Friday, July 30, 2010

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Lee Kuan Yew told his audience recently how a lot of policies in Singapore were the result of his experiences overseas. For example, deciding on having an underground train system over a network of tunnels for buses. Hmm, wonder which country has tunnels constructed for bus usage only. Here's another version.

Thr MRT system was a fight between Ong Teng Cheong and Goh Keng Swee because latter felt it was not economically feasible, "If an all-bus system is just as good as MRT, why have MRT if you have got to subsidise it?"

Ngiam Tong Dow explained his own involvement in the debate and elaborates on Dr Goh Keng Swee’s rationale for opposing the MRT:

"I was very much in favour of Mass Rapid Transit. But as we all know, Dr Goh was against it. So Finance Ministry was against it. But Minister for Communications and everybody else were for it. We really had to fight our way through on this one. We really had a public debate because the sum involved in those days was tremendous - $5 billion. So I think [then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew] wanted to be dead sure that we were right in investing this sum of money.

"But I told [then-PM Lee], I said, "Look, there is no way that you can solve the transport problem without this Mass Rapid Transit because land is limited. How much more road can you build for the buses to run through, if you depend on the bus system?"… In fact, Mr Howe was also telling him. Mr Howe Yoon Chong was very much involved in this. "Unless you are prepared to drive off all other vehicles from our roads, then maybe a bus system will work. But if you are not prepared, then I think the Mass Rapid Transit system have to be brought in." In any case, ours is both a bus as well as a MRT system until today. But it cannot be a total bus system. Impossible.

"But Dr Goh's view was that it was a very lumpy investment and if we are wrong, we can be very wrong. He thought that by adding buses, you add one bus at a time. If you are wrong, then you just write off one bus. But I disagreed with Dr Goh. I told him that this MRT is a way of providing access to the whole of Singapore, and our land prices were bound to appreciate. It was like opening up Singapore. Just like in a huge country, a railway system opens up the whole country. Similarly, the MRT is also a means of opening up the whole of Singapore. You can have quick transport.

"So I looked at it as an economic development project. But Dr Goh looked at it as just a pure traffic project. You can ask him if you interview him. He nearly overturned it. MINCOM put up a paper [saying] the benefits of all this. So he said, "Okay, what are you aiming at? You want to bring the MRT into the city. How many more new jobs can you accommodate in the city with the MRT?" I think we gave some figure. Mr Lim Leong Geok gave some figure. Then he said, 'Okay, $5 billion divided by this number. You mean to tell me that you're going to spend a hundred or two hundred thousand dollars just to be able to bring one more worker into the city?'

"He nearly torpedoed it. It was a sort of minimalist approach. Whereas my approach was the other way round. With the MRT we open up the whole of Singapore. Land values will go up. You can.locate offices [and] factories in various places. You can locate shopping centres in various places. In fact, you can disperse the concentration in the city to the outlying areas. Economists are very dangerous people. Dr Goh is an economist. I am also an economist. [It's] how you interpret the situation. He looked at it from a very narrow point of view. Anyway, thank goodness, the pro-MRT won and the anti-MRT lost.”

See how somebody always tries to grab all the credit? Mercifully, Al Gore already claimed he invented the internet.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Signs Of Senility

After a lifetime of toil, slaving to pay off the house, car and kids' education, so it's back to the grind, only to work for a younger, less qualified boss at reduced wages? That's the wise man's formula to boost productivity in Singapore.

"We've got to make old people productive and I don't think there should be a retirement age," Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told the Singapore National Employers Federation members gathered to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Retirement is supposed to be a golden period to do the things you never had the time for, like enjoying the 1,612 pages and 1.5 million words of Vincent Bugliosi's "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy". Or sitting through the Lord of The Rings triology at one go. Or bouncing the grandchildren on your knees. Stopping to smell the flowers. Admire the clouds in the sky. In other words, enjoy life without the demanding constraints of an office routine.

More exotic options like visiting the Niagara Falls or the Sphinx will require cash from the nest egg you've been squirreling away for. Unless you've been conned into upgrading your HDB flat and suddenly discover that the CPF account has been depleted by Mah Bow Tan's affordable housing prices. Or inflation has chewed away your bank balance, thanks to spiralling transportation charges, utility bills and medical costs inflicted by a dose of bad government. Not everyone has the luxury of inventing job titles and setting your own salary scale as you age.

It's in the order of nature that mental and physical agilities decline with advancing years. That's why the young with the faster reflexes should ascend the stage and bear the responsibilities of building a new society. Introduce fresh ideas rather then digging up old grandfather stories about communist threats and justification for detention without trial.

Life is short. Poor lawyer S. Tarwari retired in 2007. Only to suffer a headache and die of brain haemorrhage barely 3 years later at 64 years old. Hardly time enough to reflect upon a life time of accomplishments and sterling service to the nation.

