NSP Press Release:
INTERESTING BUT WITHOUT SUFFICIENT IMPACT
The Prime Minister’s National Day speech was generally interesting in terms of linguistic versatility and showmanship. It however lacked sufficient impact as many of its measures were deemed to be short, despite the lengthy 3.5 hours delivery.
Few people are surprised at the Government’s lackluster efforts to “liberalize” the political landscape, considering its paranoiac obsession towards power consolidation over the years. The nominal gestures in softening media controls and confining outdoor demonstrations to the Speakers’ Corner, are rather insignificant responses to international pressure for Singapore to reveal its true posture in the arena of democracy. Those superficial measures are grossly insufficient in meeting the needs of an expanding, politically conscious and active citizenry.
The Government could be more proactive by expanding the platform for greater public participation in politics and parliamentary elections. A genuine attempt to liberalize should include the easing of cumbersome election procedures, reverting mega-sized GRCs to their original size of three, introducing proportional representation, and refraining from any eleventh-hour “stick & carrot” inducements. Here lies the toughest challenge for the PAP … to be truthful to itself.
PM Lee exhorts the people to look beyond complaints and see the bigger picture. But the bigger picture also comprises of high inflation and job insecurity made worse by intense competition from locally based foreigners. The average, middle-class family would take a rational, double look and flinch away from the risk of a 21-year responsibility of raising a child in the light of such uncertainties. The change in lifestyle of the now generation, coupled with social pressure and the usual marital stress, would render the latest tranche of goodies with only limited appeal. Thus, the Government should have tackled the “bigger picture” first.
Instead of wringing blames on “external factors” the Government is expected to well manage the steep rise in inflationary rates -– a job for which it has, for long, been very well paid. Instead of pointing at “uncontrollable factors”, it could reduce and not increase the GST rates, ERP rates & gantries, and public transport fares. In fact, the inflation rate started to climb along with the increment of the GST rate from 5% to 7%. The PAP Government had, in many ways, helped to initiate the inflationary price hikes; it therefore cannot be free from blame!
The decades-old Courtesy Campaign has never been successful. So has the annual ritual by the Government to inspire grace as a way of life. Its consistent emphasis on materialism, elitism and officiousness effectively cancels any budding effort toward graciousness. The Executive and the Judiciary – in effect, the entire Establishment -– are always so full of pride and prejudice. Compassion seems to be a galactic term. The recent STTA power-hungry fiasco easily brings one to mind the ease of corruptability of naked power. Ego and materialism have now dug deep as a full-bred culture. Perhaps, the PAP Government could conduct a little introspection on itself first, before its next pronouncement on the need for social grace.
Nevertheless, we do sincerely applaud the Prime Minister for his continuing efforts to bring about improvements. We also hope that all these improvements would ultimately be for the betterment of our little red dot of an island. Majulah Singapura !!
AIMS’s paper on Engaging New Media — a summary of their position on online political content, and my take on it
Written by Ng E-Jay
29 Aug 2008
The Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) has released a paper entitled “Engaging New Media – Challenging Old Assumptions”. This objective of this paper is to provide a review of the increasingly complex social, ethical, legal and regulatory issues have arisen as a result of the rapid growth of new media such as the Internet, and recommend appropriate changes to legislation.
In the paper, AIMS dealt with four time-sensitive issues:
- e-engagement (or how the Government can use new media to better interact with the public),
- the regulation of online political content,
- the protection of minors, and
- intermediary immunity for online defamation.
AIMS stated that its work was guided by four key principles:
- Government regulation should be used as a last resort, because using laws as a first measure to deal with online problems is unwise as the Internet and its users are continuously evolving and can creatively route around laws and regulations, especially if they are not well thought-through.
- “Free-for-all” is not feasible, because many dangers lurk in cyberspace and there should be regulations that society can call upon to address such dangers. The key issue is what kind of regulation can allow us to harness the benefits of the Internet while minimising the potential for harm. Where the risk of harm is high, there should be legislation. Conversely, where the risk of harm is low or moderate, the imposition of legal controls should be avoided.
