Saturday, October 28, 2006

Calling All Bloggers

Support Amnesty International
Back in May, I posted on this blog information on Amnesty International's Irrepressible campaign. This campaign is heating-up and just yesterday the human rights NGO issued a call to bloggers..........
Free speech online 'under threat', Oct 27, BBC News

Bloggers are being asked to show their support for freedom of expression by Amnesty International.

The human rights group also wants web log writers to highlight the plight of fellow bloggers jailed for what they wrote in their online journals.

The organisation said fundamental rights such as free speech faced graver threats than ever before.

The campaign coincides with the start of a week-long UN-organised conference that will debate the future of the net.

Watching words


"Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege - but it's a right that needs defending," said Steve Ballinger of Amnesty International. "We're asking bloggers worldwide to show their solidarity with web users in countries where they can face jail just for criticising the government."

Mr Ballinger said the case of Iranian blogger Kianoosh Sanjari was just one example of the dangers that some online writers can face. Mr Sanjari was arrested in early October following his blogging about conflicts between the Iranian police and the supporters of Shia cleric Ayatollah Boroujerdi.

Amnesty wanted bloggers to publicise cases such as this, said Mr Ballinger, and to declare their backing for the right to free speech online.

The human rights group is also taking its campaign to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) - a group set up by the UN to act as a debating body for national net policies. The first big meeting of the IGF takes place in Athens from 30 October to 2 November.

"The Internet Governance Forum needs to know that the online community is concerned about free expression online and willing to stand up for it," said Mr Ballinger.

Many governments were using technology to suppress the free flow of information among their citizens, said Mr Ballinger.

"People have been locked up just for expressing their views in an email or a website," he said. "Sites and blogs have been shut down and firewalls built to prevent access to information."

Hi-tech firms such as Yahoo and Google have been criticised for the help they have given to nations such as China which works hard to monitor online discussion.

In May 2006, Amnesty International started a campaign that aimed to expose the ways that governments use the net to quash dissent. Co-ordinated via the Irrepressible.info website, the campaign asks websites to use an icon displaying text from censored sites.

Pledges gathered from those backing this campaign will be presented at the IGF.
And that's not all folks! Take part in a 24-hr International Cyber-Demonstration from 11am (Paris time) on 7 Nov'06 to 11am on 8 Nov'06 (SGP time - 6pm on 7 Nov'06 to 6pm on 8 Nov'06) as Reporters Without Borders issues another call.....
Reporters without borders urges internet users to join in 24-hour online demo against internet censorship

No one should ever be prevented from posting news online or writing a blog, but they are in the 13 countries singled out by Reporters Without Borders for a 24-hour online protest against Internet censorship.

Worldwide, 61 people are currently in prison for posting “subversive” content on a blog or website. Reporters Without Borders is compiling a list of 13 countries whose governments are “Internet enemies” because they censor and block online content that criticises them. The Internet scares. Censors of every kind exploit its flaws and attack those who pin their hopes on it. Multinationals such as Yahoo! cooperate with the Chinese government in filtering the Internet and tracking down cyber-dissidents.

The defence of online free expression and the fate of bloggers in repressive countries concern everyone. So Reporters Without Borders is offering Internet users tools to campaign against Internet predators and is calling on them to participate in an INTERNATIONAL CYBER-DEMO.

Everyone is invited to support this struggle by connecting to the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org) between 11 a.m. (Paris time) on Tuesday, 7 November, and 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 November. Each click will help to change the “Internet Black Holes” map and help to combat censorship. As many people as possible must participate so that this operation can be a success and have an impact on those governments that try to seal off what is meant to be a space where people can express themselves freely.

Protests will also be staged by Reporters Without Borders bureaux around the world to condemn Internet censorship and ethical misconduct of the Internet giants when operating in one of these countries.

Reporters Without Borders will publish the list of the 13 Internet enemies on 7 November and at the same time will launch its blog platform, rsfblog, and an Arabic-language version of its press freedom website.

The agency Saatchi & Saatchi has created an Internet ad calling on the entire Internet community to take part in the 24-hour campaign. All media, websites and blogs that want to support this large-scale protest are invited to get in touch with Cédric Gervet at +33 1 4483-8474.

Freedom of expression is not a luxury. It is everyone’s right!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Firefox 2.0 burnin' down the house!!!

Firefox 2

One of the first things i did this morning was to download & install the much anticipated upgraded version of Firefox called Firefox 2!!

Man i haven't been this excited since 2002 when i first began using Firefox!! :-)

Here's a post titled Firefox - Moving the Internet Forward by Mozilla CEO, Mitchell Baker, on today's official release of Firefox 2.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ho Ching must step down as head of Temasek

Media release from SDP.......

Mdm Ho Ching must step down as head of Temasek
20 Oct 06

Given the revelations of the scandalous deal between Temasek Holdings and Shin Corp which continue to trickle from Bangkok, it is impossible for Singaporeans not to take notice.

The transaction has not only provoked outrage among the Thai people, leading to the souring of relations between Singapore and Thailand.

This reinforces the Singapore Democrats' stand that the Government has to get out of being directly involved in business as it arouses, not without reason, suspicion in the countries in which it makes deals.

In addition, with the questionable performance of the Temasek-linked companies and some high profile debacles, including

- The sinking of Micropolis which cost Singaporeans $630 million

- The ill-advised acquisition of Optus by SingTel which stands to face a write-down of between $5 billion to $8 billion,

- And the present eruption of the Shin Corp deal in which due diligence was not exercised which may yet incur a loss of up to $3 billion

It is clear that Madam Ho Ching, wife of PM Lee Hsien Loong, has failed as head of Temasek. Her decision to buy into Shin Corp has even provoked a criminal investigation into the deal in Thailand.

And while Mr Thaksin Shinawatra and his family are laughing all the way to the bank, Temasek has lost the hard-earned money of Singaporeans which now looks unrecoverable.

While all these developments have taken place, the Government and the company continue to remain tight-lipped apart from the few platitudes offered by the Prime Minister that serve no purpose or have any meaning.

In light of all this the SDP calls on Madam Ho Ching to resign as chief executive of Temasek Holdings.

In addition, in the interest of transparency and accountability Singapore should hold its own public inquiry into the affair and have Temasek come clean about all the related matters. There are reports that the non-transparent deal was influenced by members of the Lee family.

If Temasek is indeed a commercial entity that adheres to the corporate code of conduct, then it will make itself transparent to its shareholders, that is, Singaporeans.

Singaporeans must be given all the information to determine for themselves if there were any wrong-doings by all the players involved.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

Thursday, October 19, 2006

S'pore PM slams foreign media for exposing PAP govt's dirty tricks

First here's a Oct 16 press release from FORUM-ASIA........

Singapore denies fundamental freedoms: Detained civil society activists suffer 'soft torture' before deportation

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the Singapore government’s detention and deportations of civil society activists during the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings in the country. This denial of the fundamental freedom of expression is a cause for serious concern.

FORUM-ASIA raises concerns about the harsh and intimidating treatment of activists and speakers from civil society organisations.

First-hand testimonies from some of the deportees have indicated blatant practices of 'soft torture' disproportionate to the situation and station of these activists and speakers. Most of them had travelled to or transited through Singapore to attend the International People’s Forum meetings in Batam, Indonesia, an event parallel to the IMF-World Bank meetings. A number were also going to attend smaller-scale civil society meetings in Singapore.

These detentions came after an official blacklist of 27 activists or speakers already accredited by the IMF-World Bank were made known to these two institutions. When the detentions and deportations occurred from a period lasting from 13-18 September, it was then made known that the Singaporean authorities also had unofficial blacklists of dozens, if not hundreds, of other civil society activists and speakers.

The blacklists resulted in these actions: about two dozen activists and speakers were detained and deported; a number of them were detained for up to 38 hours before being deported. Some had their personal equipment such as cellphones confiscated; most were not allowed to contact anyone such as their family, friends, colleagues or employers. All were questioned, put in holding cells with harsh white fluorescent lights turned on continually, and closely monitored including trips to the restrooms; all have had their luggage ransacked; and only those with longer hours of detention were provided with the bare minimum of food and water. Those holding valid visas had them cancelled by the Singaporean authorities. Most or all of the detainees did not have access to the consuls or embassies of their home countries.

We draw attention to the Singaporean government's practice and culture of denying fundamental freedoms to those in their custody. By detaining and deporting these individuals, the Singaporean government has shown that they do not respect international human rights laws.