Here's advice from a really wise man who was asked, "What do you do now that you're retired?"
"Well . . . I'm fortunate to have a chemical engineering background, and one of the things I enjoy most is turning beer, wine, Scotch, and margaritas into urine."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dastardly Journalism

The offensive phrase, which some may even deem defamatory, was not found in a filler article by some cub reporter, but was part of a multi-page special section on mega churches. Whether the orchestrated compilation on local worship services was a covert fishing expedition is yet to be determined, but the waving of dirty laundry, not national day flags, appear to be a plausible agenda. A similarly toned effort on mega GRCs would be more welcomed. Fortunately, the pastor whose father's reputation was tarred and feathered for reasons unknown remained faithful to his preaching from the pulpit - he turned the other cheek, as the Good Book taught, and salvaged the ongoing national campaign to promote filial piety.

One does not have to be a vigilante to spot the danger of the words used in the delicate social fabric of a multi-cultural melieu that is Singapore. A publicly spirited citizen was outraged enough to pen his protestion in a Forum letter:

"Your report ("Rise of the megachurches"; July 17), and in particular its reference to Pastor Joseph Prince's father as "an often drunk Sikh priest...", displayed an unacceptable disregard for minority religions in Singapore.
It is entirely up to Pastor Prince to decide how he wishes to describe his own father. But a national newspaper in a country which prides itself on racial and religious harmony should have known better than to report it.
When a mainstream newspaper reports such a comment, it conveys a false caricature of Sikh priests as drunkards and irresponsible fathers. It also suggests that there was good reason for Pastor Prince to convert from Sikhism to another religion.
The report could have simply mentioned that his father was a drunkard. There was absolutely no reason for the reference to the father's religion.
The report has hurt the feelings of the Sikh community in Singapore."

The epistle was signed off by a Mr Surjit Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board. The Straits Times followed with it's standard minuscule "that was never our intention and we apologise for the error of judgement" response.

Larry Flynt wrote of his battles with the mainstream media, "The lie gets printed in bold headlines on the front page, then the retraction appears beneath an underwear ad on page twelve" (page 78, "Sex, Lies & Politics; The Naked Truth", 249 pages). It is no credit to our nation that The Straits Times has a lower sense of journalistic integrity than a porn publisher.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Their Dreams, Our Nightmares

National Day is 2 weeks away. The exhortation on the billboard reads "Live Our Dreams, Fly Our Flag". Going by the type of fluttering fabric on display at these HDB blocks, life must be more nightmare than dreamland for the lesser mortals. Just think over crowded trains, unaffordable housing prices and insurance premiums that threaten to escalate because of Acts of God.

The larger than life portraits staring down from their dreamy ivory tower heights can afford to smile - each of them gets at least $14,500 per month. That's on top of their day job. And lots of juicy paying directorships to collect along the way. The figure may be outdated, their MP allowances rise faster than the flood waters at Orchard Road. S Iswaran is featured prominently, he's Indian, but the rest of the mega GRC team all have Chinese surnames. So who's speaking up for our Malay brothers and sisters in the West Coast?

In 1988, the ruling People's Action Party amended the Parliamentary Elections Act to create GRCs and to move away from the single member constituency system. The official justification for GRCs is to allow minority representation. The Elections Department website clearly states that, "At least one of the MPs in the group representing a GRC must belong to a minority racial community, either the Malay community or the Indian and other minority communities." With the floodgates opened wide to welcome foreign imports from India, especially the snooty types who look down on the local community in Serangoon Road, it's no wonder Mas Selamat Kastari prefers to reside in a Malaysian cell.

On 28 April 2006, Lee Kuan Yew justified the GRC system thus, "You watch the 9 single seats. We fielded 9 male Chinese, the Opposition also fielded 9 male Chinese. What does that tell you? Without group representation, no minority candidate would be elected nor any woman candidate." Critics were quick to correct his fading memory, J B Jeyaratnam won the 1981 Anson by-election in a Chinese-majority constituency, and ever since the GRC system was implemented, minority representation in Parliament has actually declined. PAP's own Dr Seet Ai Mee became the first Acting Minister of State to be defeated at the polls in a straight fight, not because of minority issues or gender politics, but for making a beeline to a water tap after reportedly shaking hands with a fish monger in 1991. (Her personal beef on this incident was that it was a pork seller, and that PM Goh Chok Tong did not check with her before airing her hygiene obsession at the General Elections rally.)

Opposition parties know the real story, however, GRCs are just another tool to make it even more difficult for independent and opposition members to get elected, since a steep group deposit of S$13,500 per candidate is required to stand for election in a GRC. Low Thia Khiang reflected on how institution and legislation could act as barriers to the opposition, "The re-drawing of electoral boundaries (in 2001) wiped out the ward across the road from my house — Cheng San Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — and it became part of Aljunied GRC. Cheng San GRC was where The Workers’ Party almost won in 1997."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is Shadrake Doing Us A Favour?

The cogs of justice may spin slowly, but sometimes they do move in the right direction.

After Justice Steven Ching threw out the drug consumption related conviction of odd-job labourer Lim, on the basis that his confession could not be relied upon for conviction without scientific evidence that he had actually consumed the drug, lawyers reported that several drug cases have also been affected. Judge Thian Yee Sze also adjourned the cases of a man and a woman facing drug consumption related charges, using similar reasoning.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) now have to bear the unfamiliar onus of demonstrating to the High Court that the testing procedures of the Health Sciences Authority are not as complacent as the security measures at Whitley Road Detention Centre. Or the drainage maintenance schedules of the PUB. Tree inspection programs of the NParks. Oh, you get the drift.