- Shifting the focus from regulation towards engagement: Traditionally, the Government’s regulatory efforts have been focused on containing extremist and harmful content. Moving forward, the emphasis should be on leveraging on the opportunities that the Internet provides for enhanced communication and engagement between the public and Government.
- Community participation is key: The sheer amount of content available on the Internet makes it impossible for any one agency to monitor and regulate it efficiently. The wider community has a role to play in fostering a conducive online environment.
In the arena of online political content, AIMS said that while current laws in this area might have been effective in curbing the excesses of irresponsible speech, they may also unduly limit the use of what can be a valuable, and probably indispensable, channel of communication.
AIMS recommended liberalizing Section 33 of the Films Act that prohibits the making, distributing and exhibiting of party political films. The ban on party political films is too wide-ranging and stifling as the definition of a party political film could cover any film that touches on politics or government policies. Furthermore, technology has out-paced the law and has made it unenforceable, and potential threats to society, like the exploitation of race and religion for political purposes, are already dealt with via other legislation.
AIMS suggested the authorities could narrow the scope of the law to only prohibit political films that are clearly misleading, with an independent advisory panel to decide what distinguishes the misleading film from those that should be considered to be valuable and in the main, harmless to society as a whole.
Another option advanced by AIMS was to repeal Section 33 of the Films Act altogether, but impose the restriction of the distribution and exhibition of party political films during elections period under the Parliamentary Elections Act, in order to manage “risks” associated with political films.
Yet a third option was to repeal Section 33 in phases in order to provide the time needed for an objective evaluation of how a complete repeal might actually work in practice.
My personal opinion is that AIMS is being overly cautious and is still unable to divest itself of the climate of fear that the PAP has instilled in Singaporeans with regards to the Internet and political films in particular.
Government regulation should indeed be used only as a last resort, not merely because the freewheeling nature of the Internet renders much legislation unenforceable in practice, but more fundamentally, because the Government should respect the right of citizens to freedom of speech and expression. Many of the current laws governing political content on the Internet are not only unenforceable in practice, but are also unjustified in principle.
In my opinion, only a complete repeal of Section 33 of the Films Act is acceptable. Furthermore, it is unreasonable and unconscionable to allow an arbitrary committee formed by the Government to decide whether a film is misleading or not misleading. The onus is on the public and on private researchers to make that conclusion, and EVEN SO, whether a film is deemed misleading or not should not be used as a justification to infringe on the right of a person to produce and distribute it.
Any Government-formed committee with the power to decide whether a political film is misleading and to ban it on that account will bring us right back to square one.
Currently, political campaigning (or election advertising) by political parties, candidates, election agents and registered persons on the Internet via podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) during the General Elections is not allowed as these activities are not prescribed in the “positive list” under the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations.
AIMS recommended extending the positive list for Internet election advertising, in the sense of changing the Parliamentary Elections Act to allow, during an election period, videos or recordings of live events, such as election rallies, party press conferences and constituency tours, and broadcasts of party manifestoes and stories already aired over radio and TV.
Under present regulations, individuals can discuss political issues, blog, post podcasts for political purposes, or carry on election advertising during the election period, but the MDA still has the authority to compel registration, under the Class License Scheme, for those whom it deems “persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore”. These registered individuals, also known as “relevant persons” under the Parliamentary Elections Act, would not be permitted to provide material on the Internet that constitutes election advertising during elections period.
AIMS recommended the removal of this registration requirement for individuals who provide discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore through the Internet. I fully agree with this stand. However, AIMS stated that the registration requirement for websites belonging to registered political parties should be retained to ensure accountability, especially during elections period, as political parties need to adhere to a “positive list” for online elections advertising.
In my opinion, the registration requirement under MDA’s Class License Scheme should be removed even for political parties, and Section 78A of the Parliamentary Elections Act should be completely repealed, in the interest of protecting free speech. This section of the Parliamentary Elections Act provides leeway for the authorities to discriminate against different political parties. If such happens, it would render the political process extremely unfair.
In the arena of online defamation, AIMS said that given the volume of material on the Internet, it is impractical for Internet intermediaries to exercise much control over Internet content. It is potentially a medium of virtually limitless international defamation. Claimants are more likely to bring actions for defamation against borderline defendants for Internet defamation because those who are more directly involved in publishing the material may be difficult to locate or may be residing in a foreign jurisdiction.
