Author Archives: kjeyaretnam
After the AG’s Chambers was given permission on Wednesday to take action against blogger Alex Au for contempt of court, the following statement was issued. I am pleased to say that nearly 170 people signed it, including academics and civil activists. Sadly there are only a few politicians included in the signatories, John L Tan and Teo Soh Lung of the SDP, Osman Sulaiman and myself from the RP. Like everyone else I would like to see Mr. Au’s claims rebutted in public. We need to uphold public confidence in the judiciary and that means the public must be allowed to form their own opinions on judicial processes.
This is part of a larger picture in which the Law Society had its independence removed by Lee Kuan Yew along with the right of appeal to the Privy Council after my father’s conviction in the Singapore courts was overturned by a Privy Council judgement. We also lost trial by jury. In 2012 the UK Law Commission recommended abolition of the offence of scandalizing the judiciary saying, “You might commit the offence if you do or publish anything that ridicules the judiciary “. But what ridicules the judiciary more, removing the Law Society ‘s independence and abolishing the right to trial by jury, a fundamental right of the English legal system since Magna Carta in 1215, or subjecting the judiciary to some degree of public scrutiny. You might find it helpful to read my letter to the Wall Street Journal in support of Alex Au in which I mentioned that defamation suits in the Singapore courts are used to silence critics of the regime.
Singapore 29th November 2013
We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has been granted leave to take action against Singaporean blogger, Mr Alex Au, for “scandalising the judiciary” in his blog post, “377 Wheels Come Off Supreme Court’s Best Laid Plans”.1
The right of free expression is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution. We believe that robust public debate is necessary for national progress. The AGC’s action, however, reflects an overzealous desire to police public opinion. This cannot be healthy for a mature, first world nation. If Mr Au had erred, then his claims should be rebutted in public. This would enable Singaporeans to make up their own minds.
We agree that it is important to uphold public confidence in the judiciary. However, this cannot mean that our judges should not be subject to scrutiny. The AGC’s action, rather than enhancing confidence in the judiciary, might weaken public confidence. It also implies that the public is not allowed to form opinions on judicial processes.
International legal opinion supports the advancement of the law in respect of public comment. In 2012, the UK Law Commission recommended abolishing the offence of “scandalising the judiciary” because it is “an infringement of freedom of expression and out of step with social attitudes”. The Commission noted that the offence,
“belongs to an era when deferential respect to the judiciary was the norm. But social attitudes have changed. Enforcing the offence today would do little to reinforce respect for the judiciary and, if judges are thought to be using it to protect their own, could strengthen any existing distrust or disrespect.”2
We note that the AGC action against Mr Au is not in keeping with the spirit of Singapore’s position at the 2011 UN Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights that “Political postings on the Internet are prevalent, including many that are highly critical of the Government. No blogger or other online publisher has been prosecuted for such postings.”3 Further, this AGC action contradicts Singapore’s obligations in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, adopted on 18 November 2012. Article 23 states, “Every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice.”4
We call upon the AGC to help the Government of Singapore uphold its ideals and its international commitments, for the continued progress and prosperity of our nation.
K Z Arifa
Dr Charan Bal
Sharmeen Nina Chabra
Xin Hui Supanee Chan
Kenneth Chee Mun Leon
Chew Kheng Chuan
Chong Kai Xiong
Chong Wai Fung
Fong Hoe Fang
Foo Hui Shien, Catherine
Assoc Professor Cherian George
Han Hui Hui
Dr Russell Heng
Isrizal Mohamed Isa
Dr Khoo Hoon Eng
Koh Boon Luang
Lee Gwo Yinn
Lee Shiuh Meng Kevin
Philip Selwyn Lemos
Leow Zi Xiang
Dr Liew Kai Khiun
Gary Lim Meng Suang
Lim Kay Siu
Nicholas Lim Yew
Loh Chee Leong
Dr Loh Kah Seng
Low Yit Len
Neo Swee Lim
Ng Mei Fay
Dr Noor Rahman
Ong En Hui
Pak Geok Choo
Gene Sha Rudyn
Seet Cheng Yew Michael
Rev Miak Siew
Siew Kum Hong
Assoc Prof Paul Ananth Tambyah
Alvin Tan Cheong Kheng
Caryn Tan Sun
Eugene Tan Siah Yew
Joel Bertrand Tan
John L Tan
Tan Joo Hymn
Dr Roy Tan
Teo Soh Lung
Professor Tey Tsun Hang
Dr Pingtjin Thum
Toh Boon Hwee
Dr Vincent Wijeysingha
Wong Chee Meng
Melissa W S Wong
Wong Tong Kwong
Dr Woon Tien Wei
Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao
Yeo Yeu Yong
The judgement in my appeal against the IMF Loan Commitment confirmed what has long been apparent: that the government is to all intents and purposes above the law. Furthermore, the judiciary are not there to act as a check on the executive (a “red light” in CJ Chan’s parlance) but instead to “green-light” illegality by preventing citizens bringing actions to have the illegal behaviour stopped. In a uniquely Singaporean version of jurisprudence, the judiciary is essentially subordinate to the executive. In my response I will deal first with the merits of the argument and then with the issue of locus standi.
“The Appellant has failed to establish a prima facie case of reasonable suspicion”
The learned judges dismissed my appeal on the arguments on the grounds that:
- It was clear from the initial draft of Article 144 when the bill was first put before Parliament that the giving of loans was to be excluded from the need for Parliamentary and Presidential scrutiny
- While admitting that they were ill-placed to comment on the validity of the financial arguments that I put forward to show that a loan commitment was a contingent liability and in nature akin to a guarantee the judges went ahead anyway and dismissed my arguments. In doing so they made some shocking mistakes and misinterpreted an excerpt from a US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation manual whose meaning should have been abundantly clear. They also argued that, despite the overwhelming evidence I had produced to show that regulators and banks treated loan commitments as contingent liabilities in the leading financial centres of the UK and the US, the accounting treatment might be different in Singapore. If that is the case, the IMF should kindly explain why they selected our Finance Minister to be Chair of the International Financial and Monetary Committee if Singapore differs so markedly from accepted practice in major countries.
- Though this was only touched on peripherally the judges also reiterated the nonsensical argument that MAS was an entity separate from the government.
I will deal with the arguments in (a) above first. I argued at the appeal hearing that it was only necessary to look for the original intention behind the legislation if the natural and ordinary meaning of the words was not clear. To any layman, the words “no guarantee or loan should be given or raised” would mean that both nouns could be paired with either verb. The fact that the proposed wording of Article 144 when the Bill was introduced into Parliament suggested that each noun was to be paired with a corresponding verb (the reddendo singular singulis argument) does not mean that we should use that interpretation. The words “debt” and “incurred” had been left out of the Article as enacted by Parliament so the original wording is an unreliable guide. It is equally likely that Parliament wished to have tighter financial controls rather than looser and thus intended both the giving of guarantees and loans to require Parliamentary and Presidential approval.