As a member of the United Nations (UN), Singapore has contravened Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. By its actions, the government has also contravened Articles 1, 5, 8 and 12 of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Furthermore, by blacklisting and preventing civil society activists to participate in events related to development, the Singapore government has also violated Articles 2 and 8 of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

Fundamental human rights are indivisible and non-derogatory; individuals; groups and governments are not allowed to degrade anyone's fundamental human rights. With the above violations and ‘soft torture’ practiced, internationally-recognised rights, freedom of expression, assembly, association and access to information, were undermined in one broad sweep. The Singaporean government's restriction on and treatment of these activists is not acceptable and the authoritarian mindset giving rise to this behaviour must not be encouraged.

The Singapore government should allow and encourage its citizens and all civil society activists to exercise their fundamental rights, not trample and violate them. Civil society activists and dissenters who express different opinions and views are human beings with rights. When there are doubts one should resolve the issue in favour of expression rather then suppression.

The Singapore government should set priorities to remove outdated policies, laws and restrictions on public speech, gatherings and assembly. These outdated policies and practices only exist to darken Singapore's image as a developed nation with opportunities for all.

FORUM-ASIA deplores deeply the actions of the Singaporean government during the period 13-18 September 2006. We hope that the Singaporean authorities will not repeat this sort of behaviour during future international or regional meetings that it hosts. It should also reform its practices for future events that may involve foreign civil society actors, such as during the forthcoming ASEAN Summit in 2007.
And PM Lee has got the cheek to say with a straight face that the foreign media had an "agenda".........
Singapore PM criticizes foreign press "agenda"
AFP
Oct 19, 2006

Foreign journalists had an "agenda" to make Singapore open up during recent World Bank-IMF meetings in the city-state, local newspapers quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as saying.

He was commenting on extensive reporting by foreign press of Singapore's reluctance to admit 27 activists accredited by the World bank and International Monetary Fund for a formal dialogue during the institutions' September meetings.

Singapore initially said it had security concerns about the 27, but then agreed to admit 22 of them after World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said his hosts had caused "enormous damage" to their own reputation.

"The foreign media had another agenda -- they wanted Singapore to open up, to conform to their standards, their norms," the Today newspaper quoted Lee as saying.

"Whatever line we drew, they wanted to push us, to go a little bit further. But we had to decide where the line was, and stick to it."

Lee was speaking at an event to thank volunteers who helped out at the IMF-World Bank gathering.

Singapore's approach to free speech also came under attack during the international meetings from local pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan.

Chee -- who was protesting against poverty and restrictions on free speech -- engaged in a three-day standoff with police who stopped him from marching to the conference venue.

Despite appeals from the World Bank, Singapore refused to waive its long-standing restrictions on outdoor protests during the meetings.

Police defended their strict security measures, saying Singapore was a high-profile terrorist target.

"The IMF-World Bank wanted us to be a bit more open, and we tried our best to accommodate. But in the end, we were responsible for the safety of the delegates and we could not shirk the responsibility of whom to let in," Lee was quoted as saying.

Singapore prides itself on its image as an efficiently-run, regional commercial hub that is one of Asia's wealthiest nations.

But Wolfowitz, in his remarks during the IMF-World Bank meetings, suggested the way Singapore handled the activist issue was worthy of a less-developed authoritarian state.

Lee, in a speech to editors earlier this month, said that in Asia, "the countries which have been most successful at improving the lives of their people do not always have the most aggressive media ... Each country will have to evolve its own model of the media that works for it."

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in May placed Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its World Press Freedom Index for 2005, due to the "complete absence" of independent media in the city-state.

Singapore ranked below Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Sudan and Yemen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

To Nanyang Chronicle: Don't do a disservice to your fellow students

I first saw this over at SDP's website.

In its current issue, the Nanyang Chronicle published a piece titled Protest or performance art? by Daniel Ong. (You can access the PDF version of the Chronicle here. The article is on pg.26)

The writer practically regurgitated whatever has been published & broadcasted through our pro-PAP govt media. It was like reading bias propaganda bullshit from the Straits Times. In fact, I might not be too far off the mark 'cos one of the Chronicle's "teacher advisors" is Ben Nadarajan, a Straits Times journalist.

According to its website, the Chronicle is "a student-run campus newspaper published by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, on a bi-monthly basis. The Chronicle started publication in July 1994 with the aim of providing timely campus news and information as well as being the voice of the campus population. The paper also provides practical training for undergraduates who are keen to work in the field of journalism after graduation."

I wouldn't have blogged about that inane piece if not for the fact that its published in an educational institution and targeted at students. Nationally, they're already exposed to such bullshit & propaganda from the bias local media, day in & day out, year after year.

The SDP asked ".....would an alternative view be allowed to be published?". Unfortunately, I don't think any would be published.

Nevertheless, here's a request to the editors of the Chronicle: Surprise me by answering SDP's question in the affirmative and publish an alternative view. You'll be doing a disservice to your fellow students by not doing so.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thank You to Lee Kuan Yew & Lee Hsien Loong

I've not been able to blog for the past few days even though my head is filled with a few things to write about. I'm unwell. Furthermore, life is a constant struggle trying to make ends meet. Hey i'm a below-average joe in sunny Singapore.....wait a sec...make that hazy Singapore!! :( :)

I noticed Mr Wang and Singabloodypore have highlighted the fact here & here that some local blogs have been mentioned in the court filing by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in his case against the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER). (See FEER Saga on your right)

Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is also suing FEER. Lee Jr's court filing also mentions the same blogs as in Lee Snr's court filing. In fact, Junior's is practically a cut & paste job. Talk about father & son spending quality time together! Sheesh!! :) (See pages 10-12 in their court papers in PDF here & here)

My blogs are among those mentioned in their court papers. A few months ago, I took a short break from Blogger to just experiment over at Wordpress.com with Pseudonymity. I posted the FEER article, which inspired father & son to spend "quality time" together in their favourite hobby of suing the crap out of people for defamation, in both blogs.

There's nothing like being mentioned in court papers filed by a tinpot dictatorship. My thanks to the Minister Mentor & Prime Minister for bestowing such an honour on me. I couldn't have done it without you two. No, seriously, I couldn't have. :)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Funds Parked in Singapore Belongs Mainly to Embezzlers

Funds Parked in Singapore Belongs Mainly to Embezzlers
by Padjar Iswara and Ewo Raswa
TEMPO Interactive
Oct 12, 2006

Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) suspects that a large part of the Rp506.8 trillion in funds parked in Singapore is owned by former embezzlers of state and private national banks.

Teten Masduki, the Coordinator of ICW, said that there were in fact some law-abiding Indonesians who have assets and save their funds in Singapore.

However, the amount of these funds is relatively small compared to that of former embezzlers.

“It’s a pity to see they still save their money there,” Teten told Tempo.

His remark was in response to the result of Merrill Lynch and Capgemini’s survey which reported that one-third of 55,000 Singapore’s rich people are Indonesians.

The number reaches a total of 18,000 and their status is that of permanent residents (foreigners who have permanent stay permits) in Singapore.

The global financial organization estimates that the amount of assets of Indonesian people in Singapore is S$87 billion, or around Rp506.8 trillion.

According to Teten, embezzlers prefer to deposit their funds in Singapore because they feel safe there although the origin of the funds is illegal.

The reason for this is that Singapore does not have a Money Laundering Law nor is it yet willing to sign an extradition agreement with Indonesia.

Through such an agreement, Indonesia can force Singapore to surrender bad debtors, including return of assets and funds.

Teten acknowledged that Indonesians also save funds in Singapore because of other factors, for example business.

This is because the business and investment climate in Singapore is very attractive.

“In addition, legal certainty is also good, far better compared to in Indonesia,” he said.

Sofjan Wanandi, Head of Indonesia Entrepreneurs Association, made similar comments.

A lot of Indonesians save their money in Singapore because the investment climate is extremely interesting.

The country’s government provides facilities including tax and business credit allowances.

“Singapore also provides legal certainty to investors.”

Worried Temasek ready to pay fine and reduce holding in telecom firm to 49%

DAMAGE CONTROL
The Nation
Oct 12, 2006

S'pore urges talks to save Shin buyout

Worried Temasek ready to pay fine and reduce holding in telecom firm to 49%

A top-level official in Singapore has approached Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to discuss the controversial Shin Corp deal in the hope of resolving ownership issues in an amicable manner, a government source said yesterday.

Surayud is likely to assign his deputy MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, who is also the finance minister, to look into the matter, the source said.

"One likely recommendation from the Thai government is that Temasek Holdings of Singapore should comply with the Thai foreign ownership law by quickly reducing its stake in Shin Corp, which is estimated at 96 per cent, to below 49 per cent," he said.

Temasek got itself into hot water with its Bt140-billion takeover of Shin Corp, which was owned by the Shinawatra and Damapong families.

