Sunday, June 25, 2006

In Singapore, World Bank Seeks Street Protests

In Singapore, World Bank Seeks Street Protests

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Jun 22 (IPS) - Activists familiar with street protests outside the venues of annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are in for a different treat at this year's gathering.

Singapore, the host country of the mid-September event, is sparing little to ensure that it lives up to its legacy as an affluent city state where universally accepted democratic principles -- such as the right to freedom of association -- are banned. The South-east Asian nation's penchant for thought control will be evident enough for the expected 16,000 delegates.

Till now, a broad group of activists who have written a letter to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, requesting the government to permit the traditional anti-Bank protests, have still to receive a reply. ''(We are concerned) about the impending restrictions and threats reportedly being made that will hamper meaningful civil society participation at the upcoming ... meeting,'' the letter, sent in March, said.

The World Bank, however, has stepped in to assure activists that space for civil society is being negotiated to avoid what some critics of the international financial institutions says will undermine the credibility of the Bank's claims to promote good governance, accountability, transparency and democracy.

''We are working closely with the IMF and with the Singapore Government -- and have been for many months -- to ensure that diverse civil society voices are very much heard before, during and after the Annual Meetings,'' writes Peter Stephens of the Bank's Singapore office in a letter to the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). ''We believe that meaningful civil society engagement is critical to the effectiveness of the meetings.''

The letter also dismisses the argument made by the NGOs that the Bank and the IMF are trying to shut the door on the world's poor by giving shape to a restrictive process. ''Far from being a regulated or restricted process, as you appear to suggest, we are trying to enable a process that is open and led by civil society, and for the issues and means of addressing them to arise spontaneously, not through a formal process that we lead or try to manage,'' adds Stephens.

But for veteran civil society actors in Singapore, the Bank's letter appears to be out of touch with the stubborn reality on the ground in the city-state. ''It will be nearly impossible to protest in Singapore for locals,'' Sinapan Samydorai, head of Think Centre, a human rights NGO, told IPS. ''Locals trying to express any political opinion in public will require a license. The licenses are often denied to locals.''

There is a possibility, though, that the Lee Hsien Loong administration, may provide space for select foreign groups, he adds. ''The government may permit a selected number of foreigners to march peacefully -- with the required license -- to show-case that there is 'freedom' in Singapore. Controlled and managed, it will boost the image of Singapore.''

Concern about the oppressive measures that await activists in Singapore emerged as early as February, when Home Affairs Minister Wong Kang Seng issued a threat that public protests may ''attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment''. The restrictive law against public gatherings -- where any gathering of more than four people need a security permit -- was introduced by the British when it ruled this country as part of its colonial empire. The military dictatorship in Burma, also a former British colony, keeps Singapore company by upholding the same law.

And the installation of nearly 158 closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to monitor activity at 67 traffic intersections and at the venue of the September meeting, Raffles City, a shopping mall and convention centre, will make it easier for the country's police to respond to protests without permits.

Among the examples of a typical Singaporean response to local protestors who dare to think independently -- than succumbing to the thought control measures of the country -- was the arrest of four demonstrators calling for greater accountability and transparency of the state-managed pension fund. This silent protest in August last year brought out nearly a dozen anti-riot police in full battle gear, including helmets, shields and batons.

Neither the police nor the courts accepted the fact that these demonstrators had not broken the law, since they were below the required number that needs a permit, M. Ravi, a human rights lawyer who handled this case, said in an IPS interview. ''The court ruled that even one person protesting and saying unfavourable things against the government is incendiary.''

According to Ravi, the government does not compromise on this measure to control dissent and alternative views in the country. ''It is extremely serious about the bans against public demonstrations.''

The recent parliamentary elections in May, where the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) was returned to power, served up large helpings of the bizarre quality of Singapore's ruling dynasty. The country's founding figure, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, father of Lee Hsien Loong, justified these authoritarian measures as a mechanism needed to transform this malaria-infested trading port in the late 1950s to a development success story.

At the poll, the PAP marginalised opposition parties by banning their use of the electronic media to campaign, denying the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party a chance to campaign in public, banning his speeches being read by others in public and police intimidation of other candidates that made normal political activity look like a crime.

Yet Lee Hsien Loong did not consider such violations of political and civil liberties a problem. On the eve of the poll, he was quoted as having told 'The Straits Times,' a government mouthpiece, that ''the political system here is as fair as you can find in any country in terms of your being able to stand up, to have a view, to organise, to mobilise and participate.''

''(You do) not need a lot of money or a lot of power to get moving,'' he was quoted as saying.

Shalmali Guttal, a senior researcher at Focus on the Global South, a regional think tank, wishes that was really so. ''This year's annual meeting seems very suspicious to us because the World Bank and the IMF are still uncertain about the calls by civil society for demonstrations to be permitted. Failure will only prove to us that the hegemony of these institutions continues at the expense of democracy.''

For her, public participation on the streets outside the meeting's venue ''is the only available option for the victims of the Bank's programmes to protest. The meeting's credibility will suffer if demonstrations are banned.''

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lee Jr slams Chee...Russel slams Lee Jr

Singapore PM slags off rival

TVNZ, Jun 19, 2006

Singapore's Prime Minister is in New Zealand mainly to talk about defence and trade, but the question of free speech is not on the table given Singapore's opposition leader faces charges in that country for speaking in public without a government permit.

At a media conference at the Beehive, Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong and Prime Minister Helen Clark were asked if they had discussed free speech in relation to the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan.

Lee then launched an attack on the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party.

"This man and his party are not credible - he's a liar, he's a cheat, he's deceitful he's confrontational and it's a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and to make himself out to be a matyr."

The Singapore Democratic Party won 23% of the vote in recent elections but Lee says that does not put him above the law.

"If you take that attitude the law applies to everybody and if you decide to infringe the laws you have to take the consequences," said Lee.

However some believe Clark should speak out about how the Singaporean government operates.

"If you criticise the government they take defamation against you, they make you pay a large fine, and then because you can't pay the fine you go bankrupt, and because you go bankrupt you get kicked out of parliament," said Green Party co-leader Russsel Norman.

"It's pretty obvious that Singapore runs in a way that wouldn't be acceptable to NZ, but I haven't raised that specific issue with him."

Lee also called on Don Brash, but any sympathy the leader of the opposition has with his counterpart in Singapore went unspoken - free speech didn't get a mention.


Green Party of New Zealand Press Release

The price of freedom

Russel Norman, Green Party Co-Leader (right)

19th June 2006

“Helen Clark’s reported comments that she did not intend to raise human rights issues with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee during his visit are quite shocking,” Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman says.

“If true, it is inexcusable that the Government refuses to raise or criticise human rights in Singapore during the visit of Singapore’s Prime Minister. I can only presume that this is because of the sensitivity over trade issues,” says Dr. Norman, the Green Party trade spokesperson.

“The Singapore Government routinely suppresses free speech and the right to free assembly, as documented by Amnesty International reports.

“We have a duty to the ordinary citizens of Singapore to speak out about the human rights abuses of their Government because they are not allowed to speak out themselves.

The leader of the opposition in Singapore faces expulsion from parliament because he dared speak out against the Government. He was sued for defamation and fined $500,000 and now faces bankruptcy and expulsion from parliament, just as the leader of the opposition Workers’ Party was before him.

“If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, as Thomas Jefferson once said, then we shouldn’t let our vigilance lapse just because the Government is aiming at more free trade deals in Asia.

“If New Zealand MPs were thrown out of parliament for disagreeing with the Government, would we not expect other democratic nations to speak out,” asks Dr. Norman.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Arrest Yourself" on Jun 17 in Solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi turns 61 on Jun 19, 2006. Her house arrest was extended for another year on May 27, 2006. She has spent over a decade under house arrest. U.S. Campaign for Burma have asked people to "arrest themselves" on Jun 17 for 24hrs in solidarity with The Lady as she's fondly known. Click the handcuffed hands to find out more. Or you can just sign-up by clicking the image below.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Different Kind of World Cup Statistics

The World Cup 2006 in Germany. Its probably THE biggest sporting event in the world watched by billions.

Such events are also a huge opportunity to highlight issues to people all over the world. That's what Amnesty International has done with their characteristic creative flair in raising & publicising human rights issues.

Here's a different set of World Cup Statistics from Amnesty. Just click the World Cup 2006 logo below to find out.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Delivering bad news with a big smile

Singaporeans who know and understand how our political system works, will also know the local media is controlled & influenced by the ruling PAP government.

