Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Solidarity groups urge Singapore to renew Burmese activists travel and work documents

I received this letter, concerning the plight of the Burmese activists in Singapore, through my facebook. I was also told the letter was faxed today,

H.E. Mr George Yong-Boon Yeo
Minister for Foreign Affairs

Solidarity groups urge Singapore to renew activists travel and work documents

Your Excellency:

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
Prime Minister
Orchard Road, Istana Annexe
Singapore 238823

H.E. Surin Pitsuwan
Secretary General
The ASEAN Secretariat, 70 Jl. Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta, Indonesia 12110

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chee Soon Juan to launch new book, A Nation Cheated, at SDP's annual dinner on 31 Aug

Chee to launch new book at SDP dinner

Dr Chee Soon Juan has written a new book entitled A Nation Cheated and will launch it at the SDP's annual dinner on 31 Aug 08, Sunday. Guests will each receive a complimentary copy of the book.

This is the seventh book written by Dr Chee. The first was Dare To Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore published 14 years ago. Since then he has written Singapore, My Home Too, To Be Free: Stories from Asia's Struggle Against Oppression, Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom: A Democratic Blueprint for Singapore, and The Power of Courage: Effecting Change Through Nonviolence.

A lesser known book that the SDP leader has written is not a political one. He co-authored Effective Parenting for the Asian Family with his wife, Dr Huang Chihmei, in 1994. The book was published by Heinemann Asia, a subsidiary of Reed International. When the book first came out, advertisements were placed in magazines like Young Parents and the authors were scheduled to speak at various book launches and events. Suddenly, however, the ads were pulled and the publisher informed the authors that it would no longer sell the books.

The latest book, A Nation Cheated, describes Singapore's political-economic system and delves into the many tales that have been spun about it. Repeated over the years, these stories have developed into veritable myths, the most popular ones being that the Singapore economy is the freest in the world, that its people are rich and productive but uninterested in politics, that the legal sysem is the envy of the world, and so on.

A Nation Cheated explodes these myths and describes how the authoritarian system put together by Mr Lee Kuan Yew has de-politicised and silenced an entire generation of citizens, breeding a climate of fear and uncertainty. It shows how the PAP Government uses the political culture to ramp up economic gains at the expense of the people.

The book exposes the weakness of such a system, and outlines the dangers that await the city-state. It also relates how Singaporeans can overcome this problem and bring about genuine stability and progress for the country.

So if you want a copy of the book, make your way down to the Hawaiian-themed party on Sunday.

Event: SDP Annual Dinner
Date: 31 Aug 08, Sunday
Time: 6:00 pm
Tickets: $25 per person
Dinner: Luau buffet
Dress: Something Hawaiian

To purchase tickets, please email us at or call Jaslyn at 9239-3133. Support the Singapore Democrats. Come party with the SDP.

For more information about Dr Chee's earlier books, please check on Publications on this website.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The true colours of those with absolute power

This video of a CNN report from 2006 provides background about this case. See here for the Far Eastern Economic Review's Sept 06 statement and here for the Oct 06 letter by the editor. What follows the video is the latest development in this case.

Singapore PM raises stakes in FEER defamation case

SINGAPORE, Reuters, Aug 22 - Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has raised the stakes in a libel suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review, now saying an article in the magazine implied he was corrupt, court documents show. The amendment this week by lawyers representing Lee adds a more serious charge to an earlier claim that FEER implied the prime minister was unfit for office because he had condoned corruption by his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew.

The August 2006 story that sparked the lawsuit, entitled "Singapore's Martyr: Chee Soon Juan", criticised the government's handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country's largest charity the National Kidney Foundation. The charity's former CEO T.T. Durai has since been jailed.

"The article clearly asserted that like Durai, who abused defamation suits to silence his critics and conceal his corruption, Lee Hsien Loong has abused libel suits as a tool to conceal his corruption," the Lees' lawyer Davinder Singh argued in his written submissions to the court for the amendment.

The story written by FEER editor Hugo Restall, who is also being sued, had quoted opposition politician Chee attacking the Lees. The magazine is owned by Dow Jones & Co, in turn owned by media mogul Robert Murdoch's News Corp.

Lawyer Peter Low, representing Restall and the magazine, told Reuters on Friday that he was now amending his defence.

