed a summons in the High Court asking it to declare the results of the 2006 General Election null and void. She also wants the High Court to declare the ban on podcasting during the general election as unconstitutional.

    "The banning of podcasting and blogging in GE 2006 amount to intimidation, vote-buying, and censorship which contravenes the Parliamentary Elections Act," said Chee Siok Chin.

    In 2005, the Singapore Democratic Party adopted podcasting as a tool for political speech. Earlier this year, political podcasting, video podcasting and streaming video were banned in Singapore.

    At the Singapore Democratic Party site, Chee Siok Chin explains why she is bring a suit against the ruling government:

    The PAP has been the ruling party in Singapore for more than 40 years and has won more than a dozen elections, always in landslide victories.
    Singaporeans must begin to question why this is so. The PAP will have you believe that opposition candidates lack credibility and integrity. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has gone as far as calling his political opponents "scum", "liar", "cheat", "hooligans" and other derogatory names.
    This is, however, not the reason why the PAP continues to dominate parliament with more than 95 percent of the seats in the House. The real reason lies in the way the elections system is designed, and the way the PAP fights the elections.
    This is why I have taken out an Originating Summons to examine the way the elections were conducted and to seek a declaration from the Supreme Court that the 2006 General Elections were unconstitutionally run, and therefore, null and void.
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    Chee launches legal fund

    Chee Siok Chin of the Singapore Democratic Party appeals for donations for her bid to declare the elections null and void, and for the defence against the recent libel lawsuit filed by the Cabinet against the Chee siblings.
    The legal process, however, is very expensive. Each time I go to court to file documents, the process itself costs hundreds of dollars. It is estimated that we will spend at least $10,000 on filing fees alone.

    This fight should be the fight of all Singaporeans who are concerned with transparency and democratic accountability. As such I ask you to do your part and contribute to the legal defence fund that I have set up to fight these two cases. If you feel that these are matters important enough, please give so that we can mount an effective legal campaign against the Lees and the PAP.

    Chee has left her bank account details for ease of donations through bank transfer at the bottom of the SDP webpage.

    Vote For LHL!

    26 May 2006

    Singapore lightens up for tourists

    SINGAPORE When Lee Chin Koon was a member in the 1930s, the Chinese Swimming Club here offered more than just laps in the pool. There was mah- jongg and blackjack, too.

    "We Chinese are gamblers," he told club historians before his death in 1997. "If two lizards scale up a wall, someone would bet on them."

    But what Lee's son, Lee Kuan Yew, remembered was how, after a losing night, his father would come home in a violent rage demanding his wife give him jewelry to pawn. When Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of independent Singapore in 1965, he set about transforming this once-squalid seaport into a tidy industrial park by targeting vice. Cigarettes and alcohol were heavily taxed. Drugs traffickers were told they would be hanged. Casinos, naturally, were banned.

    Times are changing once again. Lee Kuan Yew's son, Lee Hsien Loong, is now prime minister, and he is striving to shake Singapore's reputation as Asia's nanny state.

    Really? Did someone liberalise Singapore while I wasn't looking?

    With the country's basic manufacturing jobs shifting to China, Lee wants to stimulate tourism and other service industries by molding a more tolerant, fun-loving Singapore. And one of his signature projects - the world's most expensive casino complex - harks back more to his grandfather's Chinese Swimming Club than to his father's profit-perfect industrial landscape.

    Last year, the government lifted its ban on casinos. Next month it is due to choose who will build the first of two planned resorts, a $3 billion extravaganza that will include a casino, an entertainment complex, a convention center and hotels. The list of bidders includes some of the biggest names in Las Vegas - Harrah's Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage.

    Strait-laced Singapore and freewheeling Vegas make strange partners. But Singapore is betting that, in return for letting casino operators tap the Chinese penchant for gambling, it can create a world-class tourist attraction without sacrificing the low crime rate and clean image that make it so popular with multinational corporations.

    A question among many casino operators is whether Singapore's vision of a sanitized casino culture risks bleaching out the components that attract gamblers and drive profitability. But four of the biggest casino companies are betting that it won't. Las Vegas Sands is pitching a $3.6 billion project that would include a partnership with the Guggenheim Foundation. The Malaysian company Genting has promised an association with Universal Studios.

    Harrah's, which has teamed up with a government-owned company, has enlisted James Cameron, director of the movie "Titanic," to design an indoor theme park. And MGM Mirage, which has also teamed up with a state-owned company, is including Cirque du Soleil as part of its bid.

    "It's more money than we have ever proposed for any other hotel-casino integrated resort," said J. Terrence Lanni, chief executive of MGM Mirage.

    If Singapore is trying to loosen up, the casino industry is seeking to shed its somewhat unsavory reputation and win acceptance as mainstream entertainment. And after a series of industry mergers - Harrah's with Caesar's, MGM with Mandalay - the casino giants see Asia, with its turbocharged economic growth and fervor for gambling, as the next great frontier.

    Analysts estimate that casino revenue in the region will grow 20 percent this year to $13 billion. And that does not include the estimated $4 billion or more that Asians spend each year on illegal gambling or cruise-ship casinos.

