{FOI} – Letters On Singapore’s Death Penalty Friday, Nov 30 2007 

Changi Prison - The Age
Click the photo of Singapore’s Changi Prison to read The precision of ritual in the gallows’ shadow

Reconsider mandatory death penalty, ST Forum, Straits Times print edition, 30 Nov 2007

I REFER to the article, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’ (ST, Nov 24).

Before we even begin debating abolition in Singapore, it is important to consider the mandatory nature of the death penalty here.

Singapore makes the death penalty mandatory for murder, and certain instances of drug trafficking.

This means that courts cannot take into account mitigating circumstances in sentencing. Judges are bound by statute to pass the same sentence on a first-time impoverished teenage drug trafficker as they are on a seasoned drug smuggler: death.

One senior local lawyer, Senior Counsel K. S. Rajah, has even labelled the mandatory death penalty ‘The Unconstitutional Punishment’.

Considering the severity of the punishment and the lack of judicial discretion in its imposition, there should be a correspondingly more robust justification of the mandatory death penalty.

It is imperative for our Government to commission a comprehensive review on whether mandatory sentencing has made a meaningful dent in drug-trafficking rates.

It would be helpful for the Government to begin by publishing a breakdown of executions and correlate it to the relevant crime rates.

However, even if the deterrent effect of the death penalty is proven, this does not mean that the death penalty is necessarily the most effective way to deter crime, let alone the most moral.

We need to remember that the death penalty is only one of many deterrent options in the judicial arsenal to fight crime. Introducing the mandatory death penalty for drink-driving would certainly have a revolutionary effect in reducing drink-driving deaths. However, we need to look beyond a two-dimensional analysis of cause and effect when considering criminal law.

As we were reminded in the debate over Section 377A of the Penal Code – a law criminalising gay sex – the criminal law is a reflection of society’s values. Are we going to be a society that is blindly tough on crime at the expense of the famous dictum, Let the punishment fit the crime?

In many circumstances, the mandatory death penalty prevents judges from doing the latter, and hence should be reconsidered.

Choo Zheng Xi


Misleading evidence in support of death penalty, ST Forum online, Straits Times, 30 Nov 2007

I REFER to Dr Andy Ho’s commentary, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’ (ST, Nov 24). Some of the evidence he provides to buttress his claim is quite misleading.

Dr Joanna Shepherd’s study is flawed in that the instruments it uses provide vastly fluctuating results over small ranges of data. This criticism comes from Wharton Professor Justin Wolfers and Yale Professor John Donahue. They also point out that the regression formula used in the Shepherd study has been grossly misapplied, and correct application would lend credence to abolitionism, rather than retentionism. They highlight another study done by researchers Peter Passell and John Taylor, indicating that homicidal rates dropped uniformly in all American states in the mid-1960s. They argue that homicide rates in states that retained and abolished the death penalty changed in an identical pattern, contrary to what studies like Dr Shepherd’s show.

Dr Ho’s example of Britain can be called to question under similar terms of reference. The escalating conflict in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in Northern Ireland would probably better account for the increasing disorder in prisons, rather than the abolition of the death penalty in 1965. One should also note a separate data study by the New Zealand Police Force, which showed that all crime rates fell significantly following abolition in New Zealand.

But more problematic is Dr Ho’s chief premise. His utilitarian analogy prompts the question: Is pushing the man into the path of the trolley the only way to prevent death? And are the five people nothing but mirages, created by the zeal of retentionists like Dr Ho? After all, not everyone is Jack the Ripper. Studies have shown that people who kill have been driven to kill by passion.

Nonetheless, Dr Ho makes one important observation at the end of his piece, which governments should heed when devising ever harsher punishments for terrorists. He cautions that over-severe punishments may lead to a counter-deterrent effect, because they allow the terrorist organisations to fan up waves of discontent.

In conclusion, I hope Dr Ho and his cohort will carefully reconsider the merits of holding on to a medieval stricture.

Clement Wee Hong En


That capital punishment saves lives is not enough, ST Forum online, Straits Times, 30 Nov 2007

THE moratorium on capital punishment, approved last week by the United Nations General Assembly by 99 to 52 votes (with 33 countries abstaining), is a curious development in world politics.

Given its record on executions, it is only logical that Singapore would spearhead the fight against this non-binding resolution (see article by Andy Ho, ‘The moral case for the death penalty’; ST, Nov 24).

It was the title of the article that prompted me to read it. I even went to the Web and did some further reading on the study quoted by Dr Joanna Shepherd and related literature.

One could say, therefore, that the title served its purpose. However, I must admit the content of the article did not help me at all to see any strong ‘moral case’ for the death penalty.

All I can conclude is that, if we accept at face value the reliability of the findings of this and other studies – something not beyond debate but which, for the sake of the argument, I don’t want to contest here – then there is statistical evidence that supports the deterrent effect of capital punishment and that, therefore, it would make pragmatic sense to use such a deterrent.

I understand Dr Ho when he advocates that ‘the penalty should remain on the books, if only to use for the worst of the worst’.

But I fail to see the qualification and logic of his conclusion where he writes: ‘This, I think, is the position morally required of all governments because some innocent lives can thereby be saved.’

The contention (or even the fact) that innocent lives could be saved by laws demanding capital punishment for certain crimes does not in itself lead to any moral requirement for a government to enact such a law.

At the most, there might be a demand of logic or expediency, not a moral demand.

What is more: By the same argument – saving some innocent lives – one might very well advocate capital punishment for any form of grossly reckless or dangerous behaviour, like for drink driving when it causes fatalities in an accident.

In sum: It takes more than a good effect before we can justify an extreme remedy, something that could be used ‘for the worst of the worst’.

Paul E. Staes


{FOI} – Bloggers Want In On Panel’s New Media Study Tuesday, Nov 27 2007 

They plan to gather feedback, submit a paper to the govt-appointed council

by Jeremy Au Yong, Straits Times, 27 Nov 2007

WORRIED that a study on new media would be too focused on expert views, bloggers are getting together to make themselves heard.

Bloggers from two popular websites – yawningbread.org and theonlinecitizen.com – are calling for a meeting of Web ‘practitioners’ to gather feedback on how the Web should be regulated.

Notices posted on both sites say this of the government-linked study: ‘So far, those being consulted appear to be the elite – the experts.

‘There is a need for ordinary bloggers – and filmmakers who intend to put video material on the Internet – to get together and organise a submission to the relevant bodies, putting across the perspective of practitioners.’

Their plan is to have a small meeting of 20 to 25 bloggers on Dec 4 at The Substation in Armenian Street.

The study that triggered this move is conducted by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, or Aims.

The council was appointed by the Government in April to study the social, ethical, legal and regulatory impact of interactive and digital media.

Aims is still gathering information for a report that is due for release for public consultation in the first half of next year. As such, the conclusions are still up in the air.

Although Aims has invited some bloggers for roundtable discussions, it is not enough for bloggers like Mr Choo Zheng Xi, a law undergraduate at the National University of Singapore.

Said the 21-year-old who owns theonlinecitizen.com: ‘We thought a submission paper would be more impactful than five or six bloggers sitting with a whole lot of other people.