The Appeal Court judges do not address this issue only saying that they sided with the original judge in his interpretation. They also say that it is not ordinary parlance to speak of “raising” a guarantee and that therefore “raised” in Article 144 must be applied to “loan” only and “given” to “guarantee” only. I fail to follow the judges’ logic here. Just because one noun may not make sense when paired with one of the verbs, it does not follow that therefore we can exclude the other noun from being paired with both verbs if it makes perfect grammatical sense to do so.
In any case I showed that it is common parlance to speak of raising a letter of credit. A guarantee is to all intents and purposes very similar to a letter of credit. Both instruments require the issuer to pay out if the party that is covered by the guarantee or letter of credit fails to do so. The judges say that they are different instruments and serve different purposes. However as their accounting treatment and risk profile for the issuer would be identical it is difficult to see why the example for letters of credit should not apply to guarantees.
However whilst it may be possible to argue about the meaning of the words the judges completely failed to deal with my main point as set out in (b) above. This is that this is a loan commitment and not a loan. If they were ill-placed to comment on the validity of my arguments, not having seen any written submissions from either me or the AG, then why not call for written submissions from both sides after the hearing was over. Alternatively they could have adjourned the hearing to allow both sides to make written submissions. Counsel for the AG called for my submissions to be stricken from the record on the grounds that they involved complex financial and accounting matters for which she had not prepared. This was disingenuous since counsel also refused my offer of a short postponement to allow her to prepare. It is unfortunate that the judges, despite taking nearly seven months to deliver their verdict, did not allow me more consideration given the gross disparity in the resources available to me as a litigant in person as compared with the government.
I produced evidence from a wide variety of sources, including the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Manual, the Bank of England’s Yellow Folder and the last published accounts of J P Morgan, the leading US bank, to show that banks were required to record loan commitments as contingent liabilities on their balance sheet. As the judges mention, I pointed out that the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer himself referred to the UK’s loan commitment to the IMF as a “contingent liability.”
This is reinforced by the fact that the interest rate on loans made to the IMF is virtually zero. It is therefore inexplicable how Singapore’s IMF loan commitment could be considered an asset. Since the government pays CPF holders 4% to borrow their money the IMF loan, if drawn upon, must be a money-losing proposition from the moment it is drawn down.
In support of the argument that the loan commitment was a liability not an asset I cited US Statement of Financial Accounting Standards 133. This requires that loan commitments be treated as options on bank balance sheets and marked to market. A loan commitment is in the nature of a call option granted to a potential borrower that gives them the freedom to draw on the money at a time of their choosing. An option cannot be worth less than zero and should normally have a positive value while the writer of the option would have to record a corresponding liability. The option could not be worth less than the present value of the difference between what it would cost the IMF to borrow in the open market and the interest rate that it would pay on the loan if drawn down (effectively zero).
Yet the judges chose to misunderstand my point and claim that they were surprised that as an economist I did not understand the difference between a loan commitment and an option. There may be a legal difference but clearly in economic terms a loan commitment is an option because the borrower has the right to draw down the loan but is not obliged to do so. It is the learned judges who demonstrate their basic ignorance of modern finance theory.
The judges made other basic errors. The judges said that I had quoted Christine Lagarde as calling the new lending commitments by IMF members a “fireball”. In fact what I had said was that The IMF (actually our Finance Minister Tharman) had called the new loan commitment a “firewall”. In Tharman’s own words:
“We all agreed that it was absolutely essential to have the firewall built up at this time. It’s not a day too early to be building up the firewall,”
I pointed out that the commonly understood definition of a firewall was to construct a scorched earth perimeter around a fire to stop it spreading. This was precisely what the new loan commitments were supposed to do, i.e. they were resources to be sacrificed to save the world financial system. To quote Christine Lagarde (see here):
“These resources are being made available for crisis prevention and resolution and to meet the potential financing needs of all IMF members,” Lagarde stated. “They will be drawn only if they are needed, and if drawn, will be refunded with interest.”
The judges said that the sheer risk inherent in an asset could not turn it into a liability. However they misconstrued my argument. I was arguing that the commitment to make a loan to the IMF was a liability. If properly accounted for, it would have a negative value on the government’s (including MAS’s) balance sheet not only because there was likely to be a negative spread between the cost of funding that loan and the zero interest that would be earned on it but also because of the risk that by the time the IMF drew down the loan both the creditworthiness of the IMF as well as global credit conditions could have substantially worsened.
The judges went on to misinterpret the first sentence of the passage from the FDIC manual that I quoted, which states “In reviewing individual credit lines, all of a customer’s borrowing arrangements with the bank (e.g. direct loans, letters of credit and loan commitments) should be considered” as referring to the customer’s contingent liability. Yet clearly the examiners are referring to the contingent liability of the bank and not the customer. This can be seen further on in the passage which states “Additionally, many of the factors analysed in evaluating a direct loan…are also applicable to the evaluation of such contingent liabilities as letters of credit and loan commitments. When analysing these off-balance sheet lending activities, examiners should evaluate the probability of draws under the arrangements and whether an allowance adequately reflects the risks inherent in off-balance sheet lending activities”. Clearly from the context the manual is talking about the contingent liability of the bank making these loan commitments and whether the allowance that should be made adequately covers the risks. The allowance would appear on the liability side of the bank’s balance sheet and reflect the possibility of loss if the loan is drawn down.
That the judges get wrong something so basic here undermines their claim that their selective interpretation of Article 144 is correct.
To conclude, while the judges accuse me of trying to draw a tenuous connection between a loan commitment and a guarantee, it is the judges who have tried any stratagem, no matter how tenuous and lacking in logic, to avoid having to deal with my arguments. To claim that Singapore follows a different set of accounting standards from the rest of the world will make Singapore a laughing stock globally. Furthermore the fact that the Finance Minister has only survived this court challenge by relying on such a perverse refutation of generally accepted accounting principles makes it clear that Euromoney made an egregious mistake in naming him Finance Minister of the Year 2013. Tharman should be grateful that the judgement was not announced till November 2013, just after the Euromoney award.
In addition the government has had since 1997, when the government’s ability to make loans without getting Parliamentary and Presidential approval was first questioned, to amend Article 144 so that the meaning supports their interpretation. They have failed to so. This is because having ambiguously worded legislation or very widely drawn powers without any checks and balances, as is the case with the Broadcasting Act, suits their purposes and gives them the widest possible leeway in interpretation. However such ambiguity and wide discretion given to Ministers without the possibility of appeal to an independent party is incompatible with the rule of law.
