Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do we need another 50 years to realise that we've been had?

Shameful piece of legislation
Singapore Democrats
28 Jan 09

Unbeknownst to most Singaporeans -- as well as police officers apparently -- the Government quietly passed subsidiary legislation a few years ago to ban all forms of political activity.

Under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) (Assemblies and Processions) Rules, permits are required for a group of 5 persons or more to:

(a) demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person;
(b) publicise a cause or campaign; or
(c) mark or commemorate any event.

What kind of law makes it illegal for citizens to come together just to express a view or to publicise a cause or campaign? Indeed what kind of a government passes that kind of law?

But even this is not enough. The Government now wants yet more power to ensure that no one even attempts to assemble in public. The Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said two weeks ago that the Government will review and expand public order laws specifically to pre-emptively arrest persons it suspects of trying to conduct "illegal protests". (Since when were protests ever legal in the eyes of the PAP anyway?) The Government is even proposing to outlaw the filming of such illegal activities.

Singaporeans need to understand the seriousness of the position that we are in. We have been bound and gagged, and our captors can do anything they want to us and our loved ones all in the name of the law.

But we are not totally helpless. There are things that we can do to stand up to our oppressors. The first is to get rid of our mental enslavement that laws passed by the PAP is good for the country and should be unquestioningly obeyed.

It bears repeating that good and just laws benefit the people and must be followed. But bad laws such as the Miscellaneous Offences Rules mentioned above and the ones the Government is proposing are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to further subjugate citizens and perpetuate the one-party state.

The second thing we need to do is to take concrete, proactive steps to bring about reform. We need to do more than just post our views and comments on the Internet. We need to act. Remember if you cannot fly, run; if you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, crawl. But we all need to do more.

We also need to get rid of the mindset that the only way to repeal such laws is to get elected into Parliament. In functioning democracies citizens freely engage in politics by joining political parties, NGOs or simply speaking up as individuals. They conduct meetings, both in public and in private, to let their elected representatives know their views.

But of course we are not a democracy, functioning or otherwise. When our lawmakers make laws that forbid citizens to even come together to express a view, how does one expect to get elected and elected in numbers to change laws?

Under Rule 2(b) above, opposition parties cannot even gather in numbers of more than four to sell newspapers, distribute flyers and meet the people because they are “publicising a cause or campaign.”

How does an opposition party become successful at the polls when the law allows the ruling party to criminalise legitimate political activities?

This is not to say that the Singapore Democrats are not interested in elections. We state clearly that it is important to continue to participate in elections.

But over and above elections, we – the opposition and civil society – must continue to work for the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. This is the foundation upon which free and fair elections rests. Without it, changing laws through elections is a fantasy.

We have had 12 general elections in the last 50 years since the PAP first came to power. Laws have been constantly changed not just to ensure that the PAP wins every single time but that the opposition's presence in Parliament remains non-existent or miniscule (think GRC, elections deposit, the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, ban on podcasts, the Films Act, etc).

The PAP's strategy, of course, is to continue to propagate the falsehood that laws can be changed through the elections, elections that the party controls. Do we need another 50 years to realise that we've been had?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Tax haven" Singapore may soon come under increased scrutiny from the US

Read Chee Soon Juan's 3-part article Singapore's future as a financial centre: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
Obama to influence Hongkong as tax havens
International Business Times, 19 Jan 09

Hong Kong and Singapore may soon come under increased scrutiny from the US, if incoming President Barack Obama follows through with his pledge to crack down on abusive "tax havens" which "peddle secrecy" and "cloak tax evasion and other misconduct," according to Withers law firm.

In February 2007, then-Senator Obama co-sponsored the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (STHAA), which was introduced in both the Senate and the House. Although no action has been taken on either version since then, Obama's aides have indicated that similar legislation will be considered in the early stages of the new administration.

With both Hong Kong and Singapore featuring on the initial list of 34 "Offshore Secrecy Jurisdictions," Obama's inauguration could mark the beginning of increased restrictions for US persons utilising these offshore financial centres, according to Kurt Rademacher, Partner at Withers, Hong Kong.

"If Obama, as President, pushes similar legislation through, the next step would be to determine whether Hong Kong and Singapore should be considered official 'tax havens'," said Mr. Rademacher.

"If designated as "tax havens," a number of restrictions would be imposed on US persons using these jurisdictions as offshore financial centres."

The centrepiece of the STHAA is a provision that would force taxpayers to prove that they do not have control over any offshore entities with which they contract, including trusts, corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships. The STHAA would also increase reporting and withholding requirements on financial institutions and fiduciaries dealing with Hong Kong and Singapore, provided they are designated as "tax havens," as well as increase penalties for tax avoidance in these offshore jurisdictions.