Currently, Section 10 of the Singapore Electronic Transactions Act confers immunity from civil and criminal liability to network service providers in respect of third-party material to which they merely provide access. The phrase “network service providers” does not apply to content hosts.
As regards to liability for criminal defamation, a content host may be liable for defamatory remarks posted by a third party if he has knowledge of the defamatory remarks and that they are harmful to reputation.
AIMS recommended that the relevant authorities consider enacting legislation to confer limited immunity upon online content intermediaries such as Internet content hosts and aggregators in respect of civil and criminal liability for defamation with regards to third party content where such intermediaries have acted in good faith. Immunity should be subject to the obligation of the intermediaries to take down defamatory content on receiving a credible and authenticated request from the person allegedly defamed.
The full report by AIMS can be downloaded here.
Sylvia Lim opposed motion to revise Parliamentary Elections Act because the motion sought to entrench GRCs
NCMP Sylvia Lim made a speech in Parliament on Wed 27 Aug on the issue of by-elections and GRCs.
She said that she was unable to support the motion tabled by Nominated MPs Thio Li-Ann and Loo Choon Yoong for amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act because this motion sought to entrench the GRC system, which WP is opposed to.
Sylvia Lim also pointed out what she thought were flaws in the motion tabled.
Firstly, the motion proposed that the moment a Minority member left a GRC, a by-election would be called. Sylvia Lim asserted that it is unjustified for by-elections to be triggered by the departure of a single member, including a Minority member, because elections are won or lost by GRC teams not necessarily on the merits of any one member.
In this respect, Sylvia Lim’s position is in complete agreement with the stand made by PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Secondly, the motion proposed that once half or more of the members of a GRC team have departed, a by-election in the GRC should be called as well. Sylvia Lim said that this would mean that we could be left with a situation no by-election is called even if 1 or 2 members departed. The issue of the constituents being under-represented immediately arises.
Thirdly, the motion asked the House to amend the Parliamentary Elections Act such that a writ of by-election shall be called in the event that a Member of a single member constituency vacates his or her seat for any reason. Sylvia Lim pointed out that is already provided for under the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act. In particular, Article 49 of the Constitution states that whenever the seat of an elected Member has become vacant for any reason, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by law. The Parliamentary Elections Act, S 24, further provides that the President shall issue a writ of election “to supply vacancies caused by death, resignation or otherwise”.
Sylvia Lim then gave her views on what she thought was wrong with the GRC system:
- A team member’s non-co-operation could sound the political death knell for the rest, including during the period leading up to nomination day.
- The motion tabled in Parliament itself shows that the GRC system does not promote representative democracy.
- GRCs increase the bar for those who intend to contest, increasing the likelihood of walkovers.
- GRCs serve the PAP’s interest rather than the people’s interest: When Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of the PAP’s recruitment challenge in 2006, he said: “Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics.” Are we to infer that the PAP candidates these days are not what they used to be? It also seems that the GRC is a recruitment and training tool for the ruling party.
- GRC has weakened politicians’ mandates: Back in 1988, Dr Ahmad Mattar already hit the nail on the head. His views were quoted in Parliament, as follows: “As a Malay, I don’t think I would like to contest in any Elections where my victory is guaranteed – not because I am a ‘strong’ candidate but because I have a so-called ‘strong’ twin brother to lean on.”
On the issue of minority representation, Sylvia Lim said: “How do we ensure minority representation? Singapore’s history has shown that, in the past, minority candidates stood and won single seats. PAP MPs such as Mr Dhanabalan, Mr Rajaratnam, Mr Sidek Saniff and Mr Zulkifli Mohd have done so; so have opposition leaders like Mr Jeyaretnam in Anson, a predominantly Chinese constituency. This was so even in the 1984 GE. Are we saying that Singapore has regressed as a society? Or is the PAP now saying that they have less confidence in their current minority Ministers, MPs or new candidates winning on their own?”
Written by Ng E-Jay
27 Aug 2008
The issue of foreign workers depressing local salaries has cropped up again in Parliament. Acting Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong attempted to dismiss this view on Tuesday in his reply to a question from Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim.
