Article by Law Sin Ling (NSP): Singapore Press – Rushing To Infernal Self-Condemnation

June 30, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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From: Law Sin Ling
29 June 2008
Singapore Press – Rushing To Infernal Self-Condemnation


It was not pleasant news for Sunday, or any day. A life was lost through yet-to-be-determined circumstance. Murder was insinuated by the newspaper. The reporter was not obliged to sanctify the incident. He opted instead to let loose a devilish instinct from a more primordial period of human civilisation. He opted to bestialise his upbringing.

Browse the literature freely (reproduced below) and one will inevitably experience an uneasy sense of literate discontinuity, like a crudely constructed out-of-place road-hump on the evenly-tarred surface of the information expressway, or a pernicious chasm in the civil humanity continuum.

Consider the indisputable factual morsels:

(a) The stabbing did not concern Mr. Tan Lead Shake in the first person. He was neither the proven culprit nor the victim.

(b) His shod preference for slipper was of no concern to the case even by the wildest imagination.

(c) His defeats and that of his father in past General Elections were of no relation to the case.

(d) No photograph of a single adult member of the affected family was featured, with the exception of that of Tan’s in an impassive pose. Has he been adjudged guilty by association? Did the paper commit prejudgement?

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Activists are upbeat and will continue speaking up for Singaporeans

June 29, 2008 by · 2 Comments
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Far from being downcast, the 18 activists who have been charged with taking part in an assembly and procession without a permit are showing that they were made of sterner stuff. Their upbeat mood suggests that they are keen and ready to continue speaking up for Singaporeans through the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign.

The activists are charged for conducting a protest outside Parliament House on 15 Mar 08 against the plethora of hikes introduced by the PAP Government such as the GST, transport fares, education fees, ERP rates, gas and electricity tariffs, and medical costs. These increases have exacerbated the dire economic situation faced by many Singaporeans and made an already highly inflationary economic environment that much more unbearable. The poor and the aged have been the hardest hit.

The protest is also against the lack of care on the part of the Government, because the Government only gives token, one-off budget handouts, a significant portion of which is credited to medisave and PSEA accounts that are NOT available for day-to-day living expenses.

The activists are determined to rally support from the people to fight back the Government’s punitive measures. One of those charged, Jaslyn Go, told everyone that “public support is our best weapon against them. Let’s stand united against them.”

Lawyer Chia Ti Lik jumped in, “Sometimes, I think the women folk outdo us in such things. The ladies in our midst who do so much to inspire us with their tower of strength.”

Ti Lik was, of course, referring to Jaslyn Go, Chee Siok Chin, and Suraya Binte Akbar who had played leading roles in the campaign for political reform in Singapore. This is despite the fact that some of them are mothers of young children.

Untimely Government policies like the GST hike and various other fare hikes have driven thousands of Singaporeans into desperation, many unable to even afford meals. The level of homelessness in Singapore is unprecedented. But unlike in other democratic societies, citizens here have no avenue to protest against Government action and exploitative policies.

Tak Boleh Tahan! protesters and observers charged

June 28, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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The group of activists who protested outside the Parliament House on 15 Mar this year has been charged with two offences under Section 5(4)(b) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance Act) Chapter 184: participating in an assembly as well as a procession without a permit in a public place.

Each offence carries a penalty of fine of up to $1,000.

The activists were part of the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign protesting against the crushing high cost of living in Singapore that has left many Singaporeans in financial misery and added to the growing number of homeless. Ill-timed government policies such as the GST hike and the plethora of transport fare hikes have only added to the inflationary problem. The Government has done little to help the poor and aged cope with escalating inflation other than one time budget handouts, a significant part of which go into Medisave and PSEA accounts and cannot be used for day-to-day expenses.

The group of activists charged include those who wore the protest T-shirt and were there to observe and lend moral support to the proceedings, but who did not take part in the actual protest.

The gathering was organized to mark World Consumer Rights Day. A similar event organized by CASE on the next day proceeded smoothly without interference, because the police had chosen to grant a permit to one but not the other.

5 years may be all it takes to SAVE Singapore

June 26, 2008 by · 20 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
26 June 2008

Once again, MM Lee Kuan Yew has unleashed his old, tired brand of propaganda. He told around 650 participants of a dinner forum at the Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday that one freak election result is all it will take to wipe out Singapore’s success. This is an old refrain that he has used repeatedly before.

