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H.E. Mr George Yong-Boon Yeo
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Solidarity groups urge Singapore to renew activists travel and work documents
We, the undersigned groups supporting human rights and democracy in Burma, urge the Government of Singapore to promptly renew the work and travel permits of six Burmese activists who were studying and working there.
It is our belief that the six individuals were targeted because of their efforts to advocate for human rights and democratic transition in their home country. The Singaporean government’s actions contradict the spirit and content of its own statements made at the United Nations and other international forums on the situation in Burma since September 2007.
The actions and statements of the Burmese nationals in question were fully consistent with public statements made by you and other Singaporean leaders. They have cooperated with the Singapore authorities in working within the constraints of local laws.
The actions taken by the six, in response to the crises caused by the Saffron Revolution in September as well as Cyclone Nargis and the sham referendum in May, were peaceful and constructive. Their desire for democratic transition in Burma is consistent with Singapore’s foreign policy. Fundamental political and economic reforms which constitute the main focus of the Burmese activists, also serves the regional security and economic interests of Singapore and ASEAN.
Singapore was the first country to ratify the ASEAN Charter, and bears a responsibility to promote its spirit and content. It has committed to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. These six activists were working to promote and defend these goals. We understand three of them have been forced to leave Singapore but are anxious to return.
We call upon the Singaporean government to treat Burmese citizens working and studying in Singapore equitably and with fairness. Allowing Burmese in Singapore to strengthen their knowledge of human rights and democracy is a vital contribution to Burma’s transition to democracy.
We look forward to Singapore’s timely renewal of the work and travel documents of these six activists. We trust that Singapore’s commitment to progress in transition to democracy will continue, and that Singapore will desist from restricting the opportunities of Burmese working and studying in Singapore.
Thank you for your kind attention,
1. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
2. Burma Campaign Australia
3. Burma Partnership
4. Burma Today
5. Burma Workers’ Rights Protection Committee
6. Burmese Women’s Union (Japan Branch)
7. Committee for Asian Women
8. Forum for Democracy in Burma
9. Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines)
10. Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
11. Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma
12. Network for Democracy and Development
13. Nonviolence International Southeast Asia
14. Palaung State Liberation Front
15. Shan Women’s Action Network
16. Suara Rakyat Malaysia
H.E. Lee Hsieng Loong
Orchard Road, Istana Annexe
H.E. Surin Pitsuwan
The ASEAN Secretariat, 70 Jl. Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta, Indonesia 12110
Singapore Has an Independent Judiciary
July 23, 2008
Your editorial "Judging Singapore's Judiciary" (July 15) perpetuates the baseless allegations and errors of fact in the Report of the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute.
The IBA Human Rights Institute's criticism of Singapore's judiciary is contradicted by the International Bar Association itself. Last year, IBA President Fernando Pombo said publicly that Singapore "has an outstanding legal profession, an outstanding judiciary, an outstanding academical world in relation to the law." You have suppressed this, and instead attributed the IBA Human Rights Institute's criticisms to the IBA, when the IBA President had stated the very opposite!
You also repeat the vague allegations in the Institute's Report that defamation suits involving the ruling party lack "impartiality and/or independence." The decisions of the Courts in these cases are matters of public record, and anyone questioning the verdicts can analyze and examine the decisions properly. Yet the Report contains nothing to back these claims.
Singapore ministers and government officials are held to the highest standards of probity and integrity. This has been recognized by international agencies like the Property and Environment Research Center and Transparency International. That is why investors put in billions of dollars into Singapore, and why Singapore is an oasis of prosperity and stability in Southeast Asia with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Thus when scurrilous allegations of corruption are made, ministers and officials defamed will sue to clear their name. We see no virtue in becoming a society where anyone can freely publish untruths without having to back them up in court.
Further, contrary to the Report, all Supreme Court judges in Singapore enjoy "security of tenure" until retirement at 65. There is also no need to "put an end to the transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles" because Supreme Court judges cannot be transferred and there has never been such a transfer.
Western newspapers, NGOs and human rights groups like the IBA's Human Rights Institute prescribe Western norms as the way for other countries to "join the ranks of modern democracies." But not every Western norm is suitable to all countries in the world. Singapore cannot allow those who carry no responsibility for Singapore's future to dictate its political and legal systems. Singaporeans know that they have a noncorrupt government and an independent judiciary. They live in one of the top five most transparent countries in the world, with the freedom to express their views, oppose the government and take part in free and fair elections. Singaporeans will choose for themselves the shape and norms for their society.
Press Secretary to the Minister for Law
Judging Singapore's Judiciary
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA
July 15, 2008
Lee Kuan Yew recently noted the International Bar Association's decision to "honor" Singapore by holding its annual conference there last year. We hope the former Prime Minister, now Minister Mentor, takes equal note of the IBA's latest assessment of the judiciary in Singapore.
The IBA's human-rights institute issued a report last week on "human rights, democracy and the rule of law" in the city-state. Like numerous past observers, the IBA finds that Singapore limits political speech and assembly and exercises strict controls on the media.
