Pot Calling Kettle Black Wednesday, Jan 10 2007 

Yesterday, I had a good laugh. I’ve not had a good laugh in a long while. I’ll tell you why. 🙂

The long awaited National Kidney Foundation (NKF) civil suit began on 8 Jan 2006. (Towards the end of my post, I’ve posted a Jan 8 report by TODAY for those who are unfamiliar with this case) The civil suit is expected to last about 7 weeks or so. Many things about the case will be written/posted in the traditional media and Singapore blogosphere in the coming weeks as the case progresses. For now, I just want to highlight an exchange that took place on the first day of the trial that was reported in the local media.

First, here’s the exchange of words as reported by TODAY in its Jan 9 edition……

CRONIES OR …

(It began when Mr Shanmugam repeatedly referred to Durai’s co-defendants as his “cronies”.)

Chia Boon Teck (for Loo and Yong): I let it go once, I let it go twice, but until this court makes a finding of fact, that the defendant directors are cronies, may I ask my learned friend to stop labelling them as such?

Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon: I think it’s a fair point. The gentlemen in question are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. I am not suggesting that you intend anything else.

K Shanmugam (for NKF): Yes sir, if I put it this way, my understanding of the duty of counsel in an opening is to state the case that he intends to prove. This is the case that I intend to prove.

JC Menon: Yes.

Mr Shanmugam: As long as I don’t put it any higher than what I reasonably intend to prove, I am entitled to call them cronies.

JC Menon: I think we can avoid the use of these terms at this stage.

Mr Shanmugam: I will use a longer form of words every time I refer to them – the people who completely abdicated their responsibility and behaved completely dishonourably – I will say that every time.

JC Menon: Yes.

(Eventually, Mr Shanmugam referred to them as Durai’s “special friends”)

The plaintiffs in this case, the board of the new NKF, is represented by “a team of 10 lawyers from Allen & Gledhill, led by Senior Counsel K Shanmugam.” Two of the defendants are represented by their lawyer Chia Boon Teck.

Generally speaking, cronyism means favouritism shown to friends and associates.

Its funny that K Shanmugam uses the word “cronies“. You see, the latter is not only a well known lawyer in Singapore but he’s also a ruling party MP. He’s a PAP MP for Sembawang GRC. This exchange of words in court, especially the use of the word cronies by the PAP MP, made me laugh ‘cos I was reminded of something that caused quite a stir in 2002: A piece entitled Why it might be difficult for the (PAP) government to withdraw from business. Its a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Oh by the way, do also read my post from last year while you’re at it.

I not only had a good laugh but all of these just made me sick too just thinking about it.

***********

NKF lawsuit battle lines drawn

Questions to be addressed as trial opens today

Monday • January 8, 2007

Lee U-Wen
u-wen@mediacorp.com.sg

WHEN it came out in court that former National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief executive TT Durai earned $600,000 a year, shockwaves were felt across the island.

That such a sum could be paid to a man heading a charity entirely dependent on donations, disturbed the public and left a bitter taste in the mouth, which has lingered to this day.

But before more details could be disclosed, Mr Durai, who was testifying in a defamation suit he had initiated on behalf of the charity against Singapore Press Holdings in July 2005, abruptly dropped all the charges.

Even though the pay issue was revisited several months later in an audit report, with fresh details of how he had received huge salary increments and encashed overtime hours and backdated leave to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, plenty of questions were left unanswered.

Who approved his generous pay package? How was the remuneration system decided? Were the board of directors in the know about his salary?

Finally, the wait is over.

These questions, among many others, are likely to be asked and hopefully answered when one of the most eagerly-anticipated lawsuits in Singapore’s recent legal history begins this morning in the High Court. The civil suit is expected to last seven weeks.

On one side of the courtroom is the board of the new NKF, led by its chairman and former National Council of Social Service president Gerard Ee.

The charity is looking to recover about $12 million it claims was improperly spent by the old guard on salaries, benefits and failed contracts. It also wants compensation for the loss of goodwill and damage to its reputation.