MM Lee warned that a freak result could happen if voters became bored and decided to give the “vociferous opposition” a chance — out of “light-heartedness, fickleness or sheer madness”.

I find it quite amazing that MM Lee would acknowledge the existence of a “vociferous” opposition when PAP’s Organizing Secretary (Special Duties) Dr Ng Eng Han had lashed out at the Worker’s Party in the latest edition of Petir (PAP’s official magazine) for being silent on important issues.

Perhaps MM Lee was referring to parties like the SDP. I shall refrain from speculating further.

But to be very sure, MM Lee is not pulling his punches on this one. He has castigated opposition supporters as people who vote out of “light-heartedness, fickleness, or sheer madness”.

This is a very serious charge in a supposedly democratic country, or a country is touted by the authorities to be democratic. Is MM Lee suggesting that only PAP supporters are sane, rational people?

MM Lee also said, “In five years, you can ruin this place and it’s very difficult to pick up the pieces.” So he clearly is advancing the opinion that opposition parties are incompetent parties that would wreck havoc if they came into power.

But wasn’t PAP playing the role of an opposition party too before it came into power in 1959?

I don’t see how MM Lee’s brand of self-serving logic that does not extend beyond the tip of his nose could possibly make sense to the majority of thinking voters out there.

Many of my readers should already know that MM Lee is merely engaging in bland and worn out scare tactics in expressing the danger that voters plumping for more opposition MPs might end up with an unintended change of government. So I will not belabour the point, but will only state unequivocally that given the current state of affairs in Singapore, an opposition party might well run the place better than the PAP.

After all, wasn’t the PAP itself an untested party before its electoral victory in 1959?

MM Lee also said, “When you’re Singapore and your existence depends on performance — extraordinary performance, better than your competitors — when that performance disappears because the system on which it’s been based becomes eroded, then you’ve lost everything.”

What extraordinary performance is he referring to? Escape by Mas Selamat Kastari and the multitude of serious security lapses committed by the MHA?

MM Lee could not have been referring to the fact that octogenarians are collecting drink cans from hawker centres just to make a meager living while foreigners are taking jobs meant for Singaporeans, or that fact that schemes like CPF Life have to be implemented because after 43 years of independence, the CPF system has failed to secure Singaporeans a decent retirement, despite that fact that Singapore is touted as an Asian economic miracle.

To top the icing on the cake, MM Lee also said that the problem with popular democracy is that during elections, candidates are not judged on how well they can govern, but on their persuasive power.

But surely a political party that is not yet the ruling party would not have had the chance to showcase its ability to govern and perform administrative functions. How will they convince the electorate to vote for them, except through persuasion and debate? Wasn’t that how the PAP itself came into power in 1959?

Going by MM Lee’s argument, the incumbent party should be permanently locked in. What then would happen if one day, the incumbent became corrupt or incompetent? How would the electorate vote them out, if they were expected to judge parties based on their administrative competence, something which no opposition party would have had a chance to display?

MM Lee said that the elements a country needs to have in order to succeed are a government that the people have confidence in and trust, as well as able leaders who are aboveboard.

Sadly, we are having less and less of those.

MM Lee said that 5 years is all it takes to ruin Singapore, if an unexpected change of government occurs.

I say that 5 years of political plurality might be all it takes to put Singapore back on the right track.

Point/Counterpoint: Has HDB’s public housing policy been a success?

June 26, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Point: A cohesive nation, thanks to the HDB

by Betsy Pisik, Straits Times US Bureau
published in the Straits Times, 25 June 2008

(Summary of ST article)

IN SOME countries, an apartment can be the heart of the family, or just a place to store clothes and a bed. In others, it is the unattainable dream, a symbol of security as far away as the moon.

In Singapore, a 48-year-old programme has turned home ownership into a formidable tool to create cohesive communities and fuel economic expansion.

“The housing programme is a key pillar for continued economic growth,” says Mr James Koh Cher Siang, chairman of the Housing Board. “The underlying philosophy is nation-building, to root the population in Singapore and its future.”

