31 Jul 2006

North Korea's Foreign Minister makes official visit to Singapore

Foreign minister of totalitarian state visits authoritarian state. Trying to bring North Korea in from the cold or hoping to get in on a few economic deals? Something tells me it will have more to do with economics.

The totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses. Reports of torture, public executions, slave labour, and forced abortions and infanticides in prison camps have emerged. A US-based rights group has estimated that there are up to 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea [NOT Singapore of course]. BBC

North Korea's Foreign Minister makes official visit to Singapore
SINGAPORE : North Korea's Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, will make an official visit to Singapore from 31 July to 3 August at the invitation of Foreign Minister George Yeo.

A Singapore Foreign Ministry statement says this will be the first official visit by Mr Paek in his capacity as Foreign Minister.

While in Singapore, Mr Paek will call on President S R Nathan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, and Foreign Minister George Yeo.

The delegation will also visit the National University of Singapore and JTC Corporation. - CNA/ms

Sexier to say "no" to sex, Singapore Malay youth told

It may result in an open debate but the opening salvo and obvious direction that the campaign intends to go in is clear.

"This shows that our community has matured and is now ready to discuss this issue in the open and do something about it collectively." Just don't mention safe sex and condoms. The advice reads like a christian campaign you might find in America. Surely young people should be given information about contraception and how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence supporters are up front about their crusade being morality-based -- and unpopular.

There is of course more than one approach to this 'social problem'. But the approach in Singapore will be abstinence aimed directly at the Malay community. Preaching abstinence as the birth rate declines, stigmatising children born to unwed mothers rather than treating all children equally. Blantantly placing the blame of teenage abortion on a group that make up a minor proportion of the over all population while two thirds of all teenage abortions are from other ethnic groups. With over half of teenagers infected with sexually transmitted diseases not Malay.

So 'Just Say No to Sex', but when you are older and 'married' we want you at it like rabbits in order to overcome the continuing birth rate decline of certain ethnic groups. But by then you might be so terrified and uneducated about sex and sexuality that you have no idea about what to do and how to do it.

Surely a better policy would be to promote 'abstinence' with younger children but with teenagers who may already be sexually active promote safe-sex. To assume that teenagers and young people are a single group that can be approached with one singular campaign denies the activities and attitudes of different cohorts in the target community. I also feel that the headlines focusing on Malays is counter-productive and may add further stigma to the group. Was it absolutely necessary to focus on 14% of the population.

Singapore (ANTARA News) - "It's sexier to say No!"

Singapore's ethnic Malay teenagers will be given that message in a campaign to curb a disproportionate number of teenage mothers and sexually transmitted diseases, press reports said Monday.

About one third of all teenage abortions in 2004 occurred in the Malay community, The Straits Times quoted Minister of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim as saying at the launch of the campaign.

Malays make up about 14 percent of the city-state's resident population.

Almost half of all teenagers infected with sexually transmitted diseases were Malay, and more than half of the 417 teens who gave birth in 2004 were Malay, The Straits Times said.

Yaacob was quoted as saying the data is "worrying".

The month-long abstinence campaign will involve posters, the Internet, radio talk shows and community volunteers, newspapers reported.

"This shows that our community has matured and is now ready to discuss this issue in the open and do something about it collectively," The Straits Times quoted Yaacob as saying.

Most resident Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese but there is also a substantial Indian minority as well as Malays. (*)


30 Jul 2006

Singapore - Trust and Risk in the Workplace

If you have a few minutes to spare why not take part in an online survey and help an academic out...

If you are 18 years or over and currently live and work (full time/part time or casually) in Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore, the UK, or USA, you are invited to fill out this survey. Only people who use a computer and/or laptop at work are invited to complete this survey.

A number of surveys have been run on internet usage, yet researchers still know little about how individuals use their work computers. The purpose of this study is to ascertain how individuals in different countries use their work computers and/or laptop computers. It also asks how they protect their work computers and/or laptops from security risks.

The current study is being run by Dr. Monica Whitty at Queen's University Belfast. If you have any questions about this research you should call Dr. Monica Whitty on 028 9097 5654, (+44 28 9097 5654 outside the UK) or email: m.whitty@qub.ac.uk

Participation in this study is on a volunteer basis. Any information or personal details gathered in the course of the study are confidential. No individual will be identified in any publication of the results. Your responses will be completely anonymous. This survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Submission of the survey is considered consent to participate in the study.

A summary of the results will be published from about November 2006 - December 2006 on the psychology website at Queen's University Belfast.

If you want to take part click on the button below, and thanks in advance.


Chees' case against the Lees: Part II

From Singapore Democratic Party
30 Jul 06

Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin filed their affidavits for the summary judgement hearing on 3 Aug 06. The affidavit which presents the case against the Lees will be posted on this website in separate instalments. Part B is presented below:

B. The meaning of the words in Article

1. Essentially the Article makes the argument that the NKF scandal “is about greed and power.” This greed and power of T T Durai and the other officials in the NKF is borne out of a political culture bred by the PAP.

On greed

2. The Government insists that its ministers be paid millions of dollars in salaries in order to attract and retain talent in its ranks. Without this kind of pay, the Government insists, many of the individuals now serving as ministers will quit public service and join the private sector, thus depriving Singapore of talent and capability. Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong said that if “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” to justify their salaries. Also, the Government says that it is important for the ministers to be paid their current salaries so that they will not be tempted by corruption.

3. On the first point about retaining talent through high pay, the Government forgets that it is not a corporation where profit-making and the increment of shareholders’ values are the prime objectives. Public-service and working for the common, greater good of society are the overriding objectives of public servants in government (especially ministers and lawmakers). To be in positions of power and using that power to enrich themselves financially is to indulge in the politics of greed.

4. The Defendants are not saying that ministers should not be paid their worth but when the rationale is that their salaries should be pegged at those at the top levels of the private sector, monetary gain (instead of public-oriented, public-minded type of service) becomes the main motivating factor. And when money becomes the main motivating factor, greed surfaces. Our nation’s ministers must have the wherewithal to want to be leaders of the country and that includes have the vision and passion to lead. True political leaders don’t need to be enticed and retained by unseemly large amounts of money.

5. As for the reason that high salaries are a deterrent against corruption, a nation’s leaders must be of such character that they should be able to resist wrongdoing without being enticed by money. Ministers who are enticed by money do not make good leaders for the country.

6. An extension of this type of thinking can be found in the NKF when it was revealed that T T Durai was paid $600,00 a year. This caused a public uproar. Mrs Goh Chok Tong uncannily also used the same word that her former prime minister husband did when talking about salaries – that paying TT Durai $600,000 is “peanuts.”

7. The public outrage caused Mr Goh Chok Tong to apologise on his wife’s behalf. The public was angry because NKF was not a profit-making entity but a charitable organization set up to help those with severe medical problems. More importantly it relies on the goodwill donations from the people. To draw salaries as much as top earners in private business corporations was seen as greed and unacceptable.

8. Similarly, the Government of Singapore is not a profit-generating body and is not meant to be one. It derives its “wealth” through taxes, fees, levies, forced savings and acquisitions on the people. To pay ministers salaries comparable to business executives is also seen by many to be motivated by greed and is unacceptable.

9. It is this idea from the Government that people of “talent” must be paid salaries of private business executives, regardless of the fact that they serve in non-business capacities that allowed the thinking in the NKF that its executives must also be paid market rate. Mrs Goh’s “peanuts” comment testifies to this type of thinking.

10. This was not an opinion formed exclusively by the Defendants. The Yawning Bread website also wrote:

“Durai's high salary and perks.

There were audible gasps in the courtroom when, in July, Durai revealed that his annual salary and bonuses amounted to $600,000 a year. Did he forget that he was running a charity? people asked.

Did he forget that the money for NKF came from the pockets of ordinary citizens, almost all of whom earned less than he did?

To compound matters, Mrs Goh Chok Tong, the wife of the former Prime Minister, and then-patron of the NKF, remarked to the press that Durai’s $600,000 pay was "peanuts" for someone who ran a multi-million charity with a few hundred million in reserves.

She would later publicly express regrets for those words, but the damage had been done. The public would see the PAP elite as completely out of touch with the average Singaporean's feelings.

The additional revelations from KPMG's report on 19 December 2005 only makes things worse. The report documented how Durai was given backdated salary increments, paid extra for "overtime" work, and how he was given extra days' leave, only to convert those days into cash.