    Perhaps no one takes gambling more seriously than the Chinese. In China, casinos are illegal, so package vacations often include a visit to gambling centers like Macao, the former Portuguese enclave near Hong Kong. Since ending a monopoly on gambling two years ago, the once-seedy Macao has attracted billions of dollars in investments. MGM is spending more than $1 billion to build a casino there. Sands is building its second casino after its first pulled in more than $900 million within three months of opening.

    Other Asian governments are taking notice. "The success that Macao has seen is putting pressure on other Asian economies to look at gaming as a source of income," said Joseph Greff, a gambling industry analyst at Bear Stearns in New York. South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam are expanding their casinos, and Japan, Taiwan and Thailand are considering legalizing them.

    Singapore does not want to lose out. Tourism accounts for just 5 percent of Singapore's economy, and the authorities, despite a lack of natural tourist attractions here, hope to double annual arrivals to 17 million and triple the amount tourists spend to 30 billion Singapore dollars, or $19 billion, by 2015.

    Officials here have rejected several casino proposals, most recently in 2002, when a committee assembled by Lee Hsien Loong, then finance minister, included a plan for one in an overall strategy aimed at helping Singapore improve its competitiveness at a time the global economy was still sluggish.

    But signs have been mounting that Singapore is loosening up. In 2003, it lifted a ban on bar-top dancing and signaled an end to a crackdown on gay bars. The next year, it lifted a 20-year ban on Cosmopolitan magazine. Last year, a government minister presided at the opening of a Singapore branch of the Parisian topless revue Crazy Horse.

    A few factual inaccuracies and omissions as I see it.

    1. Crackdown on gay bars - ask the visitors to Happy how frequently they are raided.

    2. Crazy horse cabaret. Click here for Yawningbread's article on exactly how "wild" the local branch is.

    In March 2004, a government minister told Parliament the government was considering a casino on a small island theme park just off the main island of Singapore. The government then announced plans to place a second entertainment complex, designed as a showcase, directly across the harbor from the city center on land that city planners have designated for Singapore's new business district.

    "This is the face of Singapore," said Cheng Hsing Yao, head of planning for the area at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. "We don't want kitsch."

    To ensure that gambling does not dominate the scene, the casino will be allowed to occupy no more than 5.5 percent of the resort's area. The operator must build an equally large attraction of a different type - a museum, gallery or theater - as well.

    This article was clearly written by a Singaporean, and I'm taking a wild guess, was commissioned by the Singapore government as part of their image-maintenance. I am half-amused by how the singapore government is all willing to bend over backwards for the tourists, and treat their own people like dirt. I am amused at how the casino is targeted at tourists, while singaporean citizens have to fork out extra money. It speak volumes about our own hypocrisy, which I pointed out in Integrated Queeresorts , a satire.

    Vote For LHL!

    What are MPs for?

    Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong never expected to enter politics — and to stay in it for the past 22 years.

    In an exit interview with reporters yesterday, Mr Yeo said: "When I was asked to stand for elections in 1984, the chairman of my company asked me how long I expected to stay in politics. I said maybe eight to 12 years."

    So in 1996, after successfully organising the World Trade Organization ministerial conference as Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Yeo first raised the issue of his political retirement to former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. "Mr Goh told me there was no way I was going to leave," recalled Mr Yeo with a laugh.

    The 59-year-old father of three daughters — whom he said have practically "grown up without him" — had broached his political retirement a few times since then.

    "I've always desired to return to the private sector so I'm happy that now, Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) has agreed to let me go, even though he asked me to still stand as an MP. Coming from the PM, it's hard to say no," said Mr Yeo, who is the MP for Hong Kah GRC.

    As for how active a backbencher he will be, Mr Yeo said: "I'll cross that bridge when it comes ... where the issues are relevant I'll definitely speak up."

    While it would be "unfair" to make transport issues his pet topic, he added that he would be happy to support his successor — Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Raymond Lim — when he has to explain any policies that were implemented since he took office as Transport Minister in 2001.

    Noting that transport fares have risen by one cent a year for the past 20 years on average, Mr Yeo said that such a situation was unique to Singapore.

    "Our fares are very reasonable," he said. "We have to be fair to commuters and the public transport service providers. If they can't make a reasonable profit, they won't invest in upgrading and our transport system will degrade."

    He also defended the public listing of the public transport companies: SMRT Corp and ComfortDelGro Corp.

    "Allowing operations by private companies forces them to be more efficient. That's why we've been able to enjoy bus fares that increase by one cent a year without any Government subsidy," he said.

    One thing that Mr Yeo cites as a "definite" regret in his stewardship of the transport industry is the failure to clinch an Open Skies Agreement with Australia that would allow Singapore Airlines to fly the lucrative Sydney-Los Angeles route.
    He said that "expectations" were high that Singapore would finally be granted the air rights and a bilateral commitment to a "road map" towards open skies in 2004.

    "I was disappointed when the decision was made and told through the (Australian) press," said Mr Yeo, adding that he has yet to receive an official response from the Australian government.

    Still, Mr Yeo will be visiting Australia in the next few months — this time for pleasure, not business. A mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Western Australia in Perth, Mr Yeo plans to visit his friends there, as well as China and Europe with his wife.