The Commerce Ministry's Business Registration Department has found that Temasek relied on nominees to skirt a legal ban on foreign companies owning more than 50 per cent of a telecom business.

A Singapore investment banker said he had overheard that Madame Ho Ching, the CEO of Temasek, had been following political developments in Thailand very closely and had expressed her willingness to seek a compromise.

"Temasek, from what I have heard, is willing to pay a fine or make other concessions in order to end the controversy rather than allow the issue to drag on," he said.

If Temasek reduced its holding in Shin Corp from 96 per cent to 49 per cent by selling some 1.5 billion shares, it would suffer a huge loss. It paid Bt49.25 a share, for a total of Bt140 billion-Bt150 billion, but now Shin Corp is trading on the stock market at Bt28.25 a share.

The Thaksin Shinawatra government and Temasek had been sitting on the nominee investigation, hoping the issue would go away after Thaksin staged a comeback with an election victory. But the September 19 military coup has sent Thaksin into exile in London.

With a fresh government installed, the probe into the Shin-Temasek scandal has taken on a new life.

Besides, Singapore faces public outrage here over its perceived attempt to dominate Thailand's businesses involving national security.

"The Thai government is expected to tell the Singapore government and Temasek that current anti-Singapore sentiment needs to be dealt with quickly," the source said.

"There is a lot at stake for Singapore and Thailand relations, depending on a compromise on the Shin deal."

Of particular concern are Shin Satellite and iTV, both listed subsidiaries of Shin Corp. They are considered politically sensitive state concessions while the cellular service business of Advanced Info Service, Shin Corp's flagship unit, is in a more liberalised industry.

It is widely believed that under close scrutiny many foreign-invested Thai companies would fall afoul of the foreign ownership law, which has been criticised as vague and subject to abuse.

Noted economist Ammar Siamwalla said the Thai government must enforce the rule of law in all the nominee cases by doing away with all the violations.

The government could offer clemency to all foreign companies, giving them three years to cure the ownership or nominee structure to comply with the regulations, he said.

Within 10 years, Thailand should be in a position to enforce the law strictly regarding foreign ownership.

"But we need to state clearly which businesses we would like to protect for national security reasons and which businesses we would like to free up. I don't care if they want to liberalise all businesses. But we have to spell it out and stick to the enforcement," Ammar said.

"The government must uphold the spirit of the law, instead of interpreting it in the srithanonchai [tricky] way," he added.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Singapore - A safe haven for the rich and crooked?

Back in July'06, I posted an article "Singapore none too fussy about the source of wealth in its financial sector" by Michael Backman. Its worth reading again (or for those who haven't read it before) in light of the staggering figures cited in the Reuters report below........

YOU are an Indonesian businessman. You've bribed a state bank official to give you a $US200 million ($A265 million) loan without sufficient collateral, or a risk assessment, for a business venture you know won't get off the ground.

The authorities have found out and you're facing arrest. You need somewhere to go where authorities can't touch you. So where do you go? The answer is Singapore . Why? Because it is a half-hour flight from Jakarta , or 45 minutes by ferry from the Indonesian island of Batam , and, most importantly, it does not have an extradition treaty with Indonesia.....click here to continue

Take note the figures in this Reuters report are in US$............
A third of Singapore's rich are Indonesians - Merrill

By Reuters
Tuesday October 10

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A third of Singapore's high net worth individuals are of Indonesian origin, according to a report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

At the end of 2005, Singapore had an estimated 55,000 high net worth individuals, holding assets worth $260 billion, the report said.

A third of these individuals were Indonesians with permanent resident status in Singapore -- 18,000 in all -- with assets worth $87 billion.

"Singapore has a very open immigration policy to attract talented foreigners and that has also attracted a lot of high net worth individuals from Indonesia," Tho Gea Hong, market director for Merrill Lynch Global Private client, told a news conference.

High net worth individuals are defined as people who have net financial assets of at least $1 million.

Tho said the number of high net worth individuals in Singapore has risen 13.4 percent from 2004. A total of 1.3 percent of these individuals are ultra-high net worth individuals, with assets exceeding $30 million.

Kong Eng Huat, Market Managing Director, South Asia, for Merrill Lynch Global Private Client, said Asia-Pacific excluding Japan would need 10,000 bankers to serve a million high net worth individuals, compared with an estimated 5,000 bankers now.

He said Merrill expects its Singapore headcount to increase by 20 to 25 percent over the next few years because of strong growth in the wealth management business in Asia.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The launch of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network

Amnesty International Australia launched the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) today as part of World Day Against the Death Penalty.

ADPAN, which consists of "activists, NGOs and lawyers from many countries across the region will support national and regional campaigns to end capital punishment".

Tim Goodwin, AI Australia's Anti-Death Penalty Campaign Coordinator, reports on this "new Asian coalition which will campaign for an end to executions"...........

Coalition for an end to executions

People have different reasons for campaigning against the death penalty. So when I met Yoo In-tae at a regional anti-death penalty meeting in Hong Kong, I didn't ask why he was leading the current push in South Korea to abolish this brutal punishment.

It was enough to know that as a Member of Parliament he had introduced the latest abolition bills in South Korea's National Assembly and that he was building support for a final vote. I didn't know that 32 years ago he was nearly hanged.

Yoo In-tae was sentenced to death by a military court in 1974 for violating martial law. He was tortured into giving a false confession and sentenced to death along with eight other people. The following morning those eight people were executed.

I have been working against the death penalty in Asia for many years, but his speech and story still shocked me. There was the injustice of his trial, and the brutal deaths of the people he had sat with in the dock. There was the hideous lottery of life and death that we still see in nearly every active death penalty system in the world.

Yoo In-tae spent four and a half years on death row, and during that harrowing time he was supported by an Amnesty International campaign. Today Amnesty International South Korea is working with him in the campaign for abolition.

Regional activism

Amnesty International convened the Hong Kong meeting, held in July 2006, to address the lack of regional organisations and human rights frameworks to help build momentum for abolition. This region has the highest execution rate in the world and is resisting the worldwide trend towards abolition, which is why we need a stronger, regional voice against the death penalty.

The meeting brought together Amnesty International researchers, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and campaigners from Mongolia, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia. About half of the participants were from Amnesty International sections and half from a range of legal, religious and human rights groups.

A significant part of the meeting was set aside for presentations from each country to build up a picture of the trends across the region and the common issues we need to address.

Participants from the Philippines described their recent success in abolishing the death penalty, which culminated on 6 June in a vote for abolition in both houses of Congress. This victory was the outcome of several years' work in building coalitions, raising awareness across the country and lobbying at all levels of government and the bureaucracy. It lent a welcome air of hope to our meeting.

Sharing concerns

Conversely, in India in recent years the government has taken a retrograde step in applying the death penalty to a wider range of crimes, including terrorism and drug offences. In the eyes of many activists, the death penalty is being used politically - as an attempt to demonstrate a tough stance on crime and to distract attention from the failures of India's criminal justice system.

Activists from Mongolia, Singapore, Japan and India spoke of the difficult task of generating debate about the death penalty when government secrecy prevents the real story from being told. One participant would have broken the law if she had told us how many people were executed in her country and how they were killed.

The governments of India and Singapore will not confirm how many people they have executed. In Japan, even a prisoner may not know he is about to be executed.

These presentations reminded me of two contradictions: first, that the death penalty is needed to deter crime even though that penalty is kept largely hidden from the community, including from would-be criminals; and second, that governments claim they retain the death penalty because of demand from the public, even though the public is never properly informed about it or able to discuss it.

When my turn came, I described last year's unprecedented campaign against the execution of Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore, with widespread support from the public, parliamentarians and other organisations. I described Amnesty International's longstanding concern - illustrated by Van Tuong Nguyen's case - that the Australian Government could not mount a credible argument against individual executions if it did not take a consistent and principled position against the death penalty everywhere.

I described how we had worked with the victims of both terrorist violence and drugs in our campaign, and argued that we must continue to counter the claim that the death penalty is a necessary response to the drug trade.

Forming a network

A number of common themes emerged from the presentations, including:

* drugs and the death penalty
* transparency and secrecy
* mandatory penalties
* public awareness
* unfair trials, including national security cases
* working with the victims of crime, and
* building coalitions, including with legal, religious and women's organisations

There was consensus on the need to work together and internationalise our concerns about the death penalty. We need to create an Asian regional voice for change. We agreed to form the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) to exchange information, coordinate activities and begin working on these common issues.

ADPAN will be launched on 10 October, the World Day Against the Death Penalty, with a range of individual and group activities in as many countries as possible across Asia. I left the meeting with a great sense of hope that ADPAN will help build bridges between abolitionists across Asia and produce a more effective campaign within the region.