He also charged an average of $32,952 a month to his corporate credit card in 2004.

Singaporeans have never stopped grumbling about high salaries for ministers and senior civil servants. A case like this only keeps the grumbling alive.

Mrs Goh's now-withdrawn remarks also reveal the tendency to measure the appropriateness of salary levels as a ratio to how much money is in the kitty, while the common man may think in terms of what is morally right for the job.

The government has always argued that however big the topline figure is, total ministers' salaries are just a small percentage of the government budget, and that given the heavy responsibility to run an economy of billions, high salaries are justified. That's the ratio justification. Mrs Goh's remark basically runs along the same vein.

Few have bought that kind of argument, and now the depravity of it all as seen from the NKF saga, have once more turned people against it.”

11. Another similarity between the salaries of ministers and that of NKF officials is that they are not made readily available. When asked by Nominated Member of Parliament Braema Mathi during a Parliamentary sitting on 19 April 2004 to reveal T T Durai’s salary, Second Minister for Finance Lim Hng Kiang replied: “…this is a decision by NKF whether to disclose the salaries of the CEOs. Here, I have some sympathy for their dilemma. If they do not disclose, then there will be critics who say they are not transparent. If they disclose, there will also be critics who will say that whatever they pay are too high.” In a similar way, ministerial salaries are not made public as a matter of course. This is especially troubling when the levels are, by far, the highest in the world.

On Power

12. Greed cannot exist without power. It is power that enables those in top positions to indulge in greed by paying themselves astronomical sums of money. More importantly, power also enables the powerful to silence their critics through punitive action as well as to manipulate systems and people so that they can retain their positions. In other words, the greed can only be fed if the individuals indulging in greed remain in positions of power.

13. When volunteers criticised T T Durai’s practices at NKF, they were sued by Durai and were silenced even though they were clearly justified in their criticisms. Because they could not afford to fight the suit due to limited financial means, they had to agree to pay Durai and settle the matter out of court. This has the added advantage of ensuring that other critics also keep their views to themselves.

14. Again, this notion was not exclusively held by the Defendants. The Yawning Bread website wrote:

“The use of defamation suits

The moment Durai's and NKF's suit against Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and journalist Susan Long collapsed on 12 July 2005, the point was not lost on Singaporeans. Here was proof, if they ever needed it, that defamation suits can be used for dishonourable purposes.

The Straits Times' article was not the first time allegations of impropriety at NKF had been aired. In August 1997 and December 1998, two volunteers at the NKF had also been sued for loose talk about misuse of funds at the charity. One of them, Archie Ong, made a casual comment to Alwyn Lim, another volunteer at NKF, that the NKF management squandered money meant for patients. He also said that Durai "jets about here and there in first class".

Alwyn Lim reported this comment to Durai and the next thing Archie Ong knew, he was faced with a lawsuit. Lacking the means to prove his allegations, he settled out of court. He had to pay a "five-figure sum" in damages and legal costs.

Later, Alwyn Lim would be a board director and head the Finance Committee at NKF, flying first class alongside Durai.

In May 1999, the same thing happened again. This time, Tan Kiat Noi had to pay $50,000 in damages and legal costs for sending an email to 48 persons on 5 April 1999. Acording to news agency DPA, in her email, she alleged that the NKF did not help the poor and needy and paid its staff unrealistically high bonuses. She also urged members of the public not to donate money to it.

DPA news agency quoted Matilda Chua, speaking for the NKF, as saying, "NKF employees were paid an average bonus of 1.4 months last year [i.e. 1998] and were not given a 13th month bonus."

Chua herself received a bonus in 1998 equivalent to 14 months' salary.

But things were different with the 2005 case. Probably because SPH could afford high-powered lawyers, they could contest their suit where the volunteers and Tan Kiat Noi had not felt confident doing the same earlier. SPH's high-powered lawyers could demand from NKF the information they needed. What this information showed was not only that the Straits Times' article was well-founded, but also that the volunteers and Tan had been right all along.

The Singapore public now feels it was extremely perverse that the law had been used to shield wrong-doers from the "little guy". Only in the rare case of the NKF taking on a "big guy" – the Straits Times – was justice obtained.

As everyone knows, People's Action Party (PAP) ministers have regularly taken their political opponents to court for defamation, always against the "little guy". The Straits Times is unlikely to pick up this thread, but that's not to say it won't be a question asked around in coffeeshop talk: what's the difference between Durai's defamation suits and the PAP's?

Will the public recall the NKF scandal the next time the PAP sues someone for defamation? And then, if the court finds for the PAP, will respect for the judicial system go down the same chute?”

15. In the PAP’s case, the officials have the power to amend the rules and laws governing elections so that they are returned to power. These undemocratic measures help the PAP to retain power and it is this power that enables them to indulge in greed and to silence their opponents. Freedom House reported in its annual report in 2005:

“Citizens of Singapore cannot change their government democratically. Singapore's 1959 constitution created a parliamentary system of government and allowed for the right of citizens to change their government peacefully. Periodic elections are held on the basis of universal suffrage, and voting is compulsory. In practice, however, the ruling PAP dominates the government and the political process, and uses a variety of indirect methods to handicap opposition parties. The head of government is not chosen through elections; the prime minister, like the cabinet, is appointed by the president…Though general elections are free from irregularities and vote rigging, the PAP's manipulation of the political system means that they cannot be termed fair. Opposition parties are constrained by the ban on political films and televised programs; the curtailing of expressions of political opinion by the threat of libel or slander suits; strict regulations and limitations on associations, including political associations; and the PAP's influence of the media and in the courts, among other things. The net result is that there is no effective opposition.”

Chees' case against the Lees: Part I

From Singapore Democratic Party

30 Jul 06

Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin filed their affidavits for the summary judgement hearing on 3 Aug 06. The affidavit which presents the case against the Lees will be posted on this website in separate instalments. Part A is presented below:

A. Test of what is defamatory

1. In the Halsbury Laws of Singapore, the test of whether a statement is defamatory or not, the Courts must consider:

a. What meaning the words would convey to the ordinary person.

b. Whether the reasonable person would be likely to understand them in a defamatory sense.

c. The views of the community as a whole, and not just that of a limited class.

2. It is therefore important to show that the ordinary, reasonable person in the community had formed the same views following the scandal of the National Kidney Foundation (“NKF”). This is because if such persons had formed similar views, the words in The New Democrat article “The Govt’s role in the NKF scandal” (“the Article”) would not be deemed defamatory. The following sentence in the Article formed the main thesis: “It is impossible not to notice the striking resemblance between how the NKF operated and how the PAP runs Singapore.”

3. In December 2005, four months before the Article was published Yawning Bread, a website published by Alex Au, posted an article entitled “The political parallels to the NKF scandal” in which the author also compared the resemblance between how the NKF operated (under NKF CEO TT Durai) and the way Singapore was run by the Government:

“I can see five aspects of the NKF scandal that parallels features of Singapore's political system, and now that the systemic failings of the NKF are being brought to public attention in such an ignominious fashion, they may cause longer-term complications for the ruling party. They are:

- The use of defamation suit
- Durai's high salary and perks
- Incompetence in government
- Oversight of executives
- Dollars and cents as the criterion of success”

4. The community at large also compared the operation of the NKF with the running of Singapore. The Straits Times (6 Jan 2006) published reporter Li Xueying’s statement:

“Some people have drawn parallels between the NKF and the Government, namely the use and justification of high salaries to draw talents, the use of libel suits to silence critics and the political patronage.”

5. Discussions commenting on the similarity of the operations of the Government and the NKF in the Internet was rife:

Publish the salaries of PAP ministers for all to see

T T Durai, Defamation Lawsuits, And The PAP Government

Be Open on HDB Flat Pricing --- Open Letter to PM Lee

NKF Saga III: Transparency & Accountability?

Where’s the defamation?

The Similarities Between Durai's NKF & the PAP

Singapore's Greedy Ministers Compared With Other World Leaders

NKF Scam Places Spotlight On Rediculous Minister Salaries

Understanding Legitmized Corruption - The NKF Scam

The Board Behind The NKF Scam


Gun in the Mouth

From Channel X

29 Jul 2006


An alternative site is under consideration. I have begun preparing it but I still have a few concerns. The prompt to move is that this site on blogger seems to have outgrown my programming abilities and looks really untidy and hard to navigate which a few readers and contributors have mentioned.

