Category Archives: Society
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.
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.
Mr Tan Kin Lian has previously written twice about the constitutionality of the loan that Singapore made to the IMF. He is kinder than me in his writing style but he comes to the same conclusions. And this is a man whom the select panel deemed fit to run for President of our Republic! He thinks the loan was unconstitutional and he wants to help me appeal it on behalf of all Singaporeans.
On July 07th 2012, Tan Kin Lian had raised the issue of constitutionality of the loan here:
Of course he did. As an EP candidate how could he keep quiet? He said, “I am surprised that MAS would give the above type of explanation – as it seemed to defy logic and common sense.”
On July 12th 2012 he wrote an open letter to the Straits Times forum. Here is some of what he said:
” I am. therefore, amazed by the arguments put forward by the Monetary Authority of Singapore that the pledge given to the IMF, as it now stands, did not breach the Constitution. If the position of MAS is correct, it is better for the Constitution to be re-written to reflect the position taken by MAS.
A very good opinion piece has just gone up on TR EMERITUS about how the learned Judge’s ruling in the IMF case effectively means that a member of one race cannot speak up for a member of another race.
As the author Andy Wong says:
I find this argument highly insulting and hugely dangerous.
I have pasted the article here but it is well worth going over to TRE in order to read the comments attached. http://www.tremeritus.com/2012/11/15/why-i-am-donating-to-support-kenneth-jeyaretnam/
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
- Martin Niemöller (A German pastor who talked about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.)
I read with interest the judgement in Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s IMF loan case . Whilst there are many aspects of the ruling that trouble me, for now I would like to speak on just one point. The ruling brought to mind a famous poem by Martin Niemöller  titled “First they came … “, which speaks eloquently of the need not just to speak up for our own rights, but also for the rights of all members of our society. You have just read it above. If we do not do something to protect others in our society, we will have no reason to expect ourselves to be protected in the future.
The relevant section of the judgement in Kenneth’s case is paragraph 47, it is about “locus standi” and who, if anyone, has the right to challenge the government if they pass an unconstitutional law. It quotes a previous case and includes the follow argument:
Every citizen has constitutional rights, but not every citizen’s constitutional rights will be affected by an unconstitutional law in the same way. For example, if there is a law which provides that it is an offence for any person of a particular race to take public buses, this law would clearly violate Art 12. [...]
However, the mere holding of a constitutional right is insufficient to found standing to challenge an unconstitutional law; there must also be a violation of the constitutional right. In this fictitious scenario, the only persons who will have standing to bring a constitutional challenge against the unconstitutional law for inconsistency with Art 12 will be citizens who belong to the race that has been singled out as only their Art 12 rights will have been violated. Persons of other races will not have suffered violations of their Art 12 rights and will thus have no standing to bring a constitutional challenge in this scenario.
I find this argument highly insulting and hugely dangerous. The reasoning is that I, as a member of one race, cannot speak up to protect the rights of my friends of another race. But are we not all Singaporeans? Do we not have national service to protect all Singaporeans, regardless of race? If a Chinese lady, married to an Indian gentlemen for example, cannot speak up to protect the rights of her husband, then what have we become? But the argument in this case is not really about race, it applies equally to any way to identify and categorise those people who may, versus those who may not suffer some loss in the face of an unconstitutional law. To paraphrase the poem that I begun with:
First they came for the newspaper men,
and I didn’t speak out because the high court of Singapore ruled that only newspaper men can speak out for other newspaper men, and I as an accountant do not have locus standi to speak out on this topic.
But my husband is a newspaper man, imprisoned without trial for seventeen years, and I fear I will never speak to him again.
I am not a lawyer, but from reading what has been published, I understand that this argument regarding locus standi is what Kenneth (at least in part) seeks to overturn in appeal. I will donate to his cause not only because I think this is an extremely important legal principle, but also because I feel strongly in protecting the rights of all people in our society, not just any one particular group.