Given the guilty unless proven innocent approach typical of the Singapore Police Force, one seldom hears of the forensic work that routinely despatches many unfortunates to the gallows. But German national Julia Suzanne Bohl escaped an appointment with veteran hangman Darshan Singh after laboratory tests showed the amount of pure drugs found in her apartment weighed only 281 grams, less than the 500 gram limit for cannabis which automatically invokes mandatory death sentencing in Singapore. There were no details about the accuracy of the measuring instruments used in the determination, how much of the abusive substance was lost in the handling of the powdery evidence, or if the same Health Sciences Authority laboratory tests were used by the cops. It was also the first time the purity of the drug was raised by the defence in a drug related case. Some credit the efficiency of the German government officials for applying pressure on Singapore, threatening economic reprisals. Bohl's 5 year jail sentence was also reduced to 3. While we applaud the humanitarian efforts for not stretching her pretty little neck, Amara Tochi of Nigeria was hanged over 15 grams of heroin. Neither the accuracy of the quantity nor the purity of the offending substance was challenged in court. You don't have to be a dope pusher to appreciate that the trade is such that all along the supply route -- from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the streets -- the drugs are likely to be cut and diluted with various substances to increase the profit margins.
Discussion of the handling of drug offences in his book could have ruffled feathers and landed Alan Shadrake in hot soup. That should dissuade the likes of fellow author Ross Worthington from landing at Changi Airport until the system of justice sorts itself out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Catch The Lie Here

It has made world news. British author Alan Shadrake was served with an application by the Attorney-General for an order of committal for Contempt of Court. Since Walter Woon has left the post (purportedly over the public spat with the director of the National Neuroscience Institute about CK Tang magnate Tang Wee Sung having to go to jail for attempting to buy a kidney illegally), Mrs Koh Juat Jong is the Acting Attorney-General from April 11 to September 30. Mr Sundaresh Menon, Senior Counsel and Managing Partner of Rajah and Tann LLP will be the new Attorney-General from October 1.

But you don't have to be a qualified lawyer to understand that contempt of court has to do with non-compliance of in-court instructions.

According to legal-definitions .com:
"It is an act of purposely not following an order given by the court.It also means misbehaving with any judge or attorney during a trial and thereby interfering with the proceedings of the court."

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University states similar:
"Direct Contempt of Court is the inherent power judicial officers possess to maintain respect, dignity, and order during proceedings. Because direct contempt of court involves conduct at the proceedings, criminal direct contempt is much more unusual than civil direct contempt. "

All the gobbledygook above begs the question:
How can Shardrake be accused of contempt of court when he was outside a court of law, just trying to make a living selling books? He wasn't even wearing one of those limited edition T-shirts featuring a marsupial. NEA has a better case of hawking without a licence.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, while conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the National University of Singapore, told his audience that "What is evil depends on one's views of what is morally right and morally wrong, and how one distinguishes 'right' from 'wrong' may depend on many factors, such as one's religious faith or lack of it, or one's philosophy of life. At its simplest, however, something evil is something bad."

So is something bad going to happen to Shadrake? One doubts that even Prof Walter Woon can answer that question with certainty, "I didn't go out to ruffle feathers, but it's inevitable when you talk about these things that you will. People say, why prosecute the poor man (Tang Wee Sung)? Because he lied, that's why. It's an assault on the basic foundation of our law!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Omigosh! He's Gone Mental!

"It is an act of God. Unless you want to lose half the roads and have canals." Doesn't that sound remarkably like the line from Transport Minister Raymond Lim when he said that 1.5 % GST increase is needed for a free transport system?

Whatever happened to the cut-to-the-chase no-bullshit champion of the people who booted out the Brits, crushed the Communists, neutered the Malaysian ultras, and sued the pants off his political adversaries? The One who made everyone stop at two, promoted graduate mothers, railroaded the learning of Mandarin? All with one hand on the steering wheel of his Studebaker, another tied behind his back, as in "Look, ma, no hands!"

Asked if he thought the Government's response to the flooding had been sufficient, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, in the inimitable style of Goh Chok Tong, answered the question with another question, "How can you say the response is sufficient?" His argument that the Government's best efforts are no match for Mother Nature can only hold water if the engineers at the Ministry of Environment spend less time on pastry cooking lessons, and more on fluid mechanics. Flowrate measurement for discharge over weirs is standard course material. And the statement that "no amount of engineering can prevent flooding" is just so lame. What about the gold coins that Lee gave to the engineers who cleaned up the Singapore river? Wasn't that for an engineering feat? The major engineering undertaking for the Marina Barrage - that a fiasco too? Yaacob Ibrahim said it was designed for water catchment, flood control and water recreation. So two out of three is acceptable for First World standard?

Agnostics really should not use the name of God in vain. A more appropriate expression would be, "what to do, it's happened". See, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some People Just Can't Handle The Truth

The mystery of the clogged drain is solved - there was no clogged drain.

Depending on how you read it, Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim as good as called PUB chief Khoo Teng Chye a bold-faced liar: "A blocked drain was not the main cause for the floods at Orchard Road a month ago." (ST, 20 July) Lee Kuan Yew may call Singaporeans ignorant, nobody actually believed that a 2.7m by 2.7m drain could be clogged, especially when there was no photographic evidence.