‘This is bloggers stepping up to bat. We want to take the lead in crafting the direction legislation will take. We don’t want to just provide feedback.’

Mr Alex Au, who runs yawningbread.org agreed, added that while Aims was the trigger for the meeting, it will not be the sole focus.

‘I don’t want to narrow it down. People may want to submit their feedback to other bodies or even get another parliamentary petition.’

Media researcher Tan Tarn How of the Institute of Policy Studies, who has been invited to the bloggers’ meeting, said the move is a win-win proposition.

‘A written submission, which will be debated by the public and blogged about will make the process of the study more informed and extensive.

‘For the bloggers, it’s useful to put out their views like this, as it is unfiltered.’

On the part of the council, chairman Cheong Yip Seng welcomed input from the meeting and stressed that Aims ‘intends to seek input from a wide cross-section of society, not just experts’.

He said: ‘We will be happy to consider submissions from anyone who believes he can help the development of interactive digital media and at the same time manage its ill-effects.’

Singapore’s Legal System Attacked At Lawyers’ Meeting Friday, Oct 19 2007 

AFP, 19 Oct 2007

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Singapore’s legal system, praised by foreign investors for its efficiency, came under attack on Friday at an international lawyers’ conference for being repressive and silencing dissent.

Thousands of International Bar Association (IBA) delegates began meeting on Sunday in Singapore, a country that the group’s president, Fernando Pombo of Spain, said has an “outstanding judiciary.”

But Timothy Cooper, head of Washington-based human rights group Worldrights, challenged that notion. He questioned why political defendants in the city-state had never won libel suits brought against them by government officials.

He also asked why permits for gatherings “are routinely denied” to political opponents of the government – and received applause from hundreds of the conference attendees.

It is illegal to hold a public gathering of five or more people in Singapore without a permit, meaning demonstrations seldom occur.

Chee Soon Juan, one of a few to challenge the ruling People’s Action Party, also drew strong applause when he told delegates about his arrest and imprisonment six times, mainly for speaking in public without a permit.

Chee, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, and another opposition figure, lawyer J.B. Jeyaretnam, were declared bankrupt in recent years after failing to pay libel damages to members of the ruling party – effectively barring them from holding public office under Singapore law.

Addressing the gathering, Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar said that if Singapore’s leaders did not vigorously defend their reputations against those who questioned their integrity, “an insidious creeping effect” could lead people to believe the allegations.

He noted that London’s Financial Times had on Wednesday unreservedly apologised “for having published something which suggested nepotism” in Singapore.

Chee took a break from a five-day long solo protest over Singapore’s ties with military-run Myanmar to attend the IBA meeting. He said police told him his protest was illegal.

“I have no doubt that I’ll be charged and convicted again,” he said.

In his earlier speech, Jayakumar said Singapore’s legal system allowed the country’s different ethnic groups to live peacefully together, while international commerce thrived.

“Internationally our legal system and judiciary have been held in high esteem by the World Bank as an example of how a former British colony has been able to maintain its integrity and efficiency,” he said.

Singapore’s influential founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew earlier told the conference that other international groups have also given top ratings to the city-state’s legal framework.

Responding to Cooper’s comments, Jayakumar noted the city-state was densely populated and said “law and order considerations” are pre-eminent when permits for public gatherings are considered.

He said authorities are “particularly careful” about political gatherings and those based on race, language or religion.

The city-state has bitter memories of past racial incidents in its early years and clamps down hard on anyone inciting communal tensions.

“We are not saying that our answers are the best answers, but they are simply what has worked for us,” Jayakumar said.

Before leaving to resume his one-man protest, Chee urged the lawyers to heed the words of Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy leader.

“In the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, please, use your liberty to help promote ours,” he said.

“Mr Jayakumar, this one thing I tell you, the human spirit can only be suppressed, never crushed.”


{FOI}-DPM to Chee: Don’t turn IBA meet into theatre on S’pore politics by Goh Chin Lian, Straits Times website, 19 Oct 2007

chee-jaya by ST
‘I want to thank the speakers…and Mr Jayakumar (left) for his very well-spun fairy tale’, Chee (right) said, and then proceeded to describe how he was sued for defamation and arrested several times for speaking without a permit. – PHOTO: ST

DEPUTY Prime Minister S Jayakumar on Friday accused Singapore Democratic Party’s Chee Soon Juan of turning an international meeting here into a theatre on Singapore politics, even as he responded to the opposition politician’s accusations of breaches in the law by the government.

And to a report detailing similar accusations, which SDP members distributed to delegates at the International Bar Association’s (IBA) symposium on the rule of law, Professor Jayakumar said it contained ‘half truths and complete untruths’.

He had opened the morning session at Suntec Convention Centre – the last major event of a week-long conference for about 4,000 legal practitioners from 120 countries – with a speech on how the rule of law is upheld in Singapore.

He was one of six speakers on the rule of law and the experience in Asia.

When the audience was invited to ask questions, Dr Chee took to the microphone.

‘I want to thank the speakers…and Mr Jayakumar for his very well-spun fairy tale’, he said, and then proceeded to describe how he was sued for defamation and arrested several times for speaking without a permit.

He claimed he had just come from a single person protest outside the Istana where he was approached by the police and told it was illegal.

‘Mr Jayakumar, will you tell the audience also when you talked about detention without trial, how members of the opposition were detained for 10, 20, 30 years?’ he said, naming other detainees like Chia Thye Poh and Francis Seow.

The session’s chairman, Mr Francis Neete, interrupted him at this point to let the minister respond, but Dr Chee said to let him finish what he wanted to say to the delegates.

‘I’m sure they would want to hear what the reality of Singapore is,’ he said, prompting applause from the audience.

Dr Chee then went on to say that he would gladly go to prison and remain bankrupt for the freedom of his country.

Quoting Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he asked the delegates to ‘please use your liberty to help promote ours’.

Prof Jayakumar, who is also the Law Minister, replied that he would answer the question, ‘out of respect to the Chair, IBA and all the thousands of delegates who are attending’.

‘I say that because Mr Chee is a gentleman who vigorously campaigned for this conference to be cancelled and be boycotted.’

The DPM said he hoped that after spending six days here, the majority of the delegates would agree with the IBA’s decision to hold the conference here.

‘I would like or hope that the IBA proceedings do not get converted into a theatre of Singapore politics, because this is what Mr Chee Soon Juan is trying to do.’

‘He has the freedom of speech, but he has forgotten to tell some fundamental truths in many of the allegations that he has made both orally as well as in the publication that he has circulated.’

Referring to the eight-page report, he said: ‘If you want to persuade the members of the IBA, you have to tell them the complete truth.’

For example, the report gave the impression that in one court case, the Canadian courts had cast doubts on the integrity of Singapore courts.

‘But he doesn’t mention here that the courts in Canada from Supreme Court right up to the Ontario Court of Appeal threw out the allegation, and said that there is no reason to doubt the impartiality of the judges who heard the case in Singapore,’ said Professor Jayakumar.

The report also falsely claimed, he noted, that the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine was being banned here because it refused to apologise over a published interview with Dr Chee.

The session resumed after a break with a new panel of speakers, including National University of Singapore law professor Simon Tay, Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim and Malaysian Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan.