“The Appellant does not have the locus standi to challenge Art 144″
I am not a lawyer so I will make my remarks here brief. The ruling on locus standi effectively puts the government beyond the law except for the most “egregious” breaches. This nevertheless marks a slight advance on the original judge’s ruling that Singaporeans had no right to sue the government unless their private rights had been breached.
Let us leave aside for the moment the question of whether I had suffered damage as a result of my public rights being violated. I argued that as a CPF holder and taxpayer I have suffered damage as a result of the government making a loss-making loan commitment to the IMF.
However the fact that this case involved an alleged unlawful loan commitment of $5 billion and a breach of the Constitution begs the question of what would the judges would define as a breach of the law of sufficient gravity to allow a citizen to sue. The basis of rule of law is that it does not leave discretion in the hands of bureaucrats. By leaving it to the judges to decide on a case-by-case basis what is a flagrant breach of the law surely seems to be admitting that the judiciary are susceptible to political pressure. Will a flagrant breach be different for a PAP government from a future Opposition one? And citing former CJ Chan Sek Kheong’s “green-light” theory of administrative law reduces the judiciary to being merely an arm of the executive, there to facilitate executive decisions rather than act as a check on the executive.
It is a pity that our judges believe that following the way English administrative law has developed since 1977 and applying the “sufficient interest” test would “seriously curtail the efficiency of the executive in practising good governance”. They even go beyond CJ Chan who leaves an avenue for the courts to intervene when the state breaks the law by saying that “the courts can play their role in promoting the public interest by applying a more discriminating test of locus standi to balance the rights of the individual and the rights of the state in the implementation of sound policies in a lawful manner”. Now the appeal judges are saying has to be “extremely exceptional instances of very grave and serious breaches of legality” to warrant allowing an action by an individual in the public interest. Yet the example they cite, of a Cabinet Minister’s abuse of his powers as opposed to the actions of a low-level government officer, is surely engaged here. Even in the case where a low-level government officer breached the Constitution, the Auditor-General considered the issue of sufficient seriousness to make the Ministry of Finance go back and get the President’s approval for the issue of promissory notes in the relatively insignificant amount of US$16 million to the International Development Agency!
The judges also devoted a lot of paragraphs to precedents from the UK about how the courts there have not allowed judicial reviews of the discretion applied by government agencies such as the Inland Revenue in how they deal with classes of taxpayers. However that is irrelevant to the current action, which is concerned with a breach of the Constitution by the Finance Minister. It seems that the judges were clutching at straws in an effort to make their stance on locus standi seem not too far out of step with the UK.
The judges’ argument that Parliament or the President would have intervened if there was a serious breach of legality rather begs the question of how Parliament is meant to intervene in cases in which the Minister is alleged to have broken the constitution by bypassing Parliament. And where the ruling Party has over 90% of the seats despite only winning 60% of the votes and until 2011 won a walkover at every election it is difficult to understand how Parliament can be an effective check on the executive.
As for the President, he failed to intervene in the case of the IDA promissory notes until the Auditor-General pointed out that MOF had breached the Constitution. The judges say that the President could have used Article 100 of the Constitution to convene an advisory tribunal of three judges to consider this question and the fact that he did not choose to do so supports their contention that I should be denied standing. However JBJ requested that the then President convene a tribunal in 1997 to decide the same question and he declined to do so. If the government chooses to bypass getting Presidential approval then the President is unlikely to make a fuss. We are all aware of what happened to Ong Teng Cheong and his decision not to run for a second term after his requests for greater transparency were rebuffed.
My aim in bringing this case was to ensure that we had tighter financial controls over what the government does with our money and to prevent it squandering the huge surpluses it has extracted from the people through bad investments, influence-buying exercises and excessive compensation for the managers. This is a government that would rather give away your money to foreigners than see it spent on your welfare. Ironically the President’s only financial controls are to prevent spending from the reserves on Singaporeans. On the basis of this ruling there is nothing he can do to prevent the money being given away in the form of loans. In a climate where the PAP government is already under scrutiny for banking secrecy, a ruling that we have no ways of controlling a rogue government that breaches the Constitution shows that we have no standards of governance and no rule of law. It is inexplicable how Singapore can be rated one of the most transparent and least corrupt countries when there are such glaring loopholes in financial controls. The judges say that allowances should be made for the cases of the most serious illegality. However in practice, given the award of costs to the AG, this judgement will have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to act as watchdogs of the public interest and gives a “green light” to government illegality.
The Court of Appeal has just handed down judgement in Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s IMF loan case. The case is crucially important and it raises two key points. Can the government lend away the wealth of the nation without Presidential approval? And can an individual citizen challenge the behaviour of the government in court, if it is alleged that there has been a breach of the constitution? The ruling of the court is against Kenneth on both counts. The government apparently can lend away the reserves without Presidential approval – effectively making the role of the President as the holder of a “second key” worthless. And furthermore, an individual citizen does not have the right to challenge the government in court, even if the case is of such gravity as this one where a breach of the constitution has been alleged. In stating as they do, that “the nature of the issue is entirely political” – the judges have completely misconstrued the reality of the case and the nature of the constitution. The decision is a difficult one to agree with. Upholding the law is not political.
For now I will only address the question of locus standi, which is the question of whether or not a private individual has the right to challenge the behaviour of the government through the courts. Long time readers of my blog will understand that I have a particular interest in this question since a government with free rein to act unlawfully without the oversight of the courts is not much more than a dictatorship.
To begin with, the court quite carefully and correctly explains that the right to bring a case is completely separate from the merits of the case itself. If one is not allowed to sue, then one cannot come to court and sue, irrespective of how likely one may be to win or lose. With this in mind, we can put aside briefly the arguments and reasons on why Kenneth lost the case, and just focus on whether he does, or should, have the right as a citizen to bring it in the first place.
locus standi is apparently a very complex and misunderstood aspect of law, and as I am not a lawyer, I do not pretend to understand it fully. My concerns with the case mostly flow from what I hope is an educated but common sense understanding of the arguments presented, as well as a reaction to the apparent lack of internal consistency in the Judges’ reasoning. The ruling on this point covers some background and case-law on the topic. Suffice to say a couple of distinctions are teased out which are crucial. Citizens intrinsically do have the right to challenge the behaviour of the government – but not automatically – there are limitations. The most important distinction appears to be between unlawful behaviour and poor policy or administration. It is much easier to sue in the case of the former than the latter.