The five defendants facing the civil suit are Mr Durai, former chairman Richard Yong, former treasurer Loo Say San, former board member Matilda Chua, and Mr Durai’s close ally and business associate Pharis Aboobacker.

Already, battle lines have been drawn.

Mr Durai, who has stayed out of the public eye since the saga erupted, has categorically denied any wrongdoing on his part.

His ex-colleagues — Mr Yong, Mr Loo and Ms Chua — have similarly distanced themselves from blame, saying Mr Durai alone was responsible for the charity’s day-to-day operations.

The new NKF, though, is pulling out all the stops to ensure it comes out on top when the verdict is announced. It is counting on its team of 10 lawyers from Allen & Gledhill, led by Senior Counsel K Shanmugam.

Mr Durai is represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah from Tan Rajah & Cheah. Each of the other defendants has his or her own lawyer, with the exception of Mr Loo and Mr Yong, both of whom are represented by counsel Chia Boon Teck.

Those eagerly awaiting the cross-examination of Mr Durai will have to hold on — he is unlikely to take the stand for at least a month. The reason: The NKF has named as many as 30 witnesses, so the plaintiffs look set to be in the spotlight for at least the next four weeks.

Aside from the media interest in this suit, scores of retirees and homemakers, umbrellas in tow, are expected to descend upon the High Court, eager to snare a coveted seat to watch the drama unfold each day.

Such is the scale of this behemoth trial that the High Court, in a bid to prevent a logistical nightmare this morning, opened its doors last Saturday to allow lawyers to wheel in a staggering 270,000 pages of documents.

One source told Today that court 4B, where all the legal cut and thrust will take place, “looks more like a library than your regular courtroom”.

Besides Mr Durai, all eyes will also be on the other defendants, sans Mr Aboobacker, who is believed to be in India and not expected to come to Singapore.

Many will remember that Mr Durai took it on his own accord to withdraw the defamation suit on behalf of the previous board of directors. This civil suit will be the first time the public gets to hear from Mr Yong, Mr Loo and Ms Chua as they respond to Mr Durai’s side of the story and give their own takes on the saga before Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon.

Even so, questions are already raised as to why the NKF chose to sue just three board members, and not all of them collectively.

Among the third parties, there is plenty of interest into what accountant Alwyn Lim — former vice-chairman and chairman of the old NKF’s finance committee — has to say.

It is understood that Mr Lim has also been roped in as a witness for the plaintiff, despite being dragged into the lawsuit as a third party by his ex-colleagues.

The trial is expected to wrap up by Feb 23 but that’s not the end of it. Barely two weeks later, the four former NKF officials are set to appear in the Subordinate Courts to face criminal charges. Mr Durai faces two charges for intentionally deceiving the charity by handing in false documents. If found guilty, he faces up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

• More than $2 million in remuneration was paid to TT Durai, made up of salary and bonuses amounting to $600,000 and tens of thousands of dollars in encashed backdated leave

• $4.5 million from a failed contract with call centre Protonweb Solutions

• $3.3 million was paid to IT firm Forte Systems; software not delivered on time and contract specifications allegedly not met

1 The new NKF

2 TT Durai (defendant)

3 Richard Yong (defendant)

4 Loo Say San (defendant)

5 Matilda Chua (defendant)

6 Accountant Alwyn Lim (3rd party)

7 Businessman Chow Kok Fong (3rd party)

8 Lawyer Kweh Soon Han (3rd party)

9 Part-time consultant Lawrence Chia (3rd party)

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Human Rights Must Become a Priority for ASEAN Wednesday, Jan 10 2007 

Freedom House Press Release

Washington, D.C.,January 8, 2007

During its annual meeting later this week, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should join the ranks of those major intergovernmental organizations that have institutionalized their commitments to human rights and democracy, Freedom House said today.