At question time, more SDP leaders took to the microphone.

Dr Chee’s sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, recounted how she was bankrupted as a result of defamation suits by Singapore’s leaders, and then asked how it came to be that the Malaysian Bar Council had no qualms speaking up about the rule of law in Malaysia.

SDP assistant secretary-general John Tan, who came after her, questioned the independence of the judiciary here.

Among the five other members of the audience who took to the microphone, was Mr M. Ravi, who introduced himself as a human rights lawyer who has defended opposition parties.

He defended the Chee siblings when they were sued by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.

Another person who spoke was Mr Timothy Cooper, executive director of US-based human rights advocacy Worldrights.

Both Mr Ravi and Mr Cooper also raised questions about what they saw as flaws in Singapore’s rule of law.

Mr Neete, IBA’s immediate past president, told The Straits Times he was not surprised that politicians had taken to the conference.

Similar incidents had occurred in previous conferences and the same could be expected next year’s conference in Buenos Aires, he said.

He quipped: ‘Politicians being politicians will have to have a forum.’

[FOI] – Speakers Cornered To Be Shown In Johor Tuesday, Oct 9 2007 

See’s film to be shown in Johor

Thursday • September 27, 2007

Zul Othman, TODAY

FILM-MAKER Martyn See, two of whose films were not allowed to be screened in Singapore, is looking to show his new movie at his country’s doorstep. In Johor Baru, to be precise.

The 26-minute effort, Speakers Cornered, will be screened there at this year’s Freedom Film Festival (FFF) on Saturday.

Organised by Malaysian organisation Community Communications Centre (Komas), it is also the country’s first human rights film festival.

Like Singapore Rebel, the subject of Speakers Cornered is Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan. This time, Mr See documents the politician’s three-day standoff with the police during a protest at Speakers’ Corner.

“I’ve not submitted Speakers Cornered to the local censors, and I’m still considering if I should do that,” Mr See, 38, told Today. “The documentary was made a year ago, and I was waiting for the opportune time to submit it. But Speakers Cornered is straightforward reporting with no commentary. So, what you see is what you get … If I don’t submit it to the authorities, I’ll put it on the Net and bypass the censors completely.”

Singapore Rebel was banned under the Films Act after it was categorised as a party political film, while Zahari’s 17 Years, his other movie, was deemed against the public interest. Both can be viewed online.

The latter is a 49-minute documentary that chronicles the life of left-wing journalist Said Zahari, who was jailed for 17 years for subversion.

Singapore Rebel

Said Zahari’s 17 Years

Speaking from Kuala Lumpur, FFF coordinator Effa Desa told Today Mr See’s latest effort received positive reviews when screened in the Malaysian capital on Sept 15 and in Penang on Sept 22 in conjunction with the festival. Both showings attracted 400 visitors.

Also getting rave responses at FFF are short films 24 Hrs, 15 and Cut! by homegrown movie director Royston Tan.

This is not Mr See’s first film at the four-year-old festival: Singapore Rebel and Zahari’s 17 Years were shown there in 2005 and last year, respectively.

He said such a film festival is important as it sets a positive precedent and hoped such an event would make an appearance here. “I would like to see a full human-rights festival here because we already have an informal coalition of people working on the human-rights mechanism for Asean … Besides, humans rights are slowly becoming not a dirty word in Singapore.”

It is certainly an interesting idea to explore, said Golden Village Cinemas managing director Kenneth Tan, 42. “I don’t think a festival with a human-rights theme would be a sensitive issue, since in general we have become an open society.”

(FOI) – Rethink Scholarships Thursday, Jul 12 2007 

Rethink scholarships, give only to needy to help them climb up

by Leong Ching, 12 July 2007, Comment, The Electric New Paper (Published on 11 July in the print edition)

THE rich give their children a leg up the beanstalk to wealth by making sure their children are well-educated – the best pre-school, private tuition, enrichment classes, overseas exposure.

Others chug along with budget tuition centres in void decks and PCF (PAP Community Foundation) kindergarten classes.

Is there a way to give more people the chance to move up the education beanstalk in pursuit of their share of ‘golden eggs’?

Financial expert Leong Sze Hian has an idea: Reshuffle the chips for each generation by giving scholarships only to the poor.

‘Be like the United States – the rich are awarded scholarship with honours – meaning no money, in name only.’

He pointed out that in Harvard, since three years ago, deserving students who come from homes earning less than US$40,000 will get a full scholarship.

Explaining this, then President Lawrence Summers had said: ‘We want to send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all economic backgrounds.’

In Singapore, most scholarships, from private companies and from the Government, are based on students’ abilities and potential, not on their socio-economic background.

Last year , it was revealed that students from better-off families made up about half of government scholarship holders last year.

The Government’s view is that restricting scholarships to poorer students would not be in line with Singapore’s principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity.

Finite Resources

But public resources are finite.

I would argue it this way: Why pay for the overseas education of a bright, wealthy young man when his family can jolly well pay for it themselves?

Giving more young people from humble backgrounds a chance to study in the best schools is not just a matter of satisfying some lofty goal like social justice.

It is a common sense act of collective self-preservation.

If the poor or middle-class remain poor, or worse, become poorer, if they think that only the rich get richer, they will feel angry, resentful, and disenchanted.

And if enough of them feel this way, it is a recipe for a social tension – surely a nightmare to all, including the rich.

A recent column in the International Herald Tribune had an alluring headline: ‘The filthy rich are different from you and me’

Columnist Roger Cohen writes of hedge fund managers: ‘Who would have dreamed this ultimate refinement of making money out of money would make them masters of the universe?’

Such alchemy, he implies, is hard for many to accept. But I, for one, don’t care how money is made – as long as we all have a fair chance of getting our hands on some of it.

How to get more money

In their multi-coloured Housing Board flats, Singaporeans dream of selling their homes for the magic figure of $700,000.

Or $150,000 above valuation, whichever is the higher.

But, with some 3,000 people on public assistance of a mere $260 a month, and many others earning less than $1,500 a month, not all of us can reach the top of the beanstalk.

How many people have an extra home to sell to cash in on the rising property market?

Like many other countries, there is a substantial income gap here, and it’s getting bigger. Now, the top 20 per cent of employed households earn 12 times the wages of the bottom 20 per cent.

The Government’s Workfare and Progress Package do help the disadvantaged.

But what of the middle-class, often called the sandwiched class? What can they do to pull themselves up?

The question can’t be ignored when the rich get richer inexorably.

Cohen wrote: ‘With $1 billion in the bank you have to try hard to avoid getting richer. Assuming a 10 per cent rate of return, your arduous task is spending $100 million a year, or about $274,000 a day.’

My question is: ‘Who gets 10 per cent returns?’

Certainly not the thousands of people retiring each year on their CPF. Our Ordinary Account begets a niggardly 2.5 per cent. Banks offer savings interest rates of only less than 1 per cent.

During the Budget debate this year, MP Ong Kian Min worked out the sums.

‘Over the long term of 40 years to retirement, an initial sum of $10,000 at 4 per cent a year will only become $48,000. But 10 per cent a year compounded will see it growing to $453,000, almost 10 times more. This will surely make a very significant and meaningful difference to our retirement.’