"It raises a serious question as to the genuineness of that pleading if, sometime later, applies to amend to allege an altogether different and much more serious meaning," Low said in submissions to the court against the amendment.

The magazine has argued the article did not defame the prime minister and his father because it was based on facts and fair comment.

But lawyers for Lee Hsien Loong and his father have dismissed the defence statement by the Hong Kong-based magazine as "frivolous, vexatious, scandalous, and an abuse of the process of the court".

Singapore leaders have won damages in the past from foreign media groups when they report on local politics, including the Economist, the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg.

The leaders in the Southeast Asian city-state say the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations. (Reporting by Daryl Loo; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and David Fogarty)

A film by Martyn See

Singapore charges opposition leaders over protest

SINGAPORE, AP, Aug 22 - Singapore has charged opposition party leaders with an illegal procession and assembling without a permit just days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the city-state would ease a ban on outdoor public demonstrations.

The Singapore Democratic Party said seven of its members were charged, including party chairman Gandhi Ambalam, general-secretary Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Chee Siok Chin. The party's leaders denied the charges in court on Thursday, while one member pleaded guilty to illegally distributing pamphlets, it said.

"The charges that we face are in complete violation of our basic rights to freedoms of speech, assembly and expression," Ambalam said in a statement on the party's Web site.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office was not available for comment.

The charges, which carry a maximum fine of 1,000 Singapore dollars (US$712) each, stem from a protest against poverty in Singapore at a 2006 meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Demonstrations in Singapore by five or more people must be approved by police.

It was not clear why the government waited about two years to bring the charges.

"The so-called offenses were supposed to have been committed some two years ago," Ambalam told the court, according to the statement. "It's strange that in our unique Singapore it has taken the authorities such a long time to bring us before you."

Lee said Monday that Singapore will allow public demonstrations at a "Speakers' Corner" where citizens are already allowed to air grievances, as long as they don't discuss race, language or religion. Lee did not specify what he meant by public demonstrations and it was not clear what additional freedoms people would be granted.

Burmese patriots in Singapore to hold press conference today; Press release asks for explanation from Singapore authorities

Here's a press release which was emailed to me. Its got to do with Burmese activists facing visa problems in Singapore,

Burmese Citizens Denied Renewal of Visas in Singapore
Groundless non-renewal of key immigration and work documents of Burmese Patriots by Singapore immigration and manpower authorities


Since the Saffron Revolution of September 2007, the Burmese anti-junta movement has gained remarkable momentum in Singapore, fuelled by the increasing frustration and discontent of the Burmese people in Singapore at the outrageous atrocities committed by the Burmese military junta.

Burmese patriots in Singapore work as one united group to raise awareness about human rights violations by the Burmese junta, advocate for free and democratic Burma, and stand in solidarity with the freedom and democracy movements inside Burma as well as around the world.

Some of the notable milestones are the peaceful protest along Orchard Road on 20th November 2007 during ASEAN Summit and the "Vote NO" Campaign for the sham referendum on the military-drafted, new constitution for Burma during late April and early May 2008. These activities were not only effective in raising awareness about the injustice committed by the Burmese Junta and the true desires of the Burmese people but also lawful in Singapore. (Jacob: I've posted the videos of these events below.)

The political objectives of the Burmese activists have always been to advocate political change in Burma and their guiding principle is to use peaceful as well as lawful means in Singapore while expressing themselves. Indeed, none of the anti-junta political activities of the Burmese activists has ever been declared unlawful or in conflict with the local sensitivities by the Singapore government. Apart from receiving a police warning for their participation in the Orchard Road anti-junta protest, the Burmese activists have never been charged for any unlawful act while pursuing their political objectives.

Non-renewal of key immigration documents

Since July 2008, many Burmese patriots in Singapore have been denied renewal and extensions of their visas or permits by Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoint Authorities and the Ministry of Manpower for no reason or explanation. In a span of just over two weeks, 6 Burmese patriots have been affected, and 3 of them have been forced to leave Singapore to date.

There is no evidence that the 6 affected Burmese patriots have ever committed a crime against the law in Singapore. No reason or explanation has been given by the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoint Authorities for rejecting the renewal and extension of the visas and permits of these Burmese patriots. In the eyes of the Burmese patriots affected, the rejections appear arbitrary and without rationale.