After the Katrina-like devastation of 16 June, PUB's Khoo confidently boasted that the Singapore drainage system capacity is sufficient, having gulped $2 billion to upgrade the drainage infrastructure and to reduce floods. "A huge amount of water, equivalent to 60 Olympic-size pools, carried vegetation and other debris which partially obstructed the culvert across Orchard Road. This resulted in rainwater overflowing into the Stamford Canal and Orchard Road," was Khoo's know-it-all explanation.

In parliament, Yaacob told the house that during the storm, rainwater equivalent to 1 1/2 Olympic pools had flowed into the Orchard Road section of the Stamford Canal. Guess what? That section, we are now told, can handle no more than 1 1/3 Olympic pools equivalent of water a minute. So much for spending "$2 billion to upgrade the drainage infrastructure and to reduce floods". The Accountant-General should take a peek at how much was diverted (pun intended) to civil servant salaries, perks and performance bonuses.

Enough of the good-cop bad-cop wayang already. The truth lies somewhere in what Forum letter writer Patrick Low queried: "To what extent has the loss of 40 percent of our natural forests, from 37.8 sq km to 22.6 sq km between 1960 and 2006, affected the island's ability to absorb torrential downpours?" While we are at it, another simple question from simple folk, "How much of Orchard Road have been concreted over in the past few years?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Standing Up For Freedom Of Expression

Everybody knows the identity of the writer who is "director of the National Neuroscience Institute", but has anyone wondered about what exactly is the theme of her Sunday Times contributions? That is, other than painting a portrait of her father as more Mandela than Marcos. If she was airing the lamentations of singlehood, surely Sumiko Tan's reflections, before her recent rekindling of an old flame, were more refreshing reading.

From the title of last Sunday's piece "Why Is Giving So Hard", one would have thought that the elitist rich in Singapore, conscience stricken, had finally decided that philantropy is not a dirty word after all. As in Microsoft co-founder Steve Paul Allen preparing to give away his billions to charity after being diagnosed with cancer. But somewhere, in the morass of her writing, was this bit about an American columnist getting the sack for writing something favourable about Singapore. "So much for the US standing up for freedom of expression," so she wrote.

But when TODAY, 3 Nov 2003, reported on Lee Kuan Yew's recounting of his wife's stroke during a European holiday in 2003, and the outfitting of a Singapore Airlines jet into a flying hospital to ferry her back from London, the paper's Shaun Seow, Mano Sabnani, Rahul Singh, Bachchan Singh and Val Chua were summoned to the Istana for a dressing down. Not exactly the tea party any of them had in mind.

Chief editor Mano Sabnani was demoted. The deputy editor Rahul was demoted to night desk together with the other night editor Bachchan Singh. Val Chua had her press pass withdrawn, and relegated to writing advertising features for DBS and other banks. Only Shaun Seow, being a scholar, was bullet-proofed.

TODAY was told it had crossed the line and its media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public unhappiness. All they did was to quote extensively from Lee's speech at the Jalan Bukit Merah community event and the press release issued by his press secretary, since none were invited onboard the exclusive jet. Or accompanying the family in taking in the sights of London and Europe.

And you thought the Lianhe Wanbao photojournalist was shabbily treated for reporting on the Saturday floods.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It Never Rains, But It Pours

It must be one of the busier weekends for Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew. He had his Media Deveopment Authority arrest British citizen Alan Shadrake for contempt of court. Author of the book, "Once A Jolly Hangman", yanked from the shelves of bookstore Kinokuniya, faces charges of alleged "criminal defamation, among other things". Not sure if Foreign Minister George Yeo welcomes the potential diplomatic row with the United Kingdom, especially when the Ionescu affair is yet to be settled. The frequent flyer has been travelling everywhere, but never to Romania, and still depends on AP for development updates. Besides, he really needs to gets busy in Aljunied, fast looming as the mother of all electoral battlefields.

On Saturday morning, Lui's car had to reverse direction twice when leaving his Telok Kurau house because "the water is too high". The irony that a former Rear Admiral is deterred by the sight of so much water is not easily missed. Not for him the Robert Duvall line, "I love the smell of water in the morning. It smells like.. it smells like... victory." Baying for blood, he "would like PUB to meet affected residents to explain the situation". Parts of his constituency, Cambridge Road and Dorset Road were, he said, "worse than the two previous occasions."

Not that PUB Koh Teng Chye has to worry about his day job. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that it is pointless to spend money on the drainage system, plus it takes up precious land which could be sold to the foreigners. According to him, Marina Bay has "attracted $20 bilion of private sector investment in real estate." Betterer, as Minister Lim Swee Say would phrase it, to splurge another $200 million for the non-event Youth Olympics, for expenditures like weird markings on the public roadways. Swiss grafitti artist Oliver Fricker could have done it for free, in exchange for not defacing his buttocks.

Meanwhile residents of The Tessarina condo in Bukit Timah reported that the car of Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng's son was drowned in the basement carpark. No wonder Lianhe Wanbao photojournalist Shafie Goh (Wu Qing Shun) was handcuffed by police for being taking shots of submerged cars. Admiral Lui wouldn't be of much assistance, the guy hates water, remember?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There Are Experts, And There Are Experts

The term "expert" has been defined as anyone talking about anything more than 25 miles away from home.