"The penalties and deterrents that come with the STHAA are very real," added Mr.Rademacher. "US banks could be prohibited from operating accounts for non-compliant foreign financial institutions and US financial institutions could be prohibited from accepting credit card transactions involving non-compliant foreign banks."

Other jurisdictions that featured on the "Offshore Secrecy Jurisdictions" list include Jersey,Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Costa Rica and Belize.

It has been estimated that the STHAA would generate up to US$50 billion of additional tax revenue for the US annually, which could be used to offset an array of new spending programmes Obama has promised.

Singapore may face U.S. challenge on bank secrecy laws
Reuters, 5 Dec 08

SINGAPORE, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Singapore may face political pressure from the United States over its role as a financial centre for rich foreigners, the country's prime minister said on Friday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told journalists at a lunch hosted by Singapore's Foreign Correspondents Association that U.S. pressure on some European countries to lighten banking secrecy laws and open their books to greater scrutiny may lead to more European money flowing into Singapore in the short term.

"But I expect Singapore to come under pressure too," he said in response to a question on whether pressure on countries like Switzerland and Liechtenstein will help Singapore.

Singapore's government has previously denied suggestions that the country is a tax haven. It has strict bank secrecy laws and has been promoting itself as a rival financial centre to Hong Kong to attract banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse and Citigroup to manage money for rich local and foreign clients.

(Reporting by Neil Chatterjee and Kevin Lim; Writing by Jan Dahinten; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dr Chee Soon Juan's video message to President Barack Obama

See here for the text of this message. And here for my post on Obama's inauguration.

Dissident urges Obama to push Singapore on rights
AP, 21 Jan 09

SINGAPORE - A Singapore opposition leader has called on President Barack Obama to take steps to encourage the island nation's government to stop committing human rights abuses.

Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, praised Obama's record as a civil rights lawyer and said he hoped the new "administration's foreign policy will be as enlightened."

"I have every confidence that the U.S. will pay more attention to the human rights abuses of the Singapore government and take positive steps to help Singapore join the community of democracies," Chee said in a five-minute video posted on YouTube and his party's Web site on Tuesday.

He criticized the restrictions imposed on speech, assembly, the media and elections, but did not outline what he thought Obama could do to improve the human rights situation in Singapore and across Asia.

Chee called the government "effectively a dictatorship."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was not available for comment Wednesday.

The People's Action Party has ruled Singapore since independence in 1959 and holds 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament.

The government has previously said some restrictions are necessary to maintain harmony in the tiny, multiethnic island.

There was no immediate comment from Washington.

Last year, Human Rights Watch accused Singapore of using defamation lawsuits to stifle criticism of the government in the press and to bankrupt opposition leaders, including Chee. Singapore's leaders have also sued journalists several times in past years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, The Economist, the International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Wall Street Journal.

Obama to receive Singapore plea
BBC News, 21 Jan 09

The leader of a Singapore opposition party has posted a video message asking for US President Obama's support.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, posted his "message to President Obama" on the video sharing website YouTube.

Mr Chee said he hopes that the US "will pay more attention to the human rights abuses of the Singapore government".

Mr Chee has been jailed several times and faces multiple charges of defying local protest laws and other offences.

His Youtube message began with congratulations to Mr Obama, describing his inauguration as "an occasion of great moment".

He reminded the US president of his words on International Human Rights Day in December 2008, when he had aligned the US with "men and women around the world who struggle for the rights to speak their minds, choose their leaders and be treated with dignity and respect".

'Clever repression'

Mr Chee then spoke of the many men and women around Asia suffering in that struggle, notably Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

Mr Chee expressed the hope that with Mr Obama in charge, it could not be "repression as usual" in Burma, and that "urgent change must come" to the country ruled by a military junta.

In Singapore, Mr Chee claimed, repression was exercised through the "clever use" of terms such as rule of law and good governance "to cover up what is effectively a dictatorship".

"How else do we describe a government prohibits public speech and peaceful assembly controls media, detains citizens without trial and manipulates elections?" he said.

He expressed the hope that Mr Obama might "take positive steps to help Singapore join the community of democracies."

"Under your leadership I look forward to a world that is freer, more democratic and more just," said Mr Chee.

Economic concerns

Mr Chee's YouTube message includes pictures apparently of poor Singaporeans living in cardboard boxes - an allusion to growing economic distress in a state that has made impressive economic success a key plank of its appeal at the ballot box.

The Singapore government has announced a new low in the level of economic performance expected this year - a contraction of between 2% and 5%.

Singapore President SR Nathan sent his own congratulatory message to Mr Obama in which he expressed the hope that the US would provide new economic leadership.

Mr Nathan noted the close ties between Singapore and the US which he described as longstanding, close, multifaceted and versatile.

The Straits Times newspaper in Singapore carried a brief report about Mr Chee's message without comment on Wednesday.