I also left with a sense of encouragement about the work we are doing in Australia. The Singapore participants said our campaigning had encouraged their efforts, and that its echoes are still being heard across the region.

As an abolitionist country, Australia is in a unique position to support anti-death penalty campaigns across Asia, although we still need to continue raising awareness in our own community about the cruelty and injustice of the death penalty.

Finally, I was reinforced in my conviction that Amnesty International plays a unique and valuable role in the global abolitionist campaign. We initiated the meeting and are supporting the formation of ADPAN. In at least six countries in Asia our colleagues are playing leading roles in coalitions against the death penalty.

We still have a long way to go in Asia, but these new connections will certainly strengthen our work for a world, and a region, without executions.
Read the 2004 Amnesty International report Singapore - Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll of Executions

Friday, October 06, 2006

FEER publishes complete response, correspondences with LEEs lawyers, MICA & court filings

On Sept 28, the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) released a short statement in response to the magazine being banned in Singapore by the PAP government.

In that statement, FEER said it'll publish a complete response today, Oct 6. Along with the Editor's Letter, FEER's response on its website also includes correspondences with the LEEs lawyers; the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts; and court filings AND three new articles, Financial Center Pipedreams by Hugo Restall; The Charade of Meritocracy by Michael D. Barr & Singapore's Founding Myths vs Freedom by Garry Rodan.

What follows is the Editor's Letter by Hugo Restall..........

The Singaporean government’s recent decision to ban the REVIEW and the defamation lawsuits against us by its two most powerful politicians take us back to a time when the city-state was a poor speck of a country sitting on one of the fault lines of a fractious region. Besieged from without and within, the government of the young People’s Action Party resorted to Draconian colonial-era laws to crush dissent. Today, Singapore is an affluent and peaceful society with ample means to protect itself, and its Southeast Asian neighborhood has progressed from confrontation to cooperation. So why is it still using repressive measures against a monthly magazine that employs a total of three full-time journalists and has 1,000 subscribers in the country?

The July article that started this most recent dispute with Singapore, “Singapore’s ‘Martyr,’ Chee Soon Juan,” sought to raise a similar question, only it focused on the methods used to silence the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. We put it to Mr. Chee himself, and he laid the blame squarely on the country’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who now holds the title of “minister mentor.”

The ruthless suppression of dissent must be kept up, he said, because as long as Mr. Lee is alive, a new generation of leaders is unable to emerge and distance themselves from his record. Mr. Lee’s past actions, which have led to human rights abuses and statist management of the economy, haunt the government. Mr. Chee believes that is the true reason dissidents like himself are hounded: “If we had parliamentary debates where the opposition could pry and ask questions, I think he is actually afraid of something like that.”

After the article was published, we received letters from Davinder Singh, a lawyer for Mr. Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, claiming that these sentiments and several other sections of the essay defamed the two men. Mr. Singh demanded apologies, removal of the article from our Web site, and an undertaking to pay damages and legal costs.

We did not comply with these demands, and proposed instead to publish a clarification that the REVIEW did not intend the article to express the defamation alleged by Mr. Singh. After several rounds of correspondence with Mr. Singh, all of which is posted on our Web site www.feer.com, we heard nothing more for 10 days. Then the Singaporean Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts announced new conditions to be imposed immediately on the REVIEW, requiring us to appoint a legal representative in Singapore to accept lawsuits, and post a S$200,000 ($126,000) bond to cover damages from such lawsuits—even those relating to already published articles—if we wished to continue circulating. This order had no basis in Singapore’s own law, which stated clearly that such regulations could be imposed only on publications that publish at least weekly or which have been found to have engaged in domestic politics. We have also posted all of our correspondence with the ministry on our Web site.

The timing and substance of this move were in our view no coincidence. It followed hard upon our refusal to apologize and pay damages. Moreover, to sue the REVIEW in Singapore, the Lees would have to serve the papers in Hong Kong, where the magazine is based, since we do not have any employees in Singapore. This means we could challenge that service and/or the enforcement of damages in Hong Kong.

With Singaporean efficiency, the government bureaucracy leaped into action on the Lees’ behalf, imposing conditions with retroactive effect in order to force the magazine to put its head on the block for the Lees to chop off. When the REVIEW refused to comply with these conditions, the Lees proceeded with their lawsuits anyway. This episode tells us much about the use of official power to chill free speech in Singapore.

The Lees’ court filings of Aug. 22, which we have posted on our Web site, claim that the REVIEW article carried the message that Mr. Lee Sr. is “unfit for office because he is corrupt.” We believe that no rational subscriber to this magazine would read the article in the way the Lees allege. Reporting an opposition MP’s claim that a leader’s policies may have led to human-rights abuses and the concealment of government errors is very different from alleging he is corrupt. Mr. Lee’s probity is legendary; we do not believe that his faults include personal corruption, and it strikes us as fantastical to allege that such an allegation was made by the REVIEW.

The lawsuits also make reference to the section of the article that notes “Singaporean officials have a remarkable record of success in winning libel suits against their critics. The question then is, how many other libel suits have Singapore’s great and good wrongly won, resulting in the cover-up of real misdeeds? And are libel suits deliberately used as a tool to suppress questioning voices?” The lawyer claims that this means that Mr. Lee Sr. “has set out to sue and suppress those who would question him as he fears such questions would expose his corruption.”

Mr. Lee certainly has an impressive record of suing his critics, as do other Singaporean officials, but since we don’t believe he is corrupt, we could hardly have meant that these lawsuits were intended to conceal corruption. Rather we asked the question, one that is legitimate and in the public interest, whether Singaporean officials have used libel lawsuits as a tool to suppress legitimate criticism.

Even defending oneself vigorously in Singapore can incur punishment. For instance, in a case involving a REVIEW article from 1987, a London queen’s counsel vigorously cross-examined the prime minister. After finding for Mr. Lee, the court awarded him aggravated damages in part because the barrister’s questions were calculated to “increase the hurt to his feelings.”

Finally, the Lees’ lawsuits against us allege that the REVIEW defamed them by referring to the scandal of the National Kidney Foundation and Chief Executive T.T. Durai. We noted that this case was exposed only because Mr. Durai, having prevailed in one defamation case, filed a second against a major bulwark of the regime, Singapore Press Holdings, which he lost. The obvious and legitimate question asked by the opposition is, how many more Durais are there in Singapore officialdom who are getting away with abuses because of the lack of an independent media and a vigorous opposition?

Corruption undoubtedly exists in Singapore, as the National Kidney Foundation scandal shows, but asserting this is not a slur—no country is entirely free of this taint. The key thing to watch is whether a government uses sunlight as a disinfectant, or sweeps its errors under the rug. Singapore’s use of press restrictions and politically motivated libel actions makes us wonder whether its reputation for clean government is deserved. For instance, in July, Minister Without Portfolio Lim Boon Heng encouraged the local media to focus more on good news and stop trying to uncover abuses: “If you want to do investigative reporting, there must be something which is wrong which has not been attended to. I think there are not many issues in Singapore that fall under this category.”

Mr. Lim’s words reflect Singapore’s deliberate program to neuter the domestic and international media. Over its 60 years, the REVIEW has often borne the brunt of this campaign. In a 1995 column for the Independent newspaper, the late Derek Davies, a former editor, recalled that in 1976 Mr. Lee Sr. threatened the magazine with ruin if it commented on sensitive matters. Then in 1985, Mr. Lee confided he had a new plan:

“He told me that he was determined to set things straight with the foreign press before he handed over power to the younger generation,” Mr. Davies wrote. “He was drafting a new press law aimed at the pockets of owners and publishers, not editors. If any publication was deemed to be ‘engaging’ in Singapore’s domestic politics, its circulation (and its profits) could be cut to a trickle, while denying it the right to claim it had been banned.”

The new law was passed in 1986, and as a commentator noted in the Times of London the following year, there was little doubt what engaging in domestic politics meant: “As a rule of thumb, any article with which Singapore disagrees and which does not carry its views is deemed to be an interference in its internal affairs.” It wasn’t long before the REVIEW fell afoul of the stricter standard. In 1987, Mr. Lee sued for libel over its coverage of the detention without trial of Catholic social workers, claiming he was portrayed as intolerant of the church and religious freedom. The government restricted the REVIEW’s circulation to a tiny number, and when Mr. Davies withdrew all distribution, it pirated the magazine with the advertisements blacked out.

Sadly, the government’s efforts at controlling coverage of Singapore have been largely successful. For local journalists, whose coverage is controlled by the government through Singapore Press Holdings, resistance is futile. And given that Singapore represents an important market for media in the region, many foreign publications are wary of offending the government. Correspondents who want to tackle controversial subjects find that even carefully nuanced articles involve so much back-and-forth with the lawyers that the effort hardly seems worthwhile. When something critical does make it into print, the appearance of a letter from Mr. Singh demanding an apology and damages has in recent years too often resulted in immediate capitulation.

