Author Archives: kjeyaretnam

Singapore and LKY- Darlings of Western Think Tanks. (at a price)

While Singaporeans may long ago have lost their admiration and affection for Lee Kuan Yew and the Lee family, though not their fear, there is one constituency where LKY’s reputation seems undiminished. This is of course with foreigners and particularly Western think tanks and academics. The Western media may have been cowed by fear of defamation suits or the loss of advertising revenues but it has always been a mystery why Western think tanks and NGOs are always ready to sing the praises of the PAP government or LKY’s wise foresight.

Among the myths that are endlessly repeated are that Singapore was a mangrove swamp before the genius of LKY transformed it or that Singapore is a barren rock devoid of natural resources. Like citizens of a communist country Singaporeans find this endless repetition of lies and propaganda offensive. In response to LKY being called the “founding father” of Singapore in the book “Hard Truths”, one netizen’s response was to say that LKY was not his father and how dare he call himself founding father.

One reason for this naivety on the part of foreigners may just be the very skilful marketing and hype done by the PAP Government and ignorance on the part of Western pundits. Nevertheless, I have always wondered how the PAP Government ensures that they are rarely criticised by Western media and think tanks.

Sometimes the people peddling the myths have never even visited Singapore or looked for a counter factual. It is sheer ignorance that allows  a Nobel Prize-winning economist like Stiglitz to write a shockingly ill-informed pieces like this and then ignore my rebuttal. Then it turned out that he had written his piece based on conversations and impressions of his Singaporean students in the US. No doubt they were government-funded scholars.

Or John Kampfner, a clever and good man  whom I have met and  author of “Freedom for Sale” an important book, who did at least visit Singapore. He  always stayed with elite Singaporean friends in condos and landed houses.  He wrote a chapter praising the  miracle of  Singapore’s public housing while never having visited an HDB block.

But how does Singapore, with its state control over most sectors of the economy, manage to come top of indices of economic freedom compiled by right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation? Thanks to a New York Times (NYT) article the mystery is solved. Ignorance is not the answer here. Money, it seems, buys an awful lot of influence.

 This is evident from the way Lee Kuan Yew, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday, he was showered with the predictable awards from a number of international organisations. The Atlantic Council, which “promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the Atlantic Community’s central role in meeting global challenges.”, on Sunday gave Lee Kuan Yew its Global Citizen Award. Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, who is the same age as LKY, paid tribute to him while our Foreign Minister, Shanmugam, was on hand with a gushing tribute, “This is an age where words like ‘outstanding’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘great’ are overused to describe leaders. But few will challenge that Mr Lee deserves to be described in those terms and more.”

Brookings

A few months ago the Brookings Institution, a leading American think tank, which is often critical of US economic policy but usually has nothing but praise for Singapore’s Government, established a Lee Kuan Yew Chair in South East Asian studies (see link).

Lee Kuan Yew is not the only member of the Lee family to receive an award this year. In June 2014 his daughter-in-law and the PM’s wife, Ho Ching, received the Asian Business Leaders Award from the trustees of Asia House, a London-based “centre of expertise on Asia”.

To quote from the press statement, “The annual award recognises individuals who embody the ‘Servant Leader’ – economic success and professional excellence accompanied by moral leadership and service to society, Ms Ho Ching was selected to receive this year’s award because of her impressive business credentials and her significant efforts to inspire a commitment in others to improving society.”

The State Media and the PAP Government would like you to believe that these awards were just a recognition of the individuals’ achievements and talents.

However the New York Times recently carried an article exposing the substantial amounts given to several US-based think tanks, including the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution, by foreign government donors (see link). I was not surprised to learn in the same article that the PAP Government had given money to at least two US think tanks, the Atlantic Council (which gave LKY the Global Citizen Award) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

To quote the NY Times, “The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to be a violation of federal law, according to several legal specialists who examined the agreements at the request of The Times.” The law in question is the Foreign Agent Registration Act which was passed in 1938 to combat a propaganda campaign by Nazi Germany.

In many cases, according to the NY Times, these donations come with expectations that the think tanks will promote the interests of their foreign donors, particularly in lobbying the US Government. In at least one instance the head of a think tank set up by the Atlantic Council, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, was removed because she put forward views to the US Congress which were opposed to those of the donor that had paid for the new centre. As the NY Times says. “Sometimes the foreign donors move aggressively to stifle views contrary to their own” and they quote another scholar in a phrase chillingly reminiscent of Singapore, “It is the self-censorship that really affects us over time”.

 The PAP Government’s donations to the Atlantic Council and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies not only appear to have secured Lee Kuan Yew the Global Citizen Award. They also ensure that these think tanks are unlikely to criticise them.

Likewise, presumably the PAP Government and/or the Lee family get to appoint the holder of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair at Brookings. In addition the money paid to Brookings would make them reluctant to criticise an important actual and potential future donor. The first appointee, Joseph Chinyong Liow, is currently professor of comparative and international politics and associate dean in the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

The list of donors who contributed to the setting up of the LKY Chair also makes for interesting reading. Brookings says “generous contributions have been made by Ray and Barbara Dalio, Chevron, Hotel Properties Limited, Keppel Group, Robert Ng and Philip Ng, Sembcorp Industries Ltd., Edwin Soeryadjaya, STEngineering, and The Starr Foundation.” No information was given about the relative amounts contributed.

Ray and Sarah Dalio

Ray and Sarah Dalio

Ray Dalio is the owner and CEO of Bridgewater Associates which claims to be the world’s biggest hedge fund. According to this 2011 article in the New Yorker, a quarter of Bridgewater’s capital comes from sovereign wealth funds like GIC. In 2013 Dalio earned $700 million according to Forbes so our investments contribute to his and his wife’s earnings through the fees Bridgewater charges. There is thus a direct conflict of interest since LHL is the Chairman of GIC as his father was previously. In effect, Singapore’s CPF holders are paying indirectly for the setting up of a chair in LKY’s name without their approval being asked.

Keppel Corp, Sembcorp Industries Ltd and STEngineering are all GLCs and partly or wholly owned by Temasek Holdings which is of course headed by the PM’s wife and LKY’s daughter-in-law.

Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) was the company that was infamous in 1995 when it was discovered to have given discounts on properties in developments like Nassim Jade to LKY, LHL and many other members of the Lee family without seeking shareholder approval. Though PM Goh declined to refer this to CPIB, wrongly in my view, the fact that the individuals paid back the discounts was an admission that they should not have received them, particularly given the Government’s control over land sales.

As the Government owns 80% of the land in Singapore, it would be fair to say that all property developers are dependent on the Government. In fact the Economist in its survey of crony capitalism in March 2014 ranked Singapore as fifth, largely due to the concentration of its billionaires in areas like property where government support or subsidies are essential.

Robert and Philip Ng top the Forbes list of the 50 richest Singaporeans. Their wealth stems from property like Ong Beng Seng at HPL. Thus exactly the same conflicts of interest apply as with HPL. In fact Robert Ng sits on the board of Temasek.