    "I'll be taking a few months off to travel. I've been working virtually non-stop since 1972!" he quipped.Mr Yeo's career began in the Economic Development Board from 1972 to 1975. He then joined LeBlond Makino Asia as a staff engineer and was managing director by the time he left in 1984 to enter politics.

    "I hope people will remember me as someone who tried his best to work for his country," he said. -- CNA


    It is indeed surprising that Mr Yeo Cheow Tong is being so flippant and irresponsible about his duties as an elected Member of Parliament. Although he is no longer a Minister, surely he is accountable to the residents of his constituency, those of whom he was elected to serve?

    The PAP mentioned that the Opposition's idea of having full-time MPs is not necessarily a good thing, because their experiences in the private sector would lend them certain insights, and enable them to solve their constituents' problems more effectively. So, are we to take it that Mr Yeo's lengthy sojourn in Australia ("for pleasure", no less) will also similarly render him more insightful and more able to serve his constituents?

    We certainly hope so!

    25 May 2006

    Democracy, Ideology and Process Re-Engineering: Realising the Benefits of e-Government in Singapore

    by Kieron O'Hara and David Stevens of the United Kingdom using data provided by the Singaporean Ministry of Finance. (Full PDF)

    I attended the recent WWW2006 conference being held in Edinburgh. On spotting the title of the talk I knew it was one I couldn't afford to miss. The crowd attending was truely global in nature. However, although it was a serious talk the academics,researchers and civil servants attending did tend to laugh rather too much. Not at the speaker, he was great, but we laughed at the style of governance and the newspeak, 'illiberal democracy', 'opposition is very important, so important that the ruling party argues they should be doing it'. After a few minutes of joining in with the laughter I suddenly felt a huge attack of guilt. I enjoyed living in Singapore for a few years and the fact that others were laughing at Singapore made me feel rather defensive.

    After a few days of thinking about the talk and the laughing I came to the conclusion that we were not laughing at Singapore or Singaporeans but the People's Action Party.

    The re-engineering of governmental processes is a necessary condition for the realisation of the benefits of e-government. Several obstacles to such re engineering exist. These include: (1) information processing thrives on transparency and amalgamation of data, whilst governments are constrained by principles of privacy and data separation; (2) top-down re-engineering may be resisted effectively from the bottom up. This paper analyses these obstacles in the way of re-engineering in Singapore – a democratic one-party state where legislative and executive power lies with the People’s Action Party – and considers how that hegemony has aided the development of e-government.

    E-government, democracy, ideology, pragmatism, Singapore, process re-engineering, interoperability, privacy, management.

    In the complex world of the 21st century, government is reliant upon accurate and timely information about its legislative and policy contexts. Whether that information is gathered by governments, or provided by citizens and businesses, the quality of management of that information is vital [14]. The idea of e-government is to manage information and deliver services using information technology (IT) where possible. Using IT should create a number of benefits for government, including the standardisation of processes, efficiency of information transfer and storage and effective search, not to mention the decrease in the costs of information management. There should also be visible benefits for the citizen, including the simplification of the interface with government, the ability to manage one’s own case, and the lower taxes that should result from the reduction of the government’s costs. These benefits are naturally balanced by the costs of creating giant computer systems, and of the reengineering required.

    The issues underlying re-engineering shouldn’t be underestimated. It is very hard to turn staff-intensive and paperbased systems into automatic digital systems, especially when the re-engineering might well be entrusted to the very staff whose jobs are under threat from the transformation, and whose incentives are at best mixed. It is also very hard to integrate systems across platforms to provide seamless service for the citizen. Furthermore, the chief driver of change is not pressure from without, but rather consciousness within government of the opportunity costs of not upgrading systems – a notoriously weak driver.

    As a result 21st century e-government systems are often grafted onto 19th century bureaucracies. This locks in the high costs of integration, and tends to create islands of e-government rather than allowing an integrated approach across government. Furthermore, in some polities, lack of trust in government, however well-founded, can lead to scepticism regarding the benefits of efficiency. Privacy issues loom large. Where a government possesses large quantities of information, the guarantor of privacy is often what we might term practical obscurity: the phenomenon that information, often paper-based and held in discrete repositories, though theoretically in the hands of governments is actually not useful because it cannot be found effectively in a timely way [14]. This is particularly true of information which does not exist explicitly in government archives, but rather could be deduced from information held in two or more other sources.

    Recent work on e-government has shown that interoperability and re-engineering problems can interfere seriously with the effectiveness of putting government services online. In particular, studies have highlighted the need for standards to support interoperability, security and privacy requirements that stem from the amalgamation of databases and services, and process reengineering to optimise the benefits of shifting governmental services online [1], [21], [22].

    Because businesses have to perform such re-engineering of legacy systems, and because they face similar difficulties, it is tempting to treat government as a large business in the analysis of the problem. However, government has many drivers and difficulties of context that businesses do not face: in particular, whereas businesses have the (relatively) straightforward goal of creating value for shareholders within the law, governments need to meet a wide range of targets.