As I have no intention of paying for a registered domain at the minute because this site already takes up too much of my time and money for zero and I mean zero financial return.

I considered moving the site to civiblog but the bandwidth allowance is very little. In fact most months, after only a few days, the site is no longer available. So moving the site there is out of the question.

I am now experimenting with a move to wordpress, in order to test the usability I will continue to cross post all contributors work until we make the decision to shift. Major problems that I have already encountered include but are not limited to embedding youtube and google as well as entering html and java enabled links to sidebars etc.

On the plus side it looks much cleaner and feels a lot easier to navigate with the added pages.

Let me know what you think...

Lebanon: the world's choice

Lebanon: the world's choice from Open Democracy of course in response to a commentator asking for the topic to be brought up in an unrelated thread.
Paul Rogers
28 - 7 - 2006

The first two weeks of August will be decisive in determining whether the Lebanon war escalates further or can be contained.

The failure of the emergency Rome summit on the middle east on 26 July to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon has been taken by the Ehud Olmert government in Israel to be a green light for intensified military operations.

Israel is calling up three divisions of reservists – initially around 15,000 troops, leading eventually to 30,000 – for what is likely to be a protracted operation in southern Lebanon. This, however, may not take the form of an all-out invasion and occupation, not least because memories of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retreat from the region in the early 1980s are still a strong deterrent to that option.

Instead, the more likely development is devastating air operations to clear localities, allowing IDF troops to operate afterwards with less risk to themselves. Olmert's close ally, the justice minister Haim Ramon, stated on Israeli army radio on 27 July that the Israeli government had given sufficient opportunity for civilians to leave southern Lebanon, and Israel could therefore assume that "…all those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hizbollah".

to continue reading...

Information for Civil Society Organizations

2006 Annual Meetings

Information for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)

As of: June 28, 2006


The Annual Meetings of Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group (WB) have customarily been held in Washington, DC for two consecutive years and in another member country in the third year. In 2006, the Annual Meetings and related events will be held in Singapore between September 13-20.

All CSO representatives who wish to participate in the 2006 Annual Meetings will need to obtain formal accreditation. The accreditation system is fully web-based. It opened on June 2 and will close on August 4, 2006. If you are planning to attend the Annual Meetings, please apply for accreditation as early as possible. Please note that no applications will be accepted past the deadline.

As in previous years, the Civil Society Teams at the Bank and IMF will organize a Civil Society Forum for accredited CSOs during the 2006 Annual Meetings.

We would like to encourage representatives from established CSOs that focus on development issues and other issues relevant to the work of the World Bank and the IMF, and have a track record in these areas, to apply for accreditation.

Please note that at the present time the World Bank and the IMF do not have any funding to enable CSO participation in the Annual Meetings. Accredited CSOs are responsible for obtaining a visa, if necessary, to enter Singapore.

If you have any questions about the Annual Meetings and/or the accreditation Information on visa requirementsprocess, please contact us at: civilsociety@worldbank.org.

28 Jul 2006

Singapore to ban outdoor protests at IMF meeting

(Updated 05:15 p.m.)


Singapore will not allow outdoor demonstrations during the upcoming annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank, but will set up an indoor venue for registered civil groups, the police chief of staff announced Friday.

Soh Wai Wah told a news conference that outdoor protests during the Sept. 11-20 meetings would compromise security, could be exploited by terrorists, and disrupt the day-to-day activities of the area, making things "unpleasant" for residents.

"In the current security climate, the priority is to ensure the safety and security of our residents, visitors and delegates to the meetings," Soh said.

But in recognition of the IMF/WB's tradition of "constructive engagement" with accredited civil society organizations, Singapore will set up a private area in the lobby of the conference venue for these groups to gather and engage with delegates.

"The police recognize the importance of the participation of civil security organizations in the event. We have made maximum effort to facilitate their involvement, within the framework of our laws," Soh said. "However, we are unable to waive the current rules which prohibit outdoor demonstrations and processions, so as not to compromise security."

Under national law, permits are required for any outdoor gathering of more than four people, Singaporean or foreigner, amounting to an effective ban on protests and demonstrations. Singaporeans can freely hold indoor meetings without a permit as long as the topic does not deal with race or religion. Foreign groups or foreign speakers must apply for a permit.

Soh said the civil groups must be accredited by the World Bank to gain access to the indoor venue.

The police official said Singapore was mobilizing its entire police force and its police national service to provide 24-hour security for the meetings, which are expected to gather 16,000 delegates and visitors. Security measures would include aerial monitoring of the venue and screening of visitors to the country.

"If any laws will be broken, the police will not hesitate to take firm and fair action to prosecute or to arrest any individuals. The action that we take will be proportionate to the actions of any lawbreakers," Soh said.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said earlier this year that Singapore could use severe punishments _ such as caning _ against protesters who commit violent acts such as vandalism, arson or causing harm during the IMF meetings.

Singapore, Unused to Protests, Girds for World Bank Meetings

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore police last week clashed with about 30 Molotov cocktail-wielding demonstrators, dispersing the crowd with a water cannon and a charge by baton-wielding officers clad in body armor.

U.K.-based ``security experts'' and local police officers played the role of rioters in the battle, a dress rehearsal for International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings here in September which are expected to attract protests from anti- globalization and other groups.

The meetings, to be attended by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and more than 16,000 other officials, will be a key test for Singapore police, who are scheduled to announce their public order policy today. After race riots in the 1960s, the government imposed curbs on public assembly, and large-scale protests are almost unknown in the city-state.

``The Singapore government has activated very considerable resources to deal with this event,'' said Steven Vickers, chief executive of Hong Kong-based International Risk Ltd. Groups ranging from South Korean farmers to Taiwan rice growers are expected to protest at the meetings, Vickers said.

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong in December, police used tear gas and batons in clashes with demonstrators and arrested more than 1,000 people. At the 2000 IMF meetings in Prague, 600 people were hurt when protesters pulled cobblestones from the streets and flung them at police.

``Our level of force will be proportionate to the level of violence,'' Soh Wai Wah, chief-of-staff at the Singapore Police Force, said after the mock battle on July 19.


For Singapore, the Sept. 12-20 meetings are an opportunity to showcase itself as a financial center and base for doing business in Asia.

The city is ranked second, after Hong Kong, in terms of economic freedom by the Heritage Foundation, and was named the best place in the world for Asians to live in a survey released April by human resource consultancy ECA International.

``People here believe Singapore is safe,'' said Bruce Gale, an independent consultant to businesses in the region on political risk, in an interview in the city on June 23. ``Foreign businesses, large numbers of them, have their regional headquarters in Singapore. This is what they intend to protect and I think they're doing a pretty good job of it.''

Fine Balance

Still, Singapore is known as a ``fine city'' where instant penalties are meted out for misdemeanors ranging from spitting to littering. Amnesty International says the government curbs freedom of expression. In a 2005 report on human rights in the city, the U.S. Department of State cited ``restriction of freedom of assembly and freedom of association'' as a problem.

``Singapore has our own sets of laws, and we appeal to everyone to respect them,'' Soh said. ``If these laws are broken, we will have to enforce them firmly, but also fairly and reasonably.''

Under Singapore law, any public protest of more than four people without a police permit is deemed illegal and permission must be sought before public assemblies and speeches are held. The government says the rules help maintain harmony in the city, where 36 people were killed in 1964 riots between the Chinese and Malay communities.

Peaceful Protests

The IMF and World Bank meetings are being held at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, in the center of the city. Civic groups are hoping that local authorities will allow peaceful protests to be staged near the meeting venue.

``Our position is that any group should be able to participate without being excluded from decisions based on the whims and fancies of the IMF or the World Bank,'' said Ruki Fernando, a spokesman for the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, a Bangkok-based human rights advocacy group.

``Decisions and policies drafted at this particular meeting are going to affect millions of people in over 200 countries, and those people have the right to be heard,'' he said.

Singapore police have been studying the way other countries handle protests, Soh said, adding that the city deployed riot police during general elections in 2001.

``Our officers do have some experience, and definitely adequate training, to deal with various contingencies we can foresee in the coming event,'' Soh said. Police and immigration authorities will also prevent groups or individuals who could pose a security threat from entering Singapore, he said.

