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“Singapore is (R)evolving”

 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 Editor

The New York Times

Dear Sir,

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.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Jeyaretnam

Secretary General
The Reform Party
18A Smith Street
Singapore 058932
+65 65349641/+65 91461976

Lee’s Speech to the Economic Society of Singapore and an excerpt from my latest book.

An Excerpt From my Upcoming Book  aimed at Benign Dictators and would be Benign Dictators across the Globe.

“Chapter one: Politics That Works

Do you control a military regime that has run its own economy into the ground? Are you a dictator whose people are revolting on the streets threatening to overturn you? Maybe you are Communists and the internet is wrecking havoc with your established control of the flow of information. Or are you a far right group in a robust democracy looking for some statistics and an economic model that on the surface will support your questionable ideology. Maybe your problem is minorities? Those pesky types who wear headdresses for no rhyme nor reason or those chaps who make little India seem dark mid afternoon? Would you love to know how to be able to segregate your ethnic types, control them completely AND trumpet an inclusive harmonious society?

Don’t despair. My book will tell you how to do all this and more. Once you have read my book you too will understand how to make the central planning, socialist policies of a totalitarian, plutocratic regime look like democracy, meritocracy and free market capitalism. Yes, you too can make politics work for you rather than for your people. Imagine total power for not just 10, not just 20 but 50 years and more! All this for just $5:99 , available now from any dodgy bookshop. Just $5.99 but look at our money back guarantee! If after implementing the ideas in my political primer your salary isn’t five time that of a leader of an advanced democratic nation, I promise you a total refund.”

 

What are we to make of PM Lee’s address to the economic Society of Singapore on Friday? I’ll be addressing the economic implications and critically what I see as warning signs that our reserves have in fact been frittered away for a piece due out on The Online Citizen tomorrow morning. Here today I’m going to touch on the humbug and a marvellous catch phrase. By repeating a phrase often enough and having it reverberate in the State media, the government hopes that most Singaporeans will accept it as truth. On Friday, phrases such as , “inclusive society”, “collective well being”, “social cohesion” scattered with frequent references to ‘global’ and ‘advanced countries’ were used in this speech to persuade us that this was a warm and fuzzy PM putting Singaporeans first and in the lead!

One phrase that made me laugh out loud was, “Politics That Works”. You see the PAP doesn’t have any new ideas. Not whilst LKY and his carefully groomed successors are in power. All they can do is keep defending their one big, rigid, idea and tweak the message to make it look like it is adapting with the times. ‘Politics That Works’, brings two things to mind,

  1. The previous message of democracy that works – for us. (in other words not democracy)
  2. That classic PAP book from the mid 1970’s, ‘Socialism That Works.

“Socialism That Works” was a collection of essays edited by Devan Nair with an essay of that title by Dr Goh Keng Swee (credited with being the economic architect of modern-day Singapore). Whether LKY was a socialist or a fascist at the time is a matter for elsewhere but his Party was about to be expelled from the Socialist International based on complaints by the Dutch Labour Party. They resigned before they could be pushed and produced the book as an answer to those complaints.

Backtrack to 1961 and Dr Lim had founded the Barisan Socialis Party putting Singapore firmly on track for a classic two Party model of democracy. However, in 1963 half of the Barisan and about 100 left-wing activists and journalists, were arrested and detained under Operation Cold Store allegedly aimed at clamping down on communists and their sympathisers. With Dr Lim and others in prison The Barisan were neutralised, and we have had a one Party state ever since.

‘Socialism That Works’ justified those heavy-handed techniques as being necessary and pragmatic for the survival of the state in early nationhood, portraying Singapore as being virtually at war with Communists. Fast forward to 2012 and strangely the communists have gone but the repressive policies are still in place. However, the editor of that book subsequently became one of the biggest critics of the PAP model and died in unhappy circumstances in exile.

No wonder the PM wants to dissociate himself from Socialism That Works, apart from the blindingly obvious fact that socialism does not work. Even though academics such as Michael Barr have pointed to evidence that early era LKY was going to, or at least said he was going to, abolish CPF in favour of a welfare state, a clear socialist move, the PAP today doesn’t sit happily with that label. Instead LKY effectively nationalised land, ensuring that the bulk of Singaporeans became serfs of the state (with 99 year leaseholds) and ensured that the state, rather than the private sector, controlled most of the economy that was not owned by MNCs.

Dr Lim made one of the strongest statements in support of democracy for Singapore in our history, from within prison. After being incarcerated for 9 years he was asked to sign a statement in return for his release saying that he was committed to supporting the democratic system in Singapore and would agree not to participate in politics. He rejected the trade-off. He pointed out the contradictions in the two statements and he stood on his honour and principle and refused to sign. He refused to give away his rights to participate in politics and the creation of a true democracy.