To judges explain this (hopefully obvious) point well, and I shall quote from the ruling directly:
every public authority has the duty of observing the law … it hardly follows that every official action or decision is appropriately subject to judicial review
Later on they write:
On the other hand, it is equally important that the courts do not by use or misuse of the weapon of judicial review cross that clear boundary between what is administration, whether it be good or bad administration, and what is an unlawful performance of the statutory duty by a body charged with the performance of that duty
Clearly, the distinction exists between the allegation of unlawful government behaviour, and the allegation of poor policy, or poor administration. One of the central cases cited in the judgement is from the UK, where the tax authorities declined to prosecute a set of casual workers for providing false information. This is a case of policy and administration on the part of the authorities. There is no legal or constitutional obligation for the authorities to prosecute every supposed tax dodger. The authorities have to make a policy decision on who to prosecute, and who not to prosecute. The authorities must reasonably balance the public interest, the sums of money involved, the likelihood of a prosecution and myriad other factors before bringing a case. This public interest balancing act however doesn’t apply to the question of the government breaking the law. The government, as the judges note, “has the duty of observing the law”. Observing the law is not optional.
The judges then are abundantly aware of the distinction between the “duty of observing the law” and the pointlessness of subjecting “every official action or decision” to judicial review. The judges are also well aware that this case is about observing the law, in fact the constitution. Elsewhere in the judgement they devote some paragraphs to examining the wording of the constitution, the behaviour of the government, and in finding that the constitution was not breached. So the distinction clearly exists, the judges are aware of it, and they aware on which side of the distinction this case falls.
In finally coming to their point, the judges frame the question perfectly:
We also note Lord Diplock’s concerns where he lamented the emergence of a ‘grave lacuna’ (omission) in the system of public law if applicants were to be denied locus standi by virtue of standing rules that would stop them from bringing matters ‘to the attention of the court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped’
This point bears repeating. Kenneth’s case is fundamentally about “get[ting] the unlawful conduct stopped”. The judges write, citing case-law from the UK, that it would be a grave omission if the system prevented citizens like him from doing so. But yet that grave omission is exactly what they inflict on us in the very same paragraph. Reading around this very obvious and well supported point of law, and without citing any other authorities, the judges suddenly let the mask slip, and a green light to unlawful governance is given. The judges state that the principle of “get[ting] the unlawful conduct stopped” should not extend to “all” forms of unlawful conduct. A citizen cannot “always” come to court if the government has broken the law. Yet no explanation for introducing these caveats is given. The judges introduce the argument that the “gravity of the breach” must be considered. In this case, the gravity of the breach is the most grave imaginable – a breach of the constitution itself. Yet despite introducing this condition, the judges decline to assess the “gravity of the breach”. The judges decline to explain why they allow this “grave lacuna” to occur. They skirt around the issue, stating:
neither Parliament nor the President had thought fit to question the propriety of the promised loan. If the President was indeed concerned and inclined to veto the commitment, he would have done so
In this, the judges completely mis-frame the case, the wording and the supposed purpose of the constitution. There is no legal scope for the presidential “veto” they refer to. It is frankly bizarre for the judges to even suggest this. The constitution makes it clear that Presidential approval is required when article 144 applies:
—(1) No guarantee or loan shall be given or raised by the Government —
(a)except under the authority of any resolution of Parliament with which the President concurs
The whole question of this is to prevent a mischievous government going behind the President’s back and bankrupting Singapore. Stating that the President decided not to intervene is to misconstrue things entirely. By phrasing things this way, the court seems to paint seeking Presidential approval as a subjective administrative decision rather than the mandatory constitutional requirement that it really is.
In making this ruling, the court has effectively given the government a green light to rule unlawfully. If the government flagrantly and deliberately breaks the law, and you as a citizen are outraged, there seems to be little you can do about it. You certainly cannot come to court to “get the unlawful conduct stopped” – as Lord Diplock of the United Kingdom would expect. In Singapore, you do not havelocus standi. This may seem like a terrible way to run a judicial system, it certainly caused the authorities cited by the judges great concern, but it did not stop them from making such a ruling. One can only wonder as to why.
Andy Xian Wong
Andrew Loh’s recent status update on his Facebook page (no offence Andrew) shows how muddled our thinking is on media freedom no matter how well-meaning.
Andrew says in his latest Status Update
“What, really, gives the Govt the audacity to do as it pleases is when newspaper people – past and present – do not stand up or speak up against the Govt’s irrational behaviour and unsubstantiated reasons for Internet rules and regulations.”
Why would Andrew or any other Singaporean expect “newspaper people” past or present to speak up against the government? Newspaper people ARE the government. How could they speak up against themselves? And there is also nothing irrational about the PAP Government’s behaviour and attempts to control the internet. Surely for them it is the next logical step.
Let me explain, as it is vitally important that we get to grips with the issues of the PAP’s unfettered power and start blaming ourselves for giving it to them.
There are two types of newspaper people and the media organisations that employ them.
The first type is those who have simply disappeared, who have been sued into non-existence, packed up and gone elsewhere or who still publish here but have been effectively gagged by distribution agreements.
The second type is the newspaper people still remaining – PAP people. I’m not referring to balance or slant in favour of the PAP. I am talking about absolute control over the Media Organisations’ very right to exist and absolute control over management and hiring and firing through the Newspapers Printing and Presses Act. This Act is what makes our newspaper people, government people.
The PAP brought in The Newspapers Printing and Presses Act after Lee Kuan Yew decided he could not tolerate the first and only independent newspaper in Singapore, the Singapore Herald. I remember on the last day before their licence was revoked they published a cartoon of Lee Kuan Yew in a tank crushing the Herald which was depicted as a baby.
This Act controls the media by way of deciding first of all who can set up a press here. Once a newspaper company is approved, the PAP then controls the management of those newspaper companies . The management shareholders of a newspaper company have to be persons approved by the PAP Minister.
Additionally, the management shareholders have 200 votes for every share that they hold in relation to hiring and firing decisions. As a result of this arrangement, the government approved management shareholders have effective control over the newspaper companies.
Newspaper companies are not even in a position to refuse the appointment of these management shareholders. They can appeal but the PAP Minister’s decision can only be appealed to the President. Whether it is to do with our media or our internet, the President is required by Law, by Acts passed by our PAP parliament, to act in accordance with and upon the advice of the cabinet. That’s Article 21 of the Constitution. It’s a perfect closed circle.
So what takes away the freedom of our media is this closed circle issue again . In this case Media organisations can only appeal decisions made by the PAP to the President but the role of President as I keep telling you, is a farce!
Make no mistake, I am not talking about Tony Tan or any other President real or wannabe. I am referring to the way the President’s role is structured and subscribed by law. No independent President is going to save you on this issue.
And so with the internet. The real threat to the freedom of our internet is not any later amendments to the Broadcasting Act but the very Act itself and the powers it gives the MDA. The Act is so badly worded that it is broad enough to be defined as rogue or lawless. Precisely because it is so broad and vague and badly worded, the MDA can do anything and everything and never be accused of breaking the law.
The Free My Internet Campaign, is brilliant. They worked hard and quickly and were very effective but with a very narrow focus. I am one, as you know, who never shies away from speaking up for our bloggers and freedoms and was myself vilified in the WSJ by the MDA for speaking up against defamation laws. Yet, I would not put up ‘Free My Internet’ on my Facebook timeline because that would be to miss the point.