    Furthermore, different governments need (or want) to meet different targets. This paper examines one key driver in a government’s approach to the process of governing: ideology. Differing underlying ideologies create very different contexts for e-government systems. The form, and likelihood of success, of an e-government programme can depend quite dramatically on what ideological assumptions underpin particular polities. We will examine the experiences of e-government in an unusual democracy, Singapore. Section 2 discusses the context for and experience of egovernment in Singapore, while Section 3 looks at ideologies and party structures in Singapore to consider what effect these may have. Section 4 concludes.
    To continue reading a well balanced academic article click here.(PDF)
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    Bad Democracy - Lee Hsien Loong

    A gentle reminder to vote if you haven't already done so. Guess who is in the lead and sure to claim the title for May 2006.

    Singapore's leadership may be the most pigheaded example of the notion that democracy is little more than a financial inefficiency. Ahead of elections this month, the prime minister continues to rely on the mantra that you can't make an economic omelette without silencing a few eggs. Thus it is that opposition parties are bullied, their leaders persecuted and their supporters intimidated. True, a smattering of democratic pretence has been added to the proceedings, but Lee, like his father before him, has manifestly failed to loosen the political reins. Aiming for a clean sweep in the poll, Lee has even sunk to suing opponents who dared to compare his manner of government to the running of Singapore's opaque National Kidney Foundation.

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    'PAP Dictatorship Beware'

    I received this via email, it contained no header or link to the original posting. So if you find the URL please post it in the comment section.


    Manjit Bhatia
    May 23, 06 4:24pm
    - Singapore Sling

    So Lee Hsien Loong, son of Lee Kuan Yew, the so-called founding father of Singapore, won the May 6 election in his own right. What's more, he won it hands down. Well, la-di-da. Who would have guessed the polls being so tight that even the finest punters would have struggled to call the winner? Voters took time out to race tadpoles in Singapore's back streets. Or, as Google Trends reports, Singaporeans, being one the world's loneliest people, were too busy surfing the Internet in search of happiness, or its meaning. Either way, the bookies were left twiddling their thumbs over the election result. And just as well. Blind Freddy, now also with half a brain, would've known with dead certainty who would win that poll.

    As elections go in Singapore, this last one was another no brainer. Junior Lee, who took over from prime minister Goh Chok Tong in 2004, is a dead ringer of his father's policies, and of his father's politics. Nothing much has changed since the elder Lee stepped down in 1990. Upon retiring , Papa Lee remodelled himself as senior minister in the prime minister's office. When Goh, only the second premier, retired in 2004, Papa Lee promoted himself to minister mentor (whatever that means) while Goh inherited Lee's senior minister title. Sounds like a club for geriatric, paternalistic Singaporean authoritarians. Both men are privy to cabinet meetings and discussions.

    The one legacy of his old man's that Lee junior has stuck to is the politics of fear. It has long been instilled in Singaporeans, including the opposition political parties who would dare challenge the establishment. The other is gerrymandering electoral politics that only the People s Action Party (PAP) - an awful irony which has ruled the city-state as one-party dictatorship since 1965 - can do. Never mind that opposition parties and a parliamentary system exist. If son Lee, like his papa, had it all his own way, he'd make dissidents walk off a half-finished, half-cocked, crooked causeway bridge, tersely abandoned, across the Johor Straits to Malaysia, hoping that white pointer sharks preyed there.

    Junior may have won the polls but the PAP's overall mandate has been slit. It won only 66.6% of Singaporean hearts and minds, compared to 75.3% in 2001. That's in spite of strong economic growth, Junior doling out seductive election-eve budget sweeteners, and a raft of controls on opposition parties. The PAP government won all but two of the 84 seats in parliament, the same result it achieved in 2001. And, much to Junior's chagrin no doubt, two opposition MPs, Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and Low Thia Khiang of the Workers Party (WP), were returned. Moreover, Chiam and Low secured increased majorities despite the PAP's strenuous efforts to depose them.

    Deal of the century

    To this junior Lee declared that the PAP will review its strategy for approaching these two constituencies over the next five years. If that means the PAP may be willing to accept genuine political pluralism in Singapore, don't hold your breath. It just won't happen. Still, having its mandate slashed, the PAP is nevertheless rejoicing one other result: the obliteration, virtually, of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at the polls.

    Lee junior wanted nothing less than a crushing win for the PAP and to not only rule Singapore in his own right but also his right to rule the tiny republic. And he couldn't have made this any clearer, with a monumental blunder during a campaign speech. 'Instead of spending my time thinking of what is the right policy for Singapore, I have to spend all my time thinking what is the right way to fix them, what's the right way to buy my own supporters over,' Lee said.

    It came at a time when more and more graduates from abroad are returning home only to side with opposition parties. Wiping the SDP off the political landscape is a consolation of sorts. Ironically, older voters, especially low-income workers, have become more disgruntled because of job cuts, higher consumer taxes and rising transport and utilities costs. And younger voters simply don't like the PAP's authoritarianism.

    More, many see Junior's rise as the making of a Lee political dynasty. The first family controls the island republic's politics, and Junior's siblings, including in-laws, head up Singapore's biggest government-linked companies (GLCs). Junior Lee's younger brother heads SingTel, the state-owned telecommunications monolith, and his wife Ho Ching heads Temasek Holdings, the secretive state investment company.