His point: The rich have superior returns because they can hire the best to manage their money for them.

He asked: ‘Can the CPF Board help the ordinary CPF depositor grow his money by 8 to 10 per cent per year?’

Good question.

(FOI) – Memoirs Wednesday, Jul 11 2007 

A new page for ex-MPs … PAP and Opposition

Iseas book lets former parliamentarians share stories from the heart

TODAY, Wednesday • July 11, 2007

Clement Mesenas

EVEN Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Singapore’s first post-1965 Opposition parliamentarian, will get the chance to tell his story, as a local think-tank starts the ball rolling to get former Members of Parliament to write autobiographical essays for a new book.

“At the Institute of South-east Asian Studies (Iseas), we are not against anybody,” institute head K Kesavapany told a group of former People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs and academics at a seminar yesterday.

“We don’t practice censorship at Iseas — and we will publish what opposition MPs have got to say as long as what they say does not contravene the laws of libel and slander. We are open.”

The proposed book will incorporate essays from 30 former MPs and will be edited by two from among their ranks — Dr Chiang Hai Ding and Mr Rohan Kamis — and former director of the National Archives Lily Tan.

The 30 MPs had played a role in shaping Singapore’s history, and had “stories worth telling” for the benefit of future generations and foreigners who become citizens here, seminar participants said.

Mr Chai Chong Yii, 79, who was MP for Bukit Batok from 1972 to 1988, recounted his perplexity on visiting China in 1978. The country had seemed so different from the one he had known before he migrated to Singapore as a young man.

“I felt quite lost,” he said. “I was quite shocked to discover that I was not Chinese, my thought processes were not Chinese. I had evolved into a Singaporean.”

Singaporeans of today, he felt, had two cultures — that of their country of origin and that of the European/American “dare to try” way of life. Eventually, Singaporean culture could evolve into that of a world culture, he said.

Dr Chiang, 69, an MP from 1970 to 1984, recounted how his grandfather, a poorly-paid teacher, had left Hainan Island for Singapore. In his autobiography, the former MP’s grandfather — whose first job here was as a labourer — had expressed how he found contentment in his old age, as he had managed to improve his family’s lot through migration to Singapore.

Another former MP, Mr R Ravindran, told of how many poor people had sought his help — the question was, who really needed it?

He cited the case of a woman who sought his assistance to get a job. Her head was covered — she claimed she was recovering from brain surgery as the result of being fired upon with a laser gun. Later, Mr Ravindran found out she had actually undergone treatment at Woodbridge Hospital (now the Institute of Mental Health).

Seminar participants also said the book of MPs’ essays would come in useful for the next generation of leaders, as these “stories of the heart” would help them better understand the human side of things when they seek the populace’s mandate.

Mr Kesavapany said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was supportive of the idea.

Mr Jeyaretnam could not be reached as of press time.

The book will be launched on Aug 8, 2008, a day before National Day next year, and it could well be the forerunner of a series — there being 200 current and former MPs, 180 of them PAP stalwarts, still around.

Also on the cards for Iseas are books on Singapore’s first Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye, Mr David Marshall, Singapore’s Chief Minister before independence, and Mr Othman Wok, a member of the first Cabinet. Books on the late S Rajaratnam and Lim Kim San, also key first-generation leaders, are already underway.

Meanwhile, one of the founding members of the PAP, Dr Lim Hock Siew — who was detained without trial from 1963 to 1982 — told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur that he was planning to publish his memoirs. “I am now conducting research to find newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” the 76-year old said.

He was detained during Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of Opposition parties, labour and student unions, and left-wing journalists held.


Founding PAP member and ex-political prisoner to pen memoirs

James Wong Wing On
Jul 9, 2007

Encouraged by the determination of fellow former political prisoner Said Zahari to unveil the other side of history, Singapore’s Dr Lim Hock Siew has also decided to publish his memoirs.


“Although I have told my story in a documentary film many years ago, I have decided to write it down myself in the form of memoirs like my ‘good brother’ Said,” he told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am now conducting research to find out more newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” added the 76-year old founding member of Singapore’s now ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Lim was detained without trial for almost 20 years from 1963 to 1982. (Which makes him the second longest-held political prisoner in Singapore after Chia Thye Poh)

According to him, although he was alleged to have participated in the activities of the so-called ‘Communist United Front’ in Singapore from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, he was never formally charged in any open court of law for the allegation.

“I still remember even my police interrogators told me that they knew I had never been a member of any communist party or group,” said Lim who was a central committee member of the opposition Socialist Front in Singapore at the time of his arrest.

He was detained during the 1963 Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of opposition parties, labour and student unions and journalists deemed to be left wing held as well.

Serving British interests

LKY“Now, from all the already released records in London as well as other historical researches, it is clear that in launching Operation Cold Store, Lee Kuan Yew was serving the then strategic interests of Britain which wanted Singapore to continue to provide a forward military base in Southeast Asia,” said Lim

“It is also now an undeniable fact that Lee worked earlier for the Japanese military during the Occupation making Britain’s English materials available in Japanese-language for the occupiers,” he added.

Lim was a graduate of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles College and a medical doctor trained in University of Malaya, which was then located in Singapore.

“I was also a founder of University of Malaya’s Socialist Club which became the cradle for many politicians and intellectuals in both Malaysia and Singapore who fought for independence,” he recalled with a sense of pride.

“In those days, anti-colonialism was a very powerful and popular sentiment even in Singapore … I helped found the People’s Action Party (PAP) to fight for the freedom of Singapore from British rule and to reunite it with Peninsula to form an united, non-communal and progressive Malaya but when Lee turned right wing and started serving British interests, the party split and I left to join the Socialist Front,” he explained.

“We certainly opposed to Singapore being maintained as a military base for Britain and that was why Lee had to crush the Left in Singapore at all cost … The Left in Singapore also opposed to the 1963 merger because we thought it was an opportunistic adventure on the part of Lee who wanted to exploit Tunku Abdul Rahman’s anti-communism to suppress the Left in Singapore … we wanted merger but not in the 1963 version which proved to be an utter failure just two years later in 1965.

“I was completely English-educated,” stressed Lim, which was obviously a sarcastic and subtle rebuttal to the now stereotyped and widespread notion that the Left in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s was a “Chinese-educated” phenomenon.

Political conviction

As for his detention, Lim said he did not suffer any physical torture.

“But, detention without charge or trial for an uncertain period of time is itself a form of torture, albeit a psychological one,” Lim said.

“When I was first arrested in February 1963, my son was only five-months-old but when I was released in 1982, he was already studying at the Cambridge University in Britain.

“I wish to thank my wife Dr Betruce Cheng for her understanding, fortitude and solidarity for the entire period of my 20-year detention and also for bringing up our boy,” he added.

Quizzed on what helped him preserve his sanity during his detention, Lim replied: “Political conviction, intellectual integrity and moral conscience”.

“I certainly have no regret for my involvement and participation in politics although I had to pay a heavy price for it. I am still a socialist who believes in democracy for the people and social justice for the working classes,” he stressed.