What we all have to wake up to – the new generation of bloggers and old-fashioned pen pushers alike – is that Parliament enacted these Laws and we let it happen. We allowed our parliament to pass a law that gave them unfettered power with no check on that power because anything and everything they do is within the ( very broad and vague) law. Once again I tell you that our parliament doesn’t function as it should in a democracy
Actually if there is one area where the PAP are going to come up against the limits of their ability to exert total control over the citizenry, it is the internet. Probably of all of our freedoms it is the least in danger. It is hilarious to think of the PAP even attempting to curtail it. As demonstrated so ably by Anonymous , the PAP will simply fail here.
The rather narrow focus of the Free My Internet Campaign on some new amendments to an Act that is lawlessness itself, distracts from the real issue. The real issue is bad laws that can be enacted by a parliament that has no check on its power because democracy doesn’t function.
Where the government meets no check on its absolute power you also have no rule of law. No wonder people are talking about a revolution and wondering why we even bother having elections.
Newspaper people are never going to speak up against their own employers. That is like puling out a nail that sticks out in the hull of a rotten sampan and expecting that to make the vessel seaworthy. When a sampan is rotten the whole ship needs scuttling with an axe and replacing with something more fit for purpose in the 21st century and beyond.
Disclaimer, I am not a lawyer: Read Subra for a better explanation of the various laws
This is an update on thee homeless in Singapore case.
At about the same time that Sebastian Vettel roared across the finish line at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, Madam L was also crossing the daily finishing line in her own race to collect enough cardboard to survive. She is the one in the lower picture. You can recognise her by the absence of champagne.
While the details of the deal between Formula One and the PAP government are not disclosed, the one thing we can be certain of is that the Grand Prix is only possible because it is heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds and GLC monopoly profits. Madam L, who by contrast is a model of self-reliance, only collected $8 yesterday from her six to seven hours of hard work.
However we still had a win of sorts on Monday . After our calls to various offices last week two representatives from the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre (FSC) came down to our office on Monday afternoon to interview Madam L. (They were accompanied by a young woman from the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities) As I only started working on Madam L’s case on Thursday I am pleased by what has been achieved in 5 days. Especially when you consider that Madam L has been living on the streets for over a year now. We should pause for a moment to appreciate our overstretched social workers. Their job is frustrating, often thankless and always poorly paid. They do a commendable job despite the meanness and contradictory ideology of our PAP government.
The social workers listened patiently to Madam L. pour out her very real grievances with the manner of her treatment by HDB and other government bureaucracies. Their first response was that it would be a time-consuming process for her to apply for Public Assistance (PA) although I believe that she is undoubtedly entitled to it.
Next the social workers cautioned that she could not expect to collect the whole $450 since her children would be required to contribute as well. I pointed out that this was going to be difficult as her son already had three young children to support and Madam L had told us he was not in regular employment and only had work as an odd jobs man to support them.
But at least we got the ball rolling. We submitted Madam L.’s NRIC to them and they will make the application on her behalf. We can work on the actual amount later.
The representatives from AMK FSC asked what Madam L’s immediate priorities were. I felt that after a year on the street getting a roof over her head came first. Medical care is another priority as she has not seen a doctor in over a year. When she lost all her possessions as a result of her ejection from her flat she had also lost some braces supplied to her after an operation.
I asked about the possibility of putting her up in a hostel. They said that was going to be too expensive and suggested she enter a home for the destitute. This is a s 20th century Singaporean version of a Dickensian workhouse. Their idea was that she could stay there while her family circumstances were checked out and start receiving medical care whilst that was happening. Madam L was very adamant that she would not enter a home for the destitute or the elderly. She is also suspicious of charitable hostels. She is after all only 65, doesn’t see herself as fit for the scrap heap and just wants what she feels are her rights.
Another suggestion from the leader of the AMK team was that they would supply a mattress so that she could sleep on the floor in her son’s unit. Again we explained that her son and his wife already have three young children and only a small flat. Clearly Madam L has some pride and deserves to be able to keep her dignity. Apart from that we suspect some history there. Like Facebook says, “It’s complicated”
The social workers then said that if she were unwilling to enter the home for the destitute then they would not be able to do anything further till her application for PA was processed. In the meantime they said she should liaise with the young woman from the charity for help although I have to say that with Madam l’s hostility to charities that is unlikely to happen. Clearly the Ministry needs to be able to provide immediate and temporary emergency accommodation in situations like this where the social workers need time to investigate the family background.
While we wait for the PA application to work its way through the labyrinth of bureaucracy, our next step is HDB. I want to try to find out exactly why she was evicted and her possessions lost , including her medical equipment and her birth certificate. In fact I have noticed that Madam L gets very agitated on the subject of her birth certificate. It clearly has enormous symbolic importance to her integrity as a person.
According to Madam L , HDB said they would arrange alternative accommodation for her by matching her up with another single renter but that was over a year ago and she has heard nothing. Actually that’s a lie. She has heard from HDB. They are vigorously pursuing her for over $5,000 in arrears via letters sent to her son’s address, Charming! The social workers suggested this sum might also include lawyers’ and debt collection fees. I don’t really care where that sum comes from. I find it incredible that they would pursue a homeless person for this and not write it off.
After listening to Madam L’s outpouring of the injustices done to her, in which she switched from Hokkien to Malay to Teochew to Cantonese to Mandarin, the social workers hinted that there may have been a problem with hoarding which led to her eviction by HDB. Given that hoarding behaviour often has an emotional or underlying mental health issue , it seems even more incomprehensible that HDB would evict her rather than refer her for treatment. Finally our social workers got up to go , promising to get back to Madam L and us as soon as possible with positive news about her application for PA.
You will recall the woman from the Charity. She was a nice young woman from Hong Kong but Madam L was never going to see herself as a charity case. After all she works for a living. Well the young woman presented Madam L with a large yellow bag from the Goodwood Park Hotel. It contained a packet of cookies and a box of mooncakes. I was struck by the absurdity of giving this poor woman, with all her other pressing needs, a box of mooncakes as though that would somehow solve her problems.
Madam L is no fool, though. Once the social workers had gone she looked at the cookies as though they might contain poison. “I won’t be eating that”, she laughed. “Any hand-out from the PAP is always past its sell-by date. “
I might make that my quote for the week.
Just to let you know that today Ms J from the Family Centre in Ang Mo Kio did call us back but only to say that Madam L’s case has been referred to the China Town office. This leaves Madam L homeless over the weekend. We are actively trying to find her a space in a shelter. If you have any suggestions or information about vacancies please do let me know asap. Donations of food and clothing would also be appreciated. You can leave your suggestions in the comments here.
Thank You. Kenneth.