    Temasek bought up majority shares in Shin Corp, the flagship and giant telco founded by billionaire Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who stood down from his position in April. It was the deal of the century, with no transparency whatsoever. And the city-state never once baulked from the immorality of that deal. It's no different from the Singapore government bankrolling the murderous regime in Burma through GLC-linked investments.

    The lack of transparency in the PAP government has obvious reasons. One of these is that it allows the PAP government to obviate scrutiny and questioning of its policies and operations in almost every facet of political, social and economic life in the city-state. It has a vice-grip on Singapore's media, making these the PAP's channels for propaganda and spin. It's part of Papa Lee s ongoing attempts at social engineering and control by mass producing Singaporean clones who would never question or challenge the government. It puts the PAP state's institutions above the law and gives them extra-juridical powers. It's entirely self-serving because the PAP incumbents would never feel intimidation from voters or by its foreign critics.

    Thanks, but no thanks

    Witness this from Papa Lee, when he said that some day, if the opposition parties have proved themselves, a more active opposition would be acceptable. And he also added: 'I want a world -class opposition, not this riff-raff'. Yeah, right. In one exchange with foreign journalists in Singapore recently, Lee senior said: 'You are not going to intimidate me, ever. We re not going to allow foreign correspondents or foreign journalists or anybody else to tell us what to do. There are very few things that I do not know about Singapore politics, and there are very few things that you can tell me or any foreign correspondent can tell me about Singapore'.

    That's sheer humbug. The Lee family thinks Singapore is the model country for not only the developing world but also the developed world. Thanks, but no thanks. Papa Lee has always sounded like a schoolyard bully. His recalcitrance is among his many trademarks as king-maker. His and the PAP's most common and favourite tactic is to intimidate and silence their critics by suing them for libel. It works well with domestic critics, who are thrust onto the back foot. It forces them to adopt self-censorship or else face the humiliation of bankruptcy and loss of basic political rights.

    Not that the latter matters. Singaporeans have never won their fundamental freedoms since gaining independence from Malaysia 41 years ago. They still have hang-ups about that. And there may be no end to Singaporeans' basic political rights being secured any time soon. If it is any consolation, the situation is the same with their neighbours in the region too. Still, for all its smugness, the PAP dictatorship must beware. Its manically self-serving politics can and will only sow the seeds of its own self-destruction sooner or later. Hopefully it is soon.

    MANJIT BHATIA, an academician and writer, is also research director of AsiaRisk, a political, economic and risk analysis consultancy in Australia. He specialises in international economics and politics, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific.

    NUSS Forum: Reasons for 12% of non-voters, spoilt votes should be analysed

    SINGAPORE : There has been a change in voter attitudes at the 2006 General Election.

    Not only did they pay more attention to the issues raised by the various political parties during the hustings, they also gave their vote to the ones most established and organised.

    The political dialogue organised by the National University of Singapore Society brought together political commentators and candidates who had contested the election.

    They shared their views on issues ranging from whether the 66.6 percent of votes garnered by the People's Action Party (PAP) was indeed a strong mandate and if there was a level playing field for political parties during the hustings.

    For the PAP, an area of concern was the negative political views expressed in internet forums during the hustings.

    Said Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC: "PAP bashing became commonplace on cyberspace when more than 80 to 85 percent on what's on internet traffic becomes so negative to the ruling party of our country, I know something has gone wrong. And that to me is no longer a balanced perspective. Foreigners who chance upon these websites can probably see only one side of the story.

    "The PAP is not perfect and I will be the first to admit it. But the easiest thing to do is to poke holes on what could have gone wrong and not to say anything that it has done right."

    Defeated Workers' Party candidate Perry Tong noted that the 38 percent of votes for the opposition demonstrated the desire for an opposition in Singapore.

    But the party is worried about the nearly 2 percent of spoilt votes and another 10 percent of voters who didn't cast their vote this election.

    He is hoping the causes of this trend would be closely analysed.

    Mr Tong also says he is satisfied that every vote is secret, a point maintained by Workers' Party Chief Low Thia Khiang.

    "Who is not going to know if the High Court vault gets reopened and your votes get recounted. So in a sense yes, your vote is secret and I echo Mr Wong Kan Seng, although he is my opponent," said Workers' Party member Perry Tong.

    As for the next General Election due in 2011, Ms Phua says voters would be watching if PAP Members of Parliament can play a check and balance role more effectively than an opposition party.

    She also believes there will be a race for talent as each political party works to attract the best amongst Singaporeans to join its fold to stand for elections.


    Since the PAP won, it is only valid that the media publishes "voters gave their vote to the ones most established and organised..."


    24 May 2006

    Singapore opposition figure seeks to void election

    Tue May 23, 2006 3:55 PM IST
    By Fayen Wong

    SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A candidate from the opposition Singapore Democratic Party has appealed to the court to annul the results of the May 6 parliament election, which it says was undemocratic.

    Chee Siok Chin, sister of SDP leader Chee Soon Juan, submitted an application to the High Court on Tuesday, asking that "the results of the General Elections, 2006, be declared null and void" on the basis that it was not free and fair.

    "During the time of polling, there were many threats and vote-buying tactics that are clearly unconstitutional. All these have been going on since 1997 and it is about time someone checks on how this government uses taxpayers' money for its own electioneering purpose," Chee told Reuters.