Sylvia Lim had reiterated the point that wages for the lowest income earners for the last 10 years had stagnated, due to the presence of foreign workers. (ST, “Simplistic to say foreign workers depress local pay”, 27 Aug).
Given rapidly rising inflation, it is fair to say that real wages for the bottom earners have even outrightly declined.
Mr Gan attempted to discredit this idea by stating that foreign workers form a big and growing pool in the services industry, yet wages there are comparatively better.
He said, “In 2007, total wages went up by 5.9 per cent in the overall economy. Services sector wages went up by 6.5 per cent, and this is a sector with growing numbers of foreign workers in 2007.”
I think Mr Gan should pay careful attention to what Sylvia Lim was saying. She was referring to wages at the lower end of the pay scale, not to overall wages.
Mr Gan also claimed that during a recession, foreign workers would be retrenched faster than Singaporean workers, but his claim has yet to be empirically tested in a real life recession. Talk is cheap.
Why would there be an incentive for companies to retrench foreigners first during a recession, when there is no legislation governing this aspect of employment, and no monetary incentives awarded for such acts?
Foreigners, if they are without families in Singapore, would in fact be in a better position to bargain for less pay in exchange for keeping their jobs, as compared to local workers who might have mouths to feed in high-cost Singapore.
As usual, the government’s obsession with overall statistics clouds the real issue of the poor and lower-income households being the first to bear the brunt of rising inflation and an overly-liberal policy of importing large numbers of foreign workers, many of them unskilled.
Written by Ng E-Jay
27 Aug 2008
Law Minister K. Shanmugam has reiterated a stand made previously by Attorney-General Walter Woon that “not guilty in law” does not mean “innocent”. In other words, a person may not be factually innocent even if the law acquits him.
My immediate comment is: What is the point of reiterating and repeating this? Isn’t it a matter of common sense that no judicial system in the world can ever perfect, that sometimes guilty persons go scot free and innocent ones can be unjustly convicted?
K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Monday: “It is entirely possible for a person to have committed acts which amount to a crime and yet, there may be no conviction. I emphasise this: No serious lawyer will question this possibility.” He also said that witnesses may have changed their evidence, or a technicality may have got in the way, and these could result in the prosecution being unable to convince the judge that the man had done the deed. (ST, “Govt defends A-G’s stand on acquittals”, 26 Aug).
All these comments to me seem superfluous and needless, and could encourage the public to unnecessarily speculate on cases after the courts have passed a verdict.
Appeal Court Judge V. K. Rajah had also weighed in on the issue earlier. He did not refer to what the Attorney-General said, but made it clear that such comments could undermine confidence in the courts’ verdicts and the criminal justice system, which is based on the doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty“.
I am in full agreement with Judge V. K. Rajah. Attorney-General Walter Woon’s and K. Shanmugam’s latest comments could open a pandora’s box in which the public is encouraged to openly doubt the verdicts passed by courts or even to regard the so-called “Court of Public Opinion” as being of equal legitimacy as the actual courts.
Such open speculation would indeed undermine confidence in the courts’ verdicts and the criminal justice system.
But Mr Shanmugam re-affirmed that the presumption of innocence as an “important and fundamental principle” which the Government is “absolutely committed to upholding”.
But if so, why is he convoluting the whole subject?
The “not guilty” does not mean “innocent” remark is unfair for those who are indeed factually innocent. It puts this group of people permanently on the defensive, as their associates could well take Mr Shanmugam’s remarks as a license to doubt their true innocence.
Mr Shanmugam said that the reverse also applies: where a person is factually innocent but legally guilty. “This happens where the accused wants to plead guilty to a lesser charge and end the case … because his interest is to walk away as quickly as possible,” he said.
But isn’t this a clear miscarriage of justice? Why is Mr Shanmugam apparently taking such a light-hearted view of this?
I am unsure as to the whole point of the Law Minister and the Attorney-General remarks. Perhaps they have in mind certain cases in which they felt the accused was guilty, but the judge has to acquit him due to lack of evidence or because of technicalities.