That far-reaching vision was honoured by the United Nations on Monday during a day-long celebration of public-service innovations.

In a statement issued in Singapore yesterday, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan congratulated the HDB and said that the award was “a tribute not just to HDB, but also to the Singapore people because the home-ownership programme is very much a part of our lives today.”

Today, 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in HDB homes, the dream of owning them made possible by a combination of subsidies and access to their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for their flats.

EDITOR’S REMARK: Subsidy?? WHAT subsidy?? A market-based rather than a cost-based subsidy is NO subsidy at all!

Counterpoint: HDB contributing to price spiral

by See Leong Kit
letter to Business Times, 20 June 2008

I REFER to the article “HDB pricing policy limits impact of rising costs” (BT, June 11).

As a 60-year-old Singaporean, I empathise with the growing despair of young couples when it comes to such a basic aspiration as home ownership. Private property is mostly beyond their reach. Even for HDB flats, they are caught between waiting as long as six years for new flats or paying exorbitant prices for resale flats.

In the 1970s, a graduate’s starting pay was around $1,000 per month. Then, in HDB Marine Parade Estate, prices of 3-room, 4-room and 5-room new flats were $17,000, $20,000 and $35,000 respectively. By 1990, the average price of 5-room new flats was $70,000. Such prices then reflected a “cost-based” pricing approach.

Now, graduate starting pay is three times higher than in the 1970s, but prices of new similar HDB flats have gone up 10-30 times.

These massive price hikes are largely due to the HDB switching over to a “market-based” pricing approach, following the 1994 property bull run.

In 2007, the HDB finally confirmed that “the prices of new HDB flats are based on the market prices of resale HDB flats, and not their costs of construction”. In 2000, the total break-even cost for a 5-room new flat was an estimated $120,000.

But, under the market- based pricing approach, the HDB first looks at the prevailing market price of, say, $260,000 of a 5-room resale flat. It will then pick a slightly lower figure of, say, $200,000 as the selling price for the 5-room new flat (despite its $120,000 break-even cost).

HDB will then say the new flat buyer is getting a so-called “market subsidy” of $60,000, arising from the difference between the resale flat market price and new flat selling price. There is thus no actual ‘cash subsidy’ given at all.

This market-based pricing approach had resulted in new flat prices and resale flat prices chasing each other in an upward spiral, affecting buyers of both new and resale flats. It has also led to current prices of 4-room new flats varying so much from $200,000 (Sengkang) to $400,000 (Telok Blangah) and a whopping $590,000 (Boon Keng).

HDB is supposed to be a low-cost public housing developer. Why then is it not passing on to flat buyers the economy-of-scale cost savings in its huge developments by pricing its new flats on a cost-based break-even basis?

A litany of security lapses by the Ministry of Home Affairs

June 25, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
24 June 2008

“The cure to all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,” Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told the Straits Times on 5 Apr 2007 while speaking on the subject of Ministerial pay and the grouses people had over them.

This year, we got that “dose of incompetent government” from the Ministry of Home Affairs which has committed one serious blunder after another.

The first, and most major, security lapse was the escape of Mas Selamat Kastari, a known terrorist, who practically limped out of the highest security detention centre on the island in 49 seconds or less in broad daylight on 27 Feb 08. The Ministry of Home Affairs took a grand four hours to alert the public on the matter. To this date, there is absolutely no news on Mas Selamat’s whereabouts.

The second security lapse was the escape bid by two detainees from the lock-up at the Subordinate Courts on 11 June 08, which was allowed to happen because proper procedure was not adhered to.

The third security lapse was allowing a 61 year old retiree to clear all security checkpoints at Changi Airport’s Budget Terminal and board the plane mistakenly using his son’s passport on 23 June 08. That man managed to get through even after failing repeatedly to scan his fingerprint at the immigration Automated Clearance System, because an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer directed him to a lane for manual clearance, where he was cleared.

On the latest security lapse, DPM Wong Kan Seng said that he was totally appalled and flabbergasted.

So am I.

In view of his 14-year tenure as Minister for Home Affairs since 1994, DPM Wong must be held accountable for allowing a culture of complacency to creep into the entire system, ranging from the ISA detention facility to the ICA security checkpoints.