Ho Ching’s award from Asia House is also just as dubious as her father-in-law’s award from the Atlantic Council. Since she is a civil servant (albeit one with multi-million dollar remuneration) she would naturally be expected to embody the ideals of “Servant Leader”. How also can she be said to have impressive business credentials. Unlike some of the other recipients she has not built a business from scratch. In fact she has never worked in the private sector. She was appointed head of Temasek by the PAP Government of which her husband is the head. Her father-in-law, LKY, is on the International Advisory Council of Asia House. The Council also includes several representatives from the founding stakeholders of Asia House, HSBC, Prudential and Standard Chartered. They all have significant business interests in Singapore while Temasek owns nearly 20% of Standard Chartered.

The revelations from the NY Times are an eye-opener. They shed light on the extraordinary thoroughness of the PAP’s influence-buying strategy and the lengths the PAP will go to, using taxpayers’ money, to get a favourable rating, even if it means sowing misinformation and rewriting history. It is particularly hypocritical that the PAP should give our money to US think tanks with a view to influencing government policy when they are always warning foreigners not to interfere in Singapore politics and ban Singaporean NGOs designated “political” from receiving foreign funding.

Next time when you read that a  prestigious and independent institution has placed Singapore at the top of some global ranking or given its leaders an award you will be asking yourself, “How much of our tax payers money did they receive?”

Clash of the Grossly Overcharged Means Alvin Yeo Must Resign

alvin yeo

I am sure the case of  Dr Susan Lim is still in many people’s minds. She was the doctor taken to court by the SMC for overcharging the Brunei royal family and  suspended from practice for three years. The courts found her guilty and after her appeal failed they awarded costs against her.  This means that not only did she have to pay her own lawyers but also the SMC’s lawyers’ costs.

Acting for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in the case against Dr Lim were  a team led by Alvin Yeo, Senior Counsel and PAP MP for Chua Chu Kang (CCK) GRC, and  lawyers Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee. They submitted their bill to Dr Lim for payment and in one of life’s exquisite ironies Dr Lim herself found that she herself had been grossly overcharged by the MP and his team. Her husband objected to Yeo’s bill and had it sent back to the court to be “taxed” which is the process whereby the Registrar of the Supreme Court scrutinises the bill.

A few days ago I read here that the Supreme Court ordered that Alvin Yeo’s bill be reduced  from $1.33 million to $317,000. That is they found the correct amount to be charged was 25% of the original submitted. In other words Alvin Yeo and the team he led had overcharged by a staggering 300%.

Lawyers, let alone a Senior Counsel and an MP such as Yeo of whom higher standards are expected, who overcharge their clients by that multiple, frequently face disciplinary action and either a large fine or even a suspension from practice.  The judges in previous disciplinary tribunals have made it clear that sanctions include the power to strike off.  So what disciplinary action has the Honourable MP and Senior Counsel faced? At the time of writing this I can find no evidence that any disciplinary action against Yeo and his team is scheduled. 

There have been several precedents where  the consequences have been severe.  For example, in 2011 lawyer, Andre Arul was found guilty of overcharging his client by a multiple of approximately 200% and fined $50,000. In addition costs were awarded against him by a Court of Three Judges (including the then CJ, Chan Sek Kheong, of the teleportation into the polling booth controversy in Cheng San in 1997.) You can read the judgement here  Law Society of Singapore v Andre Ravindran Saravanapavan Arul [2011] SGHC 224The judgement also mentioned three other cases where lawyers were suspended from practice for between three and six months.

In the case of Low Yong Sen, the amount overcharged, which took the form of inflated disbursements for items like stationery and photocopying , was found to be less than $3,000. However the lawyer in question was suspended for six months.

As it was Dr Lim who had asked for the SMC’s costs to be taxed, it is not clear whether SMC will in turn make a complaint to the Law Society about their bill or whether they will just pay the difference between what the court said was a fair amount and the full amount of Wong Partnership’s ( Yeo’s firm) bill.

Even if the SMC are reluctant to make a complaint against a PAP MP  Sections 85(2) and (3) of the LPA allow the Council of the Law Society or a Supreme Court Judge to refer the matter to the Inquiry Committee or, in the case of a Supreme Court Judge, to appoint a Disciplinary Committee directly.

I for one will be watching closely to see if the CJ or the Law Society takes any action or if Alvin Yeo is let off the hook. If he is, then this would appear to be evidence of discriminatory treatment given the penalty meted out to Andre Arul and the other lawyers. The margin of overcharging (300%) was significantly greater in Alvin Yeo’s case than in Andre Arul’s (200%).

Even if no disciplinary proceedings are initiated, I do not see how Alvin Yeo can continue as an MP. I do not see how Alvin Yeo can keep his seat if he is found guilty of gross overcharging and is either fined, censured or suspended from practice.  The law makes it clear that the penalties in these cases are for damaging the integrity of the profession.

For a politician Integrity is also paramount. I would like to draw your attention to one item on the overcharging that I found striking.   Stuck amongst the high figures charged for days in court, up to  $100,000 per hour on  the last statement, was an item for ring binders. Ring binders which SMC’s lawyers  had priced at $6 per unit for Dr Lim to pay were cut to $2.50 per unit after the court found it had used the cheaper version in past hearings. Who overcharges for Ring Binders? The mind boggles that there was not even one item so small that they could not see an opportunity for a mark up of over 200%.

Those with a keen interest in the politics of office stationery will remember that Dr Chee was fired from his job at NUS for overcharging for photocopying and taxi fares. I remember the amount he was found to have overcharged for taxi-fares was less than $10.  Compare that to Alvin Yeo’s charges..

Maybe the PAP should upgrade  Dr Koh’s “everyone owns two cars” to “everyone earns $100,000 an hour”.

Alvin Yeo should resign immediately paving the way for a by-election in CCK. After the Appeal Court’s decision in the case of Madam Vellama, the PM is required to hold a by-election within a reasonable period of time, though that judgement only applied in the case of an SMC. I do not know whether it would be possible to file an action in the High Court to attempt to extend that judgement to GRCs and, if so, whether an action would have any chance of success.

While Alvin Yeo’s conduct is shocking, I am not surprised at the low standards set by PAP MPs and their seemingly insatiable greed. Just as the Communist Party in China has allowed its top officials to accumulate vast wealth to buy their complicity and head off any democratic challenges (see here), so the PAP’s philosophy has been one of vastly overpaying Ministers to ensure that they remain loyal to the leadership and are prepared to ignore whatever principles they may once have had.

The PAP’s philosophy that you go into government to get rich extends to its MPs, most of whom hold lucrative primary jobs, like Alvin Yeo, Janil Puthucheary, Hari Nair, Lim Wee Kiat, and Vikram Nair. For them  being an MP is merely a (very) part-time role. They are enabled to do so by the fact Parliament is little more than a rubber stamp, which works the shortest hours of any legislature while paying its representatives one of the highest allowances (tax-free as well!).