But even so, the Law Minister’s rehashing of the subject could open a pandora’s box in which the public is given free reign to speculate on cases already closed and openly challenge verdicts. That would wreck havoc on the lives of those who are factually innocent but had to endure a trial to clear their name. The trial for such people could well become permanent, lasting the remainder of their lives.
Written by Ng E-Jay
27 Aug 2008
Dr Lily Neo, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, is well known for her strong personality and the close attention she pays to the plight of the poor in Singapore.
On Monday in Parliament, her fiesty demeanour showed through during question time when she squared off with Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, on the issue of aid for the poorest households.
Dr Lily Neo had asked the Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, whether his ministry is monitoring how lower-income households are affected by inflation and stagnant wages, whether the available assistance is lessening their difficulties, and whether there will be other measures to ensure no one falls through the cracks.
In my opinion, these all very valid and pertinent questions — questions that had also been taken up by Opposition MPs in the past.
In her reply on behalf of Dr Balakrishnan, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon listed the different assistance schemes available and cited examples of families who had benefitted from those schemes.
But Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon’s reply was hardly sufficient for Dr Lily Neo, who stopped the Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi from proceeding to the next question tabled by Dr Lam Pin Min by waving her papers frantically .
Dr Lily Neo reiterated that more had to be done for the poor. On the list of help schemes for the poorest 20 per cent of Singaporeans, Dr Lily Neo also strongly objected to being asked a question by Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon: “How far you want to cover? You want to cover up to 30 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent (of the population)?”
Dr Lily Neo said, “I’d like to object to the fact that I was asked what I wanted the assistance for; wasn’t 20 per cent enough, 30 per cent enough? … … I definitely never asked for 30 per cent or 40 per cent of assistance to Singaporeans, and I object to being asked that kind of question.”
Mrs Yu-Foo then clarified that her question was not directed at Dr Neo in particular, but at Singaporeans in general. “I didn’t say Dr Lily Neo asks for 30 per cent … My question was generally to Singaporeans, whether we want to cover beyond 20 per cent,” she said.
Later after Parliament, Dr Lily Neo explained to the New Paper that she was trying to speak up on behalf of low-income families who are not eligible for public assistance because one or both parents are working. She said that these are needy ones who had fallen through the cracks.
Dr Lily Neo voiced out her concern that existing assistance schemes are all temporary and ad-hoc. She said, “We need something permanent for these people that can lift them out of the poverty cycle, like getting the kids to pre-school or getting their parents better jobs.”
I fully agree with her. I would also like to add that a lot of the monetary assistance dispensed out through schemes like WorkFare go into the CPF account and are thus not available for day-to-day usage. My question is: How is this going to help the needy who have immediate needs in everyday life?
It is my opinion that one time Budget handouts are insufficient at helping the lower-income families cope with inflation and stagnant wages due to the large import of low-skilled foreigners who compete with them for jobs on virtually equal terms. A far more comprehensive method of helping the poor and needy must be employed, including helping them secure better jobs, and instituting a minimum wage to protect their right to a decent standard of living.
It is sad that amongst all the voices in Parliament, Dr Lily Neo’s is only one of the very few who speak out vociferously on behalf of the poor and lower-income families who have been marginalized by the “growth at all costs” policies of the PAP Government.
Some MP’s later asked Dr Lily Neo why she resorted to waving her papers frantically to catch the Speaker of Parliament’s attention. She replied, “I just felt I needed to shout for these people. I think I did, and I wanted to.”
Dr Lily Neo certainly combines both beauty and brains, as well as a passion to help the poor.
According to my archives, Dr Lily Neo has previously asked questions in Parliament earlier this year relating to economic hardship and inflation, and has called upon the government to improve the delivery of needed help to the poor even if the government has to employ more manpower for the task. She has also spoken out quite vociferously on the issue of school bullies.
Written by Ng E-Jay
26 Aug 2008
On Monday, at a press conference, the Police and National Parks Board released a set of new rules governing the activities that can and cannot be held at Speaker’s Corner. These rules take effect next Monday, 1 Sept.
Now, demonstrations can held at Speaker’s Corner, and these can involve holding up placards, waving banners, and using hand-held loudhailers.