Statement of intent

We, Burmese patriots, are releasing this press statement to publicly inquire:

- The underlying reasons for the apparently arbitrary rejections by Singapore authorities

- Whether the Burmese activists have been rejected for their peaceful political activism

- Why the Singapore government unfairly ill-treated the Burmese activists despite its declarations of support for peaceful political change in Burma

Photo & Interview Opportunities

Your reporter and cameraman are invited to cover the press conference, which is open to full media coverage.

The details are as follows:

Date : 22 August 2008 (Friday)

Time : 3.00pm to 5.00pm

Venue : Lilac Room, Level 5, Peninsula Excelsior Hotel

The press conference's panel includes:

Myo Myint Maung

· A 3rd year Business student from SMU and representing 3 Burmese patriots who have since left Singapore.

Ngwe Zin Soe (Detailed profile appended below)


The following is the profiles of the 4 out of 6 affected activists and the details of their cases.

Ngwe Zin Soe

NRIC number : S7780862J (Permanent Resident)

Occupation : Assistant Engineer

Type of visa/permit : PR Re-entry Permit

Related agency : ICA

Since her graduation from Temasek Polytechnic in 2003, Ngwe Zin Soe has been working in an Engineering company with a Permanent Resident (PR) status in Singapore. Considering her PR Re-entry Permit would expire on 11th September 2007, she went to ICA on 21st July 2008 to apply for its extension as Re-entry Permit can be extended within 6 months prior to the expiry date. At ICA, Ngwe Zin Soe was told that her permit could not be extended immediately and she would be contacted at a later time. It is an unusual delay because PR Re-entry Permit extension can be processed usually within 30 minutes. However, no reason was given for this. To date, she has yet been contacted by ICA in regard to her application.

According to ICA, "a Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR) who wishes to leave Singapore must obtain a Re-Entry Permit (REP) to enable him/her to return to Singapore as a SPR. A SPR who remains outside Singapore without a valid REP will lose his/her SPR status."

Maung Soe Thiha

Fin number : G3501046M

Occupation : Student (recently graduated from NUS in 2008)

Type of visas/permit : Social Visit Pass & Employment Pass

Related agency : ICA & MOM

Since the expiry of his Student Pass on 17th May 2008, 8 days after the completion of his studies at NUS, Maung Soe Thiha was living on a Social Visit Pass to look for a job. According to a bond between him and MOE, he has to work in Singapore-registered companies for 3 years upon graduation in return for his receipt of MOE Tuition Grant.

About two weeks after his receiving a degree scroll at NUS Commencement, his application for long-term Social Visit Pass was rejected by Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) through a letter dated 24th July 2008, which his sponsor received on 26th July 2008. On both 28th July 2008 (Monday) and 29th July 2008 (Tuesday), he approached ICA officers to ask for the reason of the rejection as he had valid reasons to remain in Singapore – to seek employment in order to serve his bond. No reason was given.

In the morning of 30th July 2008, the day when his Social Visit Pass expired, the flight to Cambodia he intended to take was missed by him because of the delay caused by an unreasonably long checking of his passport by an immigration officer at the airport. He was later told that his passport was alright, but no reason was given by the officer for checking it so long. Eventually, he was given a Special Pass for one-day stay in Singapore with the requirement that he leaves Singapore from Changi Airport.

In that time of dismay, he got a job as a project engineer at Hai Yong Engineering in the afternoon of 30th July 2008. An application for Employment Pass was done for him through EP Online System around 1:30 pm on 30th July 2008. With his employment letter, Maung Soe Thiha then went to ICA to appeal for the extension of his Social Visit Pass until the outcome of his EP application would become available. That appeal was outright rejected by ICA; however, again, no reason was given.

Maung Soe Thiha left for Cambodia on 31st Jul 2008 and his application for Employment Pass is still pending after nearly three weeks so far.

Myo Tun

FIN number : G7011467X

Occupation : Construction worker

Type of visa/permit : Work Permit

Related agency : MOM

On 30th Jul 2008, the extension of Myo Tun's Work Permit Pass, which expired on 1st August 2008, was rejected. As per normal, Work Permit extensions are applied in batches by his company. Out of 5 or 6 applicants in his batch, Myo Tun was the only one left out by MOM for rejection without any apparent reason.