The July 19 rehearsal included anti-riot vehicles and a helicopter, with the ``rioters'' hurling bottles and a real Molotov cocktail.

The meeting will be the largest international gathering ever held in Singapore. Some S$110 million ($69 million) of business for local companies and S$50 million of tourism may be generated during the event, the government said.

``We are trying all means to hope to have a peaceful event, but if disorder should indeed break out, we will be ready,'' said police spokesman Tan Puay Kern.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Keith Lin in Singapore at klin15@bloomberg.net

Johns Hopkins v. A*STAR: American higher education pays attention

Inside Higher Ed has an article on the Johns Hopkins fallout, entitled A Divorce in Singapore:

Nearly a decade ago, when Johns Hopkins University started a program in Singapore to train doctoral students and conduct research in several cutting-edge biomedical fields, the effort was seen as a model for international collaboration. Here was a university internationally known for its expertise in medicine setting up shop in Singapore, opening up the possibility of educating students who might never be able to enroll in Baltimore.

Hopkins also set up a clinic in Singapore, which appears to be thriving. But the research and education program is ending — with Singapore and Hopkins exchanging less than diplomatic words in the Asian press. Singapore officials, who have provided millions to Hopkins for the program, say that the university has not recruited the graduate students or sent senior professors to Asia, as promised. A Baltimore-based spokesman for Hopkins said Wednesday that the university was preparing a statement about the collapse of the partnership, but as of late yesterday, it hadn’t released anything.

With many American universities starting or contemplating international partnerships in which full degrees are offered abroad, the Hopkins-Singapore divorce raises some questions: Is this dissolution indicative of problems other institutions may face, or just an isolated incident? How will the experience affect other relationships between American universities and foreign countries? What are the keys to making such relationships work?

Not surprisingly given the fast-changing nature of international relationships in higher education, some experts think this does mean something (namely that American universities need to be sure they can deliver on more than their names). Others think this is just a case of a program running its course.

With Hopkins not talking, it’s hard to know exactly why the program isn’t working. But Singapore has been paying for much of the program throughout its lifetime. And after a Hopkins spokesman was quoted in the Singapore press as saying that the nation-state did not fulfill its end of the bargain, the country’s science agency released a blistering counterattack. In it, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research said that Singapore had provided more than $50 million to pay for the program, but that Hopkins had failed to meet specific obligations.

For example, it said Hopkins committed to having at least 8 Ph.D. students enrolled by now, but that there are none. The university was supposed to have 12 “senior investigators with international reputations” in residence in Singapore, but the country said that the university had recruited 13 people, only 1 of whom met those criteria. Two of those recruited by Hopkins were based in Baltimore.

The agency in Singapore said that it was “deeply dismayed” at any impression it was responsible for the problems facing the junior faculty and students who are doing work at Hopkins-Singapore.

So what does this mean beyond Hopkins and Singapore?

Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, said he doesn’t know why the Singapore-Hopkins relationship soured, but thinks that other universities should pay attention. “Singapore clearly wanted both a brand name — brand names are very important in the Asian context — and it wanted the substance behind the name. If they don’t get both, there’s a problem,” Altbach said.

The problem for many American colleges (and other colleges in English-speaking countries) is that there are plenty of Asian nations right now where governments or private entities care only about brand name, and the brand just needs to be Western, not necessarily a “name” institution, Altbach said. As a result, many programs being set up don’t have standards equivalent to those of home campuses.

Altbach said American educators need to do more to make potential partners abroad understand that the excellence of American higher education isn’t just a matter of names. He recently wrote an article for a Chinese newspaper that said “you need to be more careful about who you are letting in the door — please be aware that every foreign institution that wants to get into China is not necessarily there for mutual benefit on both sides.”

In the case of Singapore, Altbach said that officials there have a tough attitude about making sure that American educational partners fully deliver. When setting up foreign relationships, he said, “both sides need to be careful.” He added: “I think this business is getting bigger and more sophisticated and both sides are beginning to learn that it’s not going to be a walk in the park and you need to be careful about long-term commitments.

D. Bruce Johnstone, director of the Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said that amid “the flurry” of partnerships being created, it may be good for all that Singapore and Hopkins are calling it quits. “The high-end partnership is exceedingly difficult to maintain,” he said. “This is a rather healthy development, suggesting that Hopkins doesn’t need this, is not clinging to it as a profit-making activity, nor does Singapore need it. It is an almost welcome development for a partnership to say it’s not serving a mutual interest,” he said.

Why are such partnerships so difficult to maintain? “Part of it is that this can’t all be done by e-mail. It takes a lot of traveling. However developed and pleasant a country and however comfortable the airline, it’s a hell of a long ways away to Singapore,” he said. “And the kinds of people who the Singaporeans want to see more of are people whose time is enormously precious.” Johnstone said that the Hopkins program in Singapore had a lot of prominence because of the university’s reputation, so he expected plenty of people to now examine what went wrong.

There are signs that some universities are getting hesitant about making big leaps abroad — even when lots of money is available. The University of Washington turned down a $100 million deal last month that would have involved the creation of a branch campus in China.

At the same time, many others are opening full-fledged programs in China, Qatar, and elsewhere. Just this month, Singapore and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced plans for a new joint research center.

And as a result, some experts say that it would be wrong to read too much into the Hopkins situation. SUNY-Buffalo, for example, has been offering programs in Singapore for close to a decade, generally in business and education, starting with one program and growing gradually. “Programs succeed and fail all the time,” in the United States, Singapore, or anywhere, said Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education at Buffalo. He predicted that the Hopkins experience would not alter the growth of American programs in Asia or elsewhere.

“There are going to be others that will take its place,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the Hopkins-Singapore problems could lead to more questions for American institutions offering programs abroad. Dunnett was recently in Singapore and attended a recruiting session for prospective students and their parents. One of the top questions, he said, was “How do we know Buffalo won’t change its mind?” because “there is concern that Americans can be fickle.”

Dunnett said that the way American institutions need to respond is by making clear a long-term commitment. Buffalo currently enrolls about 400 students in Singapore and expects that to increase. But he said that it was only by offering courses for a few years without desired enrollment levels that the university built confidence in itself. “They had to trust us and feel we had staying power,” he said.

Given that, post-9/11, more students from outside the United States want an American-style education but either can’t or won’t get to the United States, Dunnett said that these sorts of arrangements will grow. To work, he said, “there has to be a mutuality of interest.”

— Scott Jaschik

Absolutely fascinating, the kinds of things Americans think (correctly or otherwise) about us.

For more information on what other bloggers think, look here.

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27 Jul 2006

Singapore's Reputation Frightens Academics Away

[Cartoon from the very impressive Sketchbook]
So it's an issue of reputation on the international stage - again. Attracting top notch academics to Singapore was also an issue raised by Warwick University when it pulled out of a deal in 2005. The worry then was that the campus could not attract academics of a high nature to live in a country were academics had to live and work in conditions...

[where The University of NSW's] [...] management has conceded it cannot guarantee protection of its academic staff in Singapore, given the city-state's harsh laws governing public comment and defamation.

And a situation where
[The University of NSW] would be powerless to protect its academics should they fall foul of the Government over issues of public comment.

It is yet again the case of an old formula losing impact in a new world. How long will these experiments of trying to attract top notch academics while at the same time threatening them with sanctions if they discuss certain topics last?

This issue has been going on since July 2004 and beyond. The People's Action Party must realise that their policies are keeping academics away, their empty promises of 'opening up', out-of-bound markers and dare I say it - nepotism - are what is frightening top notch academics away.

"Peter Sever of Imperial College London said the UK Royal College of Physicians "should consider advising its members of the potential dangers of accepting future posts in Singapore" because of a "lack of fairness" that "can impact upon an individual's professional reputation". The case of Simon Shorvon, who served as director of Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute

Research agency refutes accusations that it failed to meet goals
Singapore - Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) refuted accusations by a prestigious US university that it failed to meet its side of the bargain in supporting Johns Hopkins University's research arm, news reports said on Tuesday.

The decision to wind down the facility after eight years in Singapore was 'not taken hastily and was based on nearly three years of monitoring and scrutiny,' The Straits Times quoted Dr Andre Wan, director of A*Star's biomedical research council, as saying.

The research facility failed to attract top scientists and had not met eight out of 13 performance benchmarks with the 83 million Singapore dollars (53 million US dollars) in funding, A*Star said.