Demonstrations can also be conducted round the clock. Loudhailers, however, can be used only from 9am to 10.30pm.
Of course, the authorities were equally quick at specifying certain restrictions. These include no lewd or violent visuals, and no race and religious issues. (ST, “Open for demos next week”, 25 Aug).
Permanent residents can also participate, but still have to apply for a permit if they want to speak.
The management of Speakers’ Corner will be taken off the police and handed over to NParks, which will now deal with the registration of speakers or organisers of demonstrations, who can register online via NPark’s website. This is a departure from past practices where speakers had to register at the Kreta Ayer Police Post next to the Park.
There is also no limit on how many groups can demonstrate on any day, as long as everyone can be contained within Speakers’ Corner.
The police indicated that they will patrol the Park, and that they will investigate if it receives public complaints.
This of course sets off alarm bells in my head.
The police have frequently claimed that they were tipped off by public complaints everytime it arrests Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) members, supporters and other activists for holding peaceful demonstrations.
I wonder whether they will use the same excuse to intimidate peaceful demonstrators at Speaker’s Corner as well. It remains to be seen.
My view remains that the “concession” for protests at Speaker’s Corner is pathetic, and that the government should realize that Singaporeans are granted freedom of assembly and expression under Article 14 of Part 4 of the constitution. These are rights that apply to all citizens, at all times and places.
Nonetheless, the apparent liberalization of Speaker’s Corner is a very small step forward in helping to alleviate the oppressive climate of fear surrounding political activity.
Let’s see whether the authorities will really walk their talk in taking a “light touch” approach with regards to events held at Speaker’s Corner.
Let’s also see whether the authorities will be truly unbiased and transparent about the whole process of applications, approvals or rejections, and their conduct towards peaceful demonstrators at Speaker’s Corner.
Written by Ng E-Jay
26 Aug 2008
Every so often, we see very clearly the quality and caliber of the kind of people we have in Government. And this time round, the mainstream media did not even bother to hide or cover up the series of missteps.
Lee Bee Wah’s blatant flip-flopping on the Gao Ning issue is startling, even by PAP standards.
Gao Ning, Singapore’s top male table-tennis player, crashed out of his first Olympics last Thursday, losing 0-4 to unheralded Tan Ruiwu of Croatia, because he was left without a coach. Zu Haining, the coach who was supposed to be in his corner, had to attend to another Singapore player, Yang Zi, whose coach had fallen ill.
A delay in the conclusion of Yang Zi’s match resulted in Zu Haining being unable to attend to Gao Ning.
The incident earned a sharp rebuke from Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah, who said that action should be taken against those who “neglected their duties”. (ST, “No coach present as Gao falls to unknown”, 22 Aug).
Lee Bee Wah, who is also an MP at Ang Mo Kio GRC, questioned why the Singapore team, with four coaches in Beijing, could not spare one for Gao. She was also quoted as saying that “we cannot accept such things happening in such an important tournament”.
Lee Bee Wah later translated her words into action. In no uncertain terms, she told The Sunday Times that the services of team manager Antony Lee were not needed anymore. (ST, “Singapore’s table tennis team manager told to leave”, 24 Aug).
Her statement came after she had a private meeting with the seven players — four women and three men — on Saturday afternoon, without inviting any officials.
She also said, “‘I have a new team and will have a new CEO and technical director. It is best that the manager is chosen by them. Antony is welcome to apply for the position when we ask for applications.”
Her statements naturally drew much flak from many observers who felt that she had made the decision too hastily and her rash actions put an unnecessary dampener on the joyous occasion of Singapore winning its first Olympic medal in 48 years.
But the story does not end there.
On Monday, in a very shocking about turn, Lee Bee Wah told TODAY newspaper, “I’m not sacking anybody … His contract expires on Aug 31, and before the Beijing Olympics, SSC had discussed facilitating his return and I said I had no objection. It has nothing to do with the Gao Ning incident.”
Her latest position is in total contradiction to all of the previous press reports on this issue.
She even went further, saying, “I didn’t say that Antony and the coach will be sacked … I feel that it’s all been blown out of proportion and now the damage is really terrible … I don’t want to be entangled in this whole issue. We have to move on to the bigger picture that STTA is working towards.”
