13 Sep 2006

Open letter from SDP to WB and IMF chiefs

13 Sept 06

Mr Paul Wolfowitz
PresidentWorld Bank
Mr Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo
Managing Director
International Monetary Fund

Dear Sirs,
On behalf of the members of the Singapore Democratic Party, may I extend a very warm welcome to you to Singapore.

Unfortunately, I write to you under much less cheerful circumstances.

Apart from the ban on outdoor protests during the WB-IMF Meetings, the Singapore Government has also banned a rally and march for Singaporeans scheduled on 16 September 2006.

The "security" reasons given for the ban are but a smokescreen. The Minister for Home Affairs said in 2003 that "The government does not authorise protests and demonstrations of any nature." In fact, I have been repeatedly prosecuted for speaking in public without a permit since 1999. There is an outstanding charge against two of my colleagues and I for speaking in public without a licence during the election period in April this year.

In August last year, four activists conducting a silent protest to call for transparency and openness in Singapore were met by the riot police. The judge then ruled that the protesters' message was "incendiary" and that Singaporeans cannot "picket public institutions" because to do so would be to "question [their] integrity and cast a slur on their reputation."

So is the Singapore system as transparent and corrupt-free as it is made out to be?

There are many reports of Singapore becoming the center of money-laundering activities. A senior fund manager in Asia commented that "Singapore has truly become the global centre for parking ill-gotten gains." These funds are believed to have even come from druglords operating in Burma.

The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), of which Mr Lee Kuan Yew is the Chairman and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is the deputy, handles about S$100 billion of public funds. Yet, the GIC does not make public its accounts. Singaporeans have no idea and no say in how the Government manages this public money.

All this doesn't get any attention because the Government owns and runs the entire local media. Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its Global Press Freedom Index 2005, one spot above Azerbaijan.

Making videos that carry political content is prohibited. Podcasting was banned during the elections in May 2006.

Even the foreign media in Singapore have been sued and prosecuted into self-censorship. A senior correspondent in Bangkok wrote: "The unfortunate result has been…a foreign press corps that doesn't dare report critically on the nepotism and cronyism that underpins Singapore's development model."

And speaking of lawsuits, my opposition colleagues and I have been sued repeatedly for defamation by ruling party leaders and made bankrupt when we cannot afford to pay the crippling damages that are awarded to them by the judiciary. As bankrupts we are barred from standing for elections. In my case, the Singapore Government has even seized my passport and banned me from traveling overseas.

As for the judiciary, its independence has become the subject matter of an on-going legal wrangle involving two business companies that will be heard in Canada's Supreme Court in a few months. Does this inspire confidence in the rule of law in Singapore that free trade so cherishes?

Our elections are far from democratic. Freedom House wrote in its annual report that "Singapore citizens cannot change their government democratically." An international team that studied the country's elections system concluded that "free and fair elections do not exist in Singapore nor can we expect the political system to open up in the future."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave us a glimpse of how his regime works when he said during the 2006 elections: "Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters'votes."

Without freedom, free trade is untenable. Despotism plus globalization equals exploitation. We need look no further than the Indonesia under Suharto's rule. This is exactly the situation that we have in Singapore and this is what our protest this Saturday is all about.

Consider this: The incomes of the bottom 30 percent of households in Singapore have fallen since 2000. According to the latest UN Development Programme Report Singapore's income inequality ranks at 105th in the world, between Papua New Guinea and Argentina.

While the poor get poorer, Government ministers continue to lavish themselves with salaries that are highest in the world; Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pays himself three times more than President George W. Bush.

Through all of this, Singaporeans have been thoroughly silenced. What you are witnessing vis-à-vis the clampdown on WB-IMF activists and protests is but the tip of the iceberg.

Workers have no voice because the umbrella National Trades Union Congress is headed by a cabinet minister and he has six deputies – all of them ruling party members of parliament.

As if this isn't bad enough, the wages of Singaporean workers are adjusted by the National Wages Council which, by the way, has American, German, and Japanese business representatives sitting in it. Is there any other country that allows foreign nationals to help determine the wages of its citizens? The exploitation is so bad that domestic maids are not even allowed to have a day off from work.

Sirs, we believe that for the free-market system to serve the masses and not just the elite, there must be transparency, openness and democracy. Economic progress and political openness are two sides of the same coin.

This Saturday a group of peace-loving but courageous Singaporeans are defying despotism and going ahead with our peaceful assembly. We do this because we love our country and we love democracy, freedom and human rights.

The Singapore Government has vowed to stop us. We want to alert you to this matter and would even invite you to come and observe first-hand the repression. The event is scheduled to commence at 11 am at the Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park.

We would also like to ask for a meeting with you to elaborate on some of our concerns that we are unable to make in this letter.