The 72-page report also describes "concerns about the objective and subjective independence and impartiality" of the judiciary. In cases involving litigants from the ruling People's Action Party or PAP interests, the IBA finds "concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence, which casts doubt on the decisions made in such cases."
The IBA report is a good primer on Singapore's use of defamation cases against opposition politicians and the foreign press. It summarizes high-profile cases over the past 25 years against J. B. Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong and Chee Soon Juan. And it reviews defamation cases against foreign publications, including this newspaper and our sister publication, the Far Eastern Economic Review, which currently is fighting defamation charges brought by Mr. Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In a statement last week in response to the IBA report, the Law Ministry defended Singapore's legal system. "The cases brought by PAP members usually relate to scurrilous and completely untrue allegations of corruption made against them," it said. And, "It is also absurd to suggest that honorable and upright judges in commercial cases become compliant and dishonorable when dealing with defamation cases involving government ministers."
The IBA report concludes with 18 recommendations, including abolishing defamation as a criminal offense and urging government officials to "stop initiating defamation claims for criticisms made in the course of political debate." It also calls for "security of tenure" for all judges and an end to the transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles.
Singapore is unlikely to reform its political or judicial system anytime soon. But when the country is ready to join the ranks of modern democracies, the IBA's recommendations provide a good checklist of how to do so.
Myanmar activists face visa problems in Singapore
SINGAPORE, Aug 8 (Reuters) - At least three Myanmar activists were forced to leave Singapore after authorities decided not to renew their visas in an apparent attempt to stop the group's pro-democracy work, another Myanmar activist said.
Myo Myint Maung, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters on Friday that six Myanmar nationals are having trouble with their visas and three, including a student, were forced to leave Singapore recently after their various visas were not renewed.
The remaining three are Singapore permanent residents, which means they can stay in the city-state if they choose to. But they will not be allowed to re-enter Singapore should they leave as their re-entry permits have not been extended.
All six were involved in an illegal protest last year against Myanmar's ruling military junta. Though not charged, they were let off with a warning. Protests are rare in Singapore and gatherings of four or more people require police permission.
Myo said the treatment of the activists was not justified.
"We are very puzzled. I cannot think of any reasonable explanation for their decision not to renew it," he said.
Singapore's home ministry said in a statement that the right of a foreigner to work and stay in Singapore "is not a matter of entitlement by political demand".
"Foreigners who work or live here are expected to at least respect the law and local sensitivities in Singapore," said a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to the Singapore immigration website, the process to renew a re-entry permit into Singapore for a permanent resident only takes 30 minutes.
"It is usually a one-day process, but it has been pending for more than a month for some," Myo said.
Singapore is home to around 100,000 Myanmar nationals, the pro-government Straits Times newspaper reported earlier this year. (Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by David Fogarty)
Police and Civil Defence officers said they are on full standby in case of any attacks on the parade grounds or elsewhere in Singapore.
And depending on the nature of the incident, they may order a mass evacuation.
Where needed, paramedics and doctors will also be called in. In case of a chemical attack, a bus can transform into a personnel decontamination vehicle that can also serve as a mass casualty ambulance.
July 22, 2008This issue has been around for a very long time and for which the government hasn't adequately and fully replied to. If they did, the question wouldn't be around for so long, would it now. Is there anything to hide?
Affordable HDB flats: Costings don't add up
I REFER to last Wednesday's letter from the HDB, 'How HDB flats are priced affordably'. It mentioned that a new four-room flat costs close to $300,000 to develop, taking into account land, building and other costs. It did not give details of how each cost is calculated.
I remember a similar Forum letter on July 12, 2004, asking the same questions. It was mentioned that one HDB contractor built flats in Bukit Batok for $50,400 each in 2000.
Even now, factoring in higher construction cost, I estimate building cost is $100,000 to $150,000. That leaves nearly $150,000 to $200,000 for land and other costs. A single block of flats typically has 100 units. That means land (and other costs) on which a single block of flats stands costs $15 to $20 million. Can it cost so much?
For $15 to $20 million, what kind of property can one buy? In District 9 or 10, one can buy property up to 20,000 sq ft.
So is the HDB willing to release details on actual construction costs, say in the Punggol or Sengkang area?
Aug 1, 2008
HDB flats: Low figure is building costs alone
I REFER to the letter, 'Affordable HDB flats: Costings don't add up' by Mr Steven Yeo (July 22).
Mr Yeo cited a Forum page letter published on July 12, 2004, where the writer gave the construction cost of a new flat as $50,400.
This does not give the full picture of how much it costs to build flats. As HDB explained in its reply of July 23, 2004, the figures cited relate only to building works. The total construction cost of flats includes other costs such as infrastructure, piling works, lift installation, consultancy and project management, financing and purchase of land.
We have explained before in previous letters that the total cost of development in the current market is about $300,000 for a four-room flat in Punggol-Sengkang New Town. This is significantly higher than the subsidised price of a four-room flat in Punggol-Sengkang sold by HDB at about $200,000 to $260,000.
Kee Lay Cheng (Ms)
Deputy Director (Marketing and Projects)
for Director (Estate Administration and Property)
Housing and Development Board