Almost all the time, the local media, through the selective use of photos and live pictures, portray opposition politicians and political/human rights activists as if they are the insurgents being hunted in Iraq or as some goofball out to make some trouble! On the other hand, one will never see unflattering live pictures or photos of PAP ministers and MPs. This bias is especially true for broadcast news. The local, English-language TV news channel, Channel News Asia, is one of the culprits of the political system.

But a report on their website today is worth re-producing here {in case, they replace the photo with another one!}. The report is about the Central Provident Fund or CPF. {Read also the opposition Workers' Party's CPF & The Plight of Workers}

The title of the report is CPF cuts unlikely to be restored which is already bad news for alot of our workers who are slogging their arses off each day. To rub it in, the photo accompanying the report shows the labour chief all smiles. He's not only the labour chief but also the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office plus the Chairman of the PAP, the ruling party. Oh did i forget to mention the fact that these PAP ministers earn obscenely high salaries.

As for this report accompanied by the photo, Singaporeans really have to thank CNA. CNA probably screwed-up. So thank you CNA!

The PAP & the media need to have their arses kicked like this so they'll feel the pain others go through unfairly because of their dirty tricks.

CPF cuts unlikely to be restored: labour chief {Posted Jun 9, 2006 at 1008hrs on CNA's website}

By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia

The cuts in employers' CPF contribution rates are unlikely to be restored in the near future, according to labour chief Lim Boon Heng.

In an editorial in "NTUC This Week", Mr Lim reminded workers that the CPF rates were re-tuned in 2003 to make wage costs more competitive, to create and save jobs for workers, and to make older workers more employable.

The re-tuning was not meant as a short-term measure to get out of recession, said the NTUC Secretary-General.

Then, long-term target contribution rates were set at 30%-36% for workers below 50 years old, and between 24% and 30% for those between 50 and 55 years old.

The salary ceiling for CPF contributions was also lowered from $6,000 to $4,500.

The changes came into effect fully this year.

Now, on the back of a recovering economy, some workers have asked whether the cuts in employers' CPF contributions could be restored.

But Mr Lim warned that higher CPF rates will hit many people in less competitive sectors, because it would mean less take-home pay for lower-income workers.

In fact, if most workers can get slightly better wage increases, most lower-income workers would prefer more take-home pay rather than an increase in CPF contributions.

Mr Lim said: "(For those Singaporeans who are still thinking of an increase in CPF contribution, my point to them is that) unless there's a very tight labour market which results in wages going up too fast, I do not expect any restoration of the CPF. So in those situations (where you have a tight labour market and wages are going up very fast) then it's good to divert some of it into CPF savings so as to dampen inflation rate trends."

"We look at how we fare in comparison to other countries and we found that compared to developed countries, the employment rate of older Singaporeans is way behind. So that explains why you have lesser income and maybe for the lower income in Singapore, the household income has stagnated or even declined in the past few years," he added. - CNA/ir

Judiciary has not moved to check the Executive's misuse of the law

The local media, heavily influenced & controlled by the PAP government, reported that the Prime Minister & Minister Mentor, son & father tag-team, won their defamation suit against the Singapore Democratic Party.

First, here's what Amnesty International has said over the years about the politics of defamation in Singapore:

Singapore's leaders claim they seek only to defend their reputations, and that they would lose the confidence of the electorate if they failed to sue when defamed. Amnesty International believes the use of civil defamation suits by the PAP is both disproportionate and politically-motivated and appears to be aimed primarily at dissenting voices regarded as having the potential to challenge the PAP's political hegemony.

Amnesty International believes that civil defamation suits are being misused by the Executive to intimidate and deter those Singaporeans holding dissenting views. The suits have a 'chilling' effect on Singapore's political life and place unreasonable and unacceptable restrictions on the right of Singaporeans to freely hold and peacefully express their opinions.

Whereas imprisonment of political opponents under the ISA has declined, the Executive's use of civil defamation suits to bankrupt opponents through the courts - and so prevent their participation in public life - constitutes an emerging pattern. In such cases the Singapore Judiciary has not moved to check the Executive's misuse of the law in this way.

In fact the government's resort to civil defamation suits to intimidate and deter those Singaporeans seeking to dissenting views may well have a more subtle and insidious effect than the ISA, in that such suits are not so likely to provoke domestic and international protest.
The recent defamation suit stems from an article about the National Kidney Foundation saga which was published in the SDP's newsletter, New Democrat (top, right). Here's the article in full:
Government's role in the NKF scandal

Ministers went out of their way to defend NKF even as people were unhappy over the organisation’s operations.

In all the hand-wringing and breast-beating by the Government over the NKF issue, Singaporeans must not lose sight of one thing: Such a scandal is inevitable given the kind of secretive and non-accountable system, bred by the PAP.

The Government now tries to exonerate itself by playing the innocent and gullible party duped by greedy NKF officials.

It forgets that in April 2004, Minister Khaw Boon Wan had, in reaction to public unease about the NKF, sought to appease Singaporeans by telling them that the Ministry of Finance “would have reacted many years ago” if there was any breach of rules by the NKF. (See Channel News Asia report on right.)

At the same time the Second Minister for Finance, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, said that the NKF had “quite a sound record” because it spends “more than 80 percent of its funds on its beneficiaries” (See Straits Times report on right) whom we now know are not kidney patients.

Clearly, alarm bells were raised. People could see that something was wrong and they had expressed their unhappiness over the years.

And yet, the Government which had the power to do something, chose not to.

Not only did it choose not to rein in NKF but it also continued to praise the charity and encouraged people to donate to it.

With assurances from not one but two Ministers, the charity went on its merry way.

The question that is on everyone’s lips is: If Mr TT Durai had not taken out the legal suit, would the Government have bothered to look into the NKF records? NKF would in all likelihood have continued to operate with the Government’s blessings.

The NKF fiasco is not about bad practices. It is not even about negligence on the Government’s part.

It is about greed and power.

It is about the idea that the political elite must be paid top dollar, no matter how obscene those amounts are and regardless of who suffers as a result of it.

It is about a system engineered over the decades by the PAP that ensures that it and only it has access to public information and by fiat decides what is allowed and what is not.

It is about what a “democratic society, based on justice and equality” should not be.

Singaporeans must note that the NKF is not an aberration of the PAP system. It is, instead, a product of it.

To ensure that there is transparency and that Singaporeans are kept informed of matters directly affecting them and their future, the Government must:

One, disclose the breakdown of the cost of building HDB flats and the profits HDB makes.

Two, reveal where and how GIC uses our savings.

Three, disclose the salaries of the top executives of Temasek Holdings and other GLCs.

Four, declare the assets and incomes of its Ministers.

Five, reform the election system to ensure that it is free and fair.

It goes without saying that someone must be held accountable over the sordid NKF affair. However, real accountability starts much higher up.
The PAP keeps winning all these defamation suits. Maybe that's why they allowed casinos to be built here...hmmm..maybe they thought their winning streak in the Courts will also be replicated in these casinos!

Jokes aside, instead of engaging the issues in a proper debate the PAP resort to the misuse of defamation suits. It's a clear abuse of the law by the PAP. What's equally bad is the fact that the judiciary just goes along with this abuse. And they call this justice.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Reform of Singapore's Political System is Long Overdue

Below are two speeches by Dr Chee Soon Juan & Ms Chee Siok Chin from the Singapore Democratic Party. I've selected these two speeches because it portrays the political system in Singapore. There'll be some who will say that I'm presenting a one-sided view. Well, go read the local newspaper, Straits Times {ST}, or watch the local news on Channel News Asia {CNA}, for the other side's one-sided view because the local media is heavily influenced & controlled by the ruling party. Oh by the way, the local media has a much wider reach with a national audience than this blog!

Singapore needs to reform its political system

Chee Siok Chin recently participated in the Institute of Policy Studies forum held on 2 Jun 06. Her speech below was made at the session The Future of Political Parties in Singapore.

Ladies and Gentlemen,


For more than 40 years now the PAP has dominated parliament. We’re not talking about 60% or 70% of MPs from PAP. Invariably it has been more than 90% of parliamentary representation from the ruling party. Is it a coincidence that this consistency has never been rocked since the PAP came in to power? Are opposition political parties so bereft of credible politicians that the PAP continues to make clean sweeps of the seats in every election? Clearly, this is what the Mr Lee Kuan Yew would like to have Singaporeans believe.