Myo Tun left Singapore on 2nd August 2008 and is currently staying in Thailand.

Hlaing Moe

FIN number : F8383118U

Occupation : Technical Supervisor

Type of visa/permit : S Pass & Social Visit Pass

Related agency : MOM & ICA

Hlaing Moe had been working as a Technical Supervisor in Sankyu (Singapore) Pte. Ltd., since 17th July 2006 on S Pass when his application for the renewal of his S Pass was rejected on 17th July 2008 according to the letter from MOM. There was no reason given for the rejection and his company was still willing to employ him further. On 21st July 2008, he submitted an appeal letter to MOM for reconsideration, but it was again rejected on 25th July 2008 without any reason given.

After the cancellation of his S Pass, he received a Social Visit Pass to stay in Singapore until 5th August 2008. He is studying part-time for Diploma in Technology (Mechanical) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and in his 5th semester there so far. Since he had then upcoming exams during 14th August 2008 to 24th August 2008, he appealed to ICA on 29th July 2008 to extend his Social Visit Pass until he would have finished sitting the exams. Despite his valid reasons for staying in Singapore, the appeal was outright rejected for no given reason.

Hlaing Moe left Singapore on 5th August 2008 and is currently staying in Malaysia. During his stay in Malaysia, he applied for Singapore visa in order to sit the exams that have started since 14th August 2008. It was finally approved on 20th of August 2008 in the eveing, just two days before this press conference, but it was too late for him.

Aug 23 update:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Video: The Other Olympics

From Al-Jazeera English channel's WITNESS,

Part 1

Part 2

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

IBAHRI corrects inaccurate comments of Press Sec to Minister for Law

IBAHRI response to Wall Street Journal op-ed, 23 July 2008

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) would like to correct some inaccurate comments made in the opinion piece 'Singapore has an Independent Judiciary' (Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2008) by Ms S. Radha, Press Secretary to the Minister for Law, Singapore. The opinion piece was made in response to the Wall Street Journal's editorial 'Judging Singapore's Judiciary' (15 July 2008). (Jacob: I've posted these below)

Ms Radha asserts that the IBAHRI’s report, Prosperity versus individual rights: Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Singapore, contains "baseless" and 'vague' allegations about lack of impartiality and independence in the court’s consideration of defamation suits; and "errors of fact" about Supreme Court judges. However, as readers may see for themselves by accessing the report on our website, the observations made are based on comprehensive examples and evidence, and the 'errors of fact' she quotes are in fact misstatements of what the report actually says.

The IBAHRI’s concern about defamation suits initiated by People’s Action Party (PAP) litigants is evidenced by detailed case studies, court reports and a list of the awarded damages made in such defamation cases (see page 60 of the report). This list indicates that damages awarded by the court to successful PAP litigants are many times the amount awarded in non-PAP litigant cases. Contrary to Ms Radha’s article, these actions have not all been initiated in response to ‘scurrilous allegations of corruption’, but have often been in response to relatively minor comments or claims made by opposition members or candidates, or respected international publications.

Ms Radha tries to deflect criticism from our recommendation that Singapore should ‘put an end to the transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles’ by stating that ‘there is no need…because Supreme Court judges cannot be transferred and there has never been such a transfer.’ The concern voiced in the report, however, (on page 52) was not about Supreme Court judges, but that ‘Magistrates and district judges…are rotated to various positions within the Legal Service…which appears to be…a breach of the separation of powers doctrine’. The report does not claim that Supreme Court judges are transferred in this way, and its main point on this important aspect of establishing the independence of the judiciary thus remains unaddressed.

Ms Radha also states that the report denies that Supreme Court judges enjoy security of tenure until the age of 65. This is incorrect. On page 55, the report states that they do. However, the report expresses concern about those Supreme Court judges who remain in their positions after the age of 65, and are from then on in their positions at the will of the Prime Minister. The report notes the IBAHRI’s concerns about the lack of tenure for all other judges, including High Court judges.

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.