We respectfully submit that balanced coverage of Singapore in the international media requires deeper reporting and tougher analysis of government actions, as well as an occasional opportunity for opposition politicians to speak for themselves without fear of financial ruin. This is one reason for the REVIEW’s decision to defend itself against these latest defamation suits.

In this issue, academics Michael Barr and Garry Rodan take on two taboo subjects in Singapore: the racial composition of its educational system and the government’s control of the local media. Mr. Barr examines whether Singapore’s claim to be a meritocracy stands up to scrutiny given the striking inequality between the races as shown by the educational advantages enjoyed by ethnic Chinese. Mr. Rodan looks at how the government controls the flow of information for the purpose of protecting and reinforcing the founding myths of the PAP regime.

These articles go straight to the heart of some of the most sensitive issues the Singapore government doesn’t want discussed: race, language, religion and culture. These topics are sometimes said to be “out of bounds.” As Mr. Lee Sr. once explained, “They are not cerebral matters which we can discuss in a Western salon. In our society, these are visceral matters. People take their religion very seriously. It is extremely dangerous to treat this just as another conversational subject.”

Mr. Lee apparently still sees the country he shepherded to independence as fragile and vulnerable. Yet having enjoyed almost 40 years of PAP rule, Singapore has had plenty of time to tame its ideological and racial demons. If after four decades the society remains so volatile that one can’t even discuss sensitive topics openly, the government must have failed in its duty to build a harmonious society.

We don’t think that’s the case. There is much to admire in Singapore’s development under the PAP, and the REVIEW has a responsibility to its readers to provide a balanced view of this record. When honest criticism is forbidden, however, balance is hard to attain. We come back to Mr. Chee’s appraisal that the real impediment to Singapore’s emergence as a self-confident, pluralist society is Lee Kuan Yew himself. After all his contributions, the minister mentor is tarnishing his legacy with attacks on the REVIEW, the international and regional press, Mr. Chee, and others who pose no threat to Singapore. We believe most Singaporeans recognize this and yearn for a fully free democracy. We look forward to that day, when we hope the REVIEW will circulate in Singapore once more.

H.R.

Singapore’s Founding Myths vs. Freedom by Garry Rodan

And the final article.......

Singapore’s Founding Myths vs. Freedom

FEER, October 2006

By Garry Rodan

The Singapore government hoped for significant returns when it invested approximately $85 million to host the September 2006 meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. And this seemed like a reasonable expectation. After all, the 16,000 delegates represented a captive audience to promote the Singapore’s finance and tourism industries.

What transpired, however, was a public-relations disaster for the ruling People’s Action Party. Singapore’s extensive curbs on political expression were to consume much of the international media attention before and during the meetings.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng warned that public protests may “attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment.” Under Singapore’s Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, a security permit from police is required for more than four people to gather in a public place. Authorities claimed that outdoor protests would disrupt local residents and could be exploited by terrorists.

Far from winning new admirers by hosting the meetings, Singapore’s authorities managed to alienate existing ones. Leading American neocon Paul Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, slammed immigration restrictions on activists as “authoritarian.” Mr. Wolfowitz accused Singapore authorities of reneging on a 2003 agreement to allow attendance of accredited activists, adding: “Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage has been done to Singapore, and it’s self-inflicted.” Belated approvals for 22 of the 27 banned activists to enter Singapore limited—but didn’t undo—the damage.

Many international NGOs conducted their activities from the nearby Indonesian island of Batam. Meanwhile, international media attention turned to the attempted illegal march and rally by Singapore Democratic Party leader, Chee Soon Juan, and six others to highlight curbs on freedom of speech, association and assembly. Encircled by 30 police, the protesters were physically prevented from even beginning their march from a city park. Without taking a single step they had proven their point and the government’s contempt for voices of protest was vividly projected to the world.

Additional limits to political expression in Singapore are imposed through stringent media regulation and frequent litigation by government leaders. None of this is abating. Indeed, this publication was recently banned in Singapore, as editor Hugo Restall explains in this edition. But why does the ruling PAP persist with such tight controls over expression given that it enjoys widespread political support inside and outside Singapore? How can we understand the sorts of pr disasters described above?

Any attempt to answer these questions needs to grasp that suppression of dissent in Singapore is discriminating. The PAP has over the last four decades displayed special anxiety toward certain criticisms and scrutiny, while it is less severe in its reactions to others. In particular, it reacts robustly to questioning of the PAP’s governance virtues and the integrity of the political, legal and bureaucratic institutions it has crafted. It is especially protective of two foundational myths of the PAP, which provide the rationale for the ruling party’s monopoly of power.

The first myth is that public institutions are autonomous, efficient and administered by a meritocracy. In this construction, the integrity of any institution is directly linked to the character of its officials and vice versa. The second posits that unless all politics is channeled through clearly defined and regulated formal political institutions then Singapore’s social and political stability will be at risk. This concept of politics is a compartmentalized and highly regulated one.

However, the veracity of such defining stories about the essence of the regime’s character and purpose are impossible to fully ascertain given the constraints on inquiry and debate into them. This is not by accident, since if these myths could not hold up to scrutiny then the rationale of the de facto one-party state would be undermined. Insulating these myths from scrutiny may reflect a lack of confidence in the ability of Singaporeans to assess competing claims about key institutions. It might also reflect a lack of confidence in the ability of the institutions to withstand critical scrutiny. Whatever the case, reinforcing foundational myths involves continual vigilance in monitoring and restricting public debate on PAP governance and institutions.

Paradoxically, dissent itself can actually be functional for the promotion and reinforcement of these myths. For instance, the high-profile defamation suits against critics not only impair or punish government opponents. These trials also avail the ruling party of opportunities to articulate the proclaimed attributes and qualities of the governance system. This explains what otherwise appears to be an inordinate scale of resources and political investment devoted by the PAP to such trials.

Similarly, the extensive system of licenses and regulations pertaining to any form of political expression enables authorities to do more than just limit such activities. It provides opportunities for authorities to echo political leaders’ notions about threats to social and political order posed by civil society activism, public rallies, Internet Web blogs and other independent political expressions.

PAP sensitivity to scrutiny of key state institutions goes a long way toward explaining why J.B. Jeyaretnam and Mr. Chee have encountered more difficulties than most opposition politicians. They are depicted as engaging in “gutter politics,” periodically contrasted for the worse with Singapore’s two opposition members of parliament—Mr. Jeyaretnam’s successor at the helm of the Workers’ Party, Low Thia Khiang, and the leader of the Singapore People’s Party, Chiam See Tong.

In recent decades, Messrs. Jeyaretnam and Chee have consistently probed, questioned and criticized various aspects of the governance system, honing in on the processes accompanying bureaucratic, administrative and political decisions. They have each endured a raft of problems with authorities in trying to conduct political organization and communication—including a string of defamation cases awarding massive damages to PAP leaders. These ultimately resulted in the bankruptcy of the opposition politicians and hence their ineligibility to contest elections.

The most recent demonstration of the difficulties in scrutinizing the PAP’s governance claims without being open to defamation allegations by PAP leaders was provided in the run up to the May 2006 general elections. Mr. Chee led an SDP campaign questioning the response time of the government to problems over disclosures and uses of public funds by the multimillion dollar charitable organization, the National Kidney Foundation. Any chance of a robust debate about the performance of the government and state regulatory institutions was blunted following legal suits by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Questioning the associated meritocracy myth has proved especially hazardous for the international media. Examples of this include responses to articles by the International Herald Tribune in August 1994 and Bloomberg in August 2002, respectively seen to imply nepotism in the political rise of Lee Hsien Loong and in the appointment of Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, to the executive directorship of the government-linked holding company, Temasek Holdings. The IHT was ordered to pay over $604,000 in total damages, while Bloomberg settled out of court for around $380,000.

Observations about how the governance system treats PAP leaders was at issue in a $555,000 defamation suit against the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan for publishing comments in September 1996 by Singapore lawyer Tang Liang Hong. These related to a controversy over a prelaunch discount sale offer of condominium units by Housing Properties Limited taken up by Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong and various other members of the Lee family. One of the directors of HPL was Lee Suan Yew, the elder brother of Lee Kuan Yew.

Then Prime Minister Goh’s instigation of an investigation into the propriety of the offer and the timing of disclosures by HPL to the Stock Exchange of Singapore, conducted by the finance minister and the head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, cleared the Lees of any impropriety. However, Mr. Tang maintained that an inquiry conducted by either the Commercial Affairs Department or the Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau would be more convincing since they were more detached from government. Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong sued Yazhou Zhoukan for approximately $555,000 for defamation and extracted an apology from the magazine.