Operation Cold Store was executed in February 1963, when 24 Barisan Sosialis members were detained under the notorious Internal Security Act, and the Cultural Revolution began in the summer of 1966. Dr Poh Soo Kai, 77, should know, he was one of the key leaders, which included Lim Chin Siong and Lim Hock Siew, who were incarcerated unjustly, and led to Dr Lee Siew Choh initiating a walk-out to launch an extra-parliamentary struggle in October 1966. So how did historian Dr Cheng Ying-Hong, conclude that the decline of the Barisan Sosialis was "due to radical influences from China's Cultural Revolution"?

Cheng, 51, born in China but teaching at Delaware State University in USA, had simply picked up the terms used in the Barisan's Front and Party News newsletters. Terms like "rebellion", "eliminate", "running dogs" and "black gangsters", which he suggests are unique to Cultural Revolution propaganda. It's a tenuous link, to say the least. How about the word "thug", also a favorite of Mao's zealous Red Guards? Lee Kuan Yew used this quite effectively in those days when he grabbed a newspaper proprietor by the collar and said, "I'm a thug, you're a thug, and as one thug to another, you'll do what I say." Was Lee's exhibition of pugnacity also "due to radical influences from China's Cultural Revolution"?

Giving the speaker at the seminar of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies a lesson in real history, Dr Poh explained patiently that the Cultural Revolution, which began 3 years after the arrests, was not significant in the Barisan's decline. A critical factor for the the Barisan's radicalisation was the imprisonment of its more moderate members, like himself, Lim Chin Siong and S. Woodhull. Playing the semantics game, the stubborn Dr Cheng stuck to his flawed thesis, saying that he never claimed the Cultural Revolution was a "decisive" factor in causing the left's decline, just a "significant" one. Let W.C. Fields have the last word, "I am an expert of electricity. My father occupied the chair of applied electricity at the state prison."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ruthless, Shameless and Ignorant

Speaking at the inaugural FutureChina Global Forum Meeting organised by Business China, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew volunteered his characteristic wisdom about businessmen: "The Taiwanese are ruthless, Hong Kongers are shameless and Singaporeans are ignorant. People who are ignorant are not corrupt and reliable."

We are not sure which category foreign import DBS Chief Piyush Gupta falls under, but "ignorant" and "reliable" are questionable words that come to mind when reading his opaque apology about the "outdated procedure" that crashed the bank's IT system. The only informational input in his rambling letter was that the outage was triggered in the course of repairing "a component within the disk storage subsystem connected to our mainframe." Hello, the repair work was done by expensive IBM, not some struggling IT vendor from Sim Lim Square - latter would have been more straight forward in telling you whether it was a hardware or software problem. When the press asked IBM how its engineers could have applied a wrong or outdated procedure in this Internet age, the IT services giant simply declined further comment. Oh, they did admit that it "has taken steps to better train staff on current procedures by bringing in experts for its global team." Translation: We currently have a bunch of clowns servicing the DBS account. Strangely, Gupta remains adamant the whole debacle has nothing to do with DBS' decision to outsource its sensitive IT operations to IBM, specifically the IBM Asia-Pacific team, with which it had recently signed a fresh two-year contract to overhaul DBS' computer systems, supposedly "designed to further strengthen its resilience and and minimise the risk of service disruptions".

Could it be that the problem is not technical in nature, but has something to do with the third "c" word in Lee Kuan Yew's descriptive about dealings with Singapore businessmen? Maybe this is a call for the CAD after all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Distortion Of Reality

Perhaps they are afraid of another round of self radicalisation among youths in Singapore. The speech of Dr Lim Hock Siew, 79, was made on 14 November 2009. Yesterday the Government decided to ban a video recording of the speech, effective tomorrow. The prohibition will make it an offence for anyone to distribute the video or possess a copy of it. If is cowed by this threat, today could be the last opportunity to view it on the Net.

The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) cited grounds that it gives "a distorted and misleading portrayal" of Dr Lim's detention under the Internal Security Act. In his speech, Dr Lim maintains he was falsely charged for being one of the 8 student members of Fajar arrested for sedition, a group that was defended by Lee Kuan Yew himself and subsequently acquited without going to trial. They were freed, but Dr Lim remained under incarceration for a stretch of 20 years. The distortion field obviously extends way beyond the speaker's podium.

Mr Martyn See, who made the original recording, could not comprehend MICA's action, "The amendments to Section 33 of the Films Act now allow for recordings of an event held according to the law. The film (of) Dr Lim Hock Siew fits that bill, and therefore I was confident it would not be illegal." However, MICA conveniently decided to ignore that law and cited another, "Section 35 (1) of the Films Act which alllow for the banning of any film that is contrary to the public interest." But what if the public is interested in what Dr Lim has to say? After all, Lee Kuan Yew's memory has already been shown to be fallible, such as forgetting that he became Prime Minister only through the tie-breaking vote of Dr Toh Chin Chye.