In the past the government has dismissed complaints about restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly as without substance.

A park is designated as a space for free speech in Singapore; outside that area, gatherings of more than five people need official permission.

Mr Chee is one of the few Singaporeans who have publicly spoken against Singapore's People's Action Party, which has ruled since 1959.

Singapore's leaders say tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped the city-state achieve economic success.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Foreigners & PRs filled 484,700 out of 796,000 jobs created between 2004 & 2008; 200,000 of them may leave in next two years - Analysts

Singapore May See 200,000 Foreigners Leave, Credit Suisse Says
By Shamim Adam

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore’s population may shrink in the next two years as “sizeable” job losses amid the city- state’s deepest recession force 200,000 foreigners to leave, Credit Suisse Group said.

About 300,000 jobs may be lost by 2010, two-thirds of which are held by foreigners and permanent residents, economists Cem Karacadag and Kun Lung Wu wrote in a report received today. The number of people on the island nation may fall by about 3.3 percent to 4.68 million by 2010, Credit Suisse said.

Companies in export-dependent Singapore are firing workers as demand for goods and services ebb. More than 10,000 people were retrenched last year and a worsening economy may result in job losses tripling in 2009, reaching numbers not seen since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago, the government said.

“The contraction in exports and output and consolidation in financial and business services could lead to sizeable job losses, which, in turn, may drive as many as 200,000 foreigners and permanent residents out of Singapore,” the economists said. “These levels of job losses and population decline would be unprecedented.”

Singapore’s economy may shrink 2.8 percent this year, Credit Suisse predicts, making it the Southeast Asian nation’s worst annual contraction in its 43-year history. The government says gross domestic product may decline as much as 2 percent.

Last week, the National Wages Council, which represents government, employers and union groups, advised companies affected by the deepening economic slump to freeze or cut pay rather than fire workers.

Fewer Births

About 30,000 workers were retrenched in 1998 and some 26,000 lost their jobs in the 2001 downturn, acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Immigration is a key component of Singapore’s population strategy, as incentives offered since 1987 to arrest a declining birth rate by offering tax breaks, subsidies and cash bonuses failed. Singapore, a quarter the size of Rhode Island, has no natural resources and the government relies on the skills of its populace to generate economic growth.

The nation’s population jumped 17.6 percent in the five years to June 2008, and foreigners made up three-quarters of the increase, the Credit Suisse report said. Foreigners and permanent residents filled 61 percent, or 484,700, of the 796,000 jobs created between 2004 and the third quarter of 2008, the analysts estimated.

Singapore’s employers added more than 435,000 workers to their payrolls in the seven quarters to September 2008, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

‘Harsh Assumptions’

“As harsh as our assumptions may seem, they only imply that the economy gives up all of the jobs it created in 2008 and a portion of the new jobs in 2007,” the economists wrote.

About 160,000 positions in the services industry may be lost, while manufacturers may fire 100,000 workers, Credit Suisse predicts. The construction industry may cut 40,000 workers, it said.

“The potential drop in employment and population would have far-reaching implications for the economy,” wrote Credit Suisse analysts Sean Quek and Kwee Hong Ching. “Private consumption could contract in both 2009 and 2010.”

The unemployment rate, at 2.2 percent as of September 2008, may rise to 5.6 percent by 2010, the highest in more than two decades, they said.

Job cuts rose “significantly” last quarter, and both unemployment and layoffs are expected to be “substantially higher” in 2009, the National Wages Council said last week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Singapore govt to further tighten ALREADY tightened laws against protests

The first is an AFP report followed by a report from TODAY. After the news articles is a report on Singapore from Human Rights Watch's World Report 2009.
Singapore government to tighten laws against protests: deputy PM
17 Jan 2009

SINGAPORE (AFP) - - Singapore's deputy prime minister said the island state, which is hosting a summit of Asia Pacific leaders this year, may further tighten laws against public protests, according to reports.

Wong Kan Seng, who is also Home Affairs minister, said the government is reviewing public order laws and may pass legislation to deal more effectively with illegal protests and other acts of civil disobedience, the Straits Times said.

The legislation is expected to be passed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in November which could attract both local and overseas protesters, he said.

US president-elect Barack Obama, due to take office next week, is among the 21 leaders scheduled to attend the summit.

Public order laws are already tight in Singapore, where protests require a police permit if held outside a designated free-speech zone and gatherings of five or more people are illegal.

Nevertheless Wong said fresh legislation is needed to deal more effectively with political activities, while relaxing regulations on people gathering for social and recreational purposes.

He said police could be granted power to take action before protesters could gather at specific areas such as parliament, and cited protests by the political opposition, and by Myanmar nationals against their country's ruling junta.