To a large extent, they have been successful in fooling many Singaporeans that talent lies only in and with the PAP. This is the sad excuse that the Lee Kuan Yew uses to justify the million-dollar salaries that they pay the ministers while countless Singaporeans are finding a hard time making a living.

An important question we must ask when we talk about the future of political parties in Singapore is “Is this really in our hands? In other words, are we really in control of our future?” At this point in time the future of SDP seems unclear due to the lawsuit that Lee Kuan Yew & Lee Hsien Loong have brought upon us. But I will come to that later. However, this is a pertinent question for all opposition parties and not just the SDP, when we examine how the ruling party has used its influence and power to shape or destroy its opponents.

How do opposition political parties survive, let alone thrive when every branch of the executive and all public services are controlled by the ruling party? How can the elections process and system be fair and free when wrought with biased, unfair and even unconstitutional practices and when the boss of the Elections Department is none other than the Prime Minister himself? How can the SDP get our message out when the local press which is controlled by the Government runs hate campaigns against the party? How can Singaporeans feel belonged to the country when we are not allowed to assemble or express our opinions freely without facing dire consequences?

As long as the PAP continues to have a stranglehold over these public institutions and services, opposition parties and civil societies can only exist to the extent that the ruling party sees fit.

This is precisely why the Singapore Democrats have been passionate in our call for democratic reforms for Singapore. Last weekend the party held a landmark workshop because this was the first time that Singaporeans have gathered together to plan for a campaign to bring about reform of the political system here. There are many areas in which changes must be made in order for Singapore, and not just political parties, to thrive. And the SDP has identified at least three which we feel need urgent attention. They are the elections system, the media and political and civil rights.

Electoral reform

The elections process and system in Singapore are far from being free and fair. I won’t go into the details of how the GRC system, the gerrymandering of constituencies, the late announcement of the elections, the 9-day campaign period, the exorbitant elections deposits, the restrictions imposed on the internet community etc work against the opposition political parties.

I will however elaborate on why it is important to challenge these practices and call on the government for reforms. Many Singaporeans, my fellow opposition politicians included, have said that we should participate in politics within the limits that the ruling party has set. In other words, play by and within the rules.

This seems a fair and logical observation at first glance. But look at how the rules have changed according to the whims and fancies of those in power. Each time we make some headway, new regulations are slapped on us to prevent us from gaining ground. Take for example the ban on political videos. It was the SDP that first produced our party video in 1996. Within a few months, the Government conceived a regulation and pronounced a ban on such videos. Of course, we all know how Channel News Asia produced and aired the 3-part story on Lee Kuan Yew. And yet independent film-maker Martyn See is under investigation for making a film on Chee Soon Juan.

More recently, just weeks before the announcement of the elections, a new regulation was conjured up to ban political podcasts during the campaign period. It is widely known that the SDP is the only political party that makes use of this technology which had proven popular as many people were downloading it to listen to SDP’s messages.

However, an even more glaring abuse of power is how the Progress Package and the New Singapore Shares are doled out during GEs. In addition to this, the tying PAP votes to the upgrading scheme are clearly wrong. However, I will not labour on these issues because as you might know, I have taken out an Originating Summons to the courts to question the legitimacy of the 2006 GE. The court date has been set on 27 June at 10am in open court.

The clearly undemocratic practices in the election system must be addressed by an independent elections commission and not an elections department under the direct control of the PMO.

Media reform

I’m sure those of you here who read the local newspapers regularly and follow reports on political parties will agree with me that the SDP gets the worst press. This is intensified during the elections when we are viciously attacked on an almost daily basis especially by the ST. And of course, the worst pictures of us are used in the newspapers. Ones with our eyes half-closed, mouths wide open, fingers pointing and basically most unflattering shots. On the other hand, you get nice posed shots of the PAP and even other opposition political parties. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all envious of how good the other politicians look in the newspapers. Here I’m trying to illustrate not just the biasness and the lack of professionalism of the local journalists and editors but also the fact that the media plays an extremely important role in obstructing or facilitating the democratization process in Singapore.

When the media is under the direct control of the ruling party, you can be sure that the brainwashing of Singaporeans is not just pervasive but quite thorough. This irresponsibility is exacerbated when the local press knows that there are no other alternative reporting via the mainstream media thanks to the Newspapers Printing and Presses Act.

The power of the media cannot be underestimated. When you have control over the mainstream media, you have control over the minds of the majority of the people. And the PAP knows this very well. It knows that if it should loosen its grip over the media and allow fairer reporting, people’s minds will open and we will think more incisively and draw more informed conclusions. Thus instead of providing Singaporeans with free flow of information, the local media is helping the government to retard our thinking processes not only through skewed but untrue reporting.

Political and civil reform

Nowhere else among First World countries will you find a citizenry as docile and a society as controlled as ours. For too long now the leaders have enforced laws to restrict the freedom of expression and movement. They do this in order to make Singaporeans feel powerless and isolated. When we feel this way we are entirely at the mercy of the authorities in every aspect of our lives. How we live, what we say, where we go and so on. Lee Kuan Yew knows this very well and that is why he said in 1987, “we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”

Civil society in Singapore must be allowed to thrive and citizens must feel empowered in order for us to feel that we have a stake and belong to the country. Singaporeans must realize that we are the real owners of this island state, not the PAP and even less so, the MM and his family.

Time and again Singaporeans who express dissenting views are asked to form or join political parties in order to have their voices heard and to be taken seriously. But why should this be so? Why can’t ordinary citizens express their views and have them taken seriously without getting onto the political bandwagon? Why do we have to allow the PAP to corner us into an unnatural arena and then attempt to manipulate us from there? It is precisely because they know that they have the means to shape opposition parties.

The lawsuit brought about by Lee Kuan Yew & Lee Hsien Loong on the SDP on the day that the elections was announced clearly shows that the SDP’s call for accountability and reforms do not go down well with those in power. Lee Hsien Loong had said that when he saw the article about NKF which he claims to be defamatory, he felt that he had to act on it. However, it is strange that the PM had only seen the article on the day that he called for the elections. That copy of TND had been on sale for about a month. In January this year the Singapore Democrats even held a forum to discuss the NKF matter. Articles were posted on our party website from as early as last year.

The timing of the legal action taken by PM & MM was to thwart the SDP’s elections campaign. They knew that this would distract my team members from running an effective campaign. We spent much time at meetings and discussing our response. Even our printer was sued and because of that we had a lot of trouble getting someone to print our campaign materials.

The Singapore Democrats have been passionate and active in pushing for these reforms. The PAP and especially Lee Kuan Yew feel very threatened by our call for reforms, accountability and transparency. This is exactly why Lee Kuan Yew has chosen to crucify and demolish us. We do not know what the damages will be but come what may, the MM and his son must know that the SDP is only an organization. They may be able to close down the party through their autocratic laws. But they will never destroy the spirit and the determination of those of us who genuinely love our fellow men and our country.

Thank you.
******
Statement of Chee Soon Juan submitted to the High Court, Singapore at the Bankruptcy Petition Hearing on 10 February 2006 {Note: Chee Soon Juan was jailed for 8 days for reading this statement}

Background: Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, was sued in 2002 by former Singapore prime ministers Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong for defamation. The courts awarded the case to the plaintiffs and ordered Dr Chee to pay $500,000 in damages. Messrs Lee and Goh then took legal action to declare Dr Chee bankrupt. In response Dr Chee submitted this statement at the bankruptcy hearing.

After much observation and having personally gone through the judicial process, I cannot but come to the conclusion that my case has not received the justice that it is entitled to; it has been crippled right from the beginning.

First, I was denied the services of QCs when the case commenced in 2002 because according to judge Tay Yong Kwang, the matter was not “complex enough”. This is in spite of the fact that I had made known the problem that few Singaporean lawyers would act for me because this involved politics. In this regard, it is instructive to note an AP report said criminal lawyer, Mr Subhas Anandan, was happy to represent “thieves and even terror suspects – but no dissidents, please.”