Andy Wong has hit the nail on the head. What kind of society will we living in if this judgement goes unchallenged? And make no mistake that the implication is that even if the government has acted unconstitutionality_ yes, that’s right, when the government HAS broken the constitution, you can’t challenge that if it is a constitutional breach that affects all Singaporeans or a race or group of which you are not a member. Because you need to prove personal damage to be considered to have Locus Standi.
Do you want a Singapore where the high income groups will not speak out against unjust laws that hit the worse off because they haven’t suffered any personal damage?Landed property owners not challenging though a legal suit an HDB illegal policy because it doesn’t affect them. It makes a mockery of our way of life , our society, our multi ethnic mix, the basic principles of our representational government if each individual Singaporean is not also representative of all Singaporeans.
While we can all condemn Amy Cheong for the unthinking racism of her remarks, we should wonder whether they just reflect the tone of institutional racism that is projected from the very top of the government. Her crime was perhaps that she took her cue from the frequent racist utterances from of our former Minister Mentor which instead of being condemned are labelled “hard truths to keep Singapore going.” Recently even the Australian PM praised MM Lee for his “straight talk” from three decades ago and said “We never forgot his warning that without reform we would be the “White Trash of Asia”
She obviously did not realise that the latitude accorded to the gods do not apply to mere mortals such as her. The PM was quick enough to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation from PAP ministers but has been noticeably silent about his father’s remarks. That surely ranks as hypocrisy or double standards to say the least.
She undoubtedly violated her corporate code of conduct. However she was dismissed without being given a chance to defend her actions by going through the company’s usual disciplinary procedure. Should not a reprimand or a written warning have been the first stage as she had already issued an apology? It was a salutary reminder of how few employment rights Singaporeans have. As Subra points out in his Article 14 blog (http://article14.blogspot.sg/2012/10/race-responsible-speech-and-hasty.html) it is particularly shocking, or would be to a naive observer, that a so-called government trade union should dispense with due process.
The question of whether she should be prosecuted is another matter. Most countries ban hate speech directed at an individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. The US is perhaps alone in protecting hate speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution dealing with the right to freedom of expression.
One must be careful not to curtail free speech rights just because they give offence to a particular group (for example fundamentalist Christians would no doubt wish to stop the teaching of evolution theory on the grounds that it is offensive to their beliefs). However against the belief in an absolutist right to free speech there is an important argument that hate speech undermines a public good which Waldron (“The Harm in Hate Speech”, reviewed in the NYT, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/the-harm-in-free-speech/) “identifies as the “implicit assurance” extended to every citizen that while his beliefs and allegiance may be criticized and rejected by some of his fellow citizens, he will nevertheless be viewed, even by his polemical opponents, as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society. It is the assurance — not given explicitly at the beginning of each day but built into the community’s mode of self-presentation — that he belongs, that he is the undoubted bearer of a dignity he doesn’t have to struggle for.”
To quote Waldron again, “In its published, posted or pasted-up form, hate speech can become a world-defining activity, and those who promulgate it know very well — this is part of their intention — that the visible world they create is a much harder world for the targets of their hatred to live in.”
But postings like Amy Cheong’s do not occur in a vacuum. It is no accident that we get these numerous instances of hate speech in Singapore. There is not only Amy Cheong but also Shimun Lai, Sun Xu and Jason Neo. A few years back there was the case of Chua Cheng Zhan, the PSC scholar, who made racist remarks about Indians dominating the Singapore association (perhaps he could not stand the competition!). Yet he was allowed to apologise and let off whereas Amy Cheong was sacked for saying something much milder!
Before that there was the case of MP Choo Wee Khiang who said in Parliament that “One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around.” Surely, if they had not been protected by parliamentary privilege, his remarks could have been construed as inciting racial violence. They are qualitatively in a different league from Ms. Cheong’s. I myself have had to endure an onslaught of anonymous online postings calling me “ape-man” and “son of Ah Meng”.