(FOI) – It Is Money That Drives This Place Wednesday, Jul 11 2007 

How to deal with media double whammy

TODAY, Monday • July 9, 2007

P N Balji
Editorial director

VARIOUS reasons have been given for the unabashedly pro-government stand of the Singapore media: Restrictive media and libel laws, journalists who have surrendered to the Government or been convinced by its argument that an unbridled press is not for Singapore, general public support for the Government by readers who believe Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team are always right because they have delivered an economic miracle.

Another reason, not well-documented and hardly articulated in public discussions, is how the media has benefitted from the Government’s delivery of economic growth. Like nearly everything else here, it is money that drives this place. Minister Mentor Lee said as much over the weekend.

“Once you have growth, all problems can be managed,” he said in his pragmatic and straight-talking style about Singapore’s success.

Good economic growth means more advertising dollars for media companies, which means higher salaries for editors and journalists, which means don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And which means support a government that delivers.

So far, so good. But last year, something happened that might put a strain on this cosy relationship between economic and advertising growth.

For the first time, a yawning gap between economic and advertising growth has got media owners worried. A double whammy is at work here.

Some of the top advertisers, such as SingTel and Asia Pacific Breweries, are getting more and more of their revenue from outside Singapore.

Advertising dollars are being channelled to countries where these companies are opening up new operations. Why should such companies continue to put all their ad dollars in Singapore?

Then, the new businesses that are coming here are very different in nature, using Singapore as a launching pad to the region.

One example is Olam International, an agricultural commodities firm which is listed here. However, its revenue — 100 per cent of it — comes from outside Singapore.

Why should such outfits advertise in our media?

Throw the slow but pervasive influence of alternative news and information-on-the-go, though not so pronounced and immediate yet, into the pot and you have a media meltdown in the making.

So, what are the media managers doing? Opening up new revenue streams by investing overseas, kick-starting alternative media ventures and wooing expatriate readers who are surging into Singapore now that the floodgates have been thrown wide open.

But these are slow-burn measures, risky and tentative. What is more important is to relook the kind of news in our media.

Today, domestic news coverage has got an over-emphasis on government information, with nearly every item containing a mention of a minister, government policy or view.

The end result is that the news gets predictable and even boring, as one group of young Singaporeans said during a focus group discussion.

“Isn’t there any other news to report?” asked an exasperated 27-year-old woman.

That view reverberated in different tones in other discussions. Many said they are switching off and getting their news fix elsewhere.

With the Government at the centre of nearly every news activity here and with journalists not trying actively and aggressively enough to provide more news and views that are completely off the government news radar screen, you are going to see more deserters.

Before a gaping readership hole takes hold, the media practitioners have got to get a handle on redefining the concept of news.

For a start, regurgitating a VIP’s speech, reporting an event just because a VIP is present, taking one inconsequential story and running with it over a number of pages and over-killing murder stories must stop.

Instead, people, events and issues not on the news radar screens must see more play.

The Sunday Times, with its heavier emphasis on human interest stories, is trying to do that.

The new Weekend Today, with its issue-based stories sprinkled among its news pages, is another effort to move away from the traditional definition of news.

These are work-in-progress efforts. How effective these are and whether more radical attempts are needed rest with the four stakeholders in the business — journalists, readers, advertisers and the Government.

They need to be clear about the dynamics at play, and take on — and be allowed to take on — daring moves and makeovers that will make The Sunday Times and Weekend Today changes look minor.

(FOI) – 1987 Saturday, Jul 7 2007 

The legacy of 1987, Insight, Straits Times, 07/07/07

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the arrest of 22 Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act for their involvement in an alleged Marxist conspiracy. LYDIA LIM and LI XUEYING look back at this episode in Singapore’s history and its impact on the intersection between religion and politics

Image from ST

ISA DETAINEE: Vincent Cheng in a televised confession in 1987 about wanting to set up ‘a classless society’ in Singapore.

THE press statement contained skeletal information. There were only names, and no details of age, sex or occupation. From it, the public was to learn that 16 people had been arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

As reporters fanned out to attach faces to the names on the list that evening of May 21, 1987, the Law Society confirmed that one of its council members was among the 16 held. The society, already gripped by a series of altercations with the Government the previous year, met for yet another emergency meeting that night.

More arrests followed. On June 20, another six people joined the original 16 in detention.

This time, at least one of them was prepared.

When the fateful knock on his door came in the dead of the night, he took a shower and put on a suit and tie so that he would not look dishevelled when the police photograph was snapped. When the detainees’ headshots were released to the media, his would be the only one wearing a ready smile.

However, nothing could conceal the seriousness of the affair. It was the biggest ISA swoop for more than a decade, and would not be surpassed in scale until the terrorism-related arrests post-Sept 11.

Through a series of statements and television interviews, the 22 men and women were presented to a stunned public as members of a Marxist conspiracy out to topple the Government by illegal means.

The spectre of communism was nothing new to Singapore, but the profile of the detainees was seen as unusual: They were mostly English-educated professionals; four worked full time for social organisations under the Catholic Church. These were not Singaporeans influenced by Chinese communism, but by the leftist liberation theology that had been gaining ground within the worldwide Catholic Church.

Aged 18 to 40, the individuals were detained without trial for between one month and three years at Whitley detention centre. The last was freed on June19, 1990.

At the time, the affair was stunning, complete with official revelations that one of the conspirators visited a training camp of Tamil Tiger guerillas, confessions broadcast on national television and condemnations by international human rights groups.

Twenty years since the arrests, the shock and trauma have been all but forgotten. Even a visit to the Internal Security Department’s Heritage Centre, which relives earlier security swoops, will not unearth anything about 1987.

The intervening years have shed little or no additional light on the affair, with no new documents having been released.

The former detainees themselves seem equally reluctant to reopen the issue. It is understood that one group met some months back and, anticipating media attention in this anniversary year, agreed not to grant interviews.

A handful of them live and work overseas. Most chose to remain in Singapore after their release. None is engaged in political or civil society activism. A number of them have successful careers in the private sector, and two have retired.

Two former detainees did agree to speak with Insight on condition of anonymity and a third gave a short e-mail reply.

The first two showed no obvious rancour and even laughed as they recalled how officers from the Internal Security Department (ISD) banged on their doors in the early hours of the morning 20 years ago, changing their lives forever.

When described as a Marxist conspiracy, the affair seems almost quaint in hindsight.

The post-1987 years witnessed the implosion of communism as an alternative ideology. Communist literature is now available here and even former members of the Malayan Communist Party have been on occasion granted special permission by the Government to re-enter the country.

Time appears to have healed the psychological wounds and neutered the radical left, perhaps explaining why the anniversary of the arrests has been a virtual non-event.

Civil society

YET, 1987 may have cast longer shadows and caused deeper political changes than most people assume.

Although the Government described its swoop as anti-Marxist, many critics read it as a much broader clampdown on political activism – and therefore as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

These alternative interpretations are still being debated. On Internet forums these past months there have been a few fierce exchanges, with some praising the Government for being ‘proactive’ in putting down a genuine security threat, while others portray the Marxist spectre as a ‘bogeyman’ conjured up to justify crushing any potential political challenge.

What is not in doubt is that many of those who were arrested were doing social work to help the poor and migrant workers, in organisations linked to the Catholic Church. Their ultimate goals, however, were a matter of dispute.

