Written by Ng E-Jay
30 March 2009
At the launch of an alumni complex at the National University of Singapore (NUS) a couple of Fridays ago, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said that Singapore will take two to three years to bounce back from the recession, assumes that the United States recovers next year. (ST, “Full recovery at least 2 to 3 years away”, 21 March 2009)
MM Lee went on to lambast critics of Singapore’s economic model, citing for instance a recent Wall Street Journal editorial’s opinion that Singapore needed to focus more on stimulating domestic consumption of goods.
I have also opined repeatedly on this blog that Singapore’s strong emphasis on exports as opposed to domestic consumption has made it more vulnerable to global economic swings and increases the volatility of our local business cycle, bringing much hardship to Singaporeans in recessionary times such as these. (See here.)
But MM Lee said that Singapore “has no choice” but to export, adding: “Four million people to sustain industries supplying top-end goods to the world? That’s rubbish.”
Exports are undoubtedly important for a small economy such as ours with no natural resources, but MM Lee appears to be missing the point.
Written by Ng E-Jay
29 March 2009
When the Straits Times ran an article on March 21 entitled “Report card on Class of 2006″ quoting an anonymous People’s Action Party (PAP) cadre as saying that Dr Fatimah Lateef, an MP of Marine Parade GRC, had some trouble connecting with management members of Chinese temples in her ward, the mainstream media was quick to give airtime to both Dr Fatimah Lateef as well as SM Goh Chok Tong to rebut this claim.
The report in the Straits Times had quoted the PAP member as saying that Chinese temples had clashed with Dr Fatimah Lateef over issues such as the granting of permits for the holding of events like deities’ birthday celebrations, and this could be to the detriment of her standing with residents who are Buddhists or Taoists.
This prompted an almost instantaneous reaction from four community leaders, namely, the Chairman of the Inter Racial Confidence Circle at Geylang Serai, the Honorary Chairman of Geylang Villagers’ Association, the Honorary Secretary of Geylang Lorong 29 Liaison Committee, as well as Mr Tang Song Hee of the Thong Kheng Charitable Institution, who had their joint letter to the Straits Times forum page published in the print edition on 23 March. In their letter entitled “MP has no trouble connecting with Chinese temples”, they defended Dr Fatimah Lateef’s record of communicating well with residents and supporting their religious and cultural events.
On 26 March, SM Goh Chok Tong also weighed in on the issue. In an article entitled “SM Goh says newspaper report on MP Fatimah Lateef inaccurate”, Channel News Asia quoted him as saying: “I do not like the inaccuracy because it suggested that a minority community MP, a Malay MP, could not reach out to the Chinese temple people, (and) the hint that maybe, she, as a Muslim, did not want to reach out to these people. That is the implication … … The suggestion that a minority MP could be biased against others who don’t believe in your own religion is, I think, a very serious one. I do not think the reporter or the journalist writing it realised the implication — a Malay MP could not reach out to the Chinese. I think that is very bad for the PAP. Fortunately, that is not true, so better put it right.”
NMP Siew Kum Hong stood as the LONE DISSENTER to the Films Act amendments being passed even as Opposition voices in Parliament support the PAP “in principle”.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I hereby applaud Mr Siew Kum Hong for having the courage to stand up for his conviction and voice out the sad truth behind the Films Act amendments which are NOT a step towards liberalization AT ALL.
TODAY newspaper, 24 March 2009
IT WAS a rare move by a Nominated Member of Parliament. As the vote was called, Mr Siew Kum Hong specifically asked Deputy Speaker Matthias Yao to place his “No” vote on record.
His strong feelings on the proposed changes to the Films Act were one end of the spectrum of responses yesterday from six parliamentarians, as the House passed the Bill that would allow certain types of party political films.
Coming more than a decade after the Films Act was tweaked to ban all party political films, it’s a move the Government feels will “significantly” widen Singaporeans’ political space.
But Mr Siew disagreed. Taking issue with the “problematic phrasing” of the new laws, he said: “These amendments do not seem to represent a material or true liberalisation … it will not fix the problems that need to be fixed and I cannot, in good conscience, support such a piece of legislation.”
In contrast, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng applauded the Government’s “nuanced shift” in recognising “the need to adjust to the changing media landscape and the people’s desire for more political space”.