It is because of a climate of institutional racism that is fostered from the very top and that is explicit in the racist attitudes and utterances of Lee Kuan Yew himself. If every citizen should have an implicit assurance, as Waldron puts it, that he will be viewed as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society, then this is lacking in the case of minorities in Singapore, and in particular in the case of the Malay minority. The latter have always been viewed with suspicion as potential fifth columnists. Many Malays were excluded from national service or when they were enlisted assigned to low security classifications or part-time service. This served and continues to serve to stigmatize them in the eyes of employers.
Similarly the Ethnic Integration Act treats minorities as second-class citizens by denying them the right to live where they want. It also penalizes them economically because they are often unable to sell their property to the highest bidder if the quota has been filled.
The proportion of minorities who are selected as government scholars is also so much lower than their share of the population (and many of those classified as minorities are new immigrants or children of mixed-race parentage). From 2002-2010 the proportion was 5.8% (http://theonlinecitizen.com/2011/02/government-scholarships-a-case-for-greater-representation-of-minority-races/) but of these only 2.3% were Indians and 1.2% Malays. Surely in any country that wanted to portray itself as not institutionally racist there would be an inquiry and steps taken to either remove cultural bias in the selection process or remedy deficiencies in the education system.
It was only in 2009 that MM Lee gave an interview with National Geographic (http://www.news.gov.sg/public/sgpc/en/media_releases/agencies/pmo/transcript/T-20091228-1.html) where he said about Malays that “The influence from the Middle East has made them have head-dresses for no rhyme or reason.” Later in the same interview he said “Well, we make them say the national pledge and sing the national anthem but suppose we have a famine, will your Malay neighbour give you the last few grains of rice or will she share it with her family or fellow Muslim or vice versa?”
In January 2011 the Association of Muslim Professionals felt obliged to issue a statement in response to LKY’s book “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”:
The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) deeply regrets certain comments made by Minister Mentor (MM) Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his book Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. These comments are in relation to the practice of Islam by the Malay-Muslim community (MMC) where MM Lee had urged the MMC to be less strict in their practice of Islam in order to facilitate integration, and in relation to the issue of gaps between the MMC and other communities in Singapore, where MM Lee opined that the MMC will never catch up with the other communities. We note that these views of MM Lee are not new. It is not clear why MM Lee has chosen to repeat them at this point.
Some of LKY’s other memorable quotes may be found at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Lee_Kuan_Yew.
His pseudo-scientific theories of racial superiority were acquired apparently from Toynbee, a British historian of the early twentieth century, who published “A Study of History”. While it is now universally discredited and hopelessly out-of-date, it still seems to command a certain support among members of the PAP elite, judging by quotes on George Yeo’s FB page when he was a minister. Toynbee naturally put the white races at the top. Lee Kuan Yew has modified this by putting East Asians at the top above the whites, South Asians in the middle and South-East Asians at the bottom. From his often-quoted comments on the IQ Bell curve, he clearly believes Africans are some way off being human which makes me wonder how he got on with President Obama when they met.
In this climate of officially condoned institutional racism, it is not surprising that Amy Cheong should have felt that her posting was acceptable. PM Lee was quick to condemn a little person like Ms. Cheong:
“Fortunately the person has promptly apologised for her grievous mistake. But the damage has been done, and NTUC did the right thing in terminating her services.”
However it is regrettable that he did not adopt the same moral tone in dealing with his father’s comments. Perhaps he should consider setting up a commission of inquiry into what has led to this climate in the first place and what steps can be taken to remedy it. It would seem difficult for the police to act against Ms. Cheong when they have turned a blind eye to some of MM Lee’s more outrageous comments.
National Conversation? LOL, as the youngsters would say. It is just propaganda. The outcomes are pre-decided, the PAP model is rigidly entrenched, it has no parliamentary mandate, it is an exercise in deflecting us away from building a functioning democracy. How much tax payer money will be spent on this PAP propaganda machine? It’s not even an election campaign period so doesn’t come out of their own party coffers.