The official account stated that the detainees had infiltrated these various social organisations as part of a clandestine operation aimed at overthrowing the Government through illegal means.

In a televised confession, detainee Vincent Cheng said that he and former student leader and fugitive Tan Wah Piow, based in Britain, wanted to establish a broad base of groups to oppose the Government using violent means, if peaceful ways did not work out. The aim: to set up ‘a classless society’ in Singapore.

He used the Church because it provided ‘ready cover’ for his activities.

After their release, however, nine of the detainees retracted their confessions and denied the Government’s allegations.

In April 1988, they issued a joint statement saying that they had, through legitimate means, ‘advocated more democracy, less elitism, protection of individual freedoms and civil rights, greater concern for the poor and the less privileged and less interference in the private lives of citizens’.

Eight of those who signed the statement were re-arrested and detained for a second time. The ninth was out of the country and did not return.

What followed was a recanting by the eight of the charges of ill-treatment. Nineteen of the 22 detainees also made statutory declarations reaffirming their involvement in the conspiracy.

Many Singaporeans found it hard to reconcile their image of radical communists, like those of the 1950s or 1960s, with this crowd, several of whom were English-educated graduates who were economically well-off and had along the way developed what appeared to be a social conscience.

This uncertainty was even expressed by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam when he was interviewed upon his induction into politics in 2001.

‘Although I had no access to state intelligence, from what I knew of them, most were social activists but not out to subvert the system,’ said Mr Tharman, who is now Education Minister.

In London, he had been part of a study group led by lawyer Tan Wah Piow – the former dissident student leader named by Vincent Cheng and accused by the Government of being the offsite ‘mastermind of the communist conspiracy’ days after the first arrests in 1987.

The detainees included friends of Mr Tharman, who himself was questioned for a week by the ISD.

Since many civil society types saw the detainees as fired-up do-gooders not very different from themselves, the arrests were interpreted by critics as a warning against activism of any kind.

The Government’s later encouragement of active citizenship had to contend with this deeply-held perception, especially in areas perceived to be politically sensitive – such as foreign workers’ rights.

Today, TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) and other groups speak up openly for migrant workers. Several of the 1987 detainees had taken up this same cause.

Ms Braema Mathi, former president of TWC2, says it has had to work at exorcising the ghost of 1987 along the way.

‘What got ingrained was the power of the state and the instruments that the state could use. What we embraced was fear. This kind of thing takes a lot of time to shed,’ she says.

Says Think Centre president Sinapan Samydorai: ‘If the intention was to break the backbone of a social awakening of people who could become politically active, then I think they – more or less – achieved it.’

Others take a less bleak view. Mr Robert Kee, founder of Operation Hope Foundation and former president of the Community Outreach Services, the social outreach arm of the Methodist Church here, believes that 1987 had no impact on social activists such as himself, much less caused them to fear.

He believes the Government had done the right thing.

‘It’s a matter of trust, we have to trust the Government to do the right thing. Some people are quite easily misled. You always find people who are attracted to certain causes for whatever reason.

‘In this case, the detainees had not blown up anything. Prevention is always very boring.

‘So, unfortunately for the Government, what it did was not appreciated.’

Religion and politics

THE events of 1987 had a tangible and lasting effect on the relationship between religion and politics in Singapore.

Indeed, one of the counter-conspiracy theories around is that this was the Government’s real target – but since the Government could not be seen as attacking the Church, the ‘Marxist’ label would have to suffice.

Theories aside, the facts are that of the 22 detained, four worked full-time in organisations affiliated to the Catholic Church: the Justice and Peace Commission, the Geylang Catholic Welfare Centre, the Young Christian Workers’ Movement and the Singapore Polytechnic Catholic Students’ Society.

Others volunteered their time at these organisations, which were involved in causes such as the rights of workers, both local and foreign.

In the aftermath of the detentions, the Government showed clearly that it was more concerned about political activists’ links to God than their links to the avowedly anti-religion Karl Marx. It tabled the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill, which – in addition to regulating aggressive proselytisation – banned the mixing of religion and politics.

In the Government’s White Paper on the Bill, the ISD said the 1987 detainees had shown how religion could be used for subversive purposes. The ISD highlighted the activities of four Catholic priests who had ‘ventured into social action and acted as a political pressure group’.

These were the same four priests who had led the Catholic organisations implicated in the alleged Marxist plot.

These priests had also published ‘political booklets’ that criticised the Government for ’emasculating the trade unions and enacting labour laws which curtailed the rights of workers’, and made statements that ‘agitated’ against the ISA detentions, the ISD said.

The White Paper spelt out the Government’s position that, in a multi-religious society like Singapore, religion and politics must be kept ‘rigorously separated’.

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) became law in 1990.

With the Act in place, people who repeat the kinds of activity that the Catholic workers were accused of in the 1980s would not need to be detained under the ISA: The Act empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to issue restraining orders against preachers who engage in harmful conduct, which includes causing ill will between religious groups, promoting a political cause or exciting disaffection against the President or Government, under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief.

Anyone who breaches a restraining order can be fined and jailed.

In February this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng informed Parliament that no restraining orders had been issued since 1990, although the ISD had on several occasions warned religious leaders against mixing religion with politics and putting down other faiths.

It would be unrealistic, however, to claim that the MRHA settled once and for all the age-old issue of how best to separate church and state.

Even during the debate on the Bill, religious leaders and several Members of Parliament voiced their concern that the faithful cannot be expected to keep their beliefs completely out of public life.

The Government itself has nuanced its position. With the means in place to discipline errant religious leaders through the MRHA, it was able to invite religious groups, along with other people-sector organisations, to help build a stronger civic society.

So it was that in 1991, then acting minister for information and the arts George Yeo acknowledged in a landmark speech the need to ‘prune the banyan tree’, an apt metaphor for the state to recede a little, to let civic organisations grow. The growth of groups of people invested emotionally in the country would help in transforming it from a hotel into a home, he said.

‘What are these civic institutions?’ asked Mr Yeo, who went on to list five major categories. Religion was one of the five.

‘I would say that so long as we avoid extreme positions, civic activity organised around religious worship is a positive, not a negative, force,’ he added.

Social organisations have proliferated over the past decade. Today, many social services are run by religious groups, and their leaders are actively consulted on relevant policies. Singapore is not a ‘fundamentalist secular’ state, as the religion scholar Karen Armstrong has put it – one that bans religion from public life.

But where exactly to draw the line between welcome engagement and questionable interference remains a much negotiated issue.

While there is broad agreement that religious groups should not be directly involved in elections and party politics, Singaporeans may differ in how much they are prepared to separate their spiritual from their day-to-day public lives.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education) Masagos Zulkifli maintains that an attempt must be made to keep religion and politics separate, to avoid a descent into explosive confrontations.

He cites the example of compulsory education, which the Government introduced in 2002 to ensure a minimum level of mainstream education for all children here.

The madrasahs, or Islamic religious schools, and some members of the Muslim community reacted to the move but left it to their political and community leaders to engage the Government on the issue.

‘Had this been also debated in the pulpits of mosques rather than the two-way engagement of the Government and the Muslim community leaders, it could have potentially further enraged and incited the Muslim public,’ he says.