"They make a show of breaking the law," Wong said of the protesters.

"The police watch and do nothing and can only follow up with investigation after the show is over when they pack up and leave. This cannot go on," he said.

Police may get ‘move on’ powers
MHA reviewing public order laws
Weekend • January 17, 2009

WHEN members of the Singapore Democratic Party attempted to disrupt the IMF-World Bank meetings here in 2006, it turned into a three-day standoff with the police.

When Falungong activists protested along Orchard Road in 2005, they were warned that they did not have a permit. Yet this did not stop them from protesting the very next day.

Armed with only the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA) and Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (Pema) police could only deal with such acts of civil disobedience via prosecution after the incidents.

Now, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to give its security forces the powers to deal with such situations “pre-emptively on the ground and not let it occur and then deal with the consequences and perpetrators later”.

Responding to queries, MHA told Weekend Today that it is studying how other countries have responded post-911 and is considering enacting new public order laws here.

Certain Australian states, for example, have given their police “move-on” powers, “in a way which minimises disruption by asking people to leave a particular location”. If they leave, there is no arrest. If they refuse to comply, the police arrest them for defying the law.

“This creates an intermediary step between ‘doing nothing’, which is not acceptable in today’s context, and ‘outright arrests’, which is not necessary in all situations,” said MHA in a written reply.

“Our current public order laws have evolved over time in piece-meal fashion ... (and) were conceived in an era when security threats were of an entirely different scale and impact,” said MHA, noting that such a situation was “not tenable” in today’s world which is threatened by “suicide bombers and anarchistic fanatics”.

Significantly, Singapore is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting this year and with “mega events increasingly an important means of profiling Singapore”, the risk level is higher.

“They are ‘trophy’ targets for terrorists or disruptive elements who seek global attention in promoting their causes or agenda,” said MHA.

Legislative changes could rationalise the two laws, which were meant to govern recreational and social activities.

“We should not continue to have politics treated as entertainment or as a miscellaneous offence ... We should distinguish between political and non-political activities.

“By enacting a new law to deal with public order incidents arising from cause-related activism, we can liberalise the Miscellaneous Offences Act and Public Entertainment and Meetings Act to allow greater self-regulation in activities that matter to the average citizen and are less likely to create public disorder.

“Cause-related or ideologically related activities, including those pertaining to race and religion that certain groups wish to promote, can then be addressed squarely for the heightened risks they pose,” explained the Ministry.

The review comes at a time when the Government is freeing up political space.

Since September, citizens can stage outdoor demonstrations at Speakers’ Corner.

While reiterating that Singaporeans’ desire to express their views publicly about a range of different causes was “positive”, MHA added: “Greater freedom must come with greater accountability.

“Abuse of the freedom to the detriment of the community and nation must have its consequences.”
Human Rights Watch report on Singapore

Events of 2008

Singapore remains an authoritarian state with strict curbs on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; denial of due process rights; draconian defamation laws; and tight controls on independent political activity. Since 1959 the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has won all elections.

Internal security and criminal laws permit prolonged detention of suspects without trial. Caning is obligatory for certain categories of crimes, as is the death penalty for others. Although reforms have improved employment conditions for some of the country's 180,000 migrant domestic workers, the government still fails to guarantee them basic rights.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Singapore's constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and expression, though parliament can and does limit both on security, public order, and morality grounds. Opposition politicians and their supporters are at constant risk of prison and substantial fines for simply expressing their views.

On October 13, 2008, Singapore's High Court ruled that opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Secretary General Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, must pay Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, US$416,000 in damages for an article in the SDP's newsletter. The article had compared how the government is run to a scandal at a well-known charity. The ruling may bankrupt the SDP and permanently shut it down. Dr. Chee and Ms. Chee are already bankrupt because of previous defamation rulings against them.

In September 2008 the Lees also won a defamation suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review and its editor Hugo Restall for commentary on the same case. Damages had yet to be assessed at this writing. The government is also seeking contempt proceedings against the publisher and two editors of the Asian Wall Street Journal for editorial comments related to the case.

In May Dr. Chee and a colleague were fined for speaking in public without a permit during the 2006 election campaign. They were charged with trying to sell copies of the SDP newsletter on a Singapore street.

Movies, music, and video games are routinely censored in Singapore. The Media Development Authority controls website licensing. In May 2008 the authority interrupted a private screening, sponsored by the SDP, of the video One Nation Under Lee.

The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act requires that locally published newspapers renew their licenses each year, and empowers authorities to limit the circulation of foreign publications deemed to "be engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore."

How far Singapore's leadership will loosen curbs on assembly and expression, as Prime Minister Loong suggested in August 2008, remains to be seen. The only step taken in 2008 was the government's decision in September to rescind the need for police permission for gatherings and rallies of more than four people at a popular park site officially labeled the Speaker's Corner. Race and religion still may not be publicly discussed, police may still intervene on public order grounds, and a permit is still required elsewhere in the city.