    In court documents seen by Reuters, Chee accused the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) of intimidating opposition voters by warning them that wards which elect an opposition candidate will be last in line for state-subsidised improvements, after all PAP-held wards are attended to.

    The government has repeatedly said that upgrading housing estates is a PAP-initiated program, so those who support the PAP would be accorded higher priority, given budget constraints.

    Opposition politicians have criticised the upgrading programme as an unfair tactic and say that development projects, such as housing upgrades, are paid for with public funds and should be for all citizens rather than doled out as privileges to party supporters.


    Chee's application also accused the PAP of doling out money ahead of the past two elections.

    In February, Lee launched a S$2.6 billion ($1.65 billion) budget spending package, including S$800 in cash for almost half the nation's households and a bonus for army conscripts. The handouts were deposited in Singaporeans' bank accounts on May 1, five days before the election was held.

    The government has repeatedly denied the budget package was a vote-winning ploy, and has said the payout was meant to prepare Singapore citizens for the long-term challenges of globalisation.

    Chee also asked the court to declare the recent ban on political podcasts and videocasts during the election period as unconstitutional, because the law violated individuals' rights to free speech as guaranteed under the constitution.

    "I believe that such acts are tantamount to intimidation, bribery and censorship, which contravenes the Parliamentary Elections Act," Chee said in the court application.

    The PAP -- led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of the modern city-state's founding father Lee Kuan Yew -- won 66.6 percent of the votes cast in the recent poll, down from 75.3 percent in the previous election in 2001.

    The party, which has dominated parliament since independence in 1965, won 82 out of the 84 seats in parliament, the same number of seats it had in the outgoing parliament.

    The SDP has no seats in parliament and won 23 percent of the vote in the wards it contested.

    A 41-year old civil activist, Chee and her brother are facing a defamation lawsuit launched by Lee and his father over what the Lees say are accusations of corruption in an article in the SDP's newsletter.

    PAP must address 'negative Internet'

    SHE was a new face representing the People's Action Party, but when Ms Denise Phua surfed the Internet during the recent General Election, the tone of the postings stunned her.

    They were overwhelmingly slanted against the ruling party.


    "I know that something has gone wrong when more than 85 per cent (of the traffic) writes negatively about the PAP," she said at a post-mortem of the GE organised last night by the National University of Singapore Society.

    Hallelujah! Someone finally realises something is wrong!

    "This is something that the PAP would do well to take into account ... and to manage this channel of communication," she added.

    Oh wait... what is wrong isn't the PAP's policies, but us. And the solution to this isn't changing their policies and mindset, but "managing us"

    Ms Phua stressed that she was not dismissing the views posted on the Internet nor even disagreeing with them. Her concern was more that the coverage was not balanced.

    1. The bloggosphere has absolutely no obligation to be balanced, because we are not some amorphous body, but made up of individual bloggers voicing their opinion. And if that opinion happens to be skewed... don't blame us, but yourself.

    2. What about our austere media? How balanced were they?

    Nowhere, for example, was it mentioned that this particular GE was not a snap poll or that the Opposition had the freedom to hold rallies of its own. But given the fact that cyber-traffic goes out to the world, Ms Phua felt that a foreigner reading about elections in Singapore would only have a chance to hear one side of the story — that too, a somewhat skewed one.

    Er.... it was definitely mentioned that opposition parties are free to hold their rallies... because the bloggosphere is flooded with videos and photos of the rallies. It was the mainstream media which consistently failed to provide coverage of the opposition.

    Again, she mentioned that her party would do well to think about this medium.
    Is that a way of warning us to shut up?
    One member of the audience pointed out that if the Internet was skewed in one direction then, surely, the local media had gone in the other direction, giving far more coverage to the ruling party

    Finally, a voice of reason!

    Perhaps, rebutted Ms Phua, this was on account of the fact that the PAP had fielded far more candidates in the GE than the Opposition — and the coverage was a reflection of that.

    Rule number one of singapore media: For every reasonable statement, a stupid statement always has to follow, preferably from a politican. Oh please.... the opposition fielded candidates in more than half of the constituencies! You are telling me that one tiny paragraph for them, compared to pages and pages devoted to the life histories of PAP candidates, is fair coverage?

    Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, objected not merely to the extent of coverage that his party had received in the media, but also to the tone of it. He said that even the photographs of his party's candidates used in local newspapers were "not flattering". Someone from the audience mentioned that Dr Chee sounded more "reasonable" than the image he had formed of him. "That is because what you read about me is a relentless campaign of character assassination," said Dr Chee.

    To be fair, I am surprised this comment made it to print... I have to give the Today reporter/editor credit for this.

    A member of the audience observed that the local media, during the recent GE, had been more balanced than in the past.

    Oh yeah... nowadays, they don't report statements calling candidates racists. They call them liars. And they publish photos of rallies five days after everyone else has seen them on the bloggosphere.