But religions such as Christianity and Islam have their own conceptions of what makes for a just society. Here is where clashes can arise between the teachings of these faiths and the policies that governments consider right and necessary.

As Catholic priest Father John Paul Tan explains: ‘At times, in this goal of ensuring a just society, there might be different approaches and that is when a reason-based discourse is needed.’

Similarly, Imam Syed Hassan Alattas of Ba’alwi Mosque says Muslims have a duty to speak out against injustice.

‘In Islam, you cannot be impartial. To say, ‘I don’t want to get involved’, means I am letting injustice happen. That is wrong,’ he says.

In her recent public lecture here, renowned scholar Armstrong noted that religion had a special responsibility to question political power when important principles were being violated.

Yet, it is when they get involved in such issues of social justice that preachers and religious groups are at greatest risk of being seen to be engaging in politics.

A new balance?

THE most profound effect of 1987 may have been to dampen overtly faith-based social activism.

Mrs Bridget Lew recalls that when she first began working with migrant workers 10 years ago, as chairman of a group under the Catholic Church, ‘1987 was like a ghost haunting many church workers’.

Her work was seen as politically sensitive and she found it difficult to express her views in public, she says.

In 2004, Mrs Lew left the church-run group to set up her own non-profit and secular outfit, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

Mr Samydorai is another Catholic who has chosen the secular route to politics as a result of 1987. That year, he was president of the Young Christian Workers’ Movement, one of the groups linked to the alleged Marxist plot. He left for Hong Kong a day before the second round of arrests.

Back in Singapore since 1999, he took on the role of president of the Think Centre, a political NGO, in May 2001.

Mr Shane Pereira, 29, believes that self-censorship set in as a result of 1987. He claims that the National University of Singapore Catholic Students’ Society underwent a major shift in direction as a result. He was a member of its executive committee from 2000 to 2005.

‘Pre-1987, they were more active, bringing up issues such as the concerns of poorer Singaporeans to the media,’ he says.

‘Now, we do not engage in any such activities, merely in faith-building for our members. The most ‘civil society’ thing we do is to visit old folks’ homes, but we do not desire to lobby for better welfare,’ he adds.

Others see no such obstacles. Says Buddhist youth leader Yap Ching Wi, 39: ‘If you want to be active in the community or civil society, there are certainly risks involved, and you have to reckon with how the Government will feel.

‘Following 1987, in the 1990s, we knew that if you mix social welfare and religion, it was a lethal combination. But it didn’t turn me off because if something needs to be done, whether it’s in correcting social injustice or whatever, it just needs to be done.’

Mr Mohamad Saiful Mohamad Anuar, 22, a youth leader at An-Nahdhah Mosque in Bishan, is among those at ease navigating the unclear lines overlapping religious and social activism.

He says he would like to see faith-based groups speak out more in areas where they see a need for social change, such as on the poor, homeless, and abortions.

As the Government encourages Singaporeans to participate more actively in shaping the society they live in, it has gradually opened up the space available to secular advocacy groups such as TWC2 and sought to engage them in their areas of expertise.

Where a consensus has yet to be forged is on the extent to which members of religious groups can engage in the same kind of activism, in line with the social teachings of their faiths.

The question is whether society is the poorer for failing to harness the energies of all its socially conscious citizens, whether their motivation springs from religious or secular sources.

Given that wars and revolutions have been fought through the centuries to redefine the relations between political and religious authorities, it is unlikely that Singapore has seen a final resolution to this eternal tension.

Seen in that light, the events of 1987 were a significant milestone, but not the end of the road.


Related posts: Taking it at face value and keeping quiet & Singapore’s Guantanamo


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(FOI) – Scrutinizing Singapore Saturday, Jul 7 2007 

Scrutinizing Singapore, Commentary, Wall Street Journal
by Garry Rodan
June 21, 2007

Singapore’s state-owned investment companies — Temasek and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) — have long been information black holes for outsiders. But that hasn’t stopped many governments, including those in China and Malaysia, from copying the Singaporean model. As these funds expand in size and scope, they may want to pay close attention to a lesson that Singapore is learning: You can’t export opacity even if you can maintain it at home.

Take the experience of Temasek, which for over three decades has acted as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned companies. But as it expanded, Temasek started to invest heavily in neighboring countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This process gathered momentum following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis when there were bargains to be had in the region — often involving politically sensitive sectors such as telecommunications and finance, hitherto dominated by locals. However, until recently, poorly developed governance regimes in such countries meant little scrutiny of these investments.

No more. Last month, Indonesia’s Business Competition Supervisory Commission declared it had uncovered prima facie evidence of monopoly practices by Temasek in the telecom industry. Temasek owns 56% of the SingTel Group, which in turn holds a 35% stake in Telkomsel, an Indonesian cellular telecommunications company. Singapore Technologies Telemedia, wholly owned by Temasek, also has a 41% share in Indosat. Together, Telekomsel and Indosat account for around 80% of the GSM cellular phone market in Indonesia.

Commission chairman Muhammad Iqbal says the watchdog has already discovered “signs of a lack of competition between Telkomsel and Indosat,” including comparable prices for mobile phone products. The University of Indonesia’s Institute for Economic and Social Research reported findings in late May suggesting price fixing between Telkomsel and Indosat. Shortly afterward, the Post and Telecommunications Directorate General announced its own investigation. Responding to the announcement by Indonesian authorities earlier this month that the probe into Temasek would now enter an advanced stage — meaning a hearing and three months’ further investigation — Temasek’s lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, asserted that the “claims and complaint filed against Temasek are totally without merit.”

Temasek is not accustomed at home to critical attention by university research centers, let alone such work being followed up by regulatory authorities. Not only are Singapore universities less inclined to probe the inner workings of state companies, but regulation of anti-competitive practices is a work in progress in the city-state. The Competition Act didn’t come into effect until 2005, following the signing of the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and American persistence on competition and transparency issues aimed squarely at monopolies and cartels.

Then there’s Temasek’s January 2006 deal with Shin Corp. — the family company of Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — which by most accounts has been a disaster. In addition to a current investigation by Thai authorities into alleged foreign investment law violations that Temasek rejects, the deal precipitated widespread anti-Temasek and anti-Singapore street protests in Thailand, soured relations between the two countries and prompted the post-Thaksin junta to announce that it would seek to regain control from Temasek of ShinSat’s satellites, which it regards as having national security implications. On top of that, the deal represents a paper loss of around $2 billion in the wake of the nosedive in Shin Corp. share prices following the coup. It remains to be seen whether Temasek can ride through the political and regulatory storms in Thailand to return a profit in the long term.

These international episodes are starting to succeed, at least a little, where domestic political pressures have failed in enhancing transparency. In 2004, Temasek voluntarily produced its first annual report since it was incorporated in 1974, and has continued doing so since. The International Monetary Fund applauded this improvement, but also called for the Singaporean government to provide more information about the activities of Temasek and GIC, whose assets and liabilities are audited but reported only to the President and the Ministry of Finance. GIC Chairman Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has repeatedly scotched ideas to detail publicly the assets and financial returns of the GIC — established in 1981 to invest Singapore’s foreign exchange reserves abroad. Doing so, he’s said, is not in the national interest. The standard reply prescribed for Temasek officials in response to questions about government involvement in business is: “The Singapore government, as a shareholder, is not involved in our investment decisions, much less in the businesses of our portfolio companies.”