In March, on World Consumer Rights Day, police stopped a protest against rising prices outside Parliament House. The organizers, among them Dr. Chee, had been refused a permit; 18 protesters have since been charged with illegal assembly and procession. A day after the attempted rally, the non-political Consumer Association of Singapore was able to hold a public event without incident.

Due Process

Singapore's Internal Security Act (ISA), Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and Undesirable Publications Act permit arrest and detention of suspects without a warrant or judicial review. Both the ISA and the CLA also authorize preventive detention. The MDA permits the Central Narcotics Bureau chief to send suspected drug users for rehabilitation without recourse to trial.

The ISA is used against suspected Islamist militants, many of whom have been detained for long periods without trial. There is no right to challenge detention on substantive grounds. As of April 2008 some 30 suspected Muslim militants were being held, almost all members of Jemaah Islamiah. Another 25-30 former detainees live under restriction orders.


Singapore's penal code mandates caning combined with imprisonment for some 30 offenses, including drug and immigration felonies. It is discretionary for other offenses. Courts reportedly sentenced 6,404 men and boys to caning in 2007, some 95 percent of whose sentences were carried out.

Death Penalty

Although death penalty statistics are secret in Singapore, available information indicates that it has one of the world's highest per capita execution rates. In December 2007 Singapore joined with 53 other states in voting against a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution calling for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty." Earlier, Singapore's home affairs minister, referring to the law's deterrent effects, commented that "there is no room to go soft."

Migrant Domestic Workers

Singapore's labor laws exclude some 180,000 migrant domestic workers from key protections guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day off, limits on working hours, annual leave, paid holidays, and caps on salary deductions. In May 2008 acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong said it was unnecessary to mandate a weekly rest day. He instead supported the current standard contract provision that provides for at least one day off a month or compensatory pay. However, many employers forbid domestic workers to take a rest day; their isolation and employers' power to have them deported at will make it difficult if not impossible for them to bargain effectively for their due.

The government has prosecuted some employers who physically abuse domestic workers and imposed penalties on labor recruitment agencies for unethical practices. However it has failed to regulate exploitative recruitment charges that can consume a third or more of workers' two-year wage total.


In October 2007 Singapore's parliament rejected a proposal to repeal law 377A, which bans private and consensual sexual relations between men. Although prosecutions are rare, those found in violation can be jailed for up to two years on charges of "gross indecency."

In April 2008 the Media Development Authority fined a local television station for featuring a gay couple and their baby under regulations that prohibit promotion of gay lifestyles. It also fined a cable network for airing a commercial that showed two women kissing.

Human Rights Defenders

State laws and political repression effectively prevent the establishment of human rights organizations and deter individuals from speaking out publicly against government policies.

Unless they are registered as political parties, associations may not engage in any activities the government deems political. Trade unions are under the same restrictions and are banned from contributing to political parties or using their funds for political purposes. Most unions are affiliated with the umbrella National Trade Union Congress, which does not allow members supportive of opposition parties to hold office.

Key International Actors

Singapore is a key member of the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism, along with the US, Malaysia, and others, and is an active participant in regional and sub-regional security issues. It is also an important financial and banking center for Southeast Asia.

In February 2008 Singapore Foreign Minister George Yong-Boon Yeo, then chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed ASEAN's concern about the conditions under which Burma's constitutional referendum took place. Since July 2008, after Singapore's term as chair of ASEAN ended, the government has shown more support for Burma's government, even refusing to renew residency permits for Burmese citizens who appear to have taken part in peaceful activities critical of Burmese government policies.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Employment squeeze; rising costs strain Uni students; and an in-your-face trip to Le Cordon Bleu (and the year has only started!)

Singapore gripped by employment squeeze
By Sumathi Bala
Financial Times, January 15 2009

Singapore’s job market is looking gloomy as the global economic slowdown takes its toll on local industries’ hiring.

A recent survey reveals that more than half of bosses are planning to cut jobs in the first quarter of this year.

A Manpower employment outlook survey of 629 employers across seven industry sectors found that only 8 per cent intended to recruit, while 46 per cent expected to cut jobs. The rest had no plans to hire or fire, or had not made up their minds.

Net employment outlook – the percentage of employers looking to hire, minus those expecting a decrease in employment – now stands at 38 per cent for the January to March period, a sharp 54 per cent drop from the fourth quarter last year.

Job prospects are less bullish across Asia, according to the survey, with employers in all eight countries polled reporting weaker hiring plans compared with the previous quarter and a year ago.

The slowest hiring activity is expected in Singapore and Taiwan, where negative hiring expectations are reported.