Not all is lost. This is also in Section 40 of the Films Act: "The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, exempt any person or class of persons or any film or class of films from all or any of the provisions of this Act." Have faith, even hell can freeze over.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spotting The Bad Eggs

In the light of recent revelations that 6 Singaporean Muslims were self-radicalised jihadists, the requests were simple: 1) enforce the accreditation of Muslim religious teachers; and 2) produce a "white list " of foreign institutions where Singapore Muslims can study.

But Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim asked instead his Malay community to use the troika of the office of the Mufti, registered religious teachers and the Islamic Rellgious Council of Singapore (Muis) to snitch for the ISD. Instead of helping their misguided brethren who have may have strayed inadvertently from the righteous path, he wants the ISD goons to do the dirty work. Abu Gharib style. Sounding a bit like SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa's logic about packed trains, he said, "if the public doesn't make use of it, there's nothing we can do".

His lame excuse for not wanting to enforce the registration is that there are some 1,200 religious teachers in the register of Muis's Asatizah Recognition Scheme, among which we now know lurks some of the Bin Laden wannabes. As numbers go, that's got to be easier than the gazillion man-years supposedly required to compute the nation's reserves for former President Ong Teng Cheong. As for the "white list" of approved schools to be put together by Muis, Yaacob Ibrahim claims that it would be too onerous to assess the schools. Surely that can't be more onerous than reviewing all the drainage systems of the Singapore flood control scheme that he tasked the PUB to complete?

Even Foreign Minister George Yeo sounded pretty cheesed off with the hands-off approach: "You cannot combat this problem just through policing, just through arresting particular individuals. The critical role is in the Muslim community. The bad cells masquerade as good cells. It's for the good cells to identify the bad cells and contain them."

The Minister could also add that the Ministry of Home Affairs has had a sad record of keeping Muslim radicals securely locked up in the Whitley Road Detention Center. Perhaps they will have to outsource this activity to the Malaysian Police, who seems to be doing a good job with Mas Selamat so far.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Refining The Art Of Mocking The Law

Sub judice is Latin for under judicial consideration. The Financial Times Lexicon defines it thus: If a legal case is sub judice, it is now being dealt with by a court, and therefore people are not allowed to discuss it publicly. adds: Politicians will decline to speak on a certain subject because the subject matter is sub judice.

At a dialog session in Joo Chiat on 9 May 2010, a resident asked Law Minister K Shanmugam whether the Government's policy on the death penalty for drug offences would change as a result of Yong's case. Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, 22, was convicted of drug trafficking and awaiting the Court of Appeal's ruling on 14 May.

Shanmugam had responded with his explanation that the fight against against drugs would not work if the Government made exceptions for young persons, such as Yong, or persons in special circumstances. "Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say 'We let you go,' what is the signal we are sending?" said Shanmugan, who was one of the Senior Partners and head of Litigation & Dispute Resolution at Allen & Gledhill LLP, the largest law firm in Singapore, before he sneaked into parliament via the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system in September 1988. On 1 May 2008 Shanmugam was appointed Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs .

The lawyer maintains that he did not prejudice the ongoing case. "The Government is entitled to comment on such policies," read the statement from the Law Ministry.

During the Frost-Nixon interview of March 1977, Nixon refused to apologize to the American people for the Watergate crimes, maintaining, "I'm saying that when the President does it, that means it's not illegal". If that does not send a chill down your spine....

Friday, July 9, 2010

Timing Is Everything

The United States arrest of 10 alleged spies accused of carrying out 'deep-cover assignments' for years for the Russian intelligence services came at an inconvenient time. The arrests were made in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and in northern Virginia, just outside the US capital Washington, following what the Justice Department described as a 'multi-year' investigation in coordination with the FBI. Only days earlier, President Barack Obama had lavished praise on his visiting Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev as a "solid and reliable partner."

Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid "did not undertake nor did he have any plans to undertake jihadi-related activities in Singapore", said a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman. Yet the 20-year-old full-time National Serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will be the youngest to be held under the Internal Security Act (ISA). His trangression was making contact online with a radical preacher, expressing his desire to fight in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is coincident that shortly after, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  made another trip to USA, this time with wife and head of Temasek Holdings, Ho Ching. The Americans will probably welcome a good story about the fight against terrorism. Or maybe the Mrs just wants to be interviewed by Charlie Rose, a follow up act of the precedent set by her father-in law and husband.

Relationship with the USA weren't always cosy. In August 1965, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched his famous attack on the Americans and their lack of civilisation. He cited 3 incidents (No Man Is An Island, James Minchin, page 158):
1) An alleged CIA attempt to bribe a Singapore Special Branch officer some years earlier;
2) Failure of State Department officials to offer him and Goh Keng Swee the "courtesies of protocol" at US airports when they flew in to appear before the United Nations for the merger discussions;
3) The "impudence and impertinance" of American specialists expecting someone close to him (his wife Kwa Geok Choo) to fly to Switzerland or the US for (gynaecological) treatment. This was before the time of SIA and their Boeing jets which could be converted into a flying hospital for one with a simple phone call.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Better Not To Ask

A friend once asked the Public Service Commission if the overseas university degree he had planned to pursue would be recognised in Singapore. The answer he received from the Administration Officer was, "Why don't you go for the study first, and we will advise you when you return?"