An initiative on the table during the upcoming January 10-15 meeting in the Philippines is the development of an ASEAN charter, which currently does not exist. ASEAN’s “Eminent Persons Group” has drawn up a draft charter that mentions the importance of democracy and human rights, and former Philippines President Fidel Ramos, a member of the group, has proposed establishing principles within the charter that allow for sanctions against member states that violate human rights and democratic standards. Some civil society groups have gone further by pushing for a provision in the charter that establishes a formal body that can try human rights cases in the region.

“To achieve its stated mission to “accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development,” ASEAN must begin to address the serious human rights issues of some of its members, such as Burma,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. “Other regional organizations were also founded with a goal of greater economic cooperation. Most of them have since discovered that cooperation on economic matters is best fostered when members also share basic political principles, such as adherence to human rights and democratic principles,” she added.

ASEAN is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The organization’s founding document, the Bangkok Declaration, makes no mention of human rights and democracy, and the organization has been frequently criticized for its policy of noninterference in member states’ domestic affairs. This has given rise to the discussion among Asian political leaders and democratic activists about modernizing ASEAN’s structures.

Other regional organizations have binding human rights mechanisms that can effectively address human rights abuses and democratic lapses occurring within member states. The Organization of American States, for example, has language in its charter that allows for the suspension of a member state during specific breaches of democracy, as well as a separate Democracy Charter that outlines members’ obligation to promote and defend democracy. The OAS also has a legal system under which complaints can be addressed; this includes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), composed of twelve southern African nations, also stresses the importance of democracy and human rights in its treaty. This commitment takes the form of the organization’s Parliamentary Forum, an inter-parliamentary body that has developed electoral norms and standards, and conducts programs on democracy and governance.

Similarly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states that “pluralistic democracy and rule of law are essential for ensuring respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducts election observation missions and monitors human rights issues within member states.

Four of ASEAN’s ten member countries were ranked Not Free in the 2006 edition of Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. Burma receives the region’s lowest score and is its most notorious human rights abuser. Also included on the list are Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

ASEAN member nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in every country in the world since 1972.

A Peaceful Demonstration of Importance to Singapore Wednesday, Jan 10 2007 

Protest March in Singapore

Arthur Waldron
International Assessment and Strategy Center
Published on December 16th, 2006

Although the world press has ignored the story, a small protest march in Singapore a week ago may signal an acceleration of change in the island country whose economy and intellectual sophistication is, sadly, streets ahead of its political system.

On December 10 a dozen Singaporeans marched to protest the imprisonment of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party trained as a neuro-psychologist.

The protesters, wearing identical yellow tee shirts, marched in three groups of four, to avoid violating the Singapore regulation that assemblies of more than four people must have official permission.

The Singapore police followed the march and filmed the marchers, but no arrests were made.

That the world media paid no attention to this event is not surprising. Singapore is a tiny country and a dozen protesters there are scarcely a story.

But this author recalls a day in the 1980s, when some Chinese students in the United States announced that they would protest in front of the People’s Republic consulate on the West Side in New York City.

He was then teaching at Princeton, and made the short trip up to New York. From a nearby coffee shop he watched as six or seven people, with paper grocery bag masks over their heads, unfurled a banner reading “Human Rights for China.”

No one else took any notice. No one emerged from the consulate, the former West Side Sheraton Motor Hotel, a vast and unwelcoming structure.

Yet a quarter of a century later, one can say truthfully that tiny demonstration marked the beginning of a growing tide of criticism and unrest that, sooner or later, seems bound to change China.

Singapore is incomparably more advanced than China in every respect, including its political system. That means, however, that Singaporeans expect more—and Singapore, though prosperous and clean and smoothly administered is not free.

I regret not being present in person to witness a demonstration that I suspect will be of equal importance for Singapore.

Dr. Chee is a highly intelligent, responsible, and well-educated man. He speaks English far better even than Lee Kwan-yew, who would, I think, be hard pressed to best him in debate. When I heard him speak a year ago at a democracy meeting, my thought was: “You have just heard a speech by the future first elected prime minister of Singapore.”

More can be found at various Singapore websites such as www.pseudonymity.wordpress.com.