Being curious as to why a foreigner would be so interested in MAS’s performance, I checked out his website. He appears to have no economic credentials other than a background in US military intelligence. Yet he has apparently managed to create a successful business out of peddling fear to the gullible and helping the rich evade tax or the elite from third world countries acquire residency or stash their ill-gotten gains in the West. His articles contain very few hard statistics and no economic analysis. Instead they are peppered with phrases like “monetary madness”, “hyperinflation” and “the coming economic collapse”. The author even rails against gun control. Indeed it is easy to see why you might need your own arsenal of subatomic weaponry if, as Black says, the apocalypse is just around the corner. In essence its just high pressure sales and the same scare tactics are used to sell homeopathic remedies against cancer or other diseases. For a few dollars a month you can subscribe to the basic newsletter. For a whole lot more he promises to give you the names and contact details of people who can help you set up secret bank accounts or trusts without bothering with legalities like money laundering checks or provide second or third passports with no questions asked.
Black also acts as promoter and salesman for the global gloom-and-doom school of investment gurus. For the very reasonable sum of US$1,000 you can download a video to hear pundits like Jim Rogers (who moved to Singapore a few years back), Jim Rickards, Ron Paul (the former Congressman and well-known libertarian), Paul Schiff and Nigel Farage (leader of the UK Independence Party who seems an odd bedfellow) give their insights at a conference in Santiago, Chile, into the future. High on the agenda is how to protect your assets from greedy governments intent on confiscation, improvident central bankers determined to debase the currency, supranational organisations like the EU determined to impose dictatorial rule and a lazy Western populace hooked on welfare. All these individuals cater to what an Asian audience wants to hear, predicting the fall of the West, the rise of Asia and the bankruptcy of the US under a mountain of debt.
What these pundits including Black all have in common is that they are adherents to the Austrian school of economics of which Hayek was the best-known exponent. While I am no fan of socialism, I take exception to a major Hayekian premise, which is that economies left to themselves are inherently self-regulating without the need for government intervention. In particular Hayekians believe that governments should never run deficits and that currencies should be freely convertible into gold. The Great Depression of the 1930s should have finished off these zombies. However, despite all the empirical evidence demonstrating the very real harm such policies have done and continue to do to the economy wherever they are practised, the zombies have come to life again after the financial crisis of 2008 should have administered the coup de grace. They have captured the Republican Party in the US and influenced a lot of the policies of the UK Coalition Government, with detrimental effects on the economy.
Another notable characteristic of these professed libertarians is their willingness to get into bed with rather nasty authoritarian or even communist states if they can benefit from a lower tax rate. Jim Rogers is based in Singapore and is always singing its praises along with China’s. Yet perhaps if they had to do National Service or live in government-owned housing or have their property acquired for a pittance or have to pay enormous damages in defamation suits for saying things that they regularly say about their own countries’ leaders , they would not be so fulsome in their praises. They clearly are blind to the reality of a state capitalist economic model where most domestic enterprises are ultimately controlled by the government. So their libertarianism is not genuine but just self-interested cant.
Once we understand where Black is coming from we can see why he is writing about MAS’s losses. He is not criticising MAS since he praises Singapore as an “ultra-healthy” economy. Rather he is hitting out at Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve for debasing the US$. to gain a trade advantage. MAS’s losses are only a peg to hang his constant theme of coming monetary collapse, hyperinflation and the breakdown of civilisation. It is immaterial whether Black believes in his ravings or has any evidence to back up his contentions. He is just a good salesman who could be selling anything from health products to time-shares to guns. Spreading fear boosts sales of his newsletters, briefings and videos, money from which undoubtedly lets him live a luxurious lifestyle.
It is also what his presumed audience in the BRICs and other developing countries wants to hear. Attacking the US for quantitative easing also puts him on the side of governments like China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and Singapore, which manipulate their currencies to get a competitive advantage. Naturally the governments of these countries are apoplectic with fury that the US, through quantitative easing, is playing the same game and making their exports more expensive in the US market.
While Black draws attention to last year’s MAS loss his rushed and superficial analysis obviously had no time to look back at earlier years. MAS has been making losses for some time as it accumulates foreign currency reserves that become worth progressively less and less when converted back into appreciating Singapore dollars. The total income (losses) for the years 2009 to 2013 are given below:
2009 S$ (7.4) billion
2010 S$ 9.4 billion
2011 S$(10.0) billion
2012 S$ 3.3 billion
2013 S$(10.0) billion
Since 2009 MAS has lost a cumulative total of S$ 14.7 billion. In 2009 it lost $7.4 billion, which prompted the government to bolster its capital through an injection of nearly $17 billion in fresh equity. I pointed this out in my submission to the Court of Appeal over the constitutionality of to show that MAS could not be considered an independent entity as the AG tried to argue. MAS’s losses should not be considered in isolation. GIC also appears to have only made around 2.5% p.a. when measured in S$ over the period 1980-2011, a shockingly low return given its access to cheap leverage in the form of forced lending from Singaporeans’ CPF funds (see links to series of articles on www.sonofadud.com below).
Black may blame these losses on the fiat currency system and what he calls “Ben Bernanke’s journey into monetary madness over the last several years”. This obliges “healthy nations like Singapore…to lose billions”. But the blame should really attach to the PAP government’s perverse and outmoded economic policies, it is much more unhealthy for Singapore to run a current account surplus of 20 to 25% of GDP than it is for the US to run a relatively modest current account deficit of about 3% of GDP currently. This huge surplus represents foregone consumption (in 2012 private consumption expenditure was only 36% of GDP). Furthermore it is a direct consequence of the PAP government’s enormous budget surpluses. Singaporeans lose out because depending on the leakage to imports we could probably raise consumption expenditures by at least 50% and still have current account balance or a small surplus. Clearly the current level of surplus is unsustainable in the long run and the resultant economic austerity has no longer any justification.
This chronic current account surplus puts continuous upward pressure on the Singapore dollar and forces MAS has to lose billions by accumulating depreciating foreign exchange reserves. Though capital account flows (presumably GIC and Temasek’s overseas investments) partially offset the current account surplus this is not enough to prevent a big increase in reserves of nearly 10% of GDP that is the result of MAS intervention.
One solution would be for the MAS were to stop intervening in the foreign exchange markets. The S$ would then appreciate to the point where exports become sufficiently uncompetitive and imports sufficiently attractive to bring the current and capital accounts into balance. However this would be likely to have adverse consequences for output and employment in Singapore. Counterbalancing this would be the higher real incomes of consumers as imports became cheaper. On the positive side it might hasten the restructuring of the economy away from low productivity industries dependent on foreign labour. However foreign labour may be more willing to accept nominal wage cuts because foreign workers have a real income target expressed in their home currency. This could lead local employers to substitute even more foreign labour in place of Singaporeans. This would obviously be an undesirable consequence. Another adverse consequence is that this would impose even greater valuation losses on the portfolios of our Sovereign Wealth Funds which must dwarf MAS’s already substantial losses.