Given the frequency with which Singapore’s courts have been deployed to quell criticism of key institutions, it’s not surprising that questioning the judiciary’s independence is treated most seriously. There is no better illustration of this than in the case against the IHT for a 1994 op-ed article in which Christopher Lingle didn’t even mention Singapore or its courts by name. He referred to the use in the region by some authoritarian regimes of “a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians.” Lee Kuan Yew insisted this was an oblique reference to Singapore and sued the IHT and Mr. Lingle. In the prosecution’s determination to prove this point, it documented 76 separate articles from the Straits Times between 1972-94 to establish that government critics had in fact been regularly prosecuted in Singapore’s courts. Likewise, in Annex A of the Aug. 22 court filing against the review, the plaintiffs’ lawyers enumerated 22 of the defamation actions previously taken by Mr. Lee since 1965.

Mr. Lee’s eagerness to draw the world’s attention to such a history and to volunteer that Singapore’s legal system was the premier candidate for Mr. Lingle’s description might appear puzzling. However, the trial provided a stage for Mr. Lee to assert the independence of the judiciary, to sound a stern warning to others who might want to question this, and to reinforce claims important to Singapore’s economic brand, namely that the integrity of the city-state’s governance regimes distinguish it within the region.

Yet this strategy is not without contradictions and it faces challenges from political and economic forces. Ironically, one challenge emanates from the increasing use of the courts by Singapore’s political opponents to question, counter and challenge the PAP’s foundational myths. Mr. Chee used his February Bankruptcy Petition Hearing, for example, to circulate his court documents to the international media, and he outlined how and why he didn’t believe Singapore’s judicial system was independent when dealing with opposition politicians. He was also able to remind the international media of the criticisms leveled at the Singapore judicial system by Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and the New York Bar Association. Mr. Chee was not intimidated by the prospect, and subsequent reality, of a suit for contempt of court.

Lee Kuan Yew has since secured a summary judgment for his defamation case against Mr. Chee and his sister and SDP colleague, Chee Siok Chin, arising out of the last election campaign. However, while the Chees were thus denied their request for a public hearing, their detailed defense of what they regard as fair comment on a matter of public interest was posted on various Web sites. Moreover, they are challenging the decision to award a summary trial as unconstitutional. In effect, the Chees are taking a foundational PAP myth seriously to see where it leads.

Meanwhile, economic globalization is contributing to a growing scrutiny of, and challenge to, Singapore’s governance system. Currently a request for review by the Toronto-based oil and natural gas company, EnerNorth Industries, is pending before the Canadian Supreme Court. It is seeking to overturn a decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to abide by a Singapore High Court ruling. This went against EnerNorth in its dispute with Singaporean company Oakwell Engineering and it faces the prospect of having its assets seized under Canadian law to pay for that judgment. However, EnerNorth’s appeal centers round the contention that: “Singapore is ruled by a small oligarchy who control all facets of the Singapore state, including the judiciary, which is utterly politicized.”

There is also increasing international scrutiny of the governance rules and regulations pertaining to Singapore’s domestic market. Already this includes critical attention by the International Monetary Fund and U.S. negotiators involved in the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Concerns have been raised about levels of transparency, possible conflicts of interest pertaining to appointments within the state and the advantages open to government-linked companies by virtue of political networks to which they belong.

The second foundational PAP myth about the threat to political and social order posed by political pluralism has also manifested itself in a range of measures curbing political expression. The most explicit symbol of this myth is to be found in the Societies Act, which bars political activity by groups not specifically registered for this purpose. In effect, this outlaws civil society—both as an alternative to formal politics or as a complement to it.

Whereas in a liberal democracy widespread political engagement by social groups is viewed as functional for the political system, the PAP worries that this opens the door to “hidden agendas” and special interest politics. As Lee Hsien Loong stated in 2001: “It will be very tragic if Singaporeans are divided into many special interest groups and each one asserts its demands, and you’re unable to form a consensus.”

Attempts by political parties to engage with the general public, particularly by the SDP, have been frustrated by administrative and other impediments. Such were the difficulties experienced by the SDP in obtaining permits for public meetings that they have on occasions deliberately violated the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act. This resulted in prosecutions of SDP members and two prison terms in 1999 for Mr. Chee. The SDP has generally been deploying nonviolent civil disobedience to highlight administrative impediments to free speech and collective action.

One of the contemporary challenges for the PAP in the control of political expression has been the Internet. The essence of the government’s response has been to superimpose the spirit of the Societies Act on cyberspace. This includes the requirement for registration with the Singapore Broadcasting Authority of political Web sites and the barring of nonparty political associations from political promotion, advertising or campaigning during elections. As Senior Minister of State Balaji Sadasivan explained: “In a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debate could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse, flush with rumors and distortions to mislead and confuse the public.”

These controls have proved remarkably effective. However, during the May election, individuals defied the government edict barring political blogging and podcasting. There were around 50 Web sites and blogs producing political or semipolitical content during the election, according to the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. Among other things, this provided venues for critical analysis and views to be aired by individuals and it enabled videos of sizeable opposition rallies, blanketed in the state-controlled media, to be made available. This is an important development, since it challenges the PAP preference for all forms of political expression to be channeled through state-controlled institutions and the idea that the alternative is dangerous. A more serious challenge, though, would involve the technology’s facilitation of collective political action or mobilization. The PAP’s priority will be to prevent this.

Clearly the PAP’s determination to insulate its foundational myths remains resolute and attempts to challenge these continue to attract a harsh response from Singapore’s authorities. However, because of economic globalization and the use of new technologies, that exercise is likely to require continued refinement and creative energy.

Mr. Rodan is director of the Asia Research Centre and professor of politics at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia.

The Charade Of Meritocracy by Michael D. Barr

Here's the second article..........

The Charade Of Meritocracy

FEER, October 2006

By Michael D. Barr

The legitimacy of the Singaporean government is predicated on the idea of a meritocratic technocracy. A tiny number of career civil servants play a leading role in setting policy within their ministries and other government-linked bureaucracies, leading both an elite corps of senior bureaucrats, and a much larger group of ordinary civil servants. Virtually all of the elite members of this hierarchy are “scholars,” which in Singapore parlance means they won competitive, bonded government scholarships—the established route into the country’s elite.

Scholars not only lead the Administrative Service, but also the military’s officer corps, as well as the executive ranks of statutory boards and government-linked companies (GLCs). Movement between these four groups is fluid, with even the military officers routinely doing stints in the civilian civil service. Together with their political masters, most of whom are also scholars, they make up the software for the entity commonly known as “Singapore Inc.”—a labyrinth of GLCs, statutory boards and ministries that own or manage around 60% of Singapore’s economy.

The basis of the scholars’ mandate to govern is not merely their performance on the job, but also the integrity of the process that selected them. The educational system is designed to cultivate competition, requiring top students to prove themselves every step of the way. Singapore’s schools first stream students into elite classes after Primary 3 and 4. They then compete for entry into special secondary schools and junior colleges, before vying for government and government-linked scholarships to attend the most prestigious universities around the world.

These scholarships typically require several years of government service after graduation, and the scholars are drafted into the Administrative Service, the officer corps of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), or the career track of a statutory board or GLC. The government insists that all Singaporeans have equal opportunities to excel in the system, and that everyone who has made it to the top did so purely by academic talent and hard work. Other factors such as gender, socioeconomic background and race supposedly play no more than a marginal role, if they are acknowledged as factors at all.

On the point of race, the Singapore government has long prided itself on having instituted a system of multiracialism that fosters cultural diversity under an umbrella of national unity. This is explicitly supposed to protect the 23% of the population who belong to minority races (mainly ethnic Malays and Indians) from discrimination by the Chinese majority.

But this system conceals several unacknowledged agendas. In our forthcoming book, Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project, Zlatko Skrbiš and I present evidence that the playing field is hardly level. In fact, Singapore’s system of promotion disguises and even facilitates tremendous biases against women, the poor and non-Chinese. Singapore’s administrative and its political elites—especially the younger ones who have come through school in the last 20 or so years—are not the cream of Singapore’s talent as they claim, but are merely a dominant social class, resting on systemic biases to perpetuate regime regeneration based on gender, class and race.

At the peak of the system is the network of prestigious government scholarships. Since independence in 1965, the technique of using government scholarships to recruit cohorts of scholars into the administrative and ruling elite has moved from the periphery of Singaporean society to center stage. Even before independence, a makeshift system of government and Colombo Plan scholarships sent a few outstanding scholars overseas before putting them into government service, including most notably former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Yet as late as 1975 this system had contributed only two out of 14 members of Singapore’s cabinet. Even by 1985, only four out of 12 cabinet ministers were former government scholars.

