Media Release: George Yeo said absolutely nothing in Parliament, SDP, 23 Oct 2007

The Government’s responses over its dealings with the Burmese military regime are evasive, patronizing, and utterly devoid of substance. (Pseudonymity: See below for excerpts of George Yeo’s replies in Parliament)

Answers like “our defence sales have not been substantial”, “we will behave in a responsible manner”, and “‘arms sales have been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest” are like cotton-candy: sweet, puffy and full of air.

No verifiable facts were produced. What does Minister George Yeo mean by “substantial”, what is the Government’s definition of “responsible”, and pray tell what on earth is “carefully limited”?

If this passes off as “debate” in Parliament, then we are in deeper trouble than we think.

Why should we believe these bald assertions that the Government makes? Why does the Government not open the books of GLCs for scrutiny?

The authorities have been less than honest with the Singaporean people in this matter. For example, when allegations first surfaced that our funds, through the GIC which Mr Lee Kuan Yew runs, were linked to Burmese druglords through an investment fund called the Myanmar Fund, the PAP Government prevaricated in answering questions as to its involvement. (see here)

This is why general statements asseverating goodness in its dealings with the Burmese junta will not do. Singaporeans have the right to ask and are entitled to know details of what our involvement in Burma.

The more the Government avoids giving hard facts and figures, the more suspicions it raises and the more Singaporeans must press it for answers.

When our funds are used by a murderous regime that targets innocent civilians and peaceful protesters, a dollar is one too many.

Mr George Yeo needs to stop deluding himself and deceiving the people that the Government’s involvement in Burma is for “moral influence”. Considering that we hang small-time drug peddlers but deal with big-time Burmese druglords, Mr Yeo’s claim is a bit rich.

The SDP reiterates its stand: Singapore must stop selling arms of whatever nature to the regime in Burma, pull out our investments there and freeze the assets of the corrupt generals and druglords.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

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Excerpts from transcript of replies by Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, to questions on Burma in Parliament on 22 Oct 2007

Mr Siew Kum Hong: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether Singapore has supplied arms and weapons to Myanmar; (b) what is the total value of investments by Government-linked companies in Myanmar; (c) what is the total value of remittances from Myanmar into Singapore over the past 5 years; and (d) whether the Government intends to take any action, either by itself or as ASEAN chair, in addition to making statements and writing letters to the junta.

Ms Sylvia Lim: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether and to what extent Singapore businesses are or have been engaged with the Myanmar authorities in trade and consulting in the field of military hardware and surveillance equipment.

Ms Sylvia Lim: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether and to what extent there are arrangements in place for military cooperation between Singapore and Myanmar.

Minister

11. Singapore has limited economic links with Myanmar. Before the Asian financial crisis, we did encourage our businessmen to invest and to do more in Myanmar. At that time, there was hope that the Government was taking the Indonesian road from an authoritarian military government to constitutional democracy. But when Suharto fell in 1998, the Government in Yangon froze and the economy slid backwards. Generally speaking, our businessmen are not doing well in Myanmar and many regret having invested there. Singapore companies’ cumulative total direct investments in Myanmar for the year ending 2005 was only S$742 million. MTI does not keep track of how much of this is by GLCs, because the Government is not involved in the individual investment decisions of GLCs.

12. Overall, our total trade with Myanmar last year was S$1 billion, which represents only 0.1% of Singapore’s total trade. Myanmar ranked 50th among our trading partners. Therefore, our policy on Myanmar does not hinge on this. Instead, our actions are guided by what is best for the long-term interests of ASEAN.

13. As for remittances, MAS does not track the amount of money remitted into or out of Singapore by any country. For an international business and financial centre like Singapore, funds can be transferred for various purposes including payments for goods and services, trades on the stock exchange, even for school fees. But MAS operates a strict and rigorous regime against money laundering, like all other leading financial centres. Banks and financial institutions in Singapore are required to institute strict procedures, including the need to identify and know their customers, and monitor and report any suspicious transactions. Our rules are vigorously enforced. Should there be links with illicit activity, MAS will not hesitate to take necessary action.

14. If there are UN mandated sanctions against Myanmar, we will of course comply with them. Whatever policy we adopt must apply to all companies operating in Singapore, not just owned by Singaporeans.

15. Singapore has very few defence interactions with Myanmar. But we have to maintain links with the military because it is a key institution. These are largely limited to interactions at multilateral events such as ASEAN-related meetings, international defence exhibitions, and sports activities like the Army Half Marathon. As far as defence sales are concerned, it is established policy of the Government not to divulge details publicly. Myanmar is not subject to any UN arms embargo. If there is any UN sanction against Myanmar, Singapore will of course abide by it. Nevertheless, I can say that over the years defence sales to Myanmar have not been substantial, and have always been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest. There have not been any defence sales to Myanmar in recent years and, going forward, we will continue to behave in a responsible manner.

Ms Sylvia Lim: Mr Speaker Sir, what concerns me is to what extent Singapore might be implicated in somehow propping up the military authorities in Burma or Myanmar in their oppressive tactics. And the reason I ask this, there have been some press reports recently as well as in the past. Just to cite one example, a Melbourne newspaper called The Age last month came up with an article called “Web of Cash, Power and Cronies” which reiterated in fact, soft contents from earlier articles in Jane’s Intelligence Review in 1998 . And the content of those articles basically is to say that Singapore has in fact been much involved in shipping ammunitions and other military equipment to Myanmar and also been instrumental in helping to set up a cyber centre where intelligence equipment was subsequently used to monitor activists. So, I would like to ask the Minister to comment on these articles, whether there have been some activities as such, in the past, to what extent it has minimised now. Such clarity I think would be very important for us.

Minister: On the question of military sales, I’ve given a full answer earlier. It’s been insubstantial. We’ve always made sure they were items which could not be used against civilians and there has been no sales in recent years. I shouldn’t go on beyond that because it is our established policy not to divulge details of military sales. We have replied to the Australian newspaper. As for the reports about helping them establish a listening facility to monitor civilian dissidents, there’s no truth in that. We have made repeated clarifications to Australian newspapers. They have printed our replies, but somehow the journalists who wrote subsequently ignored those replies we’ve made. As for their accusations about us being involved in drug money laundering, it goes back quite a long time to Dr Chee Soon Juan. We’ve clarified again and again but they keep being recycled and that article you’ve referred to contains some of that recycled hash.

Pseudonymity: Do also read Leong Sze Hian’s Further questions about Myanmar and t-shirts