In fact Eugene Tan, a former NMP, in the last Parliamentary sitting drew attention to how poorly attended Parliament was when he had to point out to the Deputy Speaker, Halimah Yaacob, that there were not even enough MPs to constitute the necessary quorum to pass a Bill.

My first thought when I read about the Susan Lim case, was that the Brunei royal family, who are rumoured to be worth at least US$20 billion, should be able to look after themselves. They could have sued Susan Lim themselves or refused to pay her excessive bills.  However Brunei and its royal family are of course extremely important clients of Singapore. One of the SMC’s objectives in bringing the action against Dr Lim presumably was to show wealthy foreigners that Singapore was a safe and reliable place to live and seek medical treatment in and that we uphold the highest standards of professional integrity. In that case this is more than just irony.  It is an attempt to reassure Brunei that has disastrously backfired giving the impression that Singapore is rife with rogue professionals lacking integrity. Unless the full force of disciplinary action is now directed at Alvin Yeo our reputation will be in tatters.

 

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Teo Chee Hean Fails in his Duty to Guard Singapore and Protect Our National Interests.

Like many other Singaporeans I was shocked when I heard about the case of  the UK  mother divorced from a Singaporean husband and the ensuing  bitter custody dispute over their son. Custody battles and marital breakdown are never pleasant but what shocked me most was the light this case shed on our Ministry of Home affairs whom it appears have been literally asleep on the job. Who actually is guarding our Island and protecting our interests?

To recap on the case. The mother had obtained  a court order in the UK giving her custody of her son but the boy’s father had successfully applied for an injunction in Singapore to prevent her taking the child whom he had taken to reside with his Singaporean parents. I do not understand why the father was able to block enforcement of a UK court order granting the mother custody and I sympathise with the mother who was able to convince a UK court that she was a fit person to have custody. However, what she did next was extraordinary.   She hired a former London Metropolitan detective to help her recover her child and to abduct him back , by return as it were.
I do not understand why the agency she hired, Child Abduction Recovery International, did not advise her to use the legal route rather than embark on this course of action. But whatever the  reason we should be grateful that and the former London Metropolitan detective, Adan Whittington she hired was able to uncover a huge breach in our National security. After just one day of reconnaissance in Singapore  he found out a universal truth about Singapore and they were able to easily enter Singapore illegally (see link).

The universal truth he uncovered is that (particularly wealthy) foreigners enjoy privileges and freedoms in Singapore denied to us lesser mortals -( the locals).  In this case Mr Whittington soon identified a bastion of privilege and wealth, almost another country in itself, namely Raffles Marina.

Yet again our border protections and security services have been shown to be inadequate and the personnel charged with enforcing border security incompetent if not criminally negligent. The former Met detective should actually be praised for his public service to Singapore in highlighting the huge flaws in our security. In a day he was able to establish that our marinas are unguarded and an easy entry point into Singapore for any potential terrorist with a dirty bomb or biological weapons or dirty funds for laundering or indeed human trafficking. I am often told by anti-death penalty activists that drugs are still very easy to obtain in Singapore despite the well used death penalty and now I understand why.

It was not as though the couple landed on a beach or secluded inlet. Why are yacht marinas which one would have thought would have been an obvious weak point, not under 24 hour surveillance and security? If no immigration personnel are on duty between 6pm and 9am then surely it should be impossible to access or exit the marina? Perhaps the PAP Government’s over eagerness to establish Singapore as a yachting hub for gambling millionaires makes them unwilling to subject owners of yachts to the same laws that lesser mortals like you and I have to obey. After all the PAP’s thinking is probably that anyone who owns or is a passenger on a yacht must be a person whom we want to attract.

flotationdevicemas selamat

Mas Selamat

The fact that this kind of blunder has happened so frequently would be farcical were the implications for national security not so grave. There was the Mas Selamat incident in 2008, though there the security services were unable to prevent him leaving the country rather than entering. Recently there was the case of the Malaysian woman who was able to get through the Causeway checkpoint by tailgating another car. She was able to drive off before the immigration officer raised the alarm or lowered the barrier. Then she was able to give the police the slip for three days. She actually had to drive into the MFA and create a disturbance before the police were able to apprehend her.

This failure at the most basic level of border security is inexcusable, particularly when contrasted with the amount of money  spent on defence and defending our skies. This amounted to some $12.5 billion in 2014 or 3.4% of GDP. By contrast Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia spend much less than Singapore on defence as a proportion of GDP (see link). Parliament is not provided with a breakdown of this spending between equipment and manpower  so once again we are left to speculate. My conservative guess would be that more than one-third of this goes on equipment purchases. Recently Jane’s Defence Weekly speculated that Singapore had increased the number of F15SGs, one of the most advanced fighters in the world,  it operates to 40. Coupled with over 70 F16s we have by far the most powerful air force in ASEAN.

I am not advocating cutting defence spending, particularly at a time of rising external threats. There is certainly no economic need to do so since the PAP Government is running a budget surplus of about three times the current level of defence spending. I support the reduction of NS to twelve months or less and a larger professional army which may even lead to higher defence spending. However, I do feel that we need to evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of existing weapons programmes and proposed future purchases, particularly when the Government is unable to prevent what next time could be terrorists landing at a regular marina in Singapore without any kind of border control or screening. Without surveillance what is to prevent them offloading miniaturised Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) such as dirty nuclear bombs or lethal biological weapons. Even conventional weapons could be smuggled in.  We are an Island and our coast is a natural barrier but also a potential weakness. Let us spend a fraction of what we spend on sophisticated air weapons like the F15 and the proposed F35 Lightning II purchase, on ensuring these basic security lapses do not recur.

Having such negligent border oversight demonstrates that the Home Affairs Minister, Teo Chee Hean, is incompetent and should be replaced.  In any other country sch a serious lapse would result in a public enquiry and heads would roll. How did he get to be Admiral without understanding seaborne threats to our security?  At the very least he owes us Singaporeans an apology. He is clearly not fit to be a Minister drawing over two million dollars a year plus his MP’s allowance. What are the chances of him doing the decent thing and resigning?  I think the chances are close to zero but  the people of Pasir Ris-Punggol deserve better and presumably can make their feelings known at the next election!

Leaked: The letter that Ho Ching received from a Nigerian lawyer.

A copy of a letter sent to Temasek Holdings urging them to invest in Nigerian energy company Six Energy has fallen into my hands.  I share it with you. (Warning! I have no way of confirming that this letter was really sent or received. It may even be a parody. Judge for yourself.)

Agabi and Associates.
Solicitors and Advocates for Six Energy.
5th floor, Kelong House.
Lagos.

To the Honorable Madam Ho

Temasek Holdings

Re: Strictly Confidential and Urgent  Business Opportunity.

Dear Madam Ho (wife of glorious Prime Minster of the fully Democratic Republic of Singapore, the Honorable Mr PM LEE)

I am the representative of the Nigerian energy company ‘Six Energy’.  In Nigeria we have long admired you  as a market guru seemingly able to seize every and any opportunity to make money. We are mesmeric by the incredible track record of the company, Temasek Holdings, which effortlessly has made annualized returns of 16% since inception.