The Division of Johns Hopkins Singapore (DJHS) is to be closed within 12 months.

The Baltimore, Maryland-based university was quoted as saying that A*Star had not met its 'financial and educational obligations.'

The closure was expected to leave dozens and faculty and staff without jobs and disrupt the education of four graduate students who had been offered places.

The university said this was a 'reputational issue' for Singapore and A*Star.

The city-state has been aiming to achieve the status of a major research centre and has attracted many well known specialists from abroad.

Dr Edison Liu, chairman of the scientific advisory committee appointed by DJHS, said he hoped that 'cooler heads would prevail' so that two great institutions would not fight each other.

© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

No Outrage for Nigerians in Singapore

No Outrage for Nigerians in Singapore
Sam Olukoya

LAGOS, Jul 27 (IPS) - -When Uzonna Tochi picked up the phone last week he heard the most chilling words of his life. "Please do something fast to save my life; they might execute me anytime now," Uzonna's older brother, Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, pleaded from Singapore.

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 19, is sitting on death row in Singapore with Okele Nelson Malachy, 31, condemned in March after being found guilty of transporting 727.03 grams of heroin into Singapore.

Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin. The two men will be executed this year if they are not granted clemency from Singapore's president.

Uzonna and human rights organisations from around the world have not given up hope. Still, they say it is hard to garner international outrage to save the life of a poor Nigerian.

M. Ravi, a human rights lawyer and a member of the opposition party, Singapore Democratic Party, wrote in an online appeal that Iwuchukwu and Malachy, as Africans, stand in danger of being executed if nothing urgent is done to save their lives.

Unlike Iwuchukwu, Malachy is classified as stateless and no country has the direct responsibility of pleading for him. He carried a South African passport, but officials believe he is Nigerian.

"There has been a spate of executions of African nationals across Asia, which had gone unnoticed. The Australian and Western counterparts get different treatment in the media," Ravi wrote on the web site.

For instance, German national Julia Bohl, who was convicted for drug trafficking in 2002, escaped the gallows in Singapore when she was released from prison and exiled in 2005.

This year Ravi has embarked on a tour of European countries, holding press conferences and meeting parliamentarians in an effort to seek support for Iwuchukwu and Malachy.

Groups like the Amnesty International also have launched campaigns to save the lives of the condemned men. In Lagos, the country's largest human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) has started a drive to force the Nigerian government to intervene on behalf of the condemned men.

"Since he lost the appeal, I always fear that the next moment might be his last," a ruffled Uzonna told IPS..

He has every reason to be concerned about his brother, who he described as the bread winner of the family. Once a football player, Iwuchukwu first took to trading before leaving Nigeria for Pakistan four years ago.

He was on a trip from Pakistan to Singapore when he was arrested at the Changi Airport 27 November 2004 on allegations of transporting heroin into Singapore. His lawyer told the court Iwuchukwu did not know the pills he was shipping contained heroin. He thought he was bringing in medicines.

The arrest and conviction of his brother is kept secret from his parents, Uzonna said. "My poor parents will die if they hear that a child who has worked so hard to sustain them is facing a death sentence," he said.

Uzonna has visited Nigeria's Ministry of External Affairs twice and that officials promised they would write letters in support of his brother's life. He added he was unsure if the promise was kept.

Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs could not give a definite answer when IPS enquired as to whether they are doing anything to save Iwuchukwu's life.

"The Nigerian government has not done anything public to show it is interested in saving Iwuchukwu's life," says Princewill Akpakpan, head of the penal reform project at CLO.

"The government is hardly bothered about Iwuchukwu because Nigeria, just like Singapore, has the death penalty," Akpakpan told IPS.

If the two had been convicted for the same offence in Nigeria, they would have earned a lighter sentence of between three years and life imprisonment, Jonah Achema, Assistant Director Public Affairs of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, told IPS.

"It would depend on the discretion of the judge and other factors like whether he is a first offender or not," Achema said.

A Nigerian law scrapped the death penalty for drug offenders in 1986. "This is an indication of the evolving nature of our laws," Achema told IPS.

Figures of those executed for drug-related offences around the world are not readily available. But Ryan Schlief, who works on the Singapore desk at Amnesty International in London, told IPS that Asian and Middle Eastern countries that retain the death penalty are doing so to crack down on drugs.

Singapore, in particular, has come under special criticism for its harsh death penalty laws. More than 420 persons have been executed there since 1991, the majority for drug trafficking. Singapore is believed to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world.

Critics question the justification for executing drug offenders. Instead, they say, the best way to deter crime is to increase the certainty of detection, arrest and conviction.

"Drug offenders should in effect not be made to pay with their lives," Akpakpan said.

Moreover, no study has proven that the death penalty reduces crime. In Iran, nearly 2,000 people were reportedly executed for drug offences between 1988 and 1999; a report by the country's official news agency IRNA observes that in spite of the executions, the problem of drug trafficking had not been resolved.

In 1995, 26 governments adopted laws making drug-related offences punishable by death. The countries see the death penalty as an effective and cheap way of removing criminally minded individuals from the society.

Growing pressure from civil society groups for a total abolition of the death penalty forced the Nigerian government to initiate a national debate on whether or not to retain the death sentence.

Singapore has no room for such debates, human rights workers said.

"There is usually little public debate in Singapore about the death penalty, partly as a result of tight government controls on the press and civil society organisations," Amnesty International said in a report.

Amnesty International was a victim of this government control in April 2005, when Singapore denied an AI member permission to speak at a conference on the death penalty organised by political opposition leaders and human rights activists.

Moreover, the Singaporean government rarely grants clemency for drug traffickers, Ravi and Amnesty said, making more urgent the need to keep up international pressure to save the lives of Malachy and Iwuchukwu Tochi. (END/2006)

An Old Friend - Grace

I accidentally bumped into an old friend online today . Out of the blue a link to Grace Chow's book being sold on Amazon.com just appeared. I recognised her immediately of course and then the emotions hit me again. Reading the reviews of her book on the Amazon site made me extremely proud to have known Grace if only briefly and if only online.

(Book Review) Reading this book made me look back on my own experiences of popular music, philosophy and Singapore. At first I had never imagined that all three could be combined. Perhaps my failing was due to the lack of a final ingredient, an incurable disease.

The author Grace Chow begins her story with a theme that resonates with many of our own sense of needing to escape, to get out. When I first stumbled upon the PAP's planned housing, I realised that I would have felt suffocated and atomised in Singapore. I thought that my initial response was that of an outsider, now I realise that others feel the same.

The HDB complexes are practical solutions, but some of us desire more than, 'practical solutions'. "A Pain in the Neck", contains many views on how Singapore is governed, and who it is governed by. Written in many styles, serious, insightful and I actually laughed out loud on a few occasions. Peppered with despair on the darkest of days, but there is a dogged determination within its pages to express life and to live it to the full according to her individual will and capabilities.

Grace Chow combines many elements in this autobiography; Singapore; escape, love, philosophy, religion, popular music, travel, illness, memories, hope and despair. The somewhat simplistic stereotype of the average Singaporean is that of un-questioning, consensual, and materialistic. Grace has laid the stereotype to rest. I await another book from Grace Chow. Write faster Grace.

Grace's Blog - Dying Is
A Pain in the Neck
Dying with grace By Sharon De Castro.

26 Jul 2006

Why the foreign media matters to Singapore

The following article from the Singapore Democratic Party site is rather strange as far as I am concerend as I had almost the same discussion with an ex-pat in a bar in Singapore during my last visit. The topic then was Gomez and why the government decided to back off. The targets may change but the only way to counter certain 'government aims' is to get the foreign media on your side.

25 Jul 06
Singapore Democratic Party

Piqued by the recent ruckus over the Brown matter, including all the brickbat that the PAP Government was getting from overseas, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan declared: “I am not concerned at all about what the foreign media thinks (sic).”

His boss, however, would very much beg to differ.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, in a speech to his former PAP parliamentarians over the weekend, cited The Economist's comment that the PAP had done right by renewing its members of parliament.

This might not seem strange to some but when you consider that Mr Lee is spoilt for choice from the oodles and oodles of affection the one dozen or so local newspapers smother the PAP with – and in different languages to boot – it is indeed more than a little eyebrow-raising that he ignores these and plums for a foreign newspaper's comment.