She cautioned, though: “Political films that intentionally distort the truth, mislead the public and incite them to rise up in misguided anger should be kept out.”
With NMP Thio Li-Ann and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim supporting the Bill in principle — despite their dissatisfaction with the pace of liberalisation — Mr Siew was the lone dissenter to the amendments being passed. Ms Lim felt they were a step in the right direction, if a reflection that the Government was still “somewhat paranoid”.
SEE ALSO: Changes proposed to Films Act and enhanced police powers by Ng E-Jay and Shameful piece of legislation by the Singapore Democrats.
Written by Ng E-Jay
24 March 2009
Article 14(1) of the Singapore Constitution states that every Singapore citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to assemble peaceably and without arms, and the right to form associations. Even though Article 14(2) states that those rights may be restricted by Parliament as it deems necessary in the interest of security or public order, it is understood that the spirit and meaning of this article is to enshrine in our Constitution a recognition that human beings have certain rights, and that these right should be respected.
Monday 23 March 2009 was a another sad day in our nation’s political history, as the ruling party took steps to further curtail the rights of Singapore citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly in the name of preserving national security.
As it stands, the authorities have repeatedly used the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (Chapter 257) as well as the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Chapter 184) Section 5 — Assemblies and Processions to prosecute activists and politicians who have conducted public activities or campaigns of a political nature.
For instance, in June 2006, SDP leaders Dr Chee Soon Juan and Gandhi Ambalam, as well as activist Yap Keng Ho, were charged with eight counts of speaking in public without a permit during the run-up to the 2006 General Elections. They had been canvassing support from the ground for the SDP and selling the party newsletter in places like Jurong West, Woodlands and Yishun — activities which all political parties carry out during election periods, including the PAP.
Written by Ng E-Jay
21 March 2009
On US President Barack Obama’s first day in office, he signed an executive order instituting a pay freeze on White House staff earning over US$100,000 (S$150,000) per year.
Relating the pay freeze of his officers and public servants to the prevailing economic crisis, he said: “During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.”
President Obama also spoke of the privilege of public service, saying: “… we should never forget that we are here as public servants and public service is a privilege … … some of the people in this room will be affected by the pay freeze, and I want you to know that I appreciate your willingness to agree to it, recognizing that it’s what’s required of you at this moment. It’s a mark of your commitment to public service.”
In the speech at a swearing-in ceremony for his senior staff, Obama also spoke about bringing a new sense of accountability and transparency and rule of law to Washington, saying that these “will be the touchstones of this presidency”.
MAS’ consultation paper on enhanced regulation in the financial industry — key issue of MAS’ own accountability not addressed, amongst other issues
Written by Ng E-Jay
18 March 2009
In an attempt to shore up the faltering reputation of Singapore as a financial hub and to beef up regulations governing the marketing and sale of investment products, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) released a draft consultation paper last Thursday outlining what is acceptable sales practice and what crosses the line into mis-selling and deception. (See here and here.) The draft consultation paper is open for public feedback until 23 April.
Some of the key recommendations include:
- requiring that all investment products come with a three- to four-page summary sheet called the “Product Highlights Sheet” clarifying the risks and returns, including what would happen in the worst case scenario and how investors can exit their investment;
- introducing a new product category called “complex investment products”, which will be defined as any investment product that has derivatives embedded in it, whose disclosure materials will alert potential investors to the risks involved, and which will also be subjected to more regulatory requirements such as permitting financial institutions to sell them only after they have provided comprehensive advice and determined that the investor is suitable for such a product;
- requiring financial institutions to undertake an enhanced product due diligence process before selling new investment products, and requiring Representatives to enhance the quality of information obtained from their customers, provide customers with more details in their basis for recommendation, and set out more clearly in a formal document why the products are suitable for them;
- disallowing bank tellers from steering customers queueing in bank branches towards Representatives selling investment products;
- strengthening MAS’ powers to investigate and take regulatory action through several measures, including the introduction of a civil penalty regime under the Financial Advisers Act (FAA).
However, three issues remain inadequately addressed, which I discuss below.