Jeffrey A Joerres, chairman and chief executive of Manpower, says that the net employment outlooks from Singapore, India, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand are the weakest recorded and contrast starkly with the previous year, when these markets “were dealing with chronic and widespread talent shortages”.

A recent Reuters poll reaffirms Singapore’s grim outlook. The city-state is expected to be Asia’s worst-performing economy next year, when it is likely to remain entrenched in recession as the global downturn erodes demand for its exports.

The poll predicts gross domestic product (GDP) will contract 1.1 per cent in 2009. That marks a rapid deterioration in the economic environment from two months ago, as the global financial crisis has deepened. A similar poll in late September forecast 4.6 per cent GDP growth.

Singapore’s bleak performance has been the result of its exposure to the US market. The city-state became one of the earliest casualties of the US credit meltdown in Asia, when it sank into recession in the third quarter of 2008.

Singapore’s openness to external trade – especially its manufacturing industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the economy – is expected to cause more suffering this year, as the downturn in advanced economies accelerates. Job losses in manufacturing will rise as a result, analysts say.

Local companies are beginning to feel the pinch. Neptune Orient Lines, one of the world’s largest container carriers, recently said it would lay off 1,000 employees or 9 per cent of its workforce and issued a profit warning.

In a sudden move, DBS group, the largest bank in south-east Asia, said it would cut 900 jobs, or 6 per cent of its staff, mostly in Singapore and Hong Kong. This, by far the biggest job cut it has made, is to reduce costs as it tries to run a tighter ship amid a challenging business environment.

Philippe Capsie, country manager of Manpower Singapore, says: “As the realisation of the credit crisis begins to hit companies, employers’ hiring confidence is likewise affected. We expect companies to monitor market developments closely before making hiring decisions.”

He adds: “Employers are likely to place a higher emphasis on retaining and retraining existing staff as well as paying more attention to productivity. A number of employers will continue to hire, but job seekers are advised to be more open-minded in their job search and expectations.”

As lay-offs are expected to mount, Singapore’s policymakers are urging companies to look at creative options, such as having a shorter working week and reducing year-end bonuses. To keep workers employable, the government has also launched a S$600m ($402m) training scheme, which gives employers more funds to retrain staff rather than dispense with them.

The economic crunch could also affect Singapore’s reliance on foreign workers. Lim Swee Say, secretary-general of the national trades union congress (NTUC), speaking at a recent forum, said that it may make more business sense to let go of foreign workers rather than Singaporean workers if retrenchment is unavoidable for companies.

“We’re talking about rank-and-file workers, who are, by and large, replaceable. Our message is: give priority to the local workers. Not only will you help minimise unemployment in Singapore, but more importantly, it makes business sense for your company.”

Mr Lim added that if Singaporeans are laid off, companies may find it tough to re-employ them when the economy improves, as they will be sought by companies that must fulfill a quota of locals before they can hire foreigners.

At the same time, it is not lost on policymakers that foreign workers are necessary for companies to keep costs down and to dissuade local operators from choosing to relocate overseas.

The unemployment rate is expected to be below 3 per cent with about 10,000 job losses this year. But some estimates paint a bleaker picture, predicting that job cuts could be higher than the 30,000 seen in the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Rising costs strain Singapore's university students
By Fong Wei Li / National University of Singapore
UPI, Jan 14, 2009

Singapore, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- By day, a third-year economics major who wants to be known only as Lynn attends classes at the National University of Singapore, usually clad in a simple getup of jeans and a tank top.

But at night, while most other undergraduates are asleep, Lynn trades her casual wear for a wardrobe of resplendent dresses and works as a social escort, a job scorned and labeled distasteful by most. From 8 p.m. to about 4 a.m. she entertains male clients by attending functions with them, indulging them in a drink and chat, or by providing what she called “discreet services.”

“It’s not exactly the most glamorous of jobs,” Lynn said. “I’m keeping it from my parents and most friends. But what to do? I have to eat my meals and pay my bills.”

Lynn belongs to a handful of varsity students taking on part-time jobs to finance their tuition fees and daily expenses. These students usually come from lower-income families with parents who are unable to foot the steep bills tagged to a tertiary education. It is unclear how many such students there are, but like Lynn, some are holding jobs that involve long hours while others engage in menial labor. Some of these students say their grades have suffered from having to balance both work and studies.

Lynn's father, a truck driver, took a pay cut earlier in January and makes barely enough to sustain the household’s day-to-day expenses, let alone finance Lynn’s university education. To see herself through her degree, she has been juggling her studies with part-time jobs since she enrolled at NUS.