But then, we're sure that our dear leader is all too aware that self-praise is no praise. The Straits Times gushing this-and-that about the PAP is like the dummy raving about the ventriloquist's talent.

But we digress. The point is plain: The PAP is concerned about what the foreign media think, and acutely so. Otherwise why would its leaders repeatedly sue international magazines and newspapers for defamation (The Economist included)? If the regime cannot sue because the publication does not circulate in Singapore, it registers its displeasure through the relevant Singaporean embassy. Whatever the method, the Government here needs the world to view it in more or less approving terms.

The world watches

In a world on which Singapore is increasingly dependent for trade, it would be daft for anyone to believe that this country need not concern itself with what others think about it.

And speaking of what others think, the decision by the police not to take action against the 30 demonstrators who protested at an MRT station against the Mr Brown-ban is a cleverly calculated decision on the Government's part.

The one thing that PAP leaders want to avoid more than the bubonic plague is to let the world see that Singaporeans are fed-up with its autocratic control and are ready to stand up for their rights. Prosecuting 30 people for courageously staging a protest would be the dumbest move the PAP could make. Victimizing the opposition is one thing, taking on citizen-protesters for exercising their democratic freedoms is quite another – one that would result in an unmitigated international PR disaster for the Government.

With the world marching unstoppably towards democracy and with citizens clamouring for a greater say in their countries' affairs, the PAP must realize that it is fighting the unfightable. International and regional networks, including the governmental sector, are springing up, all with one purpose – to advance democracy and human rights on this planet. This is why the SDP has been assiduously plugging Singapore into this vast and growing international movement.

The free world would undoubtedly disparage a crack down (if the PAP were foolish enough to initiate one) on a freedom movement conducted by Singaporeans through peaceful protests, and that would almost certainly spell the beginning of the end of the PAP’s dictatorial system.

Thumbing the nose

Even the late John F. Kennedy could not escape international opprobrium which was one of the factors that prodded him to address the discrimination against African-Americans when he was President in the early 1960s. When Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement pushed harder and bolder for equality, the US Government found it more and more difficult not to introduce legislation to outlaw segregation. Given its own condemnation of the Soviet Union's repression, it would have made the US look like it spoke with forked-tongue if it continued to ignore black-America's demands for freedom, and that position would have been untenable especially with the rest of the world looking on.

If a US President can yield to good sense coming from the rest of the world, can a Singaporean Prime Minister afford to thumb his nose at the international community?

This is where Singaporeans must press home their advantage. The freedom of peaceful assembly is one weapon citizens cannot do without in their fight against despotic regimes. Public gatherings are visually powerful and the energy they radiate are at once threatening to undemocratic systems as well as magnetic to the masses. Coupled with the fact that the PAP wants to – needs to – avoid pressure from the world to democratise this country, the people have the upper hand.

And when citizens refuse to roll over and play dead every time the Government cracks its whip, the world must be kept informed. And how is it kept informed? Bingo! The foreign media.

So the next time some minister says that he doesn't care what the foreign media think, you know the guy's fibbing.

25 Jul 2006

Singapore none too fussy about the source of wealth in its financial sector

Michael Backman
July 26, 2006

You are an Indonesian businessman. You've bribed a state bank official to give you a $US200 million ($A265 million) loan without sufficient collateral, or a risk assessment, for a business venture you know won't get off the ground.

The authorities have found out and you're facing arrest. You need somewhere to go where authorities can't touch you. So where do you go? The answer is Singapore. Why? Because it is a half-hour flight from Jakarta, or 45 minutes by ferry from the Indonesian island of Batam, and, most importantly, it does not have an extradition treaty with Indonesia.

It is largely ethnically Chinese, just like many of Indonesia's white-collar criminals, if only because Indonesians of Chinese ancestry dominate that country's business sector.

Singapore finally agreed to negotiate an extradition treaty last year after years of Indonesia begging for one. The process has been ridiculously drawn out. At least six rounds of talks have been held. Indonesia is angry and feels that Singapore is being obstructionist. But why should Singapore be slow? Probably because it is a haven for Indonesian crooks on the run, and they bring their money with them. Billions of dollars in corruptly obtained funds have flowed into Singapore's property market and its banks.

It's a sensitive matter because financial services account for 22 per cent of Singapore's economy. You can imagine the situation from Jakarta's point of view. Singapore lectures Indonesia about the importance of the rule of law while giving its criminals a haven.

Despite the billions it gets from Indonesia, it gives back only a fraction in foreign assistance but then decries Indonesia for being insufficiently grateful.

Among the Indonesian crooks and suspects believed to be on the run in Singapore are Bambang Sutrisno and Adrian Kiki Ariawan, who were found guilty of embezzling the equivalent of $US162 million from Bank Surya; Sudjiono Timan, who was convicted of improperly diverting $US120 million from a state-owned investment company; Lidia Mochtar, who is wanted over the embezzlement of $US20 million from Bank Tamara; Agus Anwar, a suspect over $US214 million that's unaccounted for from Bank Pelita; and Pauline Maria Lumowa, who is wanted over $US184 million that's missing from Bank BNI. Others whose whereabouts are unknown are able to safely visit Singapore.

The US doesn't have an extradition treaty with Indonesia but co-operation by US officials saw the fugitive Indonesian David Nusa Wijaya, wanted in connection with embezzlement of about $US140 million, return to Indonesia from San Francisco earlier this year.

The US embassy in Jakarta said at the time: "The US Government understands that returning fugitives and stolen assets from abroad in corruption cases is a top law-enforcement priority in Indonesia."

Singapore argues that because its laws are based on English common law and Indonesian law is based on Dutch codes, the two systems are incompatible, making an extradition treaty difficult.

But that didn't stop India from signing such a treaty with the Philippines in 2004, or Australia from signing one with Indonesia. Fugitive Indonesian banker Hendra Rahardja, who embezzled almost $US300 million, was on the verge of being extradited from Australia in early 2003 when he died of cancer in Sydney. His funds in Australia were frozen and returned to Indonesia.

A corollary of Singapore's reluctance to sign an extradition treaty with Indonesia is its apparent lack of fussiness about the sources of the funds attracted to its banking sector.

Singaporean officials make all the right noises when it comes to monitoring illicit funds. But there is a perception that in practice Singapore is not fully meeting international expectations and obligations. One person involved in monitoring international money flows for a Western government told me last week that the results of Singapore's efforts to date were disappointing.

And a senior fund manager in the region had this to say: "Singapore has truly become the global centre for parking ill-gotten gains. The private banking teams are huge and in practice ask almost no questions (compared with the branches elsewhere, including Switzerland).

"An acquaintance of mine who made $US13 million through a corrupt deal (in Indonesia) was not asked about how he got the money despite obviously having a job that would not have allowed such amounts to have been accumulated. Russians, mainland Chinese and Indonesians are pouring money into Singapore. High-end property has risen 30-50 per cent in the last 18 months or so."

Singapore, he argues, is out of step internationally. He cites a recent case in which even a Swiss bank co-operated with the Indonesian Government in tracking down $US5.2 million in allegedly improper funds deposited by the former head of Bank Mandiri, Indonesia's largest state-owned bank.

Attention is now being turned to China. Singapore is working hard at making itself more attractive to Chinese mainlanders, be they tourists or individuals, with funds to park. Singaporean Government representatives are trawling through China, promoting Singapore over Hong Kong as a safe destination for funds and property investment. Direct flights are being established with regional centres across China. Casinos are being set up. There has even been an influx of mainland Chinese prostitutes into Singapore's quasi-legal sex industry. And there's no extradition treaty, or little chance of one.

Of course, Singapore will argue that it takes money laundering seriously and has all types of detection methods in place. But that is not the point. It's what happens in practice that counts. After all, even Chinese laundries can have window dressing.

to continue reading...


Singabloodypore has become a very infantile blog

From Illusio

Soci, the founder of Singabloodypore, loves to go on about how infantile the local blogosphere is. That was last April, I believe. Half a year later, there was a solicitation for co-contributors for SBP. What had me sold was this vision of a non-infantile blogosphere:

I have often contemplated the idea of running a 'socio-political blog' about Singapore that allows contributions from the public, other than just comments and has a group of editors monitoring the content.