Even when your countrymen discovered that you had made elementary mistakes during the financial crisis of 2008 this did not end of your career as in a lesser fund manager. Truly your esteem is such that the Government of your country, headed by your illustrious husband, had sufficient faith in your  abilities,  to confirm his appointment of you as CEO.

Please permit me to make your acquaintance in so informal a manner.  This is necessitated by my urgent need to reach a dependable and trust wordy foreign partner. I am in a position to uplift your esteem even higher and present Temasek Holdings with an unbeatable business offer.

You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet of various huge sums of money invested in our company by such elite organisations as the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group of companies (see link).

We know you are not a charity despite the fact that Singaporeans sometimes may be forgiven for thinking you are, even if most of your charity work benefits foreigners. We know that Temasek’s principal aim is to make money for its shareholder, the Government of Singapore. We agree with you that this money would be wasted on Singaporeans who are a weak and whining lot, unappreciative of all that you, your husband and your father-in-law, may he live forever, have done for them. We know that without his guiding genius your esteemed country would just be another disgusting mangrove swamp, like much of our coastline after the Western oil companies started pumping oil.

We therefore humbly beseech you for a small investment, nothing too big for an esteemed and magnificent company of your stature cannot handle. S$200 million should be suffice for now though we may kindly call upon your esteemedness for  further and larger amounts in the future. This money will be part of a total fundraising of over S$300 million in new equity capital (alas we do not know where the money we raised before has gone!) and will be invested with most care and utmost diligence in development of our growing portfolio of energy assets in Nigeria.

You may be concerned that all the other participants in our fundraising are there with charitable objectives, to reduce poverty and create prosperity in Africa. You may be worried that the International Finance Corporation, which will be a junior partner in the investment, is principally concerned with ending extreme poverty and creating shared prosperity rather than making money for its shareholder. This may suggest to you that investing in Six Energy would not meet the investment criteria of Temasek Holdings .   Don’t worry this just means that there will be more money for you.

Madam Ho, you may ask yourself why your exaltedness should be investing your country’s citizens’ precious money in a Nigerian energy company when the only other investor is a multilateral institution who is not there to make money. After all your countrymen and women may ask what you know about Nigeria or about investment in Africa.  They may be concerned at the risk that those evil rascals and thorough bad fellows, Boko Haram, are getting stronger on a daily basis and that our army appears powerless to stop them.

Tell these ungrateful wretches to be no concerned. Kidnapping a few schoolgirls and bombing our capital is much different from attacking a well protected  first class company like ours. In case you have trouble with your investment committee, we have prepared many sets of cashflow statements to show you the huge IRRs that your investment will be sure to earn.  Just do not ask us to pay you any dividends. Or if we do pay you a dividend please be advised that instantaneously you must invest that back into new shares. We know that this will not shock you as Temasek and your sister company GIC have used a similar scam to avoid paying any money to their shareholder for years.

We know your immense appetite for foolhardiness and high risk  which has been demonstrated by your decision to double down on your investment in another company, Olam, which has extensive interests in Nigeria. In such case we truly can appreciate the immense generosity and kindness of your benevolent leadership towards the management and shareholders of that company which rescued them  from bankruptcy without them having to lose any of the huge wealth and large properties they had accumulated. We also truly thank the good people of Singapore for going without basic health care or even free education so that others in our countries can be helped. In particular the recent generosity of their Government which put another $5 billion in surpluses extracted from your people into your esteemed organisation is to be highly commended. Even some of our Illustrious former Presidents, like Mr Abacha, clearly have a lot to learn.

Though we have neither seen nor met each other, the information we gathered from an associate who has worked in your country has encouraged and convinced us that with your sincere assistance, this transaction will be properly handled with modesty and honesty to a huge success within two weeks.

Please note that we have strong and reliable connections at the Central Bank Of Nigeria and other Government Parastatals and we hear that you have also banking secrecy in Singapore and do not engage in public disclosure of Temasek deal details,  hence assistance in this regards, would not be a problem.   Indeed Madam, you will be absolutely right when you say that this project is risk free and viable for you (although possibly not so good for your citizens). If you are capable and willing to assist, contact me at once via email with following details:

1.Your Full Name, Company’s Name, Address, Telephone and Fax Numbers. 2.Your Bank Name, Address. Telephone and Fax Number. 3.Your Bank Account Number and Beneficiary Name – You must be the signatory.

Rest assured that the modalities I have resolved to finalize the entire project guarantees our safety and the successful transfer of the funds.

Kindly contact me as soon as possible, whether or not you are interested in this deal, so that whereby you are not interested, it would give us more room to scout for another partner.  But if you are interested, kindly contact me via above email, telephone or fax, so that we can swing into action, as time is not on our part.

I wait in anticipation of your fullest co-operation.

Yours Faithfully,
Dan Agabe

P.S. Also this transaction demands absolute confidentiality which our associate in your country tells us is Temaask Holding’s strong point.  We also understand that your husband’s government is also not strong on transparency. Nevertheless,  on no condition must you disclose it to anybody irrespective of your relation with the person.  In particular do not discuss this with that horrible fellow Vikram Nair who has spread bad words about Nigerian financial schemes in your country.
Thank you and God Bless.

Best Regards, MR DAN AGABE.

What is the Point of Our Government?

 

I read the news today that Rebecca Loh, the woman who pushed her disabled nine-year-old son out of a window, would plead guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Though she was diagnosed as suffering from post-schizophrenic depression at the time and has a history of schizophrenic illness, IMH still judged her fit to stand.

We need answers to the following questions:

 

  1. Why was Rebecca left to fend for herself with a nine-year old son who suffered from osteoporosis and numerous other debilitating conditions? The report says that she did not intend to kill her son only wanted him injured so that he would be taken to a home.
  2. Was there a social worker assigned to her case by MSF?
  3. As she had a history of schizophrenia and police had been called to her mother’s flat on several occasions when she had beaten and strangled her mother, why was the child not put on an “At Risk” register as in other countries like the UK? She had also been arrested for threatening a stall holder with a chopper in 2011.
  4. What help did the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) provide? Rebecca should have been entitled to close to $1000 a month from Public Assistance as her mother was earning below $1700 a month. Perhaps because she lived with her mother MSF deemed her ineligible for assistance? When foreigners write about our Government being stingy they assume that the levels of assistance they promise to provide are in fact provided. However they are not aware that this is frequently not the case. Our bureaucracy seems especially skilled at denying those in need the help to which they are entitled
  5. Why do we not provide Special Assistants to disabled children like Rebecca’s son so that they are able to attend school? Again this would be the case in most first world countries. Her son’s disabilities were physical not mental.

Unfortunately the questions will not be answered now that Rebecca has pleaded guilty. In other advanced countries there would be outcries against the social workers and the Ministry responsible for letting this happen. The role of MSF and the social workers (if any) has not been examined. An incident like this would also normally lead to changes in policy to ensure that this does not happen again. There would be a public inquiry. Yet this has been quietly brushed under the carpet.