According to the NUS Office of Admission’s Web site, the estimated monthly living expenses for undergraduates range from $580 to $1,000. This includes costs for transport, food, course materials and personal expenses. Tuition fees for most undergraduate degree courses are currently pegged at $6,360 per year, a $250 increase from last year. Broken down on a per-month basis, tuition fees add $530 to a student’s monthly expenses. Including living expenses, an undergraduate requires between $1,110 and $1,530 a month.

Although NUS offers loans to students assessed as needy, the schemes cover only up to 90 percent of tuition fees and provide little or no relief on the side of living expenses. On the other hand, rising food and transport costs are jacking up the cost of living. “I used to spend about $450 a month, give or take,” said Jamie Ong, a second-year mathematics major. “Now, all the price increases have brought it up to about a little less than $550.”

Ong’s father was retrenched earlier in May, and her mother earns a nominal income as a dishwasher. Both parents refuse to fund her university education because they feel it is a waste of time and money. To make ends meet, Ong takes on an evening job at the Night Safari as a tram guide, working from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on weekends and alternate weekdays. She is paid $8 an hour and earns about $900 a month, half of which goes to her family. “On weekdays, I rush off from school to Night Safari and work till midnight,” Ong said. “It’s darn tiring and I feel like I can’t get any schoolwork done on time.”

Third-year psychology major Benjamin Kuah works part time as a supermarket assistant to finance his varsity life. His job at the supermarket is physically tiring because it requires him to carry and move heavy boxes daily during restocking. Kuah’s father was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago and has since been unable to work. His mother supports the family with her job as a school cleaner. Kuah attributed the plight of needy students, who work part time, to inadequate financial support. “I’m on the assistance scheme and they gave me a loan for most of my tuition fees but there’s no help with my living expenses,” Kuah said. “I’m not a big spender but I still need to eat, travel and pay for miscellaneous stuff. That’s the hard part.”

Eunice Foo, an officer with the NUS Office of Admissions, said the university’s assistance schemes assess each applicant and provide aid based on individual needs and circumstances. She said to help students cope with living expenses, the university’s career center facilitates work-study arrangements by maintaining a comprehensive job bank.

Kuah said this does not solve his problem of having to plough long hours and late nights into his supermarket job just to make ends meet. He added that his grades have suffered since he took up the job one year ago. “When I was in year one, my CAP (cumulative average point) score was above four,” Kuah said. “Now it’s below 3.5.” Ong, who works at the Night Safari, said her grades have also worsened noticeably. "I skip class so often because I'm so tired I can't wake up in time," she said. "If I manage to go for class, I end up falling asleep."

Lynn, who works as a social escort, said the nature of her job leaves her no time for schoolwork. “I usually can’t meet deadlines and sometimes I flunk modules,” she said. “But it’s better than not being able to afford my degree and then having to sell myself for the rest of my life.”

Not the time to flaunt your riches
Insight Down South
Jan 10, 2009

A high-ranking civil servant’s account about spending RM110,124 for him, his wife and son to learn fine French cooking has blown up in his face.

A GOVERNMENT elite has stirred ripples by talking of his expensive cooking lessons in France, revealing how hard times are deepening class differences in Singapore.

Inadvertently creating controversy was the permanent secretary at the Environment and Water Resources Ministry, one of the highest ranking civil servants.

Tan Yong Soon had related how he had spent S$46,000 (RM110,124) for himself, his wife and son for a five-day trip to learn fine French cooking.

In ordinary times, this leisurely – but rather insensitive – account would not have amounted to anything much but these days are, of course, far from normal.

Two factors invited criticism to flare.

First, he was seen as flaunting wealth, obtained from his high pay, at a time when Singapore is suffering one of its worst slumps in history.

Many thousands of workers are still losing jobs or suffering wage cuts.

And, secondly, government leaders are accused of being hugely overpaid, as a result of which some are no longer able to relate to the common people.

Tan was also accused of “boasting” about his elitist background when he wrote that his wife was “a senior investment counsellor at a bank” and his son, a soon-to-be student at America’s prestigious Brown University.

“Taking five weeks’ leave from work is not as difficult as one thinks,” Tan said.

“Most times, when you are at the top, you think you are indispensable. But if you are a good leader who has built up a good team, it is possible to go away for five weeks or even longer.”

Singaporeans were largely unimpressed. Some were angry. His fling at France’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in the face of rising poverty is the latest example of how out of tune some of Singapore’s well-paid elites are with heartland realities.

About 20% of affluent Singapore’s population lives in poverty with welfare payout to the poorest of the lot limited to a mere S$290 (RM694) a month.

When a government backbencher wanted to have it increased, a Cabinet minister refused, demanding: “How much do you want?”

Many Singaporeans were already unhappy with the multi-million dollar salaries paid to Cabinet ministers and top civil servants even in happier times.

(Despite a recent cut of up to 19%, the government here remains, by far, the highest paid in the world.)