National Solidarity Party's Christopher Neo made a mistake of seeking permission from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to sell their newsletter. "Despite our advice to them not to hawk without a licence, they proceeded as planned, " explained the NEA spokesman.  NEA is charged under the Street Hawking Scheme to issue hawker licences for the needy to make a living. To qualify, hawkers need to be older than 45 years, jobless longer than 3 months and in financial difficulties. If we are to believe the Agency very few Singaporeans are in such destitute state.

This year, out of 71 applications, only 3 have been approved, 2 for selling newspapers, and 1 selling ice-cream. The bulk of the NEA manpower is dedicated to conducting raids on illegal hawking, a financially more lucrative exercise. In the last 3 years, an average of 10,000 summonses a year were issued. Despite glowing reports of economic recovering, 3,800 summonses were issued for the first 5 months of this year alone, in line with past statistics. We are not told what happens to those who can't afford to pay the fines. Half of those caught by the 31 NEA officers were peddling foodstuff like roasted chestnuts and curry puffs. Hardly high gross margin items.

JB Jeyaratnam once upon a time cut a familiar and nostalgic sight selling his "Hammer" newsletter at Holland Village street corners and similar places of high pedestrian traffic. He didn't have to ask any civil servant for permission. Like the Nike logo, he went ahead and "just do it".

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A History Of DBS Glitches

Singapore Airlines' ang moh VP of Public Affairs Rick Clements was heard live on CNN 31st Oct 2000, the night of the Taipei Boeing 747 crash which claimed 81 lives, telling the world, "There are no fatalities". Speaking on the meltdown of DBS' banking systems which triggered an island-wide breakdown of over 1,000 DBS and POSB automated teller machines (ATMs), chief executive Piyush Gupta said, "Actually we have very good safeguards. We have multiple redundancies built into our systems". Either these Foreign Talents are lying through their teeth, or they are clueless about the organisation that hired them. David Gledhill, DBS' head of Group Technology and Operations, even boasted, "...this is the first time a problem of this nature has occurred." Once again, white man speak with forked tongue. Straits Times has listed the ocurrences of "a problem of this nature" in today's paper:

September 2000: All branch computers and 900 DBS/POSB ATMs and Nets services went on the blink for 1 1/2 hours;
February 2001: All DBS ATMs, Nets services and Internet banking were knocked out at lunchtime for 45 minutes;
September 2009: Computers at DBS branches went bonkers, preventing customers from withdrawing more than $2,000 or updating passbooks;
October 2009: DBS Internet banking services were kaput for 3 whole hours.

The IT failures disrupted and inconvenienced businesses and the public. It could have been worse. Under the watch of Randolph Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of DBS Bank (Hong Kong), 83 customer safe deposit boxes at its Mei Foo branch were removed, sent to a scrapyard and crushed in October 2004, due to "a combination of human error, inadequate project oversight and the lack of formalised procedures for safe deposit box removal".

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SNAFU - Situation Normal All Fouled Up

Following the great flood at Orchard Road in June it was revealed that the PUB checks its drainage canals once every three months. They have promised to do better, the frequency of checks increased to every month.

We now know that "at least once a year', the 480 pedestrian overhead bridges here are checked for defects and to evaluate their condition. This comes about after a lorry carrying a crane crashed into a 40-year-old, 4.5m-high bridge near Sixth Avenue on Saturday 3 July 2010. Since 2007, there have been 28 cases of bridges, gantries and covered walkways being struck by vehicles exceeding the height limit of 4.5 metres. Vehicles exceeding 4.5m are supposed to have a police escort, if anyone bothered to check at all.

DBS seems to be similarly afflicted by a lapse in routine checks. Singaporeans woke up Monday morning, 5 July 2010, to an island-wide breakdown of over 1,000 DBS and POSB automated teller machines (ATMs). For over 7 hours, the bank's internet and mobile banking system were kaput, crippling NETs and credit card transactions. In 2001, both its ATMs and internet banking were also hit but the system was restored within an hour. "Prior to 10am, DBS and POSB took proactive measures to ensure that there was minimal disruption to customers who needed cash urgently for their day to day needs," said the DBS spokesman, apparently unaware that those depending on plastic were the most inconvenienced. DBS (aka Damn Bloody Slow bank) was quick to jump on their outsource vendor IBM, who presumably should have done the checking.

DBS could face possible action from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). "As part of IT and operational risk management, banks are required to investigate promptly the causes of system breakdowns and take immediate measures to rectify system failures and restore customer services," said MAS on Monday. "As part of its supervision of banks, MAS assesses banks' compliance with these requirements, and will take appropriate supervisory action where necessary," it said. MAS did not say who checks when and how often the assessment is conducted.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Goal! Malaysia Boleh!

It was sweet to see Argentina's star player Lionel Messi nullified. More than that, as Germany's coach Loew put it, "And we closed down Messi very well - without resorting to fouls". Definitely not the type of foul play that saw Brazil striker Melo stomping on Dutch winger Arjen Robben.

But it was even sweeter to see it all for free on Malaysian channel RTM2. Without having to succumb to the blackmail of the Singtel-Starhub evil foul of charging $70++ to watch a world event. Starhub even encrypted the free-to-air Malaysian broadcast to deny access by its paying cable TV subscribers.