Personally for me the National Conversation is a continuation of the National Silence that I am so used to. Well, until Jim Sleeper of Yale started to make a bit of noise that is. No sooner had he posted an article detailing how I was excluded from National University forums, the National televised debates for GE 2011, National Media and so on than an invite arrived to appear at a forum from the earnestly co-opted NUSSPA. Thanks Jim! I am sure Jim causing embarrassment from Yale is also behind the sudden magnanimous decision by the PAP to accept Soon Juan’s offer of a $30,000 payment of his fine. Or the PAP have finally realised that they risk not only embarrassment but the creation of another National Martyr under virtual house arrest in the manner of Aung San Suu Kyi, if Soon Juan is not able to join us in a proposed visit to Yale later this year.
I recently wrote to the New York Times to protest against Ms .Chan Heng Chee’ s letter. I thought it timely to bring up Orwellian newspeak being so close to the 62nd anniversary of the publication of 1984.
Note how these days our civil servants and ambassadors like to come out in support of our vibrant, robust or healthy democracy. (I believe my old friend Michael in the UK wrote a similar missive to the papers defending Singapore’s record on the death penalty and spoke of a robust debate). It’s as though they read 1984 and mistook it for one of those books, “ dictatorship for dummies” or some such. Well they lost no time adopting the idea of a ministry of double speak.
In November 1978 there was a sensational defamation trial held in Singapore. The defendant a Singaporean, engaged a famous British barrister and author John Mortimer. John Mortimer argued that the defendant’s remarks were fair comment. Indeed he went on to tell the court that the ability to engage in robust debate was the essence of democracy. He lost of course.
The ability to engage in robust debate is the essence of democracy.
Knowing that robust debate might lead to democracy , the PAP put a stop to it and then with no sense of Orwellian irony went around claiming to be supporting it on the International stage. Ta Dah! Back home of course, they call a Spade a Kate and tell us we aren’t ready for Westminster style destructive democracy. Here’s the letter.
23rd June 2012
The New York Times
I refer to Chan Heng Chee’s letter dated 21st June entitled “Singapore is Evolving”. Ms. Chan is the Ambassador and her taxpayer-funded time should not be used to produce spin on behalf of the ruling party.
It is ironic that she talks about “a vibrant democracy.” But then the PAP are past masters of Orwellian newspeak. Is it a vibrant democracy when by law all media outlets must be government controlled; when state resources are used to buy votes and the threat of withdrawal of state resources is used to intimidate voters; when Opposition parties are harassed by oppressive restrictions and Opposition leaders are bankrupted through the use of defamation suits; and when the Elections Department is just an arm of the Prime Minister’s Office without even a charade of independence?
Ms. Chan says other countries have anti-terrorist legislation. However Singapore must be alone among robust or vibrant democracies to have detained individuals for over twenty years merely because they refused to give up their fundamental human right to engage in peaceful politics.
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Recently the Spanish King was in the news after it was discovered he had been shooting elephants in Botswana. The outrage was not sympathy for the elephants but the discovery that he was on a luxury safari in Africa so soon after expressing his sympathy for the plight of the 20% Spanish unemployed. This demonstration of royal hypocrisy caused an outrage among ordinary Spaniards who had just been told that they will have to endure years of austerity.
Our own ‘royalty’ continue to demonstrate their own brand of hypocrisy, faulty logic and poor understanding of basic economics. Our own Finance Minister Tharman was at a news conference held by the IMF on April 20 where he mentioned an involvement by the PAP government that I had warned of and indeed predicted in this blog back in December 2011.
Last December in (Self-imposed Austerity, http://sonofadud.com/stories-from-the-stairwell/self-imposed-austerity/), I ridiculed the spin of our state-controlled media that, due to the wise governance of the PAP, Singapore had fortunately avoided having austerity imposed on them by external circumstances. I pointed out that the welfare system in the Eurozone countries, even after taking the austerity medicine prescribed for them, in my view mistakenly, by the European Central Bank and Germany, was still far in excess of the meagre and begrudging safety net available to Singaporeans. Statistically we have one of the lowest public expenditures as a proportion of GDP in the developed world on education and health.
Crucially I said,
“Presently the countries that have run large current account deficits for many years, such as the US and many members of the Euro-zone, are acutely aware that the counterpart of their deficits is excessive saving in the surplus countries, mainly China but also Japan, Korea, Germany and of course Singapore. They know this prevents them from being able to achieve satisfactory levels of growth, output and employment.