Lee Kuan Yew after all is well known to be a supporter of eugenics and his philosophy is embodied in such policies as providing financial incentives to poor women and single mother “who keep their families small” with free family planning through the HOPE scheme..

 Recently we have been working to help another woman in a similar situation to Rebecca Loh. I first met Madam S while conducting block visits with my volunteers in Radin Mas. Since the 1980s she has been the sole carer and provider for her son who suffered severe brain injuries as the result of a hit-and-run car accident. Her son was seven when he was injured but now is in his mid-thirties. As a result of his injuries he has a range of disabilities, both physical and mental, is an epileptic and unable to work.

The driver of the vehicle was never caught and it is not clear what compensation Madam S received, if any, from the special fund set up by insurers to compensate the victims of hit-and-run accidents. Madam S has been unable to work for years as she has to look after her son full-time and is in any case too old to work now.

At the time I first met her she seemed quite cheerful despite her sad story and  hard life challenges. She asked to have a photo taken with me and I gave her my contact details to get a copy of that photo. A few days ago  she phoned me to say that her situation had deteriorated and she was feeling quite desperate. She was particularly concerned that had no money to buy food or new clothes for Hari Raya.   She had been suffering from asthma attacks which really needed hospitalization but this was a luxury she could not afford as she had full-time care of her son.

When I saw her she seemed in a very bad way and far from the happy smiling woman of the first photo. I asked her whether she was getting help from CDC and she said no. I pointed out that she should be getting around $800 a month from Public Assistance She has been to see her MP but he does not seem to have been able to help her. She has also approached MUIS but said that MUIS were unable to give her much help.

This is where our team of volunteers and members came in aided by the power of the internet where we put out a call for help. .Thanks to our great team of volunteers and public response, we were able to put Madam S. in touch with a lovely woman called Zarina who runs a charity called 3R Sincerely and Giving. I will quote from her Facebook post:

“Just for info, I’m the admin from 3R Sincerely & Giving. We are just a small outfit currently assisting needy family and adopting few families with long-term need. We are self funding as such we won’t be able to extend large monetary to any one family. At most we can give her $200 per month till more permanent solution is found. We also do a monthly visits to our adopted family more like a befriender programme. Sometimes, we rope in their neighbors to keep an eye on them and beep us if there’s a need.

 Admittedly, we are rather stretch as we have only a small team doing the errands and currently very involve in our Ramadan Charity Drive.”

 Zarina has already been to see her and has given her some NTUC vouchers and a set of baju kurung for Hari Raya. Some of our volunteers, though not by any means well off, have also made personal donations. They will follow up with MUIS to see what help she is getting.

As for me, I will pick up her case to see why she is not getting Public Assistance.  I will follow up on that with CDC and the Family Service Centre. I understand that CDC stopped helping her some time ago and Madam S. has shown me a letter from CDC over a year ago promising to look into her case.  Till now nothing has been done. If this is correct, then that is absolutely unacceptable but unfortunately I frequently see these cases where people fall through the  cracks and paperwork gets lost.  I have been helping an elderly gentleman again in Radin Mas in a wheel chair to liaise with AIC in order to get him a mobility scooter.  After a few months when there had been no progress I chased them up and it turned out they had lost his contact details. They asked me to go and visit him and tell him they were trying to contact him. Often those who are most in need are worn down by the paperwork and the necessity of chasing people up by phone. If they are carers as Madam S is then visits to these offices are almost impossible.

Towards a  longer term solution I will try to establish whether Madam S did receive compensation from the insurance fund for her son’s accident and if not whether it is still possible to apply.

The charity is now also working with her to try to persuade her to let them clear out her living space and give it a lick of paint.

 So even if our Government, which runs a surplus of over $30 billion a year, is unwilling to help its own citizens, it is good to know  that people like Zarina  and our volunteers, with hearts of gold,  are prepared to step in and help even though the resources at their disposal are modest.

It would be too easy to contrast this case with Rebecca Loh, who appears to have had no resources or charity network to call upon,because Rebecca’s case is one of mental illness, schizophrenia. As such I have been told by  charities that they would not have worked with her as they are not professionally trained. This make it even more unbelievable that Rebecca was deemed fit to take care of her son, day in day out without any respite.

We need to ask what is the purpose of Government?  Why do we elect one that wriggles out of even the most basic responsibilities to care for its people? Why does the Government need excess assets of $400 billion and to force us to save so much through CPF? As the Government runs a real Budget surplus of $30 billion a year why can in not afford to help the citizens who fall through the cracks?

More importantly as it is our money can we not afford to help these citizens. I would like to make it clear here that form an economist’s point of view I am not a big fan of the Nanny State or the Welfare State model.   Even the Swedes are no longer fans of the Scandinavian model , putting back their retirement age at which they can draw their generous pensions. So I am not suggesting we use this surplus to fund a full welfare state and a dependency culture. If I could sum up my  philosophy it would be that I believe in less STATE and more WELFARE, rather than a welfare state. My reading of the Government’s figures shows that we can afford to be more generous with welfare neither needing to raise taxes or cut  spending elsewhere.

Certainly on an individual and small group level this case above shows that Singaporeans are caring generous and  compassionate. How strange then that our government so poorly reflects the citizens on the ground being heartless,  stingy and  uncaring.

I dedicate this article to all the volunteers in charities or individually who devote themselves to helping in our communities and catching those in need before they slip through the cracks.  Thank you. You make a difference.

#RETURNOURCPF – MEDISHIELD LIFE PROTEST 12 JULY, HONG LIM PARK 4:00pm.

#RETURNOURCPF – MEDISHIELD LIFE PROTEST 12

JULY, HONGLIM PARK

A message from Han Hui Hui.

In June 2014, the enhanced benefits for MediShield Life were announced.

It was stated that there will be substantial increases in benefits for MediShield Life that will cover all Singaporeans for large hospital bills.

At a time when Singapore is ranked as the most expensive place to live in the world, where Singaporeans yet continue to receive the lowest wages among the high-income countries, CPF is akin to an additional tax on our income.

On 7 June 2014, Singapore had its first CPF protest against the increase of the minimum sum as an estimated only 1 in 8 Singaporeans who reach age 55 were able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum and MediSave Minimum Sum entirely in cash from their CPF accounts.

There is no transparency and accountability towards how the government is using our CPF monies or the returns derived from CPF funds, all these despite MPs calling for higher rates, improvements to our CPF system practically every year.

From a cash flow perspective, the Government is still not spending a single cent on healthcare because MediSave contributions in a year continue to exceed all withdrawals including government healthcare spending.

Being a Singaporean, I’m concerned about my future and have decided to invite all political parties that took part in GE2011 to hear their views regarding my concerns.

As such, this event aims to highlight the inadequate measures in place to protect the healthcare needs of Singaporeans.