Why the backtracking and the flip-flopping? Did Lee Bee Wah suddenly regret what she did and decided to change her stand. If so, why doesn’t she just issue an official retraction of her previous position rather than make it seem that the media mis-reported her?
And now, after all the damage is done, Lee Bee Wah says we have to move on to the bigger picture. It’s a little hard to do so when STTS has a big flip-flopper breathing down its neck.
On 20 Nov 2007 while Singapore was hosting the 13th ASEAN Summit, some Burmese patriots held a peaceful demonstration near Orchard Road to protest against the murderous actions of the Burmese junta and affirm their solidarity with their fellow citizens back in Burma.
A Straits Times report on the event was published the next day. Entitled “In Singapore, Myanmar activists keep within the law“, the article stated that police officers took down the particulars of some of the protesters and that they would hold an investigation into possible offences committed.
Nonetheless, the police had tried to display some semblance of neutrality with regards to peaceful protests by the Burmese earlier on. Roughly a month earlier, after a protest conducted by Dr Chee Soon Juan outside the Istana which also related to the Burmese junta’s atrocities, the police had issued a statement saying “in contrast to Chee’s acts of civil disobedience, Singaporeans and Myanmar nationals in Singapore have organised themselves to express their sentiments and concern for the Myanmar situation in a lawful manner“.
Of course, it must be noted that whatever hint of neutrality offered to the Burmese was most assuredly not accorded to Dr Chee.
Almost a year later, however, and after Singapore handed over the chairmanship of ASEAN to Thailand, the authorities have done an about face. Whatever semblance of neutrality displayed with regards to peaceful protests by the Burmese has all been thrown out of the window.
In an article published by the Straits Times on 23 Aug entitled “Myanmar activists not above the law“, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was quoted as saying that “Some Myanmar nationals involved in political activism here believe that they are above Singapore laws and have ignored repeated advice by the police to act within the laws.”
A spokesman for the MHA said that unlike other Myanmar groups “which have conducted their activities in a lawful manner, the Overseas Burmese Patriots has chosen to do so in open and persistent defiance of our laws“.
So much for politics and the law being separate ala Walter Woon style.
Written by Ng E-Jay
22 Aug 2008
Some Burmese residents held a press conference on 22 Aug at Peninsula Excelsior Hotel from 3pm to 5pm in a bid at publicizing the plight of 6 of their compatriots who have had the renewal applications for their PR re-entry permits, employment passes, work permits, or social visit passes turned down.
Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc, who is a 3rd year Business Student at SMU and a member of the Overseas Burmese Patriots, chaired the press conference. Also on the panel was Ms Ngwe Zin Soe, a 31 year old Singapore PR and an Assistant Engineer at a private company, and Mr Thu Yein Win, a 33 year old ‘S’ pass holder.
Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc kicked off the press conference by reading out the press statement from the group which explained that since July 2008, 6 Burmese residents in Singapore have been denied renewals of their PR re-entry permits, employment passes, work permits, or social visit passes by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Three of them have had to leave Singapore as a result, and they are temporarily in asylum in countries like Cambodia and Thailand.
All 6 Burmese residents involved are activists who have participated in campaigns for political change in Burma. Some of their notable activities include the peaceful protest against the Burmese Junta’s murderous crackdown on monks and innocent civilians held near Orchard Road on 20 Nov 2007 during the ASEAN Summit, and the “Vote NO” campaign against the sham referendum on the new military-drafted Constitution for Burma during late April and early May 2008. These activities were effective in raising awareness of the injustices and atrocities committed by the Burmese Junta, and they were all conducted in a peaceful and lawful manner.
Since then, approximately 50 Burmese who participated in these peaceful campaigns have been called up for police investigations, but no charge has been tendered against any of them. These include the 6 Burmese affected by the non-renewal of their visas or work passes. Each of the 6 have been served stern warnings from the police not to participate in protests or other activities that the authorities deem unlawful.
However, the police warnings were not the end of their problems in Singapore, as they recently found themselves having their work, studies, and residency in Singapore put in jeopardy by the ICA and MOM.