The fact that the plaintiffs, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong, had engaged Senior Counsel, Mr Davinder Singh, who is seasoned in handling PAP defamation lawsuits and the fact that I had no lawyer to argue my case for me seemed to not bother the courts at all. The US-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights commented:
Neither at the hearing, on February 7 [2003], nor in the course of his judgment, did Justice Rubin display the least concern that Dr. Chee was unrepresented. The Lawyers Committee considers that this apparent lack of concern, coupled with the considerable latitude extended to Mr. Singh in his submissions to the Court, resulted in manifest unfairness in the course of the hearing and, specifically, the denial to Dr. Chee of a fair hearing that met the international norms to which we have referred.
Second, the case was awarded to the plaintiffs through Summary Judgment, which meant that I could not call witnesses and defend myself in open court. Again, the Lawyers Committee wrote:
The Lawyers Committee considers that there appear to be triable issues in this matter, such as whether or not the words spoken by Dr. Chee were defamatory and whether there was pressure brought to bear on Dr. Chee that should render his apology and admission void for duress.
In summary, not only did I not have legal representation but I also did not get a trial. It is well-known that Singapore has detention without trial. Now it seems that we also have defamation without trial.

To be sure my case is only the latest in several that have taken place through the years. Mr J B Jeyaretnam, one who has suffered the most under this legal tyranny, has had to endure much injustice. One case which he had appealed with Mr Wong Hong Toy to the Privy Council of London in 1988 will perhaps go down in judicial infamy. The Law Lords then had concluded that both the defendants had “suffered a grievous injustice” at the hands of the Singapore Judiciary and Law Society.

Another instance was the removal of former judge Mr Michael Khoo from the bench after he had passed a lenient sentence on Mr Jeyaretnam.

Through the years Mr Jeyaretnam has been hounded and was finally made bankrupt in 2001 which made him ineligible for the 2001 elections. He looks set to also be disqualified for this coming elections.

Then there was the case of Mr Tang Liang Hong who likewise was sued for defamation and made bankrupt in 1997. If ever there was any doubt as to the partiality of Singapore’s courts, this case and all its attendant proceedings removed it. It involved a police report that Mr Tang had made during the 1997 general elections about PAP leaders. Mr Lee Kuan Yew then got hold of the report, distributed it to the media, and then proceeded to sue Mr Tang for defamation.

The above have been but a small sample of instances showing the lack of independence and fairness of our judicial system. This has prompted international organizations to comment:
“Civil defamation suits are being misused by the Executive to intimidate and deter those Singaporeans holding dissenting views.” – Amnesty International

“[Defamation lawsuits have] done little to overcome the courts’ reputation as improperly compliant to the interests of the country’s ruling People’s Action Party.” – International Commission of Jurists

“What emerges…is a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests. Lawyers have been cowed to passivity, judges are kept on a short leash, and the law has been manipulated so that gaping holes exist in the system of restraints on government action toward the individual. Singapore is not a country in which individual rights have significant meaning.” – New York City Bar Association
Our own former solicitor-general, Mr. Francis Seow said, “the judiciary…contort themselves into obscene positions to favour…the government.”

The US embassy in Singapore expressed concern over “the ruling party’s use of the court system to intimidate political opponents.”

Stuart Littlemore, QC, reporting for the International Commission of Jurists wrote:
“The Singapore leadership has a long-standing record of using the high court as a mechanism for silencing its opponents – by suing them for statements that, in any comparable jurisdiction, would be seen as part of a robust political debate inseparable from democratic freedoms, and by being awarded such unconscionably high damages and costs as to bankrupt the defendants, forcing them out of parliament.”
More recently, Chief Justice Yong Pung How sued his former remisier, Mr Boon Suan Ban, for defamation when Mr Boon allegedly harassed Mr Yong over some financial matters. Mr Boon was subsequently arrested and remanded at the Institute for Mental Health at the “pleasure of the President.” The papers pertaining to the case were thensealed.

In 2005, High Court Judge Mr V K Rajah ruled that a silent protest staged by four activists calling for transparency and accountability from the Singapore Government was “incendiary” and that such protests would “improperly undermine both a hard-won national dignity and a reputable international identity.” This is in spite of the fact that the Singapore Constitution clear states that only five or more persons gathered in a public area constituted an illegal assembly.

The question of the independence of Singapore’s judiciary is also the subject of a dispute between two commercial companies that is taking place presently in Ontario, Canada. The arguments of one party can be found here. {Note: Read the article Suffering Singapore's Slings by Michael Backman}

Through the decades opposition politicians have been, and continue to be, hounded, persecuted, and prosecuted by the PAP through the courts. All this time no one in Singapore has dared to say anything. There comes a time, however, when one must look deep into oneself and ask how much more of the persecution one has to suffer in silence. Today I have made the decision not to remain silent any more and tell you what you don’t want to hear: That the judiciary in Singapore is, sadly, not independent especially when it comes to dealing with opposition politicians.

I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish I could say that my country’s judicial system is independent and fair. But I can’t because that would be a lie. It would be a much easier decision for me, and more importantly for my family, to walk away from this bankruptcy hearing and accept the punishment that the court has meted out. But my conscience dictates otherwise and I must take the path that in all likelihood will lead to dire consequences.

However, making this statement is a decision that I have chosen and, having made it, to accept the consequences that it brings. I hope to make this statement a start to a campaign to pry the country’s judiciary from the clutches of the PAP Government.

I may or may not succeed in my endeavour, but I would rather live my life having spoken and fought for the truth than to share it with cowardice and deceit. In my little way, I would have stood up for Singapore, my home too.

Chee Soon Juan
10 February 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

The "mum factor" in the anti-war movement

As the war in Iraq drags on, both George W Bush & Tony Blair have been under fire for taking their countries into an "unjust war". The "for" or "against" debate on the war in Iraq has been going on way before it even started in 2003 and it continues. Time and history will be the ultimate judge.

In the meantime, people are dying everyday in Iraq. Ordinary people and soldiers alike are killed. Every single day.

The chorus of peoples' voices against the war, collectively known as the anti-war movement, have been especially loud and visible in America. Cindy Sheehan (right) has come to symbolise the anti-war movement in America. She lost her son, Casey, in the war.

Except in Mar'06, when Pauline Hickey delivered her letter to 10 Downing Street, there hasn't been a comparable figure(s) in Britain who symbolised the anti-war movement there. Well, not that I know of at least. But that seems likely to change as the report below by The Independent shows.

Bring our boys home: Mothers say war was 'based on lies'
Severin Carrell
Jun 4, 2006

Tony Blair faces an unprecedented revolt from the wives and mothers of serving soldiers, who want British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Dozens of women whose sons, husbands and daughters are now in the Gulf or have served there, have joined a national campaign to be launched this week calling for Britain to pull out of Iraq. In a strongly worded statement passed to the IoS, they claim the war in Iraq "was based on lies", and call for British withdrawal "as a matter of urgency".

The organisers of Military Families Against the War, set up by the parents of dead armed forces personnel last year, say their movement is supported by hundreds of service families and that more than 100 families and veterans are actively involved.

Lynda Holmes, 55, a nurse, whose son is a Guardsman in Iraq, said. "Our forces are risking their lives for an illegal war. So many have been killed. I'm not anti-Army. I'm not anti what my son does. I'm just anti this war."

The campaign comes in the wake of the bloodiest few weeks for British troops and civilians since the end of the war three years ago, with nine armed forces personnel and two journalists killed last month. They include the first woman to die in action, Flt Lt Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill, 32, one of five helicopter crew killed in a crash in Basra. Their deaths brought the total British military death toll to 113.

Twenty-eight people were killed and dozens were injured yesterday in a car-bomb attack in the British-held city of Basra, while in Baghdad insurgents killed a Russian diplomat and kidnapped four others. Outside the capital, eight severed heads were found; in Baquba, six policemen were killed at a checkpoint.

The new campaign, which is being launched in London on Saturday by wives and mothers of serving soldiers, will culminate in a protest march by the families at Labour's annual conference in Manchester in September. Their protests will deeply trouble senior military commanders and alarm ministers. Military families have traditionally refused to complain in public about ongoing wars because of loyalty and the risks to relatives' careers and morale.

The outgoing commander of Sandhurst officers' training college admitted yesterday that the "mum factor" was having a significant impact on army recruitment, which is 15 per cent below target. Maj-Gen Andrew Ritchie said the Army's involvement in an unpopular conflict and the dangers of serving in Basra and Baghdad had undermined support.

"Mums find Iraq deeply unpopular - they are concerned that their youngsters will be exposed to real risk and danger," he said. "That worries them. And mums are hugely influential in boys and girls joining the Army."