Singaporeans have long been stomped on by a government with no soul. That's the difference between the two countries separated by a causeway. Doesn't SMRT star player Saw Phaik Hwa's "..people can board the train – it’s whether they choose to" sound remarkably like the Minister who said people live in void decks because of their own choice?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Rape Of The Town Council Funds

A total of $3.8 billion was earmarked in 2001 for the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) to install lifts that stop at every floor for "eligible" HDB blocks. Between now and the deadline of 2014, only $400 million is left of the total set aside. Meaning, some 90 percent of the funds have already been dispensed. The MND has revealed that opposition wards Hougang and Potong Pasir will finally be given $150 m of this last remaining amount. MND confirms it's political bias just as much by maintaining that it is sticking to the policy of giving priority to wards which "supported the Government". That's not all.

We now know that the 14 PAP wards, out of the total of 16, have special access to something called Town Improvement and Project Fund (TIPF) which is available only when the grassroots adviser, also the elected MP, makes an application for the funds. Except that the MP in an opposition ward is not recognised by the MND, and the adviser here is from the PAP, who conveniently skips applying for the grant. The stash money is dispensed by the MND, not out of the largesse of their own pockets, but from the taxpayers. Maybe the residents of Hougang and Potong Pasir should get a tax rebate for this exceptionally shoddy treatment.

No wonder Low Thia Khiang repeatedly demanded that the Government disclose the amount of funding each PAP town council had received, a request that Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of National Development Grace Fu stubbornly ignored. It's as if she had suddenly developed a deaf ear like the frog in Lim Swee Say's ridiculous tale. Even former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin, general manager of two town councils in the 1990s, echoed the outrage, "People are cynical. If you don't want to release the information, they would think, do you have something to hide?" Or more accurately, how much have you been hiding?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Justice For All

If you can't trust your lawyers, who can you trust? These are the guys who are supposed to interpret the law for you - remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse in the court. It turns out that in Singapore, a Li and Li partnership could be a Li sole proprietorship in reality, with the other Li doing non-legal works, like mentoring or something. Worse, when either or both Li's kick the bucket, the legal entity still exists!

Orix Capital lost its case to reclaim $263,000 in unpaid loans relating to a lease for two photocopiers because the signatory, and founding partner, on the contractual obligation had passed away. Nevermind if his son took over Chor Pee & Partners. A three-judge Court of Appeal threw out Orix's suit on grounds that the agreement signed by Lim Chor Pee could not bind the two partners in the law firm. The court also claim that the founder ran the firm in an opaque manner, absolving the existing lawyers of the partnership from the financial obligation. Er, so ignorance of the law can be an excuse for some legal experts?

Apparently the legal misrepresentation in Singapore has been going on for years. Lawyer Amolat Singh started his Amolat & Partners practice even though he was fully aware that it was a sole proprietorship "because it appeared to be the norm". "But back then (in 1993), I was just expected to go with Amolat & Partners although I started alone", he said. The sole lawyer in the firm Winstow Low and Partners said that after his partner left for further studies in 1997, he had cleared with the Law Society to continue with the misleading name. Lawyers argue that the name changes to inform the public of the truth would mean higher operatiing costs. And companies like Orix Captial will have to be actually paid for supplying office equipment to law firms.

Meanwhile chef Justin Quek is going to jail for a drink driving charge even though he passed two breath analyzer tests and there was no forensic evidence in the absence of a blood test. The law may be blind, but is it also braindead?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Politicians' Law Suits Of Moral Victory

Speaking on the proposed Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act to shield writers and publishers from "libel tourism", US Senator Patrick Leahy named Singapore as one of several countries whose "weak libel protections" attracted foreigners to file defamation suits against US journalists in those countries. The Bill would prevent US federal courts from recognising or enforcing a foreign judgment in a defamation case, in line with the constitutional first amendment which guarantees freedom of speech.

“Over recent years, American authors, reporters and publishers have fallen victim to libel lawsuits in countries with significantly weaker free speech protections than what our First Amendment affords,” said Leahy on 22 June 2010.

Last year Dow Jones and Co's Far East Economic Review lost $405,000 in a defamation suit filed by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In March, the International Herald Tribune publisher New York Times Co had to apologise and pay damages of $60,000 to PM Lee, and $50,000 each to SM Goh and MM Lee for an article that stated "Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew's son". Lamenting to Charlie Rose he was being put on the same list as Kim Jong-il, PM Lee said, "In this case the same journalist and same newspaper had made the same allegation and apologized and paid damages and promised never to do it again. And they did it again."

Asked to comment on the effect of the US legislation on defamation suits by Singapore politicians against US based media, NUS Professor Kevin Tan suggests that the (financial) impact is minimal if the suit is won here and the defendants have (little) assets here to be seized or frozen. Unless Dow Jones or IHT decides to invest heavily in the Singapore media scene. Nevertheless, SMU Assistant Professor Jack Lee argues that "The moral victory of having succeeded in the defamation claim before the Singapore courts is sufficient". Well, Australia is also included as a country with "weak free speech protections, increasing the filer’s chance of prevailing." So why is Dr Ross Worthington still sitting pretty? You know, the guy who documented the slapping of Dhanabalan in his "Governance In Singapore"? Surely the moral victory is worth an effort?