Behind the highly selective concessions to greater transparency reform lies a fundamental issue with wide implications, not least for what we can expect of China’s new investment fund, reported to be many times larger than Temasek. While the Singapore government can be pragmatic in providing information where it sees economic benefits, it rejects the notion that Singaporeans have intrinsic rights to detailed information about how public money is invested. Transparency to improve the economy is one thing. Transparency grounded in notions of Singaporeans’ right to know and as a way of holding political elites and those acting under their administration to account is another.

Yet the value of information that does get released on economic grounds will remain limited without other domestic institutional changes rooted in respect for the public’s right to know. In the absence of strong and independent domestic media, well-resourced civil society watchdog groups and opposition parties with a strong presence in parliament, there is no capacity by the public to scrutinize official information, let alone the chance of exerting pressure to enforce the release of further information than authorities originally intended.

Without mutually reinforcing institutions of economic and political transparency at home, then, there is a serious limit to what governance regimes abroad can achieve in opening up state-owned investment funds. Therefore, while China’s new fund will find that global expansion comes with new information pressures, this might only steel the resolve of Chinese authorities to keep domestic transparency reforms within tight limits. Certainly that is the Singapore experience thus far.

Mr. Rodan is director of the Asia Research Centre and professor of politics and international studies at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.


The Singapore Model, Wall Street Journal
June 27, 2007

In “Scrutinizing Singapore” (oped page, June 21), Garry Rodan condemns Singapore’s model of state-owned companies as “information black holes.”

Mr. Rodan criticizes the investments in Indosat and Shin Corp, and claims that international regulatory scrutiny of them has put pressure on Temasek Holdings to be more open. But these are commercial transactions, like all investments by Temasek Holdings and its subsidiaries, made after weighing the risk-return trade-offs, in compliance with the laws of the host countries and the disclosure requirements of the relevant stock exchanges. Temasek Holdings itself publishes an annual review of its performance, as Mr. Rodan admitted, maintains AAA/Aaa ratings from credit rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, and has issued an international bond. It did not do so by being inefficient and non-transparent.

As for funds managed by the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), it is not in Singapore’s interest to publish the details or reveal their size, as this would make it easier for would-be currency speculators to attack the Singapore dollar. However, GIC has published its average annual return over 25 years — 8.2% in Singapore dollars or 5.3% in real terms (discounting for G3 inflation), a creditable performance by any standard.

More fundamentally, Mr. Rodan argues that information released on economic grounds is of limited value, and that Singapore needs independent media, strong civil society watchdog groups and opposition parties to hold the government accountable, as does China. How Singapore is governed is for Singaporeans to decide. Our model has consistently delivered results, and been repeatedly endorsed by Singapore voters, to whom the government is fully accountable. Each country is different and has to work out institutions adapted to its own circumstances and needs. Singapore has found successful solutions for itself, and so must China. Mr. Rodan’s ill-founded criticisms of the Singapore model will not cause China to develop one more to his liking.

Chen Hwai Liang
Press Secretary to the
Prime Minister

Mr. Rodan’s right to express his opinion should not be at the expense of accuracy and completeness, specifically his insinuations that ST Telemedia bought Indosat shares at a bargain price during the Asian financial crisis, and Indosat and Telkomsel’s combined market share represents evidence of monopolistic practices by their respective shareholders. As a company that holds itself to the highest standard of business ethics and integrity, we take such fallacious statements seriously and our clarifications are as follows:

The Indosat divestment happened in 2002 amidst a bleak economic outlook and low investor confidence in Indonesia. Indosat was faced with heavy debt and mediocre credit rating with restricted fund raising capability. Investor confidence was worsened by the Bali bombing in October 2002. Despite this, ST Telemedia continued to demonstrate confidence in the Indonesian economy. Our Indosat acquisition, which took place under the close scrutiny of Indonesia’s Secretary-General of the Ministry of Finance, the Director-General of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and representatives of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, was the largest investment in Indonesia since the Asian financial crisis. The acquisition was approved by the relevant government authorities, including the Minister for Law and Human Rights, and the Indonesian People’s Representative Council (DPR), and Indosat’s shareholders (including the Indonesian government) at its EGM. ST Telemedia paid more than 50% premium over the market price at that time. In the immediate 6-month period following the divestment, Indosat’s share price plunged and our purchase price of 12,950 rupiah per share was not attained until almost 12 months later.

ST Telemedia and SingTel are separate companies. Although Temasek is a shareholder of the two companies, it does not direct nor involve themselves in the business or operational decisions of ST Telemedia or Indosat. ST Telemedia has our own management team and Board members, of which seven out of nine are independent Board members who are highly respected individuals from the international business community. They include Sir Michael Perry, Unilever’s former CEO and Chairman and UK Centrica’s Chairman; Justin Lilley, a prominent U.S. lawyer; and Vincent Perez, a businessman and former cabinet minister in the Philippines. None of ST Telemedia’s board of directors and management are directors or employees of SingTel, Telkom or Telkomsel.

StarHub, an ST Telemedia company, and SingTel compete fiercely and publicly on many fronts in the Singapore market. The two companies were also embroiled in numerous disputes and litigations on issues such as network testing support, interconnection and pay TV cabling.

Indosat and Telkomsel are separate companies. The Indonesian market is increasingly competitive with the entry of numerous new operators. ST Telemedia is a firm advocate of open competition and good corporate governance. Indosat has its own board of commissioners and board of directors who are responsible and accountable to all its shareholders.

Mr. Rodan failed to point out that publicly listed SingTel owns 35% of Telkomsel and the majority shares of 65% are held by publicly listed Telkom, which is in turn majority held by the Indonesian government. It is therefore inconceivable that the largest shareholder of Telkomsel, ie. Telkom, would abdicate its responsibilities by allowing Telkomsel to violate the regulations on fair competition.

Asia Mobile Holdings (AMH) owns about 40% of Indosat shares. AMH is held 75% by ST Telemedia and 25% by Qatar Telecom, one of the largest telecom operators in the Middle East. The remaining 60% of Indosat shares are held by the Indonesian government (with about 14%) and retail and global institutional investors (with about 46%). As a company that operates in Indonesia and is listed on the Jakarta, Surabaya and New York Stock Exchanges, Indosat must comply with Indonesia’s company laws and the exchanges’ strict regulations, including corporate governance and transparency, especially with regards to minority shareholders rights. The management of Indosat’s operation is through the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Directors. ST Telemedia is not involved in Indosat’s operational matters. Indosat’s regulatory obligations and board compositions provide sufficient checks and controls to ensure that the company adheres to strict corporate governance.

Thus, the fact that the two telecoms companies’ combined mobile market share of around 80% is an unfounded correlation to Indonesia’s Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) allegation, as Indosat’s internal and external safeguards would not allow collusive activities, including price fixing and monopoly of the GSM market, to occur with Telkomsel.

Melinda Tan
Director, Corporate Communications
Singapore Technologies Telemedia