To attribute this highly unfortunate chain of security lapses to mere human oversight on the part of subordinates is wrong and irresponsible. That does nothing to address the real underlying issue, which is poor leadership from the very top.

“The cure to all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,” said MM Lee.

We’ve gotten that already. Now justify the Ministers’ multi-million dollar salaries in light of what has happened.

Arun Mahizhnan’s Address at the Seminar on Internet Regulatory Reform, 21 June 2008

June 25, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
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by Arun Mahizhnan
June 24th, 2008

Address at the Seminar on Internet Regulatory Reform, 21 June 2008.

Since the time allocated to me is just eight minutes, let me make just eight quick points:

First, I want to comment on the process of your proposal. I would like to add my congratulations to the authors of this proposal for making a thoughtful and persuasive case. But I’m even more impressed with the fact that this is not a unanimously agreed upon document – which is a rarity in Singapore. It is customary in Singapore for committee members to sign on even if they don’t agree with all the conclusions, because that is the politically correct thing to do. Your process shows a level of maturity among the bloggers that recognizes that there is no single right answer to our problems. Especially so in the internet world. As we all know, it is a constantly and rapidly changing world and defies easy solutions. And when I looked at the specific points where there IS disagreement, they actually reflect the dilemmas that many others are also faced with, including the government.

My second point leads from there which is political expediency. Even where all of you have unanimously agreed upon, because it is so rational, there is no guarantee that the government will accept that recommendation — because it may not be politically expedient at this point in time. There is a sharp distinction between what is rational – rational even to political leaders – and what is politically expedient. As we all know, politics is supposed to be the art of the possible and there are a number of aspects of this proposal that could be argued as politically inexpedient at this point in time. Personally, I don’t want to get into a debate on that point because I can’t speak for politicians. However, even if some of your rational proposals are not accepted in this round, they should remain in public discourse so more ground can be gained over time which will increase the chances that they are accepted at a later time. One good thing we all must take note of: the nanny state that used to think it can control most things, if not all things, is in retreat. Technology has seen to that. But the alternative to the nanny state is not a totally free state, as the authors of this proposal have clearly acknowledged.

Read the full article: Rationality vs political expediency in internet policy

Government does not make money from ERP? Yeah right.

June 24, 2008 by · 10 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
23 June 2008

The headline in the Straits Times newspaper screamed “Govt doesn’t make money from ERP”. I cringed.

As I expected, the points raised in the article were mostly hogwash.

The article begins with Labour Chief Lim Swee Say’s lament that he pays a hefty sum on ERP charges because he passes through many gantries to and from work. Apparently, Mr Lim was in the midst of making the point that ERP exists solely to control road congestion and not to enrich government coffers.

I hope Mr Lim’s public sector salary compensates him adequately for this and prevents him from having to bear unnecessary financial sacrifices.

Mr Lim said Transport Minister Raymond Lim had told Parliament previously the Government does not make any money from the ERP increase, the alleged reason being that it will collect $70 million a year from the ERP increase, but will lose $110 million due to the 15 per cent reduction in road tax for cars, motorcycles, taxis, and commercial vehicles starting from July 08.

At this point, I realized that my cringe upon seeing the headline of the article was totally justified.

First and foremost, you cannot justify that the government is not making money from the ERP increase simply by using a reduction in profits from road taxes to offset the ERP increase. That is hardly logical. To fairly assess whether the government is profiteering, you have to take into account the total government revenue from transport, which would include things like COE and petrol duty. You would also have to study whether the government is using the revenue from transport to build better roads and infrastructure, and make travelling easier for drivers and commuters.

Secondly, the suggestion that the reduction in road tax starting in July would more than offset the increase in ERP charges might not gel with the everyday experience of drivers. For example, according to the calculations done by a Sammyboy Coffeeshop forummer using LTA’s website, the annualized reduction in road tax for a 1600cc car would come up to around $130. However in one year, can a driver realistically expect his or her ERP charges to go up by LESS than $130 due to the latest round of revisions? Given that ERP rates for 32 of 65 gantries will increase by between 50 cents and S$2.00, that may not be a realistic outcome for many drivers.

I wonder how the Government came up with those figures.