The Euro-zone has already turned to China and asked the Chinese Government to buy more Euro-zone debt. This has allegedly infuriated many ordinary Chinese who complain about how poor they are compared with the average European. Their anger should be directed at their government which has held down consumption and domestic living standards to create a level of reserves far higher than necessary. This has allowed a situation in which they now find themselves held hostage to the debtor nations.
It is likely that our Government faces the same pressures from the EU to invest in bailing out the insolvent members of the Euro-zone.
Lo and behold what I predicted has now more or less come to pass. On Friday Tharman told the audience that the PAP government had agreed to contribute US$4 billion (about $5 billion) to the IMF as part of a capital-raising designed to bolster the IMF’s resources for lending to Eurozone countries requiring bail-outs.
What hypocrisy! To put it mildly, this may not be especially palatable to ordinary Singaporeans who have constantly done without the safety net available in even the poorest Euro zone countries so that Singapore can build up its reserves for a rainy day.
It is true that our money is being loaned to the IMF rather than the debtor countries themselves. The IMF was at pains to point out that the additional money was not earmarked for any particular region. This is presumably because of the sensitivity that poorer countries are being asked to bail out relatively affluent ones.
It is also true that the IMF has never defaulted on its debts. However this is because the developed countries have always provided it with additional resources when required. It cannot be said to be the equivalent of investing in US Treasuries.
Significantly the US has so far refused to pledge any money. One of the reasons for its reluctance to help is presumably because as a democracy their citizens are unlikely to view favourably providing taxpayer dollars to support the lifestyle of relatively affluent countries. Nevertheless the present round of contributions are likely to be only the beginning if Spain, Italy or even France and the Netherlands were to follow Ireland, Greece and Portugal down the road of debt restructuring accompanied by external bailouts. I find it difficult to see how this can be avoided unless these countries agree to abandon the Euro or the Germans have a change of heart.
If there do need to be fresh bailouts then presumably Singapore would have its arm twisted to make much bigger contributions. Also the increasing austerity fatigue evident among the electorate of these countries will make the next round of IMF-led bailouts much riskier.
As usual, this has all been decided and announced without telling Singaporeans first or debating it in Parliament. The first we got to hear about it was through the IMF announcement on April 20 just as the Spanish people only got to hear about their king’s elephant-hunting jaunts when he was injured.
I’m sure you are pleased to know where the money you earn is going and that whilst our poor get poorer, our lean middle class is squeezed ever harder, Europe’s Royalty continues to party!
While I am not in favour of creating a welfare culture I have always espoused safety nets, counselled against unnecessary austerity and put forward proposals for returning state assets to those who earned them by schemes such as privatising Temasek holdings with a distribution of shares to Singaporeans. I do not see why the savings squeezed out of our long-suffering citizens by an austerity diet should be used to subsidize other countries whose citizens enjoy a higher standard of living and much more generous safety net.
Elsewhere in his remarks Tharman called on debtor countries to put their public finances in order and cut deficits which he said was necessary to put them on a sustainable growth path. His prescription is unfairly asymmetric because it puts all the pain of adjustment on debtor rather than surplus countries like Singapore, China and German. He also demonstrates faulty logic falling for the ‘fallacy of composition.’ It may be sensible for an individual country to try to increase its savings rate by cutting its budget deficit. But if all countries try to do so, then the result will be a catastrophic slump in output and employment. This is the 101 of Keynesian Economics yet it has been forgotten by most politicians worldwide.
Although Tharman was not an Oxbridge scholar for his BA, I know from my conversations with him at Cambridge, where he took his MA, that he used to be a better economist than that. Therefore I would put his espousing of the conventional wisdom down to a desire not to make waves or rock the boat. Unfortunately this group think is something that all our Ministers and PAP MPs learn early on and that million dollar salaries make a difficult habit to break.
That is why we need a democratic revolution in Singapore if we are to ever get genuinely innovative thinking.