The unprecedented campaign is likely to face complaints that it will harm troops' morale in Iraq by making soldiers feel even more uncomfortable serving there.

Several mothers have told the IoS their sons are increasingly unhappy about doing further tours in Iraq, because of the increasing hostility from ordinary Iraqis and the growing strength of the insurgency. Others who back the campaign said they would not speak publicly because it could make trouble for their husbands, daughters and sons.

The women going public said they have a moral and personal duty to protest because, they claim, the coalition has clearly failed to bring peace and stability to Iraq. Their sons and husbands signed up to defend "Queen and country", not to fight "cowboy actions". Dani Hamilton-Withall, from St Austell in Cornwall, said: "If anything happened to my son and I had done nothing I couldn't live with myself."

A petition to be handed in to Downing Street is on the campaign website, www.mfaw.org.uk.

A spokewoman for No 10 said: "We respect the right of individuals to express their views, but the Government believes that what's important is the wishes of the Iraqi people, as expressed through Iraq's democratically elected government."


Bring our boys home: Women against the war

Their sons, husbands and grandsons are all serving soldiers. And they are joining a major new campaign for the safe return of our troops from a war they believe is 'based on lies'. They talk exclusively to Severin Carrell

Charlotte Wildgoose 31, Paderborn, Germany

WIFE OF 31-YEAR-OLD CORPORAL ON SECOND TOUR OF IRAQ

"I am so very proud of my husband and all that he has achieved as part of the most highly respected British Army. This respect has now been diminished by the Government's decision to use them in this immoral and illegal war.

"The war does not correspond to the oath that he took. I know that he has to go, because he has been told to, not because he wants to. He should be serving his Queen and country, not Iraq or President Bush. The British Army death toll has risen to 113. Two more families have needlessly lost loved ones and there is now more blood on the hands of the Government."

Nicky Bucknor 47, Nurse, Central France

MOTHER OF 19-YEAR-OLD ROYAL MARINE DUE IN IRAQ IN OCTOBER

"It's an illegal war. I just think our military are being played with as if they're toy soldiers. It's as if Tony Blair and George Bush are playing the strategy game Risk. They don't seem to be aware that they're real people.

"Our troops signed up to defend their country when it hasn't really been proven that Iraq was any real threat to us. They know that they're not doing what they signed up to do, which is defend their country.

"I feel Tony Blair should be accountable. If you make a mistake in your job, and you haven't got the good grace to admit it, I think you should be punished whatever your profession."

Maggie Wheeler 65, Art Teacher

MOTHER OF JUDAH, 27, SERVED WITH GUARDS IN IRAQ AND JOSEPH, 23, A ROYAL ENGINEER DUE TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN

"We should never have gone into Iraq. It was obvious it would be just like Vietnam before we went in. All us ordinary people knew it was the stupidest thing to do. How on earth could we help people by bombing them? It was all so obviously wrong.

"I was disappointed with the whole of the Labour Party. They just seemed to be thinking about their careers. I'm not a pacifist but, as my sons were saying, we weren't being threatened. There was no reason to go in there. They don't have any foresight, and they don't seem to be able to finish what they started."

Janet Lowrie 46, Housewife, Dumbarton

MOTHER OF PTE PETER McCALLUM, 20, 1ST BATTALION, THE HIGHLANDERS, SERVED IN IRAQ LAST YEAR

"I spoke to a lot of the boys when I was in Germany, and they can't understand why they're still there because there are no WMD.

"Now it's just pure murder. We lost another couple this week and we lost five last week. We must take them out and tell Blair we're not standing for it any more.

"If we showed we were prepared to withdraw some, don't you think the Iraqis would say, 'If you're prepared to do that, we will calm down a bit?' We've got to think of them as well. Another 50-odd have been killed over the past week - that's another 50 families that could do without the heartache."

Dani Hamilton-Withall 42, College Lecturer, St Austell, Cornwall

MOTHER OF AN 18-YEAR-OLD SERVING WITH INFANTRY IN BASRA

"My son has been trained by the best - the British Army. I want to stress that as a parent I am very proud of my son as he carries out his difficult and dangerous duties.

"But I now have grave reservations about the legality of this war. I initially supported it because Saddam Hussein was in breach of 17 UN Security Council resolutions. However, the British and American governments failed to plan properly for the aftermath. Iraq is now effectively in a state of civil war. Bring the troops home while they still have dignity and honour as British soldiers."

Marilyn Miller 46, Housewife, Washington, Tyne & Wear

MOTHER OF ROYAL MILITARY POLICE CPL SIMON MILLER, 21, KILLED AT AL MAJARR AL KABIR, JUNE 2003, AND RMP CPL JON MILLER, 27, DUE TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN

"Si and his five comrades were left isolated at a dilapidated police station on 24 June 2003. Under attack from a mob of 500 firing AK47s and RPGs, our boys ensured up to 50 Iraqi police escaped to safety while they stood their ground. That day we have to live with 24 hours, seven days a week.

"Si died not knowing that his country had lied to him; he died for all the wrong reasons. Blair keeps telling us that he takes all the risks and that he has to live with it. Well, it wasn't your son that came home in a body bag."

Flora Edwards 72, Retired, Campbeltown, Scotland

GRANDMOTHER OF PTE PETER McCALLUM, 1ST BATTALION, THE HIGHLANDERS, RECENTLY BACK FROM IRAQ

"I just want all our boys out of there. Why should we be fighting in a foreign land for what America decided to do?

"Peter always wanted to be in the Army. In a way, he has been betrayed and let down by the Government. These boys are 18 and 19, and there are so many being killed in Iraq. There were nine killed last month, including a woman. That's ridiculous in one month.

"I was in the Army myself, as was my husband, in the 1950s. We were defending Britain and our territories. They should be defending places like the Falklands - that's a different matter."

Pam Bradley 44, Hairdresser, Staffordshire

MOTHER OF A 21-YEAR-OLD SOLDIER WITH 1ST STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT WHO SERVED IN IRAQ LAST YEAR AND IS DUE BACK IN OCTOBER

"I'm not criticising the Army. It's the politicians who are abusing the oath given by the armed forces, because my son joined the Army to defend Queen and country, not to be used as a political pawn by Tony Blair and George Bush.

"On a personal level, my son has a young daughter who's 12 months old and she's hardly seen him. And his wife is only 19 and she's having to cope with all this and a baby, and live a normal life. I'm watching my granddaughter being without a dad again."

Kathy Vian 49, College Lecturer, Cornwall

MOTHER OF ADAM VIAN, 22, 2ND BT LIGHT INFANTRY, DID ONE TOUR IN 2003, DUE BACK IN IRAQ THIS AUTUMN

"We were told it was a just war because we were all led to believe that they had WMD. They've admitted now that perhaps there weren't any, and with the rest of the baloney which comes out of the Government, I wonder, did they ever believe that there were WMD?

"I don't think we'd ever sort it if we stayed there for 20 years. They've got their own government now, their own forces and their own police. The people there have pretty much always been at war with each other. I don't say 'out right now' but let's have a faster and steady withdrawal."

Linda King 42, Teaching Assistant, St Austell, Cornwall

MOTHER OF PTE CHRIS KING, 1ST LIGHT INFANTRY WITH QUEEN'S ROYAL HUSSARS IN IRAQ

"This is the second tour of duty for my son. Obviously I'm proud of my son. I can't dispute that British troops there are making life better to a certain extent, but enough is enough.

"I don't want to make life bad for him but I want to speak out because it's about time we stood up for what we believe in. I dread every minute, every hour, every day that I'm going to get someone on my doorstep saying it's my son.

"When he first went out, he was really full of it and looked forward to going back. This time he can't wait until he gets home."

Marlene Parnell 63, Housewife, St Austell, Cornwall

GRANDMOTHER OF PTE CHRIS KING, 1ST LIGHT INFANTRY WITH QUEEN'S ROYAL HUSSARS IN IRAQ

"My opinion is that they shouldn't have gone in there in the first place because I don't think it was a legal war. They really should've gone into it further before they put the troops out there.

"My grandson was no sooner out of training and he was sent to Iraq. I just don't think they should be out there. It's only caused more violence over there, even among themselves.

"I think they've done more harm than good, and there's a lot of things gone undone. The UN should have been in on it, more involved in sorting out more before they ploughed on in."

