Tan Kin Lian talks about social justice and gives an update on possible class action lawsuits by investors at TOC event on 6 Dec
Written by Ng E-Jay
06 Dec 2008
Mr Tan Kin Lian gave an update on possible class action lawsuits by investors of Lehman-linked structured products at an event organized by the Online Citizen at Speaker’s Corner on 06 Dec.
The Online Citizen held an event from 5pm to 6.30pm on Saturday to commemorate their second anniversary. The event was held in conjunction with U60’s celebration of the United Nation’s 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Entitled “Social Justice and Fairness: First World Country in the 21st Century“, the event was also attended by Mr Sin Kek Tong, Chairman of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), and Mr Siew Kum Hong, Nominated MP.
Mr Tan Kin Lian addressed a crowd of around 100, saying that he joined the Online Citizen around 6 months ago as a guest writer, under the invitation of financial industry veteran Mr Leong Sze Hian.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 this year on 10 December. Mr Tan Kian Lian reflected that he also turned 60 this year. He reminisced on what it was like during his childhood days, when he was growing up in Marine Parade. At that time, HDB flats were cheap and affordable, unlike the present. During those times, MPs and the people could talk freely with each other, but it is a different environment today.
Mr Tan went on to explain why he got himself involved in the Lehman Minibonds issue.
He said that one year ago, he had found the product to be “suspicious”, and so told people to be careful about it.
Later when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and the Minibonds became worthless, he organized a petition calling upon MAS to conduct an independent investigation into whether the banks had broken the law.
All his actions were about social justice and fairness, explained Mr Tan Kin Lian, connecting the theme of his speech with the title of the TOC event.
But Mr Tan was shocked at the attitude of the Government who told investors that they should take responsibility for their own actions, and that they should have “gone in with their eyes open”.
Hence, he decided that the “fight would continue” until there is justice and fair treatment of investors.
Mr Tan Kian Lian also exhorted those who are not affected by the fallout of the Lehman-linked structured products not to stand by idly, but come forward to help those in need, because these are our neighbours and fellow human beings. This is Mr Tan’s vision of social justice — each member of the community looking out for each other.
Mr Tan then went on to talk about the gathering of 100,000 signatures for a petition asking him to run for public office. This petition was first mooted by Mr Goh Meng Seng, a CEC member of the National Solidarity Party (NSP).
He explained that he “does not want” to stand for any election, whether as an MP or Elected President. He repeated his statement earlier posted on his blog that he is “quite well off” and “does not want that kind of trouble” associated with politics.
Mr Tan briefly returned to the subject of why people increasingly are unable to afford HDB flats. In the present economic environment, those who lose their jobs find it difficult to find another one. He said that we need a living wage, not just a minimum wage, that enables the recipient to pay for his or her housing needs and food as well as live a humble but dignified life. Some people now have to work 16 hours a day or get two jobs to survive. Is this social justice?
In connection with these tough economic times, Mr Tan wants to encourage people to come forward and help others. He said that he could take risks as he is financially well off, but others may not be able to do the same. Mr Tan explained that if he managed to get 100,000 signatures, other people might be spurred to come forward seeing the kind of support his cause is receiving. Therefore, Mr Tan asked people to sign the petition, not for himself, but as an encouragement for others to step forward.
All in all, Mr Tan Kin Lian said that he wanted society to be fairer, to provide greater assistance to people who have lost their jobs. He questioned whether people having to work two jobs and earn a meager salary is the kind of society we want. We must also have MPs who are able to understand the hardships of the people.
Mr Tan then gave an update on the possible class action lawsuits in respect of the Lehman credit linked notes.
Firstly, there is one lawyer who has collected 260 signatures for a possible class action lawsuit. However, some investors are worried that this lawyer is too young and inexperienced. Mr Tan met with this lawyer yesterday. The lawyer told him that he managed to get two or three senior counsels on board to provide legal opinion and advice.
Secondly, another group of investors have formed a committee that is in talks with yet another lawyer for a possible class action lawsuit. Mr Tan, working with this group of investors, has managed to get someone to pay for the services of a Queen’s Council in respect of providing legal opinion and advice. Mr Tan said that this process will take at least until the end of January 2009.
Thirdly, some investors have reflected that a particular securities firm has offered affected investors 30% compensation of the principal sum invested. Mr Tan suggested that if the offer was revised to 50%, investors should consider accepting the offer of compensation. But if the offer is for 30%, investors might want to wait and see how the legal advice from the Queen’s Council pans out.
In my opinion, the possible rationale for asking investors to accept 50% compensation is because the legal process of a class action lawsuit would probably be very costly and drawn out, and so 50% could represent a good level at which investors can cut their losses and avoid further hassle and uncertainty.
Earlier during the TOC event before Mr Tan Kin Lian’s speech, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, Chief Editor of the Online Citizen, gave an update on TOC’s accomplishments over the past two years.
He also spoke about the role of active citizenry in building a democratic and just society.
Mr Leong Sze Hian spoke about rising HDB mortgage delinquencies and asked if HDB flats are still affordable. He pointed to persistently low wages of the working class and part-timers as well as rising HDB flat prices as factors that put ownership of HDB flats out of the reach of many Singaporeans.
Mr Ravi Philemon spoke on the interplay between distributive justice, education, and human rights.
A group photo was also taken at the end of the TOC event.