    Another issue that cropped up related to voting secrecy. Mr Perry Tong from the Workers' Party acknowledged that he had no doubt whatsoever that the vote was secret and it was "as good as impossible" for someone to find out how an individual had voted.
    Political scientist Dr Ho Khai Leong then said he was surprised that the Opposition had not used this fact to their advantage to persuade more people to vote for them.
    But Dr Chee said the fears did exist.
    "And even if people's fears are irrational, you still have to address them," he added. — Derrick A Paulo
    Although I have practically demolished the article, I have this to say about Today. This is about as balanced an article you are going to get from SPH, and all they have done is report utter rubbish from Denise Phua, not endorse it. They have added quite contrasting statements from CSJ, and I'll give them points for that.

    In conclusion: don't flame the article. Flame the statements made in it by our dear Denise Phua, which is what I've done, mostly.

    Mr Wang's comments on this article

    23 May 2006

    Amnesty International Report 2006

    This Amnesty International Report documents human rights abuses in 150 countries around the world. It highlights the need for governments, the international community, armed groups and others in positions of power or influence to take responsibility. It also reflects the vitality of human rights activists globally, whether in local initiatives, international summits or mass demonstrations.

    And this is what it has to say about Singapore:
    Freedom of expression and assembly continued to be curbed. Thirty-six men were held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Death sentences were imposed and eight people were executed. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.

    The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the PAP continued to inhibit political life.

    The threat of prosecution, and uncertainty over the boundaries of permissible public debate, contributed to a climate of self-censorship.

    Restrictions on freedom of assembly also inhibited peaceful civil society activity.

    Click here to the full report on Singapore or here for the main index of the report.

    JBJ: My Dad, My Hero

    22 May 2006, Straits Times

    His father is veteran opposition politician JBJ, but lawyer and writer
    Philip Jeyaretnam has no plans to enter politics

    HE MAY be known best as the offspring of a veteran opposition
    politician, but lawyer and Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam does not
    want to see his life reduced to the tagline 'JBJ's son'. JBJ is how
    many Singaporeans refer to his father, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam.

    'It can be annoying,' says the younger Jeyaretnam, 42, of the tagline.
    He's meeting Life! at his office at law firm Rodyk & Davidson in UOB

    It had been more than annoying when he tried to get work here in the
    late 1980s, after graduating with first-class honours in law from
    Cambridge University in 1986.

    The mild-mannered man says, without any bitterness: 'There was no
    doubt in my mind that people were not giving me the job because of who
    my father was.'

    Two firms, which he declines to name, turned him down, with a senior
    partner at one of them divulging apologetically the firm's concerns
    over who his father was. Eventually, Singapore law firm Robert Wang &
    Woo took him on as a pupil in 1988.

    That aside, he makes it clear that he is glad to be his father's son.
    He remembers excitedly following his father on campaign walks as a

    His Dad, who is now 80, is still struggling with his resulting
    bankruptcy and disbarment in the aftermath of losing defamation suits
    brought against him by members of the Government.

    Asked if he sees his father as a hero, the younger Jeyaretnam replies
    emphatically: 'Yes, of course.'

    He is more careful with Life!'s other questions, pausing for long
    minutes before he answers. At one point, you ask him something as
    simple as what he has been reading lately and he mutters to himself,
    brows furrowed in earnest concentration: 'I'm just trying to work it
    through, think it through.'

    He laughs often throughout this interview, a nasal chuckle reminiscent
    of the character Peter Griffin from the cult animated cartoon Family Guy.

    But, aside from the spectacles and chubby cheeks, the resemblance ends

    The younger Jeyaretnam is driven by a need to understand, whether it
    is by piecing together the arguments for a case or by penetrating the
    inner life of a character in one of his many short stories.

    A commercial litigator who specialises in the time-guzzling area of
    construction law, he handles such clients as Japanese-owned Nishimatsu
    Construction Company, which was involved in the 2004 collapse of
    Nicoll Highway.

    Still, the former Fulbright fellow sees to his work so deftly, he
    makes it home for dinner with his family every night.

    He and his wife, former stage actress Cindy Sim, also 42, have three
    children: Tristan, 11, Quentin, nine, and Miranda, six.

    'The core of anything else is always the family,' says the man who
    finds time to tuck his two boys into bed every night, often with a
    poem, and spends an hour with his daughter in the Botanic Gardens
    before making it to work by 8.10am daily.

    Protected From Politics

    HIS own childhood was not so picture-perfect, although it began
    happily enough.

    The younger of two sons, his father is of Ceylon Tamil descent and his
    mother, the late Margaret Cynthia Walker, was British.

    His parents, both devout Anglicans, fell in love when they were
    reading law at University College London, and ended up as partners
    together in Singapore of their own firm, J B Jeyaretnam & Company.

    As his father was called to the bar later than his mother, his father
    would often refer to his wife as his 'senior partner'.

    His elder brother Kenneth, 47, also a Cambridge alumnus, lives in
    London and works in finance.

    Growing up, the younger Jeyaretnam was closer to his mother, as she
    worked only half-days and, as the elder Jeyaretnam tells Life!, would
    protect his sons from the 'whirlpool of politics'. Recalling holidays
    in Britain with his mother, the younger Jeyaretnam says: 'My father
    was supposed to join us but never quite made it. An election was
    called, or there'd be a pile-up of cases, or whatever.'