By 1994, however, the situation had changed beyond recognition, with eight out of 14 cabinet ministers being ex-scholars, including Prime Minister Goh. By 2005 there were 12 ex-scholars in a Cabinet of 19. Of these, five had been SAF scholars, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. A perusal of the upper echelons of the ruling elite taken more broadly tells a similar story. In 1994, 12 of the 17 permanent secretaries were scholars, as were 137 of the 210 in the administrative-officer class of the Administrative Service.

The government scholarship system claims to act as a meritocratic sieve—the just reward for young adults with talent and academic dedication. If there is a racial or other bias in the outcomes, then this can only be the result of the uneven distribution of talent and academic application in the community. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put it when he spoke on national television in May 2005, “We are a multiracial society. We must have tolerance, harmony. … And you must have meritocracy … so everybody feels it is fair….” His father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was making the same point when, in 1989, he told Singapore’s Malay community that they “must learn to compete with everyone else” in the education system.

Yet if Singapore’s meritocracy is truly a level playing field, as the Lees assert, then the Chinese must be much smarter and harder working than the minority Indians and Malays. Consider the distribution of the top jobs in various arms of the Singapore government service in the 1990s (based on research conducted by Ross Worthington in the early 2000s):

• Of the top 30 GLCs only two (6.7%) were chaired by non-Chinese in 1991 (and neither of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

• Of the 38 people who were represented on the most GLC boards in 1998, only two (5.3%) were non-Chinese (and neither of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

• Of the 78 “core people” on statutory boards and GLCs in 1998, seven (9%) were non-Chinese (and one of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

A similar outcome is revealed in the pattern of government scholarships awarded after matriculation from school. Of the 200 winners of Singapore’s most prestigious scholarship, the President’s Scholarship, from 1966-2005 only 14 (6.4%) were not Chinese. But this was not a consistent proportion throughout the period. If we take 1980 as the divider, we find that there were 10 non-Chinese President’s Scholars out of 114 from 1966-80, or 8%, but in the period from 1981-2005 this figure had dropped to four out of 106, or 3.8%. Since independence, the President’s Scholarship has been awarded to only one Malay, in 1968. There has been only one non-Chinese President’s Scholar in the 18 years from 1987 to 2005 (a boy called Mikail Kalimuddin) and he is actually half Chinese, studied in Chinese schools (Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College), and took the Higher Chinese course as his mother tongue. If we broaden our focus to encompass broader constructions of ethnicity, we find that since independence, the President’s Scholarship has been won by only two Muslims (1968 and 2005).

If we consider Singapore’s second-ranked scholarship—the Ministry of Defence’s Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS)—we find a comparable pattern. The Ministry of Defence did not respond to my request for a list of recipients of SAF scholarships, but using newspaper accounts and information provided by the Ministry of Defence Scholarship Centre and Public Service Commission Scholarship Centre Web sites, I was able to identify 140 (56%) of the 250 SAFOS winners up to 2005.

Although only indicative, this table clearly suggests the Chinese dominance in SAFOS stakes: 98% of SAFOS winners in this sample were Chinese, and about 2% were non-Chinese (counting Mikail Kalimuddin in 2005 as non-Chinese). Furthermore I found not a single Malay recipient and only one Muslim winner (Mikail Kalimuddin). A similar picture emerges in the lower status Singapore Armed Forces Merit Scholarship winners: 71 (25.6%) of 277 (as of late 2005) scholars identified, with 69 (97%) Chinese winners to only two non-Chinese—though there was a Malay recipient in 2004, and one reliable scholar maintains that there have been others.

The position of the non-Chinese in the educational stakes has clearly deteriorated since the beginning of the 1980s. According to the logic of meritocracy, that means the Chinese have been getting smarter, at least compared to the non-Chinese.

Yet the selection of scholars does not depend purely on objective results like exam scores. In the internal processes of awarding scholarships after matriculation results are released, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise subtle forms of discrimination. Extracurricular activities (as recorded in one’s school record), “character” and performance in an interview are also considered. This makes the selection process much more subjective than one would expect in a system that claims to be a meritocracy, and it creates ample opportunity for racial and other prejudices to operate with relative freedom.

Is there evidence that such biases operate at this level? Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is “yes.” Take for instance a 2004 promotional supplement in the country’s main newspaper used to recruit applicants for scholarships. The advertorial articles accompanying the paid advertisements featured only one non-Chinese scholar (a Malay on a lowly “local” scholarship) amongst 28 Chinese on prestigious overseas scholarships. Even more disturbing for what they reveal about the prejudices of those offering the scholarships were the paid advertisements placed by government ministries, statutory boards and GLCs. Of the 30 scholars who were both prominent and can be racially identified by their photographs or their names without any doubt as to accuracy, every one of them was Chinese. This leaves not a shadow of a doubt that those people granting government and government-linked scholarships presume that the vast majority of high-level winners will be Chinese.


The absence of Malays from the SAFOS scholarships and their near-absence from the SAF Merit Scholarships deserves special mention because this is an extension of discrimination against the admission of Malays into senior and sensitive positions in the SAF that is officially sanctioned. The discrimination against Malays has been discussed in parliament and the media, and is justified by the assertion that the loyalty of Malays cannot be assumed, both because they are Muslim and because they have a racial and ethnic affinity with the Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia. Current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has historically been a vocal defender of this policy.

This discrimination hits Malay men hard, first because it deprives many of promising careers in the army, and second—and more pertinent for our study of the elite—it all but completely excludes potentially high-flying Malays of a chance of entering the scholar class through the SAF. A Chinese woman has a much better chance of winning an SAF scholarship than a Malay man.

Yet even before the scholarship stage, the education system has stacked the deck in favor of Chinese, starting in preschool. Here is the heart of Singapore’s systemic discrimination against non-Chinese. Since the end of the 1970s, the principles of “meritocracy” and “multiracialism” have been subverted by a form of government-driven Chinese chauvinism that has marginalized the minorities. It was not known to the public at the time, but as early as 1978, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had begun referring to Singapore as a “Confucian society” in his dealings with foreign dignitaries. This proved to be the beginning of a shift from his record as a defender of a communally neutral form of multiracialism toward a policy of actively promoting a Chinese-dominated Singapore.

The early outward signs of the Sinicization program were the privileging of Chinese education, Chinese language and selectively chosen “Chinese values” in an overt and successful effort to create a Mandarin- and English-speaking elite who would dominate public life. Two of the most important planks of this campaign were decided in 1979: the annual “Speak Mandarin Campaign” and the decision to preserve and foster a collection of elite Chinese-medium schools, known as Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools.

The SAP schools are explicitly designed to have a Chinese ambience, right down to Chinese gardens, windows shaped like plum blossoms, Chinese orchestra and drama, and exchange programs with mainland China and Taiwan. Over the years the children in SAP schools have been given multiple advantages over those in ordinary schools, including exclusive preschool programs and special consideration for preuniversity scholarships.

For instance, in the early 1980s, when there was a serious shortage of graduate English teachers in schools, the Ministry of Education ensured there were enough allocated to SAP schools “to help improve standards of English among the Chinese-medium students, in the hope that they will be able to make it to university”—a target brought closer by the granting of two O-level bonus points exclusively to SAP school students when they applied to enter junior college. By contrast, neither Indians nor Malays received any special help, let alone schools of their own to address their special needs. They were not only left to fend for themselves, but were sometimes subjected to wanton neglect: inadequately trained teachers, substandard facilities and resources and the “knowledge” that they are not as good as the Chinese.

This account of discrimination against non-Chinese might lead the reader to assume that the quarter of Singaporeans who are not Chinese must form a festering and perhaps even revolutionary mass of resentment. Such an assumption would, however, be a long way from the mark. Non-Chinese might be largely excluded from the highest levels of the administrative elite, but just below these rarefied heights there plenty of positions open to intelligent and hardworking non-Chinese—certainly enough to ensure that non-Chinese communities have much to gain by enthusiastically buying into the system, even after the glass ceilings and racial barriers are taken into account. There are many grievances and resentments in these levels of society but the grievances are muted and balanced by an appreciation of the relative comforts and prosperity they enjoy. For most, any tendency to complain is subdued also by knowledge that it could be worse, and the widespread assumption among members of minority communities that it will be if they seriously pursue their grievances. As long as the Singapore system continues to deal such people a satisfactory hand, if not a fair one, it should be able to cope with some quiet rumblings in the ranks.