My view is that if the Government keeps increasing the number of ERP gantries, it ultimately becomes counterproductive, because commuters will not be able to avoid those gantries without incurring substantially higher fuel costs due to taking longer routes. In the end, the result is the same: commuters are forced to pay more, whether in terms of ERP charges, or in terms of fuel usage.

If and when that happens, the congestion will likely return to previous levels. What then would the Government do? Keep increasing the number of gantries ad infinitum?

Clearly, a more lasting solution has to be found.

PAP’s Organizing Secretary hits out at WP in latest edition of Petir

June 21, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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The PAP’s Organising Secretary (Special Duties), Dr Ng Eng Hen, has hit out strongly at the Worker’s Party, in particular, its Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang, in the latest edition of Petir, the official PAP magazine.

In an article entitled “Credible Opposition: Taking A Clear Stand”, Dr Ng Eng Hen, who is also the Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, criticized the WP for failing to make its stand clear on important issues at critical points. He said that Low Thia Khiang, who is also the MP for Hougang, was often “quick to criticise, yet offers no serious proposals”.

I don’t really agree what Dr Ng is saying. I have always had the impression that WP was slow to criticize, although I do admit they have picked up speed in recent months. And in the absence of further qualification from Dr Ng, I am also skeptical at his criticism that Low Thia Khiang and the WP offer no serious proposals.

What should be the role of the Opposition? Surely the Opposition cannot be expected to formulate full-fledged policies, as it does not have the machinery of the civil service at its disposal and does not have the benefit of the the kind of research and manpower that Ministers have access to. The Opposition can at most be expected to comment intelligently on current policies and devise a broad framework for alternative policies without going into the nitty-gritty details (which can only be left to civil servants). To some extent, the WP is already doing that, though there is still room for a lot of improvement.

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Why I dissented to the Bloggers’ proposals on the Regulation of Hate Speech on the Internet

June 21, 2008 by · 5 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
20 June 2008

On 18 April, a group of 13 bloggers, which included myself, submitted a paper to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore”.

The paper outlines the various defects in current media laws and regulations governing internet content in Singapore, such as instituting vague restrictions which gives authorities too much leeway in interpretation of the law, conferring arbitrary power on the Media Development Authority (MDA) to penalize owners of websites that in its judgment have violated MDA’s own rules, and the regulation of political content which is unjustified in principle and unenforceable in practice.

The paper proposes ways of addressing the defects in current laws and regulations with respect to 3 main areas: (a) political expression, (b) racial/religious hate speech and (c) sex & violence.

I fully agreed with the sections on political expression and sex & violence, but I did not agree with the recommendations put forth in the part on racial/religious hate speech.

The section entitled “Regulation of Hate Speech on the Internet” proposes that Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code be repealed and replaced with new legislation that is more specific to the act of inciting others to cause injury to another class of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or the absence thereof, gender and sexual orientation.

The paper explains the rationale for repealing Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code as follows: “Where the threat is merely of promoting hatred between different racial or religious groups, the laws become less difficult to justify. This is even more so in the case of laws that criminalise offending the racial or religious feelings of others. In these situations the threat to the community is not immediate: there is usually time to manage any fallout. In such circumstances, to allow the social goal in maintaining harmony to trump over the right to freedom of speech and expression will make nonsense of that right.

I disagree with this analysis.

The issues of race and religion are very personal and sensitive. History has shown time and again that when people deliberately promote hatred between racial or religious groups through the use of vulgarities, propaganda, insults, or even hate speech masquerading as constructive dialogue, the reaction from the communities involved can be swift, and unfortunately, sometimes with severe consequences. This is especially true when the social climate is in a volatile period, for example, in times of economic stress or just after a successful terrorist attack. Refer to Indonesia during the Asian Financial Crisis and in the US just after Sept 11, 2001.

In my opinion, the whole point of the paper on Internet deregulation is to advocate for freedom from laws that are unjustified in principle. The regulation of political content such as Section 33 of the Films Act (Cap 107) which prohibits the making, distribution and exhibition of party political films, and Section 78A(1)(a) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218), which regulates election advertising on the Internet, are examples of laws which are not only unjust, but which the authorities have selectively applied on political opponents in order to unfairly suppress the voices of political dissent.

The laws criminalizing the promulgation of religious and racial hate speech, however, are not unjust. That is why I dissented to the proposal to repeal Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code.

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