Lynda Holmes 55, Nurse

MOTHER OF A 24-YEAR-OLD GUARDSMAN IN IRAQ

"Our forces are risking their lives for an illegal war. So many people have been killed. It's cost so much money. My NHS trust has just announced job losses of 720 people. My department is under threat of closure, and this is happening all across the country. How are they finding money for Iraq when they haven't got enough to put into the NHS?

"Innocent people have died. Those in the forces have died - they enlisted to protect their country. But all they've done is fight an illegal war for Blair and Bush.

"As a soldier, he's proud of his regiment and of what he does. I'm not anti-Army. I'm not anti what my son does. I'm just anti this war."

Mary Andrew 47, Housewife, Antigua

MOTHER OF 19-YEAR-OLD SERVING WITH 1ST LIGHT INFANTRY IN IRAQ

"My son hasn't long passed out of Catterick. He flew straight from Germany out there, which, as a mother, I'm not very happy with. When you've young lads of 19, not long passed out of the Army, it's a worrying situation. What effect is it going to have on them in later life? We ought to have kept our noses out.

"The Iraqis would probably sort it out better on their own, without us being there. They've got a government now of their own, and they need to be left alone to sort it out now. We got rid of Saddam for them; our troops have done their job and they should be brought home. They're just cannon fodder."

Gillian Sutton 43, Local Government Officer, Kent

MOTHER OF SOLDIER IN IRAQ ON SECOND TOUR WITH 1ST BATTALION, PRINCESS OF WALES ROYAL REGIMENT

"We're quite sick of it, actually. I feel that the troops should come out, purely because I think Bush is going to lead us into a third world war, with either Afghanistan or Iran or who knows next. We just need to come out of his pocket and make a stand.

"I don't agree with the war. We shouldn't have interfered. I support our boys out there 100 per cent and I think they've done a brilliant job, but if the Yanks are going to be out there playing Robocop, we don't stand a chance. Blair has treated the British Army as though they were expendable, but those boys are our children."

Most Singaporeans will agree with IHT articles

The PAP governement has responded to two articles in the International Herald Tribune.

The majority of ordinary Singaporeans do not buy the print version of the IHT. Its not widely available like the government-controlled newspapers. Even less read the IHT online. In fact, most ordinary folks would read & see the PAP government's response which will be plastered all over the local media BUT not read the actual IHT articles. But I believe if they do read the two articles, they'll probably nod their heads in general agreement with what was written.

The PAP can shout and kick around in the mud all they want but they're the ones who keep digging their own graves.

Singapore beyond Lee
Philip Bowring
International Herald Tribune
May 11, 2006

Every regime has its day, so the result of Saturday's election in Singapore provided a glimpse of what its politics may look like when Lee Kuan Yew, founder and mentor of the People's Action Party (PAP) and scourge of all opponents, is no longer around. At 82, he played an active role in this campaign.

For sure, his son, Lee Hsien Loong, fighting his first election as prime minister, was able to claim that winning the same number of seats as in the previous election - 82 out of 84 - was "a clear vote of confidence" in his administration.

However, the more relevant statistic was that the PAP's share of the vote fell by 8.7 percentage points to 66.6 percent compared with the 2001 election, when Goh Chok Tong was prime minister. In Lee Hsien Loong's constituency, uncontested in 2001, the PAP polled marginally less than its average.

Given a strong economy, the opposition's lack of significant media access and the huge organizational and legal obstacles placed in its way by a PAP leadership, with open disregard for the benefits of liberal democracy with a strong opposition and the possibility of a change of government, the result could be seen as the biggest setback for the PAP since 1981.

That was the year when the PAP lost a by-election to an opposition lawyer, J.B. Jeyaretnam. With it went a monopoly in Parliament the PAP had enjoyed since 1968.

Jeyaretnam later lost an action brought by the government and in 1986 was made bankrupt and disbarred from Parliament and legal practice. The judicial committee of the Privy Council, to which appeal on the issue of disbarment was then available, found that he suffered "a grievous injustice." He was ultimately reinstated as a lawyer. In 2001, Jeyaretnam was bankrupted again following his failure to pay damages in libel actions brought by ministers.

Since 1981 the electoral system has also been changed so that most members of Parliament are now elected from five- or six-member constituencies where the PAP's organizational strength and connections to the government machinery overwhelm the much- harassed opposition candidates.

Districts that have elected opposition members have previously been threatened with official neglect. The opposition won two of the nine single- member constituencies, but none of the group ones. But in one where a well-known young liberal activist, James Gomez, was a candidate up against Foreign Minister George Yeo, it got 44 percent.

The PAP leadership continues to make great play of its success in government, as though it were entirely responsible for the economic rise of Singapore over the past 40 years. It accuses those who query current policies of being ungrateful for the past achievements of the leaders.

But what an increasing number of people appear to recognize is that other economies in East Asia have done at least as well over that period - Hong Kong under an undemocratic but liberal colonial-style bureaucracy, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand under both democratic and authoritarian regimes.

Indeed, Singapore stands out in East Asia not for exceptional economic success but for the immobility of politics still dominated by the presence of Lee Kuan Yew, in power since 1959. Its system would come in for more scrutiny internationally if it were not so useful to U.S. strategic interests and foreign multinationals or so successful in subduing the foreign media with carrots and sticks.

The Singapore leadership likes to scorn the "instability" of Asian liberal democracies such as Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan. But at some point it will likely have to address demands for greater openness and for power-sharing with middle and lower income groups, which have benefited from economic growth but feel excluded from power.

The PAP is a small, tight-knit party. The leadership controls the government bureaucracy and the state- owned enterprises, which play a large part in an economy that is dominated by multinationals and state enterprises.

The PAP has such a grip on the levers of power that it could be a long time before any opposition can pretend to be an alternative government. Opposition leaders like Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan, who threaten to gain popular momentum, have been successfully sued and financially ruined. There is also the unspoken fear of Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, and the importance of Chinese identity, to keep the majority in line.

But none of this can cover up the fact that the PAP has been losing popularity. There are those who will always follow Lee Kuan Yew but have less respect for the second generation headed by the elder son, Hsien Loong, and the daughter-in-law, Ho Ching, who runs Temasek, the giant state holding company.

Low income groups note high and rising income gaps (which would be even bigger if the army of very low paid foreign workers is included). Small businessmen resent the dominance of foreign investors and huge state enterprises. A younger generation is anxious for the greater social and political freedoms now enjoyed in much of the rest of Asia.

And an aging population that has generally been supportive of the government now finds that decades of forced savings have had such low returns that a comfortable retirement is not in sight. But it could be another decade before Singaporeans decide that enough is enough, and have their own velvet revolution.

******

Courts in Singapore come under scrutiny
Donald Greenlees
International Herald Tribune
May 9, 2006

From the manicured tropical gardens to the litter-free streets and glistening shopping malls, there appears to be something fundamentally clean and decent about Singapore. And if the island republic's physical appearance is burnished to a high shine, so is its reputation as a place to do business.

It regularly comes near the top of international surveys as an efficient and corruption-free place to invest. Hence, many multinational companies choose Singapore as a sanitary refuge to establish headquarters operations amid the pollution and administrative chaos of many of its Asian neighbors.

One of the cornerstones of Singapore's appeal to multinational investors has been the soundness of its justice system, at least in commercial cases.

But that reputation for reliability in arbitrating commercial disputes is under increasing scrutiny. It is an issue that analysts say could have far-reaching implications for all foreign investors who have sought out Singapore as a haven and for the important role the city-state has played as a reliable legal jurisdiction in Asia.

A court of appeal in Canada is being asked for the first time to determine whether legal decisions made in Singapore are sufficiently fair and impartial to meet the standards of justice of other developed countries.

In documents tendered to the appeals court in the province of Ontario, Singapore's judicial reputation has been subject to scathing attack. Lawyers have alleged in court documents that the Singapore legal system is an "utterly politicized component of executive rule" in which there is no guarantee of fairness even in commercial cases. The Singaporean Ministry of Law rejects these claims.

The case, now before the Ontario Court of Appeal, has also become a forum for some critics of Singapore's political and justice system and served to resurrect grievances about old legal cases brought against opponents of the People's Action Party, which has been in power since 1959.

"Whichever way this case goes, it is, and it is going to continue to be, quite damaging for Singapore because it's highlighted a lot of apparent or perceived problems with the Singapore judiciary," said Michael Backman, a consultant based in London and author of several books on doing business in Asia.