A better solution would be to consume more and save less. Singapore’s consumption of 36% of GDP contrasts sharply with the US where it amounts to 70% of GDP. It is difficult to believe that investment returns in Singapore are so much higher than in the US to justify this disparity.
This underconsumption and overinvestment is driven by the PAP government’s desire to continue accumulating overseas assets. This has got to the point where relatively small movements in the value of the stock of government financial assets dwarf changes in GDP. The result is the situation where MAS’s loss last year swallowed up almost the whole of GDP growth. The government is turning Singapore into a gigantic investment fund with a small operating company (the economy) attached! It deliberately prevents us from finding out how the managers of our money are doing but all indications are they are performing poorly. Secrecy has historically been highly correlated with fraud and mismanagement.
To illustrate how the additions to the stock of investment assets now dwarf movements in GDP, the government ran a huge surplus of $36 billion in 2012 or over 10% of GDP according to the past issues of the Monthly Digest of Statistics. This was just the government surplus whereas a wider measure known as the general government surplus and published annually until very recently in the Yearbook of Statistics has traditionally been much bigger. (The Yearbook has now changed its format to the same as the Budget presentation and this suggests that the PAP government is worried that it has been providing too much information to critical analysts like myself. ) Including the net incurrence of liabilities, which represents the increase in government debt through the growth in CPF funds, the government took in around 20% of GDP from the corporate and household sectors. Coincidentally or not, this almost exactly mirrors the current account balance.
My preferred solution would be to invest more in infrastructure, spend more on health and education, improve social safety nets and cut taxes. The government could thus reduce the current account surplus and relieve the upward pressure on the S$. Singaporeans would also enjoy a higher standard of living. As an added by-product we would be good global citizens, contributing our own small bit to rebalancing the world economy.
However that is unlikely to happen as long as the government continues to pursue insane economic objectives (see the link to my last article below). The government’s rationale is that we need to continue saving for a rainy day. When currency appreciation wipes out most of the investment returns that our Sovereign Wealth Funds are able to generate that argument becomes increasingly absurd. It snake oil salesman SImon Black and the group of professed libertarian pundits whose half-baked economic analysis and doom-mongering he peddles, should push a country which does not believe in freedom, pursues insane economic policies and gives its own citizens such a raw deal!
On Friday the Financial Times carried an excellent article by the eminent and long-standing economic commentator, Samuel Brittan. I have reproduced a screenshot of his article above. I remember as a student at Cambridge, always looking forward to his articles which came out every Monday.
In this article he talks about economists having “an excessive preoccupation with real gross national or gross domestic product.” He goes on to say that “promoting GDP at all costs would be an insane objective for long-term economic policy. GDP would be maximised by opening a country’s frontiers and promoting mass immigration…so long as there is a net addition to the labour force, the country’s GDP would almost certainly rise, however overcrowded and unbearable the country might be to inhabit.”
Wow- is he talking about us? Clearly Sam Brittan considers that such a policy would be so patently ridiculous that it can serve as what in logic is called a “reductio ad absurdum”. His words perfectly describe the policies pursued by the PAP government in Singapore and echo much of what I have been saying in Singapore since 2009 except I tend to self-censor and Mr Britten doesn’t feel that need. In the 1990s Singapore began to open the floodgates to the import of labour from Asian low-income countries, nearly doubling our population. As I keep telling you, this has resulted in real wage stagnation for the bulk of the working population and declines for those in the bottom quartile. Particularly because our work force isn’t protected by a minimum wage so wages can keep getting lower and we enjoy minimal labour protections.
Meanwhile returns have soared for the owners of fixed factors of productions such as owners of land and property. This has produced a bonanza for the government which owns nearly 80% of the land. As everyone reading my blog should know by now the majority of Singaporeans do not own property. We have no property owning middle class so no property owning democracy. 90% of us live in public housing leased for 99 years from the government. This sector has seen housing costs rise much faster than incomes while the average size of apartments built by the monopoly state housing supplier has been cut by close to 20%. The rising cost of housing keeps young couples from getting on the ladder clearly affecting our fertility rates and the PAP openly uses its control over the estates’ freeholds as leverage during elections by threatening to withhold refurbishment and upgrading.
The government is making all this money from the influx to the population but doesn’t use it to improve the infrastructure let alone our daily lives Opening the floodgates means that public infrastructure and amenities, such as the transport system, become ever more overcrowded while waiting lines to see doctors at government clinics have lengthened to several hours. A shortage of beds at government-owned hospitals means that patients often to wait hours or days before being admitted. Until recently lack of school buildings meant that most schools had to serve two sittings to accommodate pupils. Luckily there are few of these double-session schools left.
When these policies are questioned, the PAP government usually responds with the fallacious argument that if Singaporeans oppose curbs on foreign labour then they will have to put up with slower economic growth without any explanation as to how faster economic growth, which has so far failed to produce rising real incomes, will work differently in the future. The people are often told that they need to endure short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain, a consistent cliché in the government’s rhetoric since the 1980s. Yet the pain seems to always be the people’s while the gains accrue to government ministers, who justify higher pay and bonuses on the basis of the economic growth that they have “miraculously” generated. Private property owners are a rare elite who also prosper.
These “insane” policies, which would be rejected by the people in any country with free and fair elections, have had the desired effect of boosting not only GDP growth but also that of GDP per capita. On this measure, Singapore is now one of the highest-ranked countries in the world (though if it is ranked more correctly against comparable global cities such as New York, London, Paris or Tokyo its record even on this measure is far less impressive). This is largely due to the fact that the immigrants have increased the ratio of the employed labour force to total population, since they bring no dependents with them and will be immediately sent home should they lose their jobs. The human rights cost as the imported labourers enjoy almost no protections is also not insignificant.
Samuel Brittan suggests that a less bad approximation would be GDP per worker “but even that borders on the absurd-for it might be maximised by compulsory increases in working hours at the expense of leisure”. It is no coincidence that Singapore has the highest number of hours worked per person employed among 20 advanced countries according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. While increases in working hours are not compulsory de jure they become de facto compulsory as with no minimum wage and very few curbs on imported labour Singaporean workers are acutely aware that they can easily be replaced by foreign imports. Very long working hours boost Singapore’s GDP per worker though the effect is not as marked as at the GDP per capita level.
I suggest that a better proxy for comparisons between countries would be GDP per hour worked, or productivity. On this measure Singapore ranks near the bottom of twenty advanced countries previously surveyed by the BLS and now by the US Conference Board. While US GDP per hour worked has grown by nearly 6% since 2007, or 1.1% p.a., Singapore’s has only just recovered to its 2007 level.