We should always remember Dr. Lim when we come across the PAP, its cronies and the media it controls talking about trade -offs. Usually backed up by foreigners touting how Singaporeans gave away their freedom in exchange for prosperity. The Danish former ambassador speculating wildly about what Singaporeans would give away, clearly has a vested interest in making Singapore’s politics work for the PAP. How else would he be unaware that our so-called economic miracle is based on the negative restrictive practices of socialism for locals combined with an open welcome and a low tax regime for foreigners and their successful by products of capitalism, global corporations? The trade-off is that they, the foreign talent, shore up a repressive totalitarian regime in return for a share of the pie or the fruits of capitalism that the locals are denied.

“Politics That Works” of course means letting the PAP keep their monopoly over political power and turning a blind eye to the reality that their supposed mandate is nothing of the sort. Elections where the ruling party has total control of the media, uses state resources to intimidate voters into voting for them and turns what should be an independent Electoral Commission into a poodle of the Prime Minister so it can gerrymander the electoral system to its advantage are anything but free and fair. The fact that, despite the tilted playing field, 40% of the people chose to vote for non-PAP candidates means that their claim to a mandate is essentially fraudulent.

Dr Lim’s example reminds us all that we gave away nothing and that entering into a trade-off makes us look like willing collaborators in our own downfall. Democracy was removed from us at terrible cost and in the one party state that followed we have no choices or bargaining power. We live under an authoritarian regime where our basic rights to assemble and to speak freely have been removed and where crony capitalism and faux democracy are supported by elites, an exploited ordinary citizenry and by growing numbers of foreigners imported to prop up economic growth and give the impression of progress to the outside world. It is an economic model that can’t work long term but because the political model keeps the PAP in power, we are helpless to expose it.

After socialism that works, or socialism the PAP way came the next catch phrase, ‘Asian style democracy’ or ‘democracy the PAP way.’ That phrase too has been discredited, if not entirely blown out of the water. Not least because no-other democracy in Asia practices Asian style democracy, the Singapore way. So it was clearly BS. When I entered politics only three years ago it was common to hear that democracy wasn’t right for Singaporeans, that we weren’t ready and needed our own Asian style, that the two-party Westminster system was destructive. Let me be clear that it was common to hear this from within the Opposition and even the Party that I had joined. Luckily, like LKY and his gang resigning from Socialist international before they could be exposed ,our gang of faux- democracy advocates also resigned leaving the true democracy ideology intact, albeit unpopular and isolated.

But it will take more than a handful of years to expose the message for the fake that it is and it still frequently pops up. Most recently amongst certain sectors of the Opposition the, “democracy that works in our Asian society” message has morphed into ‘not opposing for opposing sake’ (again a catchphrase I used to hear a lot in the 1970s to argue why Singaporeans should reject JBJ) and ‘working with the PAP’ in a ‘constructive’ way ( i.e. being a coalition in a one party state rather than opposition in a two party state)

So the PAP too has morphed and has come up with its best catch phrase to date, Politics That Works. “Politics that Works for Whom?” might be a more pertinent question. Conveniently this phrase, by not defining the type of politics, allows them to be authoritarian, arch capitalist and ardent socialist all at the same time. Politics is a word so wide, so all encompassing, so vague and difficult to define that is should last them 20 years at least. In fact the gazetting of TOC proves that politics can’t be defined legally. This phrase sits so nicely with the faux opposition message of not wanting to strip the PAP of their monopoly of not opposing for opposing sake that it is almost as if they had sat down together to come up with it.

It always puzzles me when people say they aren’t interested in politics. But if you ask a Singaporean woman,’ not interested in politics’ ,whether she believes that her male colleague should be paid 35% more than her for the same job because he is a man? She will most certainly have an opinion on that. If you ask another Singaporean whether he believes that as he is in good health he should give his CPF savings to someone else, he’ll most certainly have an opinion. If you ask Singaporeans whether they should pay higher taxes because the investments of our foreign reserves haven’t quite worked out, then they’ll have an opinion. It turns out that they are in fact, interested in politics. If I choose not to buy clothes made in illegal sweat shops or carpets made by child slaves, to recycle, or to buy my food locally rather than from a multi- national corporation or to use public transport then I am also getting involved in politics.

The PAP would like you to stay apathetic, to believe that only the PAP should be working in politics so that politics works for them. Politics That Works, is the kind of humbug and hypocrisy that a self-serving elite use to mask the fact that they have a monopoly of power. This power then becomes a means of ensuring that the economic playing field is tilted in their favour which in a kind of vicious circle once again reinforces their political power. You went through all that austerity to keep the PAP economic model working and now taxes are going to rise. Are you interested in politics yet? Do you see that you have been working for (partisan PAP) politics all this time whereas politics should have been working for you?

Tharman joins the King of Spain in a Royal Elephant Shoot.

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.

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