It was all it took, really, and I began writing for SBP in October. You'll have to understand it was a time of opportunities. By 2004, SBP had become a news aggregator site where Soci would cut and paste entire news articles without comment or analysis. His call for contributors and fellow editors, could that be a start of a new blog? At that time, anything was possible. Or perhaps at that time, I believed anything was possible.

This was my statement of intent, as well as a sort of acceptance email to his call for co-contributors:

If the blog is run along the lines of crookedtimber.org, obsidianwings.blogs.com, savageminds.org, or long-sunday.net - ie. with group contributors who run/edit the site and with serious and sustained comments by contributors and members of the public, I'm all game for it.

If, on the other hand, you envision a super singaporean sociopolitical news aggregator blog along the lines of boingboing or tomorrow, where the emphasis is more on posting rather than developing a good idea from an original post through replies in the comments section, the site will have my support but I will NOT join in the running of the endeavor.

Yet almost a year later, I am still waiting for my fellow contributors - Soci included - to actually write their own articles instead of cut and pasting articles written by other people. Was there a policy message I missed somewhere down the line? Or did I not get the memo that said "Given the precarious legal position of bloggers, contributors of SBP are advised to write as little of their own opinion or analysis as possible, to protect themselves"?

With every 50-line article SBP contributors cut and paste, a little bit of our collective credibility dies. And we do this, 5 articles a day on average. What SBP has become is indeed a blog with more emphasis on posting, than on developing ideas and discussions. Indiscriminate and voluminous cut-pasting sends out a signal to all readers that the contributors don't respect the blog they run.

And so, SBP gets the readership that it deserves: hordes of anonymouses posting one liners, mostly non sequiturs. Some are spammers, like the commentor who cut/pastes entire falunggong new articles to comment on any blog post, regardless of relevance. Or ranters who just feel great posting their angry denunciations of the gahmen. All done as one-liners, of course. SBP has become a platform for anonymouses to rant and post non sequitors.

You know, once upon a time I thought the sammyboymod forums were pretty wild. Discussions there would start off fine and brilliant, but always degenerate into shouting matches by the third page. Once upon an even longer time, I thought soc.culture.singapore was the gutter of political commentary and discussion in cyberspace. Today, I am forced to change my opinion. Singabloodypore is the new gutter of online political discussion.

Indiscriminate cut/pasting encourages rants and indiscriminate commenting. Neighbourhoods with broken windows, and all that. The failure of SBP members to moderate comments, to guide discussions to a higher ground of analysis and insightful commentary, the wilful policy of benign neglect - all this encourage even more indiscriminate commenting. I have noticed, as have other contributors, the precipitous decline in the tone and quality of comments, coupled with a marked rise in anonymous commentors.

Today, Singabloodypore looks like a slum. The main column is cluttered with miles of cut-and-pasted content that go on and on. We could excerpt just one or two paragraphs, and then use either article truncation or just provide links, if we just want to cut and paste. The side bar is cluttered with too many links. Singabloodypore has not just become a site that I would not personally want to read, it has not just become a site that I do not want to be associated with, it has become the most infantile political site in Singapore's blogosphere. In fact, far more infantile than the sites Soci made fun of last April.

My reply...
Thanks for your comments and feed back.

The blog is out of my hands and I have zero intention of dictating what contributors can and cannot post or comment upon. As for rampant 'cut and pasting' you seem to have very definite notions of what a 'blog' is or ought to be.

It seems that you have already decided to quit based on the grounds that we are drifting aimlessly or without direction. In part you claim that 'thanks to the refusal to police and guide comments' that I have somehow allowed this slide into infantilism to occurr. Fine so be it. The day I assign myself as a police officer of discourse is a day I refuse to contemplate.

Sad to see you go as I am sad to see others go, but I offer you the same as you leave.

You are always welcome back.


As an after thought I realise that I have only ever been asked to censor this blog not by the police or the Singaporean government but by other contributors and bloggers. A recent example was the Jesus-Zombie cartoon. The storm in tea cup had a contributor withdraw because he thought it was direct provocation of the authorities.

Other contributors have asked me to separate items that were felt to undermine a particular post and the links were removed.

And a rather long time ago in blogtime a contributor was felt compelled to leave because their English or topics were not 'good enough'. It seems that self-censorship is alive and well.

As for the comment numbers increasing in the last 6 months this is true but that has now returned to the pre-election norm. Commentators can contribute as much as they like. Some may feel unable or unwilling to comment at length, they each have their own motivations and reasons for doing so. To say that we will only accept comments of a certain length and 'academic standard' is too much though.

This blog was my creation but it has taken on a direction of its own and I have no intention of attempting to determine its direction. Nor the time to do so. The blog items shift according to the interest of readers and contributors, to the Singaporean news items, requests from campaigners of various 'single issue' groups. NGO's approach me, individuals approach me to take up something they feel readers should be able to read simply because it is not being covered in the mainstream press.

To say 'no' to these requests because it doesn't meet our current discussion topic would be rather irresponsible.

A*STAR defends its stand

(This is a follow-up from last Saturday's Straits Times report.)

Still no official press release from Johns Hopkins. However, there is plenty of buzz in the Singapore media about the "messy split".

Monday's issue of TODAY had a letter by one Leong Sze Hian:
The contrast between the statements by the two parties is startling. Considering the immense publicity, amount of taxpayers' money, resources and time spent over the last eight years on this project, I think Singaporeans deserve a more detailed explanation on what went wrong.[...]

If you do not know what went wrong, how do you learn from your experience and mistakes, so that others may learn from it, too? How can there be accountability for failure, if we do not know who was involved and responsible for what happened? What is the financial quantum and consequences of this project and facility that has now to be closed?

I would like to suggest that an inquiry be held so that similar research tie-ups in the future may benefit from the findings.

With Singapore's international reputation at stake, as I understand that this is the first international tie-up of its kind between Singapore and the US, I urge A*Star to tell us more.

In response, the Singapore side has finally presented its view in full force. « Takchek. The most relevant is A*STAR's official letter to the Singapore media, such as the one published in TODAY:

[The Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS) was set up to achieve three goals.] First, to establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation. Second, to establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore. Third, to recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore.

[...The] statements attributed to the JHU spokesman are both untrue and inappropriate.

The truth of the matter is that A*Star has fully complied with its obligations under the Agreement and continues to do so during the contractual 12-month wind-down period.

Indeed Singapore invested a total of S$54 million under phase 1 of the collaboration (1998-2004) and a further S$28 million under phase 2 to date.

The JHU presence in Singapore began in 1998 with the goals of providing clinical service, education and research. But in 1999, Johns Hopkins Singapore (JHS) was found to have significant problems in the progress of its research and education programs and a restructuring of the collaboration was then effected.

However, problems persisted. A*Star had to negotiate a significant restructuring of JHS in 2003 which led to the establishment of the DJHS, an academic department reporting to the Dean of Medicine at JHU.

A*Star put in place, with the agreement of JHU, stringent oversight criteria and the requirement for a mid-cycle review. The Agreement specified clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that would provide mutually agreed metrics for success.

The mid-cycle review was carried out by two committees in late 2005 and in early 2006. Separate reports were submitted by the independent Scientific Advisory Committee appointed by DJHS itself, and by the A*Star Grant Review Committee. The findings revealed that DJHS was still lacking in senior scientific leadership and had failed to achieve several KPIs.

For example, the Agreement required DJHS to enrol at least eight PhD students by February 2006. However, as the review date approached, DJHS still had no students. In October 2005, DJHS was urged by its Scientific Advisory Committee to take steps to address this issue. Given the pace of development, A*Star had assessed that DJHS was unlikely to meet the target of 40 PhD students enrolled by February 2009.

The Agreement also required DJHS to recruit 12 senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and with full-time residence in Singapore by February 2006.

In truth, only one out of the 13 recruited by DJHS fulfilled these requirements.
While there were five others who held the title of full Professor, one had already tendered his resignation from JHU, two were based in Baltimore and did not reside in Singapore, one was based at the JHS International Medical Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and spent only 20 per cent of his time at DJHS, and one was a visiting scientist on a 12-month contract.

Of the remaining seven faculty, six were given appointments as Assistant Professors by JHU. For five of the six, this was their first appointment as an Assistant Professor. Academics generally would not consider someone at the level of an Assistant Professor to be a senior investigator.