    So it was a cruel blow to them when, in 1980, his mother died after a
    three-year-long fight with breast cancer.

    Recalling when he learnt of her illness, he turns sober, his lawyer's
    memory for dates suddenly seeming a liability: 'It was April 10, 1978,
    and I had just turned 16.'

    Not long after that, his father won the 1981 Anson by-election and
    became an opposition MP.

    The elder Jeyaretnam later found himself fighting a series of
    defamation suits and, as his son puts it, 'there wasn't anyone to
    protect us' now that his mother was gone.

    The legal action against his father took its toll on his family.

    'It was kind of touch-and-go... If I had been two or three years
    younger, my father wouldn't have been able to send me to university at

    But when asked if he thinks his father sacrificed family for the sake
    of politics, he pauses for a long while and says finally: 'No, I think
    my father's always done what he could to protect his family.'

    Having chalked up 18 years in the law - and the coveted title of
    Senior Counsel - himself, the younger Jeyaretnam now leads his legal
    brethren here.

    He has been president of the Law Society here since 2004 and is an
    adjunct professor at the Department of Building in the National
    University of Singapore.

    He says he is concerned about the future of young lawyers - whether he
    is pushing for better life-work balance for them or simply teaching
    them the finer points of advocacy and arbitration. Somehow, he has
    found time to serve on the boards of the National Arts Council, the
    Singapore Tourism Board and the new National Kidney Foundation Board.

    Such a CV is the stuff of future politicians, but he says he is not
    switching careers anytime soon.

    He says: 'I've thought about it over the years. So far the answer has
    always been no.'

    Then, bursting into laughter, he adds: 'I'm a very gentle soul;
    sensitive. I don't have the stomach for it.'

    He then muses: 'My father was more than just materially secure; he was
    very well-off, certainly one of the top criminal lawyers in Singapore.
    And where is he now?'

    He says he respects his father for having 'sacrificed everything for
    what he believes in' but adds that he does not think anyone would want
    'to repeat that kind of career trajectory'.

    As he puts it: 'He's deeply loved by many people, but maybe love isn't
    enough... You can't live on admiration and respect.'

    That said, he says he is close to his father today and sees him at
    least once a week. His father lives alone, splitting his time between
    Singapore and Johor Baru. They discuss law, politics or simply talk as
    fathers and sons do.

    While son has never represented father in court, the elder Jeyaretnam
    tells Life! that his lawyer son has given him legal advice - and
    financial assistance. 'They've been good sons,' he says of both his

    No More The Scribe

    BESIDES politics, writing is another path that the younger Jeyaretnam
    has veered from, despite treading it for some years. His first
    published short story Campfire, which he wrote during his National
    Service stint, won him second prize in the 1983 National Short Story
    writing competition.

    He went on to publish short stories, a novella and two novels, winning
    the Young Artist Of The Year award in 1993 and the South-East Asia
    Write Award in 2003.

    To be fair, bearing the name Jeyaretnam has also helped him. As he
    puts it: 'If people remember your name, the chance of them buying your
    book... is that much greater.'

    Indeed, he had become such an icon of home-grown literature that his
    last novel, Abraham's Promise (1995), had recently been part of the
    O-levels syllabus.

    But he hardly writes now, citing the increasing demands of his family
    and legal work.

    Writing is, as he puts it, 'a luxury which I can't afford at the
    moment'. He doubts his novel- in-progress, which he has not touched in
    years, will ever 'see the light of day', even as he says that his
    possibly decades-long time-out from writing is just a 'holiday'.

    That is ironic coming from a man who bemoans: 'It's one of the real
    problems of Singapore now... the way work eats up people's time to the
    extent that they have no time for anything else'. Too often, he says,
    Singaporean writers come out with an interesting book when they are in
    their 20s - and then simply disappear after that.

    He thinks he is following the same route, but remains a 'great
    believer in the value of writing'.

    Like his father, he has his own vision for Singapore, saying that his
    involvement in the arts, tourism and the law are all connected.

    He says he'd like to see 'more untidiness and openness' in the
    Singapore of the future.

    His plan of action to that end, however, differs from his father's.

    'You have to find the centre, the point where you can bring together
    agreement from enough people in order to make that change happen.'

    So, while he thinks voices from the margins are crucial, he believes a
    middle ground needs to be forged between what he sees as the otherwise
    'fossilised' roles of establishment and anti-establishment.

    As he puts it: 'The outsider role can become rather comfortable; it is
    one without responsibility, perhaps.'

    Philip Jeyaretnam on...

    Why he chose to study history and literature instead of law: 'If one
    has no social responsibilities and has no need to compromise, then
    obviously the pursuit of knowledge is the most exciting and enjoyable
    thing for a human being'

    What he sees as the work-efficiency- materialism trap in Singapore
    today: 'They lead ultimately very miserable lives which they enliven
    by spending money. They don't have time, they have only money, so they
    buy themselves a nice car or whatever, but in the end they don't have
    the time to enjoy these things - or life'

    His belief that there is a lack of political discourse among
    overworked Singaporeans: 'Singapore is not comfortable politically;
    Singapore is not comfortable economically. Anyone who is complacent in
    Singapore is putting a paper bag over his head'.