Written by Ng E-Jay
08 Aug 2008
Earlier in June, Ms Chee Siok Chin received notice from Stanford University that she had been selected to attend the Stanford Summer Fellows on Democracy and Development Programme which takes place from 28 Jul to 15 Aug. She was one of only 27 candidates selected from over 500 applicants.
However, the Official Assignee’s (OA’s) office saw fit to reject her application for travel, stating “none of these travels have translated into a benefit to your creditors“. Ms Chee was adjudicated a bankrupt in Aug 07 after she was ordered to pay costs over a court case challenging the Government on the Constitutional rights of the four persons who had protested in front of the CPF building in 2005. In the past year, the OA’s office had granted her permission to leave Singapore on several occasions when she had to attend international conferences and meetings.
Ms Chee appealed to Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, stating that the fellowship was crucial for her as part of her research for a book which she is planning to write. “Part of the earnings from the sales of the book will then be made to the benefit of my creditors,” she informed Mr Shanmugam.
The Ministry responded thus: “We regret to inform you that the decision to reject your travel application remains. The OA is not persuaded that your attendance at the fellowship program in Stanford University would result is any substantial additional benefit to your creditors.”
The Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) then wrote to the Minister for Law appealing for Ms Chee to be allowed to attend its Summer Fellows Program. The letter, dated 22 July, stated: “Ms Chee has been invited to give a public lecture here at Stanford University, during her stay as a Summer Fellow, with an honorarium of US$2,000 … … Since all of her expenses as a summer fellow will be covered separately, we would assume that her honorarium earnings could be used to help meet her obligations to her creditors upon her return, benefiting all concerned.”
So now, the OA has been informed of 2 ways in which Ms Chee’s attendance at the programme could benefit her creditors — she has been awarded an honorarium of US$2,000 which could be made fully available to her creditors as all her travel expenses are separately covered, and part of the proceeds from the sales of her book which she is going to write could also be made available to her creditors.
However, the OA replied and still would not allow Ms Chee to travel. This was followed by a Straits Times article entitled “‘No’ to Stanford trip for Chee’s sister” published on 02 Aug recapitulating the events much as I’ve described thus far.
What does the OA’s office do, now that the sequence of events has been exposed in the national press? They take the fight to the next level.
Malcolm B.H. Tan, the Assistant Official Assignee, wrote a letter to the ST forum dated 05 Aug slamming the ST article for containing many factual errors. He claimed that during Ms Chee’s meeting at the OA’s office on July 3 as part of her application for travel, she refused to give her passport for verification, refused to disclose how she would be paying for her trip, and refused to verify information concerning her income and expenditure.
The letter by the OA’s office also unceremoniously disclosed the total amount Ms Chee owed her creditors, a move tantamount to infringement of privacy.
And to top the icing on the cake, the Assistant OA claimed that Ms Chee “did not mention her US$2,000 honorarium during the interview on July 3. It surfaced only after her application was rejected. By then, she had clearly demonstrated her unwillingness to cooperate.”
How much truth is there in the Assistant OA’s statements? I will leave it to readers to judge, based on Ms Chee’s reply which is attached below:
Mr Malcolm Tan’s distorted version of my meeting with the OA’s office is misleading.
He says that I had refused to give my passport for verification. This is a lie. One of the officers had asked to go through my passport. As the majority of my travels had taken place before my bankruptcy, she had no right to peruse it.
I therefore flagged the pages of my passport which contained my travels that took place after my bankruptcy and went through these with the officers. None of them objected.
One officer said that she merely wanted to confirm if I had gone on the trips where the travel permits were approved. I confirmed that I had gone on each of those trips.
It is clear that Mr Tan is not telling the truth.
Mr Tan also accuses me of not telling them who was paying for my trip. Again, this is an outright lie.
I had submitted to the OA’s office on no less than four occasions the letter from Stanford University telling me that the university was paying for my trip. In part, the letter read:
“As mentioned, CDDRL (Centre on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law) will cover the cost of your air and ground transportation. We will also buy a health insurance on your behalf …You should not really need much money since all of your meals, transportation, and housing are covered by the program.”
Contrary to what Mr Tan said in his letter, I never refused to answer who was paying for my trip to Stanford. Mr Tan is quite shameless in covering up the fact that the OA had full knowledge of this matter.
Mr Tan also says that I had refused to verify information of my income and expenditure statement. At the meeting, one of the officers told me that my creditors had wanted to know who was helping me financially. She said that if they wanted to remain anonymous, all I had to do was to put that in writing. That was done in my email to the officers on 9 July 2008.
How have I refused to verify the information requested?
The officers at the OA must come clean about why it refused my travel application to Stanford University. The initial reason they gave was that my previous trips had not benefited my creditors.
But after I sent them the letter from Stanford saying that the university would pay me an honorarium so that I could use that to pay the creditors, the OA changes tack and now says that the reason I was refused the travel permit was that I had been uncooperative.
Such flip-flopping is offensive.
To add insult to injury Mr Tan reveals the figures owed to my creditors. I remind Singaporeans that I was made bankrupt by the AG’s Chambers over a court challenge on a Constitutional matter, not because of my own private dealings.
Still, it is wholly unethical for the OA’s office to make public what they have been privately entrusted to manage. What has the information anything to do with this case? Even then, Mr Tan cannot get the figures right which adds to his unprofessionalism.
Lest the OA’s office forgets, the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office is a body that is supposed to serve citizens. It is not a vehicle to further the agenda of the ruling party.
Chee Siok Chin
Singapore Democratic Party