The case centers on a dispute between EnerNorth Industries, an Ontario-based oil and natural gas company, and a Singaporean company, Oakwell Engineering. In 1997, the two companies entered a joint venture to build and operate two barge-mounted electricity generating plants in India.

When the project ran into trouble a year later, EnerNorth bought out Oakwell's stake in the venture in a deal that included promises to pay $2.79 million and royalties once financing was obtained and the project was operational. A settlement agreement provided for any further disputes to be settled in the Singapore courts. EnerNorth, based in Toronto, subsequently failed to raise the financing for the project and, in 2000, sold out to an Indian company. In 2002, Oakwell sued EnerNorth in Singapore for failure to pay the $2.79 million and royalties. The Singaporean High Court, and later the Singaporean Court of Appeal, which is the final appellate court in Singapore, awarded Oakwell the disputed amounts, full costs and interest amounting to about $5.4 million.

As EnerNorth had no assets in Singapore, Oakwell applied to the Ontario Superior Court to have the award enforced in Canada. Last Aug. 2, the superior court ruled in Oakwell's favor.

But EnerNorth's lawyers have appealed. At the heart of their case is a fierce attack on the integrity of the Singapore justice system. In a submission to the appeals court, David Wingfield, EnerNorth's lawyer, argued that foreign legal systems had to meet Canadian constitutional standards for their rulings to be upheld in Canada.

"What EnerNorth is faced with, however, is having its assets seized under Canadian law to pay a judgment that was granted by a corrupt legal system before biased judges in a jurisdiction that operates outside the rule of law," he said in a submission to the court. He added: "The uncontradicted evidence in this case, from leading international experts, reveals that Singapore is ruled by a small oligarchy who control all facets of the Singapore state, including the judiciary, which is utterly politicized."

In large part, Wingfield based his allegations on the record of prosecutions of political critics of the People's Action Party, including Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, a lawyer of Sri Lankan descent, who for a time was Singapore's sole opposition member of Parliament. Jeyaretnam was convicted of fraud in a series of trials in Singapore in the 1980s in connection with donations made to his Workers' Party. He later managed to appeal to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London over a decision to have him struck off the Singapore Law Society's rolls. The Privy Council, which was then the final court of appeal for such professional disciplinary actions, decided to review the initial conviction against Jeyaretnam. In a celebrated judgment in October 1988, it expressed "deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgments," Jeyaretnam and a co-defendant had suffered "a grievous injustice."

Wingfield in his submission to the court in Ontario also cited the opinion of the International Commission of Jurists on a more recent case involving Jeyaretnam that "the High Court of Singapore has done little to overcome the Singapore courts' reputation as improperly compliant to the interests of the country's ruling People's Action Party."

The conduct of legal actions against political figures in Singapore has long been the subject of controversy, but the country's courts have had a strong reputation for fair and impartial conduct in commercial proceedings.

When Gerald Day, the Ontario Superior Court judge, agreed last year to uphold the award made in Singapore against EnerNorth, he wrote, "Historically, there is no evidence of bias or unfairness by the Singapore court in private commercial proceedings." He also found that there was no evidence of bias "in this specific case" and "no reason to doubt the impartiality of the judges who heard the case in Singapore."

Pointing to Day's statements, the Singaporean Ministry of Law said the Ontario Superior Court had "refused to lend any credence to EnerNorth's spurious allegation of a biased Singapore judiciary." In a written response, it said EnerNorth had been represented in Singapore by lawyers of its choice and had not alleged that the Singapore courts or any of its judges were biased against it at the time of the initial court hearings.

The ministry also said the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, which is based in Hong Kong, had "consistently rated the Singapore judicial system as one of the best in the region, and emphasized that Singapore has one of the most fair and transparent legal systems in the world." The ministry added, "Singapore prides itself on having an independent and impartial judiciary."

Still, EnerNorth's lawyers produced a number of affidavits from its own experts, including Francis Seow, a former Singapore solicitor general and judge turned prominent critic of the government; and Ross Worthington, a professor of governance and World Bank consultant. Both asserted that the People's Action Party, or PAP, and the executive controlled all aspects of public life, including the judiciary.

Wingfield, the EnerNorth lawyer, also quoted a report in court from the New York City Bar Association that warned American companies to be wary of agreeing to let commercial disputes be settled in Singapore courts as EnerNorth did. The bar association said the Singapore government "had been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of political interests." But it also warned U.S. companies that in doing business in Singapore, they were "likely to encounter a wide variety of enterprises in which the government has an economic interest."

"The same forces which have led that judiciary to be sensitive to the PAP government's political interests would lead it to take account of its economic interests," the report said.

The basis of EnerNorth's appeal is that Day, the superior court judge, required EnerNorth lawyers to prove specific bias against the company by the Singaporean courts, which the judge found they had failed to do. Wingfield argued that it was simply sufficient to establish that Singapore's legal system did not meet Canadian standards.

The Ontario Appeals Court finished hearing the case in April and under an informal six-month rule is likely to announce its decision by the end of the summer, according to lawyers. But both sides have indicated that they will seek to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, meaning that the case could drag on and could become a test of recognition of foreign legal jurisdictions.

Lawyers for Oakwell Engineering maintain in their submissions to the courts in Canada that the issue has already been resolved under Canadian law and should not be reopened. They said EnerNorth had chosen to attack the quality of justice only because it had lost the case in Singapore - a jurisdiction it had freely chosen for settlement of any disputes with Oakwell. They said the company had not raised objections during the trial in Singapore and had failed to prove or even establish a "reasonable apprehension" of bias against it.

In its case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, Oakwell's lawyers said EnerNorth had in fact been represented by a lawyer who witnesses said had strong links to the People's Action Party, while Oakwell had been represented by Philip Jeyaretnam, the son of the opposition figure.

They said the case had been "heard before the courts of a country built on foreign investment, with an impeccable reputation for fairness to foreign businesses like EnerNorth."

But Backman, the consultant and author, said the risk for Singapore, regardless of the verdict in Canada, was that foreign companies might become increasingly wary about business transactions in the city-state. If EnerNorth wins, he said by telephone, courts in other countries might also come under pressure not to enforce Singapore legal judgments. "This will only impact on the desire of investors to invest and remain in Singapore," he said.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Speak the truth; Never forget; Seek justice; and Call on conscience - Mothers' Cry

About 2 years ago, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister & currently Minister Mentor & the father of the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was quoted as saying "If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it." He said that in reference to the Tiananmen Massacre.

Today is the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre which took place on 4 Jun 1989.

I wonder if Lee (and i mean the dad) can bring himself to look the Tiananmen Mothers, face to face & eye to eye, and tell them what he said 2 years ago.

A few days ago, Human Rights in China released a statement in Chinese by the Tiananmen Mothers. This is the press release in English by HRIC about the statement:

Tiananmen Mothers Renew Calls for Justice for June 4th Crackdown

May 28, 2006

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has received an open statement from the Tiananmen Mothers on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of the official crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989, setting forth their current position as a rights defenders group, and renewing calls for appropriate compensation and assistance for the victims and their families, a full investigation, and official accountability.

The first portion of the open statement provides a historical review of the crackdown and verification of the numbers of those killed or injured, as compiled by the Tiananmen Mothers, a rights defenders group that has been active for the past 17 years. The Tiananmen Mothers is comprised of those wounded during the crackdown and the families of those who were killed or disappeared. The group has confirmed 186 dead and more than 70 injured in the crackdown, and asserts that this number constitutes a “small percentage” of the actual number of casualties.

The second portion of the open statement asserts the group’s basic tenets of peaceful protest and demands, including an official reassessment of the incident, a process of truth and reconciliation, and lawful compensation to the victims. The group also states its guiding slogans introduced two years ago—“Speak the truth; Never forget; Seek justice; and Call on conscience.”

The third section describes the group’s basic principles and clarifies its current position. In achieving resolution to general political and legal issues, the group proposes resolving six specific issues relating to the basic rights and interests of the victims. In addition to stating its position as a rights defenders group, the Tiananmen Mothers also expressed support for the efforts of individual victims, and set forth two bottom-line principles for the government: “preserving the dignity of the victims” and “refusing to circumvent legal principle through administrative resolution of private deals.”