Protection from harm: One set of rules for political elites and another set of rules for common folk
Written by Ng E-Jay
14 March 2009
AG Walter Woon famously remarked at the opening of the legal year in the Supreme Court in January that “the essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all“.
However, as far as protection from physical or psychological harm is concerned, it appears that there is one set of rules for political elites and another set of rules for common folk.
Straits Times reader Mr Poh Yi Hao wrote to the forum page earlier this week relating an incident in which he was attacked by a fellow passenger on an MRT train whom he refused to give up his seat to. When he reported the matter at the control booth at the MRT station, he was advised to seek treatment and lodge a police report. However, the officer at the Bedok North police station told him that a report would not help catch the assailant as the police and the train officials were unable to identify him. Mr Poh found it absurd that the authorities were unable to investigate an assault in public, and offered little sympathy over the incident.
Another Straits Times reader, Madam Tan Lian Gim, also wrote in complaining that despite her husband receiving verbal threats via his mobile phone in which the caller, who knew the husband by name, threatened to inflict bodily harm on him and his family, the police refused to take any action whatsoever.
Written by Ng E-Jay
11 March 2009
Is there really no Singapore citizen who is fit to manage our own country’s reserves?
That was the impression Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew gave last week when he said at the Thomson Reuters Newsmaker Event that “there was nobody inside Temasek equal to the job” of CEO.
MM Lee was explaining the events leading up to Ho Ching’s resignation, from the Cabinet granting in-principle approval for her to step down last month, to the release of a Cabinet paper tabled by the Ministry of Finance laying out her reasons for retiring. MM Lee emphasized that his daughter-in-law’s resignation had nothing to do with Temasek’s poor investment performance last year.
MM Lee has since backtracked on his statement, which seems to imply that our country is so devoid of talent that we need to find a foreigner to manage our own reserves — wealth that our citizens built up over the decades with sheer hard work and diligence.
In a statement issued by his press secretary, MM Lee said that Temasek Holdings has “corrected” him, and that their succession options include both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, both inside and outside of Temasek.
By the Singapore Democrats
09 March 2009
(Please visit SDP’s website for more articles of theirs, as well as their party manifesto. Find out more about SDP as a political party here and read the truth about Ministers’ Pay, Labour, Poverty in Singapore, the CPF System, the Media, and the Elections here.)
The title may sound a little melodramatic and alarmist. What basis do we have for saying this? Consider this: The local media will give other opposition parties coverage and write-ups. But they won’t even give the SDP the right of reply.
Case in point: Today ran a story about Mr Chiam See Tong where reporter Mr Loh Chee Kong took aim at the Singapore Democrats and accused us of practising the “darker side of politics” by “ousting” Mr Chiam. Firstly, it was Mr Chiam who resigned as party secretary-general, no one ousted him. Secondly, Mr Chiam resigned after executive committee members voted against a motion that he had tabled. How does voting by the executive committee constitute the dark side of politics?
But when Dr Chee wrote in to correct Mr Loh’s version of events, Today remains silent about publishing the reply.
This is not the first time. In 2008, Ms Chee Siok Chin, who was made bankrupt by the Attorney-General, had applied to the Official Assignee (OA) to travel to Stanford University to attend a course in political leadership.
By the Singapore Democrats
05 March 2009
There are those who still don’t understand the SDP’s strategy and approach to politics. Why do Singapore Democrats insist of defying the law and ending up in court instead of doing the ground work necessary to win elections?
The answer is simple: Because the PAP has absolutely no intention of allowing the opposition to win power through elections.
The ruling party will continue to introduce new laws and amend existing ones to block any meaningful inroads the opposition makes in elections. The introduction of the GRC system, the increase of election deposit, the restriction of the use of the Internet by opposition parties, etc are done to ensure that opposition parties remain crippled.
There is even a law that prohibits five or more people from “demonstrating opposition to the actions of the Government” or to “promote a cause or campaign” under the Miscellaneous Offences Rules.
Already the SDP and its supporters have been charged under such a law simply for distributing flyers. What’s there to stop the Government from applying this law to the other opposition parties especially if they start making political headway?
And isn’t the opposition’s work all about promoting a campaign or cause? How can we limit our numbers to less than five in public if we want to reach out to the public more effectively? Most important, if the opposition cannot demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government, why exist at all?