My colleagues and I have been sued, made bankrupt, fined and jailed. But we are not complaining because we know that this is the price that we have to pay for freedom, and we gladly pay it.

All we ask is that you let the Singapore Government know that the continued repression of our fellow citizens is unacceptable in this globalised world.

As this letter would be of immense interest to the Singaporean public as well as international observers, I would like to make it available to them.

Once again, I bid you a very warm welcome and wish you a successful and enlightened Meeting in Singapore.


Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party


Matilah_Singapura said...

> we believe that for the free-market system to serve the masses and not just the elite, there must be transparency, openness and democracy. Economic progress and political openness are two sides of the same coin.

Not so.

The first thing that is required is Private Property Rights and Individual Sovereignty based on Self Ownership

ALL the problems of the so-called "free market" — from exploitation, to environmantal issues, to oppression of dissent, the usurpation of freedom, the decreasing standard of living and lowering of purchasing power, the ascent of dictators, wage controls, corporate bad behaviour...etc. etc. are ALL a result of the lack of Private Property Rights and Individual Sovereignty.

Also, where there is (a fair amount of) protection for Individual Sovereignty and Private Property Rights — defamation laws are difficult to apply, the reason is this: "I own myself, therefore I own the contents of my mind". Coupled with freedom of speech — also derived from Individual and Private Property Rights — "I have the natural right to express the contents of my mind". Capitalist western democracies all function (and were founded) on these 2 natural rights, and if you observe the amount of private wealth, much of it by the "middle class" in these countries, you'll understand why.

It is because of these rights that you can call George Bush anything you like, but cannot afford the same expressiveness when talking about Lee Kuan Yew.

Freedom of speech is derived from self-ownership. So is freedom of association, freedom from fear and the threat of violence, freedom from censorship, freedom to price your labour, freedom to unlimited contract, freedom to withdraw your labour (can't do in Singapore — anti-strike laws), and my personal favourite but sadly unpopular in today's "politically correct" world — freedom to defend your own person by owning the appropriate WEAPONS, especially firearms.

Self ownership and private property rights come FIRST. Then you may have democracy. If you don't have self ownership and private property rights, democracy will end up being tyrannical — i.e. the majority can vote away the self ownership and private property of the minority.

Some years ago, I was at Centrepoint, Orchard Road and saw Dr Chee and JBJ selling books. Next to their stand was a quote from John Locke, I think on civil government. I forget what the exact quote was, but I offer two here. Locke of course was instrumental in defining self ownership and private property rights, and the role of the state in relation to those fundamental rights.

“Government has no other end, but the preservation of property.”

“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”

Anonymous said...

I dont see what we, Singapore, or SDP, will gain from Dr Chee's letter to IMF/WB?

i dont get his point. A case of too many words crowding out the message. What was his intention?

Other than a letter that aims to be "wallpaper" for the SDP website.

Anonymous said...

come lah, gone already after makan, chee's letter tells the message, of course as a singaporean you cannot understand english because you have gone already lah. maybe if the letter had been peppered with singlish if would be more acceptable.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Everyone has the right to express his opinion for any reason whatsoever. It doesn't matter if the opinion is inane or intelligent, correct or incorrect, offensive or neutral.

The idea that this falls under is known as Individual Freedom, and it stems from the idea of self-ownership
i.e. "I own myself — my mind, my lungs and my mouth etc — all the organs that are necessary for me to express the contents of my mind, which is my opinion. If I am prohibited from expressing an opinion, my freedom to communicate is usurped, and therefore my private property rights are violated. Communication, being part of human nature, is necessary for all human beings because it is required for their survival".

Anonymous said...

matilah my friend, your work is going from strength to strength. I aplaud what you are writing.

Anonymous said...

Think even Dr Chee get bored of his own statements

Maybe it is time to realise that a Nobel Peace Prize will not come to him within his lifetime.

Anonymous said...

he should have offered his services to the tourism board, to drum up some demos for visitors to see; they must be disappointed at the lack of action

Matilah_Singapura said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matilah_Singapura said...

Guys, it doesn't matter where your political compass points, or what your personal philosophy is. The right to dissent against the arbitrary reasons of the state to curb liberty is common to every individual.

I openly disagree with many of Mr Chee's positions. But he thinks liberty and freedom is imporatant, and so do I.

"Dissent" is telling the state that they are behaving badly. It is, plainly and simply, downright improper for any state to meet dissent — in particular peaceful disagreement — with violence or the threat of violence.

When you passive lot are done moaning and groaning about "Chee's antics" or "Chee's this" or "Chee's that", consider doing yourself and the rest of us some good by supporting the right to dissent.

Yes, it is important. The long-term benefits are worth it.

Can do?