The six specific issues include: Desisting in all monitoring and restrictions on the freedom of the surviving victims and their families; Allowing families to observe commemoration of their loved ones without impediment; Desisting in interference with humanitarian aid from inside and outside of China to the victims and their families; The provision of humanitarian and employment assistance without any political conditions to persons who continue to suffer psychologically or financially from the crackdown; Removing the political and social stigma against victims; and Restoring the rights and physical welfare of those detained, imprisoned, made jobless or otherwise victimized for their participation in the 1989 Democracy Movement.

HRIC urges the international and Chinese community to support the reasonable and legitimate demands for peaceful and lawful resolution set forth by the Tiananmen Mothers. HRIC calls upon the Chinese government to address the ongoing violation of the rights of the victims and their families and to make public the list of June 4th victims, the numbers and situations of those still in prison, offer compensation and assistance to the families and victims, and conduct a full, fair investigation as called for by the Tiananmen Mothers.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Too painful to even blog about...

We're surrounded by images and news of violence, death and destruction almost everyday. Switch on the TV; pick-up a newspaper or go online, these images and news are so constant that quite a number of us become numb. Not heartless but just numb. Since 2003 till today, the war in Iraq for all the violence; brutality; death; destruction and suffering, has dominated mainstream news.

I came across another conflict quite a few years back. Way before TIME magazine put it on its front cover in its latest issue. It has always been known as "The World's Deadliest War".

The sheer scale of this conflict will leave one's senses completely numb and in shock. Unfortunately, not many have heard about it or know about it because there hasn't been much media spotlight on it.

4 million lives have been lost in this war since 1998 thus making it "one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II". More lives are still being lost due to the health crises resulting from the war.

Its too painful to even blog about it. But if i don't, its like turning my eyes away from it and pretend it doesn't exist.

To know more about this conflict, the International Crisis Group's Conflict in Congo is a very good start.

TIME's photo essay The Congo's Hidden Killer "shows the health crises created by the war".

Finally, Ripples of Genocide: Journey Through Eastern Congo, is an online exhibition by "The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience, in cooperation with the International Crisis Group and Angelina Jolie".

Politically-motivated bankruptcies

This is a recent resolution by the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats
CALD resolution regretting the practice of the Singapore government in disadvantaging opposition candidates in national elections through politically-motivated bankruptcy, noting the tendency of the PAP-dominated government to use selectively laws that are detrimental to non-controlling party members and urging the government to manage its elections independently of bias towards any particular party

Believing that free and fair elections upheld by an independent judiciary are the backbone of any democracy;

Alarmed by the government’s decision to ban the use of podcasting and videocasting during elections, an effective silencing of alternative voices without access to centrally-directed media;

Citing that some opposition leaders have been barred from participating in elections after having been declared by the Singaporean courts as bankrupt;

Noting that the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has observed that “The system of Group Representation Constituency should be reformed; there are better ways of achieving the important objective of ensuring representation of minority groups than winner-take-all block voting";

The Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats hereby regrets the practice of barring Singapore oppositionists from standing in elections through bankruptcy, notes the tendency of the PAP-dominated government to use selectively laws that are detrimental to non-controlling party members and urges the Singapore government to manage its elections independently of bias towards any party.

For the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats:

Liberal Party of the Philippines
Democratic Progressive Party Taiwan
Democrat Party of Thailand
Sam Rainsy Party Cambodia
Liberal Party Sri Lanka
National Council of the Union of Burma
Singapore Democratic Party

(sgd.)
Dr. J.R. NEREUS ACOSTA, MP
Secretary General
Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

May 22, 2006

Friday, June 02, 2006

"People should not be afraid of their Governments. Governments should be afraid of their People"

The title of this post is from the movie V for Vendetta. I believe in that phrase though i do not condone or advocate the use of violence. Its like the word "revolution". A revolution doesn't need to be violent. One gets the impression that all revolutions are violent because the mainstream media portray it as such.

I'm an ordinary Singaporean. I consider myself below-average as far as survival is concerned. Like most Singaporeans, i struggle to make ends meet. For instance, I do not have disposable income to even go to the cinema. And i can forget about buying whatever i like or want to. Not that i'm hard-up for such things. To cut a long story short, life is a constant struggle. I believe the majority of Singaporeans are in the same boat with me. It might not be the Titanic, maybe Poseidon in which the ship is engulfed by a mountain of water out at sea.

So why do i bring all this up?

I was reading the recent Amnesty International report and i was wondering, do the majority of ordinary Singaporeans give a damn about such reports? I believe they don't but they should. More to the point, should they give a damn and do something about it? My answer would be YES, they should.

As i've mentioned, i'm an ordinary Singaporean, and i maybe struggling to live, day to day BUT i don't wish to look the other way. This is my country where i was born and raised. Its our country. Not the ruling party's country. The people make up the country. We shouldn't be "sleeping". Most of us have been "sleeping" for too long. Most continue to "sleep" preferring to just go on with life and the Great Singapore Sale.

Over the years, there have been many such reports. The U.S. government puts out its annual report on a country's human rights practices as well. Unfortunately, even with the Internet, most Singaporeans only pick-up the local newspapers and/or watch the local news. Most do not actively go onto the web and look for such information and reports. The local media do not give much, if any, publicity to such reports. Even if they do, its mostly negative. Hardly surprising since they are controlled by the PAP government.

What these reports highlight are a matter of concern to all Singaporeans. They should read them and not dismiss them offhand. And don't let the PAP government's arguments, amplified by the local press, that these reports are by foreigners with no stake in the country, put you off from reading them. The PAP's just pissed their dirty tricks are showcased to the world.

Most importantly, ordinary folks like us should not only read these reports but try to do something about the situation here.

Situation in Singapore from Amnesty International's Report

Freedom of expression and assembly continued to be curbed. Thirty-six men were held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Death sentences were imposed and eight people were executed. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.

Background

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, maintained a dominating hold over political life and wider society. Official statements encouraging a more participatory, inclusive society were countered in practice by an array of laws restricting rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly

The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the PAP continued to inhibit political life.

* In March, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan, was unable to pay damages of 500,000 Singapore dollars (approximately US$306,000) awarded against him in defamation suits lodged in 2001 by two PAP leaders. He was at risk of being declared bankrupt and therefore unable to stand for election.

* In September, the High Court rejected a second application to be discharged from bankruptcy lodged by former leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, J. B. Jeyaretnam. Declared bankrupt after a series defamation suits by PAP leaders and others, he was expelled from Parliament in 2001 and remained unable to stand for election.

The threat of prosecution, and uncertainty over the boundaries of permissible public debate, contributed to a climate of self-censorship.

* In March, government censors required film maker Martyn See to remove a documentary on Chee Soon Juan from Singapore’s international film festival. He was then subjected to a criminal investigation and required to surrender equipment and material. No charges had been filed by the end of the year.

* In May, the authorities threatened to sue a Singaporean student in the USA who criticized the government’s scholarship system on his personal Internet blog.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly also inhibited peaceful civil society activity. In August, riot police ordered the dispersal of a group of four people holding a silent protest outside a government building to urge greater official accountability. A High Court judge subsequently dismissed their petition that the dispersal violated their constitutional right to peaceful protest.

* In September police questioned local activists who had set up placards protesting at delays in opening a train station. No charges were filed.
* In March, the authorities banned a weekend concert by a local AIDS support group, stating that the event, organized by a Christian gay organization, was against the public interest.

Detention without trial

At least 36 men remained in detention without charge or trial under the ISA. Seventeen other former ISA detainees were reportedly under orders restricting their freedom of movement and association. The authorities claimed the men were involved with Islamist groups, including Jemaah Islamiah, held responsible for planning or carrying out bomb attacks in the region.

Death penalty

Eight people were executed. Singapore was believed to have the highest rate of executions per capita in the world.

The hanging in May of Shanmugam s/o Murugesu, sentenced to death in 2004 for possession of just over 1kg of cannabis, sparked unprecedented public discussion. From April to August, local activists organized a public forum, petitions, vigils and other events to campaign against the death penalty. The authorities refused to allow an AI representative to address the public forum in May, while in August police banned the use of Shanmugam’s face on posters on the grounds that it would “glorify” an executed convict.

* In December Australian Van Tuong Nguyen, convicted in 2004 of smuggling heroin, was executed.

Conscientious objectors

At least two conscientious objectors to military service were imprisoned in 2005, and 12 others continued to serve prison sentences. All were members of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. There was no alternative to military service in practice for conscientious objectors in Singapore.

AI country visits

In May an AI representative met local activists and attended a public forum against the death penalty, but was denied permission to speak.