When A*Star raised its concerns, JHU responded that at Hopkins they prefer to hire capable and ambitious junior scientists rather than bring in "big names". A*Star feels strongly that neither the letter nor the spirit of the Agreement, in particular the requirement to recruit senior investigators, was being followed.

All in all, DJHS failed to meet eight out of 13 KPIs for scientific capability development specified in the Agreement. For seven of these KPIs, DJHS was unable to even meet the first year targets by the end of the second year.

The Agreement allows A*Star to discontinue funding DJHS if it decides after formal review and with due process, that DJHS is not likely to succeed in achieving its KPIs.

The decision to terminate the arrangement with DJHS was not taken hastily and was based on nearly three years of monitoring and scrutiny. Moreover, discussions between senior management at JHU and A*Star about the potential closure continued for over three months (mid-February to end May 2006) before the decision was finally made.

A joint A*Star-DJHS circular was then sent on June 20, 2006 to all DJHS staff and students to inform them of the decision. The wind-down process then commenced in accordance with the terms of the Agreement.

It was only in July 2006 that A*Star learnt, for the first time, that DJHS had granted its four PhD students five-year scholarships with no obligation to return to Singapore after completing their studies. Such scholarships do not qualify for funding support under the Agreement.

Instead the Agreement requires DJHS to either fund or seek external funding (ie not from A*Star) to support any student to be trained in Baltimore.

We are deeply dismayed at the implication that A*Star is somehow to blame for the current predicament of the DJHS junior faculty and students.

Under the Agreement, should the DJHS program falter, JHU alone is responsible for the redeployment of its faculty. A*Star's obligation is limited to the provision of a 12-month wind-down budget. Notwithstanding this, A*Star has been actively helping DJHS and JHU with the re-location of faculty to Baltimore and placement of those who wish to remain in Singapore.

As for the four PhD students, though their scholarships do not qualify for A*Star funding under the Agreement, A*Star has gone out of its way to offer them assistance. We have renewed offers of A*Star local scholarships to two of them, and we are still attempting to assist the other two. We have yet to hear of any offer of assistance from JHU.

As a government agency, A*Star has a responsibility to review the progress and performance of projects like DJHS that are supported with public funds. Where necessary, we will act decisively to ensure that these projects continue to create value for and contribute positively to Singapore's biomedical sciences initiative.

In this respect, we have been even-handed and fair in our other interactions with JHU as a whole.

For instance, A*Star and Singapore have a productive relationship with the JHS International Medical Centre based at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Much of the clinical research conducted there is funded by the Singapore Cancer Syndicate, which is an arm of A*Star.

A*Star also sends its National Science Scholars to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at JHU in Baltimore, after which they are obliged to return to serve Singapore.

A*Star and Singapore have, over the past eight years, given JHU every possible chance to succeed. But for DJHS, JHU was unable to fulfill its obligations under the Agreement. We cannot justify the continuation of public funding for a collaboration that has failed to yield results for Singapore.

However, we continue to act in good faith to ease any disruption by the provision of a generous 12-month wind-down period and as much support as possible within the terms of the Agreement.

It is therefore most surprising that JHU should choose to lecture A*Star and the people of Singapore about our reputation when it is JHU which has not delivered on its commitments under the Agreement.

Source: Letter from Dr. Andre Wan, Director, Biomedical Research Council, Agency for Science, Technology and Research; We have kept our end of the deal: A*Star : Agency says decision to terminate agreement with Johns Hopkins taken after three years of monitoring and scrutiny, TODAY, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This letter was also printed in the July 25, 2006 edition of the Straits Times. TODAY had another article summarizing the press release:
SINGAPORE'S eight-year relationship with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has gone sour and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has said the reason was simple: The American medical institution did not deliver what it promised.

Source:Tan Hui Leng, The experiment that failed: A*Star points to problems with Johns Hopkins' PhD programme, senior leadership, TODAY, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Straits Times also has secondary coverage which is notable. Excerpts:
The agency also produced a series of e-mails between its chairman, Mr Philip Yeo, and the university's president, Dr William Brody, between February and June this year.

The exchange revealed that while there were disagreements, both sides remained positive about the partnership.

On Feb 17, Mr Yeo wrote to 'dispel JHU's misconception that it is not possible to attract top scientists in Singapore to man DJHS'.

Dr Brody replied on May 2 that Johns Hopkins believed in hiring junior scientists who were talented and hungry.

The Hopkins experience 'over 100 years' was that the future belonged to such scientists, 'even though they may not have achieved stardom'.

On May 17, with talks at a stalemate, Mr Yeo informed Dr Brody that A*Star would wind down the facility, and re-focus attention on a new collaboration. Replying on June 12, Dr Brody expressed disappointment with the decision, but agreed that once staff issues were settled, both sides could review 'other opportunities that might be mutually beneficial for A*Star and Johns Hopkins'.

Faculty and staff were told about the decision eight days later.

The university declined yesterday to elaborate on its statement, but its move to stake Singapore's reputation on the failed partnership is 'completely unacceptable', said Dr Edison Liu, chairman of the scientific advisory committee appointed by DJHS.

Dr Liu, an American scientist who heads the Genome Institute of Singapore, said Singapore had done nothing reprehensible in the last five years.

Until the latest broadside from JHU, both sides had seemed headed for an amicable split.

Source: Liaw Wy-Cin, "Johns Hopkins failed to meet goals, says A*Star", Straits Times, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Like Takchek said, it's always messy when two big egos collide. A*STAR's stand is implicit but pretty clear: they want brand name, famous professors. Don't give us anything else. Johns Hopkins' point of view: young researchers are the wave of the future, not those who have already established themselves. Apparently, neither party was willing to compromise on this issue.

Here's another article from the staff point-of-view. Arguably, these are the people worst affected by this whole spat.

WHILE senior researchers on the Johns Hopkins payroll can return to the university in Baltimore in the United States, the careers of junior staff here hang in the balance.

The Straits Times spoke to four junior researchers who have yet to have be offered an alternative job by either Johns Hopkins Singapore or the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), since they were informed last month of the decision to close the research facility in Biopolis in North Buona Vista.

Said one researcher: 'There's no hurry, we have one year. And it's very easy to find a job here.'

But for one of the foreigners among them, if he does not find a job here, the alternative is to return home. He said he is 'very upset' at the news.

'It was a big surprise[...]

Two researchers The Straits Times spoke to said they were given a termination letter last week informing them that the research and education arm would be 'wound down' with effect from June 1.

The letter indicated that their salaries and pro-rated annual wage supplement and outpatient medical benefits will be paid until DJHS terminated operations on May 31 next year.

Also affected are four postgraduate students who had been offered PhD scholarships by DJHS to study pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

They were to begin their studies in two months, but were told last month that with DJHS closing, there is no more funding for their scholarships.

One of those affected by DJHS's imminent closure, Ms Yap Kai Lee, 23, a recent pharmacy graduate from the National University of Singapore, is worried that her research dreams may be short-circuited with the lack of funding.

But she said Johns Hopkins in Singapore and Baltimore have been very helpful in trying to secure funding for them. Said the youngest of three daughters of a civil servant and a housewife: 'We were told our studies for the second to fifth years would be funded by the labs we work for in the US, so what we're awaiting word on is the funding for the first year.' [...]

Source: Liaw Wy-Cin, "Closure leaves future of junior staff uncertain", The Straits Times, July 25, 2006

The Straits Times also published a summary of the Key Performance Indicators for DJHS. In short:
DJHS met these targets in both years of the review (20040201-20060131):

  1. Cumulative number of postdocs participating in research

  2. Cumulative number of joint projects with other research institutes and centres in Singapore

  3. Number of papers published in top journals per year

  4. Number of papers presented at top conferences per year

  5. Number of conferences/seminars/courses/workshops organised per year

DJHS did not meet these targets in both years of the review (20040201-20060131):

  1. Cumulative number of full-time faculty

  2. Research scientists and engineers hired and trained (cumulative, full- and part-time clinical)

  3. Cumulative number of new technologies originating at Johns Hopkins University and further developed in Singapore

  4. Cumulative number of visiting faculty on sabbatical (none in first year)

  5. Clinical research projects (investigator initiated or industry sponsored) (none in first year)

  6. Training programmes offering JHU degrees (none in first year)

  7. No patents filed

  8. No new technologies originating at Johns Hopkins University and further developed in Singapore

  9. No graduate students

  10. No new products under development or clinical testing

Commentary here.

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