S. Radha
Press Secretary to the Minister for Law

Judging Singapore's Judiciary
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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Burmese activists face visa problems in Singapore

The Singapore government's actions are very disturbing & disgusting but not surprising,
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)

Its mentioned in the above report that All six were involved in an illegal protest last year against Myanmar's ruling military junta. Its quite likely this is the "illegal protest last year",

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Video: Inside Burma - Land of Fear

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the '88 uprising in Burma. This is a 1996 film by John Pilger.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

08.08.08 is not only the Beijing Olympics and Toto $8 Million Draw

I signed this joint statement, from the Burma Partnership, as an individual even though it was a call for organisations to do so. My days of being in an organisation is in the past. ;-)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aug 9, 1965 - Aug 9, 2008 -.........

This is a speech on patriotism by Barack Obama which he delivered on 30 June, 2008. Its a very inspiring speech. Alot of what he said can also be applied, and has much relevance, to Singapore as we approach our 43rd year of independence on Aug 9. The selected passages below are from the speech. Full transcript here.

In other words, the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic.

Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic.

None of us expect that arguments about patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit.

For me, as for most Americans, patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories. I'm not just talking about the recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Thanksgiving pageants at school or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as wonderful as those things may be. Rather, I'm referring to the way the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child.

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence – "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That's my idea of America.

I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief – that we could be governed by laws, not men; that we could be equal in the eyes of those laws; that we could be free to say what we want and assemble with whomever we want and worship as we please; that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.

That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America's ideals – ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one.

Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country's name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution – these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that – especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words.

Beyond a loyalty to America's ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.

We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.

It is up to us, then, to teach them. It is up to us to teach them that even though we have faced great challenges and made our share of mistakes, we have always been able to come together and make this nation stronger, and more prosperous, and more united, and more just. It is up to us to teach them that America has been a force for good in the world, and that other nations and other people have looked to us as the last, best hope of Earth. It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give back to one's community; that it is honorable to serve in the military; that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices heard.

Our greatest leaders have always understood this. They've defined patriotism with an eye toward posterity. George Washington is rightly revered for his leadership of the Continental Army, but one of his greatest acts of patriotism was his insistence on stepping down after two terms, thereby setting a pattern for those that would follow, reminding future presidents that this is a government of and by and for the people.

Abraham Lincoln did not simply win a war or hold the Union together. In his unwillingness to demonize those against whom he fought; in his refusal to succumb to either the hatred or self-righteousness that war can unleash; in his ultimate insistence that in the aftermath of war the nation would no longer remain half slave and half free; and his trust in the better angels of our nature – he displayed the wisdom and courage that sets a standard for patriotism.

Harry S Truman, who sat in the White House during his final days in office and said in his Farewell Address: "When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task…But through all of it, through all the years I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware than I did not really work alone – that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people helped with their support."

Has our government received information of an imminent threat?

If you think the title of this post sounds alarmist, you should read this news report from CNA.

I can understand such big events will have major security in place. But I don't recall reading or seeing such news reports, in the past, just days before a big event like the NDP, with very vivid language such as,

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.

It could probably be that the authorities just want to reassure the public and this is just routine especially in this day and age.

I'm not an expert but i've read quite a bit (i still do), on issues related to terrorism, from different sources, eg. news reports, books and articles by experts and those who have had dealings & experience with terrorism issues, etc. These are all publicly available material for anyone whose interested. And one of the things described in these material is how the public is warned beforehand, via the media, of any imminent threat/attack. The language used in such reports are especially very stark, vivid and specific.

When i read the CNA report, it just made me wonder if the government has received any credible information about an imminent threat or impending attack. Of course, its not my intention to be an alarmist nor to create panic or any such nonsense.

I'm just thinking out loud and worried for peoples' safety.

Friday, August 1, 2008

So tell me, how much do HDB flats actually cost??

I think i should start some sort of a series titled What are the actual....??. Here's another issue. This time its about the cost of building HDB flats in which 80-90% of Singaporeans live. Have a look at these letters published in the Straits Times Forum....

July 22, 2008

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?

Steven Yeo

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

This 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?

Its not so difficult to give a breakdown of the costs, unless of course, they fear revealing them and letting the public debate about it. Don't tell me giving a detailed breakdown would endanger Singapore's national security or something along that line. Errr...right.

Its really quite pathetic that, as citizens, we have to practically beg for such things.