Event details:

Date:                                     Saturday 12 July 2014
Time:                                     4.00pm – 6.00pm
Venue:                                   Hong Lim Park – Speaker’s Corner

Programme:

Time                                      Speaker
4.00pm – 4.15pm             Mr. Tan Kin Lian, former presidential candidate
4.15pm – 4.30pm             A political party
4.30pm – 4.45pm             RP Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam
4.45pm – 5.00pm             SDP Treasurer Chong Wai Fung
5.00pm – 5.15pm             Mr. Vincent Wijeysingha
5.15pm – 5.30pm             Mr. Leong Sze Hian
5.30pm – 5.45pm             Ms. Han Hui Hui
5.45pm – 6.00pm             Mr. Roy Ngerng
6.00pm – 6.30pm             Questions & Answers

To find out more about the event, you can go to the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/251518938371663

 

Han Hui Hui

Is the Government Going Bust?

I was quite shaken by my trip  to Parliament yesterday to watch the CPF “debate” .  There wasn’t really any debate at all. Our Finance Minister, Tharman made a speech that was full of  irrelevancies and gaffes and what he did admit to worried me considerably.  I sat in the spectators gallery where it was noticeable that the MIW were MIA . Thank goodness that Eugene Tan is there to remind the Speaker and Deputy Speaker how parliament works. Even some WP MPs  were missing and came in an hour after the debate had started.  No one picked up on anything that Tharman said and he was  given an easy ride for his monologues. This is why I have put “debate” in quotation marks.

Plenty of questions were asked about CPF such as.

  • Whether members could be given an early warning as they approached 55 that their money would be locked up and could no longer be used for housing?
  • Could special consideration be given to allowing those with balances below the Minimum Sum to use part of it to service their housing loans?
  • What is the average amount used for housing as a percentage of CPF Ordinary Accounts of members aged 55 and above?
  • How many Singaporeans who turn 55 are inactive members?

But these were all questions about the mechanism of the  system and accepting it as PAP presented it.  No one asked the questions uppermost in our minds at the moment: Why does the Government need to hang on to our money at 55 if it is making such colossal surpluses amounting to some $30-35 billion a year?

Why does it keep increasing the Minimum Sum?

Is GIC losing money?

And all of this leads the people to wonder, “is GIC is even possibly insolvent?”

The closest that any  questions came to  touching on the issues we all want answered were asked by Gerald Giam and Low Thia Kiang and I congratulate them for asking. Gerald Giam asked how many years in the last 20 years GIC had been unable to pay the interest on the Special Singapore Government Secutities (SSGS), what were the returns on GIC’s portfolio after accounting for interest in each of the last 20 years and what extraordinary measures were taken if that was the case.  All good questions.

When Low Thia Kiang’s turn came he said that as CPF members’ balances were substantial at $300 billion why were CPF members’ balances not separated and managed separately from GIC. An eminently sensible question.

I will restate here  what Tharman said yesterday as a reminder of the convoluted and opaque route by which our CPF monies are invested.  All CPF members’ balances are deposited with the MAS. They are then used to buy SSGS that are matched to the interest rates that CPF pays on Ordinary and Special Accounts. The money from the SSGS is then managed by GIC together with the Government’s other assets.

I found Tharman’s answers to Low’s and Giam’s questions to be evasive and even nonsensical but with the advantage of observing from the gallery I could spot that he also made some revealing and worrying admissions.

These are some of the assertions and answers that Tharman made that set off alarm bells in the minds of anyone who knows anything about how the investment process should work and about transparency. For example,  If I was an investor doing due diligence I would run a million miles rather than invest my funds in GIC.

Tharman said :CPF is an absolutely safe investment since it invests in securities issued by the Singapore Government, one of the few countries left in the world that is still rated AAA

AAA rated! That is an interesting admission.  You may remember that after I visited his CPF forum Hri Kumar went to his  Facebook page and denied that he had ever said that CPF was a AAA investment.   Let’s ignore Kumar as an ignoramus because, according to Tharman,  CPF is safe because it lends to the Government. which is AAA rated.

However the Government then takes our CPF money and pools it with the Government’s net assets. The total is then managed by GIC. GIC is able to take a lot more risk than CPF would be able to as a stand-alone entity because it has the government’s net assets to act as a buffer.

The level of security would depend on the size of the buffer and the riskiness of the assets. In the financial crisis of 2007-2008, having a large buffer of subprime mortgages which had to default before they lost money, did not help the holders of AAA rated Collateralized Mortgage Obligations. The downtown in the housing market was so severe that even the AAA rated securities ended up worthless.

In the same way if we lend our money to the Government and it then uses it to invest or speculate in risky assets then this could happen to our CPF.   It is  like depositing your money with what you thought was a very conservative, low risk financial institution and then discovering that the conservative low risk institution you chose was in fact giving your money to a high risk player to gamble with.

But it is not even  like that for us Singaporeans is it.? As a private investor  you would have  a choice at least over where you put your money and  how much risk you wanted.  You could move it around if you were not happy with where it was invested. Most importantly you could demand absolute transparency, a full explanation of the risk profile and investment rationale and methodology of the fund managers. if you even suspected smoke and mirrors or just did not like the manager’s face you would be free to go somewhere else with your pension fund.

Some might say that you can diversify your risk through the CPF Investment Scheme. You have the option of investing up to $60,000 of your CPF money in a number of options including unit trusts and shares.  However, as the investment is made through CPF,  your money is  still at risk if CPF becomes insolvent.

In 2008 highly rated banks and institutions almost went bust and had to be rescued by governments worldwide because they had used their depositors’ money to invest in highly risky assets. Citibank, UBS, Bank of America, RBS, Lloyds, and AIG are just some of the institutions that had to be rescued by their countries’ taxpayers.

Please note that AIG used to be rated AAA while the others were either AA or AA+.  These institutions were investing in or guaranteeing supposedly AAA financial instruments (like sub-prime collaterized mortgage obligations) that ended up worthless. Temasek and/or GIC had significant stakes in some of these institutions.

Can you see why I am worried?

Tharman said that our CPF assets can be put into a larger porfolio that takes more risk because the Government’s net assets act as a buffer. How big a buffer do the Government’s net assets represent before we are at risk of losing our CPF money if GIC squanders the funds it is given through poor investments?  I will not go into detail here and will publish my calculations as a separate note.  However if the Statement of the Government’s Assets and Liabilities issued every year as part of the Budget is accurate and includes Temasek as well,  then there may not be any buffer left.

Can you see why I am worried?

In fact the Government will already need to dig into the cash reserves it holds with MAS or force Temasek to sell assets in order to pay back CPF holders.  If GIC loses money then the Government will have to raise taxes or print money.

Can you see why I am worried?

If Temasek’s assets are not included  in the Statement (which would surely be a breach of the Constitution since both Temasek and MAS are Government-owned corporations just like GIC) then there may be a buffer of up to 30% of total assets within GIC before the Government has to make up the shortfall from other sources. This is still not reassuring as a downturn in global markets of the severity of 2008 could easily cause equity, bond and real estate values to decline by 30%.  The Government has a large net cash reserve of some $140 billion but it would need to keep a large part of this with the MAS to fund their operations. MAS is not allowed under the Constitution to lend money to the Government which would amount to printing money.

Can you see why I am worried?