The pay issue remains very controversial and contributes to the class division in society, a them-verses-us mentality that has apparently sharpened as a result of the economic crisis.

The whole episode has shown how the class – and social – divide is widening in high-tech Singapore.

The controversy over Tan’s trip has political implications for a government that is pondering over whether or not to call for a snap general election, which is not due until 2010-11.

In other developed countries from Britain to Japan, it would not have any impact since it involves a civil servant, not a political leader.

But the system is very different in Singapore, where the line separating the two hardly exists.

The Chinese characters “zeng fu” are used to describe the political leadership as well as the civil service.

Some questioned why Tan’s choice of spending his own wealth should be the public’s business – but not many are buying into it.

Established blogger Redbean articulated: “Tan is no ordinary, rich Singaporean. He is a senior civil servant ... and part of the governing elite.

“(He) should be seen as one who would be able to empathise with ordinary Singaporeans who are going through tough times ... (when) the Prime Minister is preparing the people for some belt-tightening and ‘bitter medicine’.”

Besides, if Tan had wished he should have spent his money at home to help the troubled economy rather than abroad, some believed.

Tan’s is by no means the only example of elitist snobbery, nor the worse.

A bigger controversy flared up four years ago when Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Member of Parliament, came across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job.

She called Derek Wee “one of many wretched, under-motivated, over-assuming leeches in our country.

“If you’re not good enough, life will kick you in the b***s ... Our society is, I quote, ‘far too survival of fittest’,” said Shu Min, who hailed from the elite Raffles Junior College.

“... Unless you are an arm-twisting commie bully, which, given your whiny, middle-class, under-educated penchant, I doubt,” she added before signing off with “please, get out of my elite uncaring face”.

The girl was flamed by hundreds of Singaporeans, but when her father Wee Siew Kim – an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s constituency – told a newspaper that “her basic point is reasonable”, the row moved well beyond blogosphere.

A news agency, in reporting this, said: “The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People’s Action Party and PM Lee.”

Raffles JC, which has produced several state leaders, had another brush with student snobbishness.

When a student found that a Raffles girl was dating a boy from a lower-achieving neighbourhood school, he hit out at him and had a message for lower-ranking students everywhere.

“Quit trying to climb the social ladder by dating students from top schools.”

There are signs the class distinction is getting into some young minds.

A reporter recounted how her friend was shaken when her young daughter came home one day and mentioned in passing that poor people were “stupid, obviously”.

Amnesty urges Singapore government - Stop executions; make public comprehensive information on it's use of death penalty

Amnesty urges Singapore to stop executions

SINGAPORE, Jan 14, 2009 (AFP) - Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Wednesday asked Singapore to make public "comprehensive information" about its use of the death penalty and again urged the government to stop executions.

Singapore's continued use of the death penalty for criminal offences, including drug trafficking, goes against a global trend that has seen several countries abolish capital punishment, Amnesty said in a statement. (Jacob: See below for the statement)

"Amnesty International recognises the seriousness of these crimes and supports all calls for justice," the London-based watchdog said.

But it said it "opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the most fundamental human right: the right to life."

Amnesty said it had asked Singapore to make public "comprehensive information about the state's use of the death penalty" but the government had yet to provide annual statistics from 1993 to the present.

The rights watchdog said a Ghanian man, Chijioke Stephen Obioha, 20, was sentenced in December to hang for trafficking of cannabis and his alleged accomplice, a Zambian woman, was feared to be given the death penalty as well.

The death penalty is mandatory for trafficking more than 15 grams (half an ounce) of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine and 500 grams of cannabis.

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs did not immediately reply to AFP on its response to the latest criticism, which followed last week's hanging of a gangster for the gunning down of a nightclub owner.

Amnesty said Singapore, with a population of more than four million, has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. Singapore executed 420 people between 1991 and 2004, Amnesty said.

The Singapore government maintains capital punishment is important in keeping crime down and a strong deterrent to organised crime gangs.

Singapore is one of nine states in the Asia Pacific region that still have the death penalty, Amnesty said.

Singapore: Executions since December defy global trend
Amnesty International
Public Statement, 13 Jan 2009

Singapore, estimated to have one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world, should stop its use of the death penalty and instead join the 138 states throughout the world that have ceased executions in law or practice, said Amnesty International.

The city-state, with a population of 4.6 million, has executed at least 420 people since 1991. Singapore has condemned at least three people to die since 18 December, when the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty”. Singapore strongly criticized the resolution. At least two people have been executed since then.

The media reported the execution of Singaporean Moahammed Ali Johari, on 19 December for murder. Tan Chor Jin, a Singaporean man, was hanged on 9 January for murder. On 30 December, the High Court sentenced to death Chijioke Stephen Obioha, a 20-year old Ghanaian man, for trafficking cannabis. His