To illustrate the disconnect between the PAP government’s policies and the people’s welfare, a UBS survey in 2009, comparing global cities, put Singaporean median workers’ wages on a par with those in Kuala Lumpur and far behind those of workers in Taipei, Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The UBS survey was much criticised by the government. However in the following year Singapore was dropped quietly from the survey which seems hard to justify given that Kuala Lumpur and other Asian cities continue to be included.
Singapore’s example shows how an authoritarian state capitalist government can win plaudits from a largely ignorant international audience by adopting insane objectives that ignore the welfare of its own people. Back in the 1950s Western commentators were similarly dazzled by the seemingly inexorable rise of the Soviet Union and we all know what happened to that.
The tragic life of Rebecca Loh and death of her son Gabriel has moved me more than any story to come out of Singapore in recent years. Who cannot be horrified by the thought of that poor boy’s last moments without also recognising that his mother must have been struggling with mental and physical trauma beyond our normal capacity to comprehend. I have thought long and hard before deciding to write on the matter. Firstly I don’t know the family or enough of the details to write in any qualified manner, secondly it seems almost callous to reduce the family to a set of circumstances and finally Gabriel’s grandmother now has to bear not only his passing but the trauma of the trial. I extend my deepest condolences to the family.
Nevertheless I was encouraged by Rachel Zeng’s sensitive handling of the case in her blog and so on the basis that we do less harm by talking about this with compassion than by sweeping it under the carpet, I have decided to write a few words. Read Rachel’s thoughts here. http://rachelzeng.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/some-thoughts-regarding-the-case-of-rebecca-loh/
When I first started this blog over two years ago I wrote an intro which you can find under the ABOUT button on the menu. This explained my choice of the name “Rethinking the Rice Bowl”. Looking back on it today it seems like a load of guff. The intro talks about iron rice bowls and porcelain rice bowls in an attempt to demonstrate how the PAP government model is faux communist but with a harsh, ” spur in the side” element. Please do spend a couple of minutes reading that Intro if you can.
As you read further down the page you will find the following. Remember I wrote this in February 2011 two and a half years before Gabriel died. If it sounds prophetic it is not. I was only stating the facts of life under the PAP then and they have not changed. Here is what I said
“Sometimes the rice bowl slips from our fingers and cracks or breaks through sheer ill luck. There will be precious little sympathy for you in a porcelain rice bowl State should you be foolish enough to be retrenched, to have elderly parents, a chronic or terminal illness, a child with special needs or to be caring for a mentally or physically challenged dependant.”
I regret not having added single parent to that list back then. Rebecca’s rice bowl did slip from her fingers and Gabriel died. But Rebecca didn’t exactly slip through the net , she was not invisible. The media reports said,
“.an unemployed single mother, she was often seen pushing Gabriel around in a pram.
She would lift him from the pram to the chair and back at a nearby coffee shop, neighbours told The Straits Times.”
Rebecca was known in her neighbourhood, Gabriel was known, they were not recluses behind hidden doors. The Police were even called out several times due to violent arguments at the home.
It seems that Rebecca would have qualified for Public Assistance and the PA grassroots organisations in West Coast GRC have not come forth with any information as to whether she received assistance or not. We do know she was totally reliant financially on her mother, Gabriel’s grandmother who worked full time to bring home $1000 a month. Caught by Catch 22 this took Rebecca’s sole contact, her mother, away from the home all day. Her future must have seemed interminably bleak.
I am reminded of the work of Raymond Fernando who often writes about the stress of taking care of a dependent relative full time. You can read a piece he wrote on this blog called, ” Who Cares for the Care-Giver”, here. http://sonofadud.com/guest-spot/who-cares-for-the-caregiver/
Life sometimes deals you a series of circumstances which you cannot overcome by hard work alone. That is why i wrote that back in 2011. With the hindsight of this case surely there are few amongst us who can defend the PAP’s harsh an regime.
Here comes the economics- Make no mistake, I am not advocating a Welfare State. Particularly as those Nations with bloated welfare systems are desperately trying to cut them back as we speak. The last thing I want is for Singapore to regress to some 1950′s Socialist model with an iron rice bowl mentality. What we need are safety nets and a tiny fraction of the assistance that citizens in developed Nations enjoy- ( not to mention the freedoms). We don’t even have free education! Look how many millions have to be raised by charities every year to allow children of needy families to go to school with breakfast or to buy pencils and text books or lunch.
Anyone who reads my blog or follows my work will be familiar with the list, Minimum Wage, freeholds to our property, HDB reform, pension reform, CPF reform, NS at slave labour rates reform, joined up health care , free education and so on. What has also always been clear is that there simply is not enough provision by our state for children with special needs. For every child who is lucky enough to get a place at the one flagship school for autism- a centre of excellence in fact_ there are 5 more children shut away and denied an education or a place in our society at all. Any support for these young people is derived solely from charities and religious organisations. That is better than nothing but every charity supporting a family is letting the PAP off the hook.
Naturally the PAP demonstrates no remorse. Here is what they said in response to an article critical of our government’s failure to provide safety nets which appeared in the Economist back in 2010. (anyone who has read the Economist or its sister publication, the Financial Times, recently such as Gillian Tett’s puff piece on our health care system based on her experience of being treated as a private, fee-paying Ex Pat will hardly recognise the Economist of 2010)
Reply to the Economist’s “The stingy nanny” of Feb 13th.
“Each society has to decide for itself the appropriate balance between unconditional welfare and self-reliance. Singapore has concluded that we cannot afford European-style state welfare, not because of dogma, but because our circumstances are different. We face competition from some of the most vibrant economies in the world, we have no hinterland or natural resources of our own to fall back on, and our future depends on being a dynamic and self-reliant people who strive our utmost to excel and create wealth for ourselves, our families and our society. Each generation must earn and save enough for its entire life cycle.
Our approach is based on time-tested values of hard work, self-reliance, family responsibility and community support for those in need.”
What was Rebecca supposed to do? Her Community dd not support her evidently. There was no way this young woman could ever have saved up enough for her and her son’s life cycle. Notice in all this story there has been no mention of the absent father. How was Rebecca supposed to create wealth for herself, exactly? Did Gabriel die because Rebecca failed to be dynamic and self reliant enough for the PAP model?
While we are here that story about no natural resources is wearing thin. We inherited one of the busiest ports in the region which was historically already prosperous under the British who left us the deepest dry dock in Asia and a large well educated middle class. We are at the centre of the world’s trade routes. Most of the world’s oil passes through the Malacca Straits via Singapore. We don’t have any rural areas either and we should compare ourselves to Manhattan or central down town Tokyo or London.
This is the regime that likens Democracy to gang rape. Shameless. But do we bear any less shame for turning our heads away from Rebecca and for unquestioningly swallowing the PAP’s dogma. As my father liked to say, Wake up.