While this discrimination is not sparking a reaction that threatens the regime in the short term, the resulting injustices are certainly undermining the myth that the regime operates on meritocratic principles. This is worrying in the longer term because this myth, along with the capacity to deliver peace and prosperity, is one of the primary rationales by which Singaporeans reluctantly accept the many unpopular aspects of the regime, such as the lack of freedom and democracy, the intrusion of government into most aspects of private life, the pressure-cooker lifestyle and the high cost of living.

The rhetoric of meritocracy has given Singaporeans the consolation of believing that their ruling elite are the best of the best and can therefore be trusted almost blindly on important matters, even if they are highhanded and lack the common touch. As this illusion gradually falls away—and today it is already heavily undermined—the trust that Singaporeans have for their government is becoming increasingly qualified. It remains to be seen how long the regime can avert the logical consequences of the contradictions between the myth and the reality.

Mr. Barr is a lecturer at the University of Queensland and author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs Behind the Man (Routledge, 2000) and Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War (Routledge, 2002).

Financial Center Pipedreams by Hugo Restall, Editor of FEER

Three new articles accompany the FEER editor's letter. I dunno when all these will be archived so I'm publishing them in this blog. Starting with Hugo Restall's Financial Center Pipedreams.......

Financial Center Pipedreams

October 2006

By Hugo Restall

There is no denying that for financiers, Singapore has plenty of buzz these days. When a large European bank held a reception there recently for its prime brokers to meet potential hedge fund clients, it expected a couple hundred people. Instead more than 700 showed up. The influx of fund managers and private bankers has helped create a shortage of high-end housing, and as a result prices have risen 20% to 30% in the last year. Office rents just posted a 13% quarter-on-quarter rise, the highest ever, and are expected to break through their 1996 peak within the next couple years.

So is Singapore succeeding in its ambition to become a regional financial center? In some ways, yes. It has certainly enhanced its attractiveness to certain segments of the financial sector. But at the same time it seems to be falling further behind in the race to become the pre-eminent integrated hub. The analogy some use is that Singapore is becoming the Zurich to Hong Kong’s London, or the Greenwich, Connecticut to Hong Kong’s Manhattan.

For high net-worth individuals, Singapore’s banking secrecy laws make it highly attractive as a place to stash funds out of sight of their own country’s authorities—especially since some havens like Switzerland have recently watered down their guarantees of confidentiality. The super-rich of Southeast Asia have long used Singapore as a bolt-hole, both from political instability and the long arm of the law. Now new money is flowing in not only from Europe, but also from China. That’s because since the 1997 handover, wealthy Chinese trust Hong Kong less as there is a perceived risk that mainland authorities will exert their authority there.

Meanwhile, Asia is in the middle of a hedge-fund boom, with assets flowing in at a rate of $12 billion to $15 billion per year. Singapore has offered tax breaks, simpler registration, and even mandates to manage some of its own massive pool of pension savings as enticements for fund managers to locate there. Since many of these individuals trade from wherever they happen to be and spend much time travelling around the region, they can essentially live wherever they want.

That means Singapore’s clean environment and efficient urban planning come into play. With Hong Kong’s air quality deteriorating rapidly and the government so weak it is unable to undertake the building of a cultural center in West Kowloon, it is no wonder that those who can move are doing so. Employers are beginning to rethink whether they need to pay Hong Kong’s higher costs in order to be close to the market. The exodus looks much like the way U.S. hedge funds have moved out of New York City to the suburbs or other cities.

However, the appearance that everything is going Singapore’s way is misleading. For one thing, the benefits of attracting fund managers are small. In this year’s budget, the government announced preferential tax treatment, meaning that the local coffers will only get a small bite of this growing pie. The local market may also get a slight boost, but the biggest pluses is the extra consumption and employment in the local economy. In fact, the bid is reminiscent of Singapore’s past efforts to attract targeted industries like the Internet or biotech. It usually ends up paying top dollar, and then repenting at leisure as it turns out that it jumped on the bandwagon too late.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is actually solidifying its position as the premier financial center for East Asia. Its stock market is outpacing rivals in the race to become large and liquid enough to intermediate the huge flows of capital needed to reform China’s state-owned enterprises.

One proof of that should come later this month, when what could be the world’s largest IPO is scheduled. Hong Kong retail investors are already lining up to buy into Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. With $815 billion in assets, the bank is the largest on the mainland, is expected to raise as much as $21 billion, about $17 billion of that in Hong Kong and the remainder in Shanghai.

A flood of IPOs—$21.2 billion worth last year—is fueling Hong Kong’s self-confidence as the pre-eminent regional financial center. No longer does the city look over its shoulder at Shanghai. Instead it is Wall Street that it starting to get twitchy about the Hong Kong market’s ability to handle such massive offerings.

Meanwhile, the Singapore exchange, with a total market capitalization about one-quarter the size of Hong Kong at the end of last year, gets a few smaller Chinese companies listing, and for a while local investor interest was keen in these shares. But a derivatives trading scandal involving China Aviation Oil in late 2004 nearly blew up the company, and also raised questions about whether the Singaporean regulators were lowering their standards to attract listings. Trust in Chinese companies coming to Singapore evaporated almost overnight, and oversight had to be tightened in order to rebuild it.

Even in terms of being a center for fund management, Hong Kong is arguably maintaining or enlarging its lead over Singapore. It still attracts the larger funds, which want to be physically close to the main market so they can have plenty of contact with the managers of companies. Singapore doesn’t hold much appeal because its market is dominated by stodgy government-linked companies.

The real potential for a breakthrough lies in the development of an Asian bond market. The issuance of local currency bonds has more than quadrupled in the last 10 years from a very low base. Everyone agrees that the region would benefit hugely if it could reduce companies’ reliance on bank debt by making bond issues more accessible. So can Singapore take the lead?

It seems unlikely however that Singapore could develop this market on its own. One hurdle is the lack of a benchmark government security issued in a convertible local currency. India and China are the two giant sovereign issuers with the potential to create a market. And both are going to want to create their own financial centers.

Last March, India announced its intention to create a road map for convertibility of the rupee. Ultimately that will boost Mumbai’s ability to cut out Singapore as a gateway to India.

And there is talk of Chinese companies being allowed to issue yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong. It is not inconceivable for Beijing to make a pragmatic decision to promote Hong Kong as a bond trading center. Already Hong Kong banks are beginning to conduct yuan-denominated business.

The other countries in Southeast Asia are hardly likely to welcome Singaporean control over their access to capital. While relations are stable, the recent outburst of public anger in Thailand at the sale of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s family stake in Shin Corp. to the Singaporean government holding company Temasek shows the depth of suspicion lurking beneath the surface. Effigies of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching, the head of Temasek, were burned in the streets of Bangkok. Temasek has repeatedly faced problems investing abroad because it is perceived as an agent of the government, with political as well as commercial motivations. The conflict with Malaysia over the trading of Malaysian shares in Singapore in the 1990s also shows the regional unwillingness to cede market leadership to the city state.

Singapore is thus paying a price for its government-led economic model, which is intertwined with its system of social control at home. Instead of nurturing a domestic entrepreneurial class with its own vested interests, it has kept the commanding heights of the economy under the control of Singapore Inc. Therefore its financial institutions have not been welcomed abroad in the way that Switzerland’s have.

Individual institutions will also have to consider the political problems of doing business in Singapore. Market players were shocked this month by the sudden resignation of Morgan Stanley Asia economist Andy Xie, reportedly after he sent an internal email disparaging Singapore’s financial center ambitions: “Actually, Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering centre for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well. To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corrupt money from China.” Mr. Xie could not be reached to comment on his resignation.

Such undiplomatic remarks from an economist would never be welcomed by an investment bank. But Mr. Xie’s resignation suggests just how sensitive the political climate there is for financial institutions. For hedge funds, then, the question is to what extent they could take bets against the Singapore economy or prominent Singaporean companies without wearing out their welcome. Such concerns don’t enter the picture in Hong Kong, and indeed mainland China is not so thin-skinned. Ten years after the handover, Hong Kong’s freedom of information has unexpectedly proved resilient, while Singapore has failed to liberalize.

So it is difficult to see Singapore continuing to enjoy its current success. Fund managers may be happy to receive tax breaks, but their mobility and fickleness means there is not much of a network effect to keep them in Singapore for the long term. Meanwhile Indonesia is exerting pressure to conclude an extradition treaty and amend its secrecy laws in order to stop the outflow of illicit funds.

Singapore deserves credit for financial market deregulation since 1998 and the opening of the local banking sector to foreign competition. But as long as it pursues a strategy that alienates its neighbors, it will be unable to realize its ambition of becoming a fully fledged financial hub. Ultimately such centers depend on cooperative relationships, while at the moment Singapore is still seen as an opportunistic player.

Mr. Restall is editor of the review.