Tharman made some comment about GIC’s higher returns benefiting all of us. Really? What benefit do Singaporeans get if GIC is able to achieve higher returns than the Government pays on CPF by taking more risk? We have yet to receive any benefit from enduring years of austerity and low rates of return on our forced savings. The so-called Net Investment Returns Contribution is a scam since it does not represent actual spending but only a shuffling of money from one account to another. This is the question that Hari Kumar dodged at his forum and condescendingly said “we’re dealing with the real world here”. What real world is that, Mr. Kumar? One in which the PAP government continually pulls the wool over the eyes of its citizens.

So despite Tharman’s reassurances we can say that our CPF is only AAA because the Government (which means Singaporean taxpayers) are guaranteeing it.  This explains why the Government keeps on harping on the need for taxes to rise.

Can you see why I am worried?

 

 

What is the Real Surplus?

mysteryIt appears that our Budget Cash Surplus has fallen off a cliff.  The Budget Cash Surplus for FY2012,  which was shown as  $36.1 billion a year ago, is now stated as  $25.3 billion in the latest Monthly Digest of Statistics (MDS). I am indebted to  Leong Sze Hian,  who published an article in TRS  yesterday pointing out this discrepancy as this gives me an opportunity to explain the figures.

So although it looks as though $11 billion has gone missing or disappeared, I believe that  there is in fact a simple reason for it.

I think the explanation for the discrepancy is that the figure of $36.1 billion represents the General Government Cash Surplus (GGCS) whereas the figure of $25.3 billion represents the simple  Government  Cash Surplus (GCS).

The GGCS and the GCS are normally calculated differently. GCS surpluses normally only  include the equity share of profits of state-owned companies and statutory boards  if there is a dividend paid to the Government. Whereas the GGCS figure includes all the profits of government-owned  companies. ( I say normally because as usual our PAP Minister of Finance has not provided any explanation or definitions. Still, I believe this explains the discrepancy.)

If we look at the  Yearbook of Statistics (YOS) 2013, the GGCS for FY2011 is stated as $31.9 billion while the GCS is stated at  $27.4 billion, a difference of $4.5 billion.

Though this probably explains the difference it does not excuse the PAP Government’s lack of transparency in not publishing a full definition of the different accounting categories. It also does not explain why the use of different measures and revisions to these figures are so frequent. The General Government Cash Surplus is the figure that should be used to determine how much the Government is saving and what it can afford to redistribute back to the citizens in the form of lower taxes and more generous spending on health, education and income support measures. In my view investment in our people, their health and education  undoubtedly has much higher returns than the returns  that GIC  earns on its overseas investments.

I find it inexcusable that the General Government Cash Surplus  is not published as part of the Budget process. The public is entitled to know what resources  are available so that they can judge what the PAP are withholding from them and ask why.  We should not have to find out years later from obscure statistical publications like the YOS or the MDS what the Government’s true fiscal position is.

Instead of a clear set of accounts presented to our people in an easy to understand format we have the charade of the Budget process where the Finance Minister pretends that he is running a balanced budget or even a deficit.  In particular as I pointed out at Hri Kumar’s forum this is the question you may all remember watching him dodge  the Govt makes presentations that show contributions from Temasek and GIC, in the form of the Net Investment Returns Contributions (NIRC), being used to finance actual spending. I maintain this is not the case . In  fact the NIRC  are just being moved around , by a stroke of the pen or pressing of a computer key, from one account to another.

As an example, the Pioneer Generation Package is widely trumpeted as being $8 billion. Did you not  hear me ask Hri Kumar at the forum why have you got that figure when actual spending is only $240 million this year? By comparison, we pledged over $5 billion in loan commitments to the IMF to support the citizens of Europe.

Recently the  Government announced $4 billion of spending over five years in the form of subsidies to keep Medishield Life premiums affordable. The Government says that as a result of the subsidies premium rises will be small, at least,  for a transitional period of two years,  even though benefits are now more generous. But  this is not actual spending. Premiums did not need to rise anyway because the Medishield fund is still in massive surplus.  In the US the recently enacted Affordable Care Act means that your health insurer has to give you a refund if it is not spending at least 80% of the money it takes in premiums. Why do we not have that kind of ruling or condition here?

Everyone in the PAP, from the PM down to Hari Kumar, keeps saying that taxes will have to go up if we have any more spending. The Government uses this as a justification for why they cannot return your CPF to you at 55 (apart from a derisory $5,000) if you have below the Minimum Sum. You may squander it or lose it and you will have to pick up the tab because the Government has no resources and is running a deficit.

So, what is the truth? Is the Government running out of money or is it running a massive surplus?  As I said in “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing (Or Merely Hidden) Reserves” there are three possibilities:

  1.  The PAP Government genuinely believes that Singaporeans are not entitled to benefit from the austerity they have endured for so long or to share in the fruits of foreign worker-driven economic growth. They probably think of Singapore like the UK Premier League, which is the undisputed top league in world soccer, but one in which very few English players now play at the top-level. Just like the owners of Premier League clubs, who can bring in as many foreign players as they like, the PAP feel that they owe no duty to Singaporeans. Instead they feel their electorate is a global one who are attracted by Singapore’s low taxes (for the wealthy), cheap unskilled labour (no minimum wage) and the fact they do not have to worry about having to do NS or pay CPF.

  2. There has been mismanagement of the reserves and the money simply is not there or has been squandered through poor investments. Countries like Greece (which we indirectly shored up with our generous $5 billion loan commitment to the IMF) have been found to have published fraudulent national accounts. Yet surely this could never happen in Singapore.
  3. Fraud.

One would like to think that the first possibility is the correct one. However the longer the PAP Government fails to be transparent about the size of the surplus and to provide a believable justification for why it needs to hang on to our CPF money, the more the suspicion will grow that there is something to possibilities two and three.

Votker 2: Readers want electoral system changes

kjeyaretnam:

Now the topic of Reforming the GRC system is active again Alex Au’s brilliant poll and analysis is well worth re -reading.

Originally posted on Yawning Bread:

A large majority of Yawning Bread readers would like to see Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) abolished, and comprehensive overseas voting catered for. There was also considerable support for lowering the voting age to 18 and introducing proportional representation.

This came out of the second Votker poll which opened for responses on 14 September morning and closed at midnight 19/20 September.

View original 828 more words

Mr President, Please clarify. Who straightens out the wheel breaking the butterfly?

 

 

 

images (5)

 

 

On June 13th,  The Economist published  an opinion piece on Singapore, about blogger Roy Ngern and LHL which they entitled Butterfly on a Wheel, adding more controversy to the PR fiasco otherwise known as LHL’s defamation suit.

 

 

 

Butterfly on a wheel carries a similar  meaning to the phrase, “using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut”. That phrase accurately sums up  the PAP’s system of knuckleduster politics and rule through control and fear and non accountability. More crucially it sums up a view that the PAP sees dissent to their policies or differences of opinion on the normally self levelling and democratising cyber-sphere as a nut that needs smashing.

Originally they attempted to tip the balance by forming an Internet Brigade but then law suits and defamation came into play. The law suits as tools of control are why we talk about Rule BY Law  to emphasis that it is not the Rule OF Law which is the one necessary for democracy to function.

In Singapore we have already established that public bodies cannot sue individuals through such cases as that of Han Hui Hui. No doubt this is why LHL sued Roy in his personal capacity as a private citizen but whatever the reason, it is an incontrovertible fact that the law suit is private and personal.

It is therefore follows that any PR fiasco or disrepute attaching to the PAP or the office of the PM because of LHL’s law suit is as a result of that individual’s private actions. With all due respect I suggest that LHL should have  given more serious consideration to his high public profile, position as a public servant and more respect for the office he represents  before commencing personal litigation.

To be fair to LHL, The Economist did make some blunders in their article.  In this paragraph they say,

“He is now jobless, sacked for engaging in conduct “incompatible with the values and standards” the hospital expects of its employees. This is but one of Mr Ngerng’s travails. He is being sued for defamation by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. He might face financial ruin.”

Later in the piece they say, “Even many Singaporeans who think Mr Ngerng is wrong have some sympathy for him and feel the prime minister is bullying him.

The emphasis in bold is mine. To be correct the Economist should have said, he is being sued for defamation by LHL and they could have added, who is also Singapore’s PM and as such a very wealthy individual and Roy might face financial ruin. Further references in the article  should have been to LHL not The PM.

You can read the economist’s article here to judge for yourself how much LHL’s suit is negatively affecting global opinions of Singapore. Link. http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/06/opinion-singapore

What happened after that article was published is extraordinary. LHL in his official capacity as the PM directed a civil servant, his Official Press Secretary  no less, and caused that person to use State resources and time and tax payer money to write a letter  regarding the personal business of LHL as a private individual.

Of course there is always a danger of the private bleeding into the public. People will see overlaps that don’t exist and this will create confusion in everyone from the Singaporean on the street to writers for the Economist.  You can understand that confusion. LHL is suing Roy but because he is also the PM and the son of ex PM LKY known for his lawsuits, it is seen as bullying. The responsibility for that lies wholly with the man wearing  both hats.

I presume it is precisely because  this kind of situation is  a minefield that The Ministerial Code was drawn up, to provide guidance for ministers including the Prime Minister. The code aims to hold Ministers up to certain standards and sets out rules of obligation that Ministers must abide by.  Judge for yourself.

“This Code of Conduct for Ministers sets out the “rules of obligation” that all Ministers are to abide by in order to uphold these standards.”

I have produced  section 4.3 of  the code here so that again, you can judge for yourself, whether the Prime Minster has failed to abide by his rules of obligation.

“4.3 A Minister must not direct or request a civil servant to do anything or perform any function that may conflict with the Singapore Civil Service’s core values of incorruptibility, impartiality, integrity and honesty.

He should respect the duty of civil servants to remain neutral in all political matters and matters of public controversy.”

Now let us look at the letter that the PM directed his civil servant to write.

“SIR – I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). You referred to an “alleged ‘serious libel’” by Roy Ngerng. This is not an allegation. Mr Ngerng has publicly admitted accusing Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation. After promising to apologise and to remove the post, Mr Ngerng did the opposite; he actively disseminated the libel further. This was a grave and deliberate defamation, whether it occurred online or in the traditional media being immaterial.

What is at stake is not any short-term positive or negative impact on the government, but the sort of public debate Singapore should have. When someone makes false and malicious personal allegations that impugn a person’s character or integrity, the victim has the right to vindicate his reputation, whether he is an ordinary citizen or the prime minister. The internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation. It is perfectly possible to have a free and vigorous debate without defaming anyone, as occurs often in Singapore.

Chang Li Lin

Press secretary to the Prime Minister

Singapore”

I want you to note in particular that the Press Secretary signs as, “Chang Li LinPress secretary to the Prime Minister,
Singapore”. She  is not defending LHL as an individual whom she feels has been wronged in the Economist and is maybe coincidentally a friend of hers. If that were the case she would sign it “Ms Chang Li Lin.”

So what could or should have been done to correct the Economist’s confusion? The only appropriate and correct action would have been for LHL’s lawyers to defend his case to that media if they felt their client had been misrepresented as a bully.

Let’s look at the money flow. LHL has instructed the lawyer Napier and Drew and is paying them from his own (albeit considerable) pocket. Any money they win for him will go back to his pocket.  He may give it to charity but he sure as heck won’t be giving it back to the taxpayer  by reimbursing his Press secretary or his office for the use of those resources.

If the PM’s office feels it has been draggged into this and its reputation damaged then they possibly could have written a very short request for clarification thus:
Dear Sir,
I write on behalf of the office of the PM and I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th).  The law suit you refer to  is not connected to the office of the PM. The defamation action in question is being taken out by LHL in his personal capacity. If you wish to know more about his reasons please ask him directly or speak to his lawyer…. Press secretary etc etc.

Now I am NOT a lawyer  but I do think the PM’s office or any individual public or private should have included the following in any letter.

“As the allegations have not yet been found in a Court of law that whole matter is sub-judice”

As you can plainly see, our Press secretary refers to what Roy’s defence still calls alleged defamation, as “malicious”. The whole letter is sub-judice and IMHO that part more than the rest.

The consequences for a minister of a breach are clear. Again the code tells us that” Breach of any of these “rules of obligation” may expose the Minister to removal from office”.

By now you are getting tired but stay with me a little longer.

How do we determine if there has been a breach? Who would investigate? Is this a breach of mis-use of State resources which is corruption or is it a breach of impartiality?

The code says, ” This Code does not have the force of law and therefore any issue concerning the compliance or non-compliance with it is not subject to review by any court or tribunal.

 The Code is silent on how it is to be enforced. Does enforcement rest with the Prime Minister and if so, it is not clear from the Constitution how breaches by the Prime Minister would be dealt with. The onus for investigating breaches would appear to lie with the President though this needs clarification. In matters involving corruption the President has the power under the Constitution to concur with the Director of CPIB’s decision to authorise an investigation even if the Prime Minister refuses to give his consent. However the CPIB comes under the PMO so it is not independent.

The following action needs to be taken.

  • Roy’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist pointing out that the Press secretary’s letter is sub judice and asking them to take it down. (If they do not do this then they should not complain later.)
  • I and everyone else would then need to erase any copies of that letter in order not to prejudice Roy’s chances of a fair hearing.
  • LHL’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist either defending their client or alternatively explaining that the previous  letter was a mistake and possibly sub judice.
  • A letter needs to written to the President asking him to clarify jurisdiction
  • A letter needs to be written to the Director of the CPIB asking the same
  • A letter needs to be written to the PM asking him to clarify the Ministerial Code
  • For the sake of our Nation we need a fully independent CPIB distanced from the PM.

Finally as for that drivel propaganda in the letter about” free and  vigorous debate”  we have all seen the video of the grassroots man attempting to physically manhandle the 76 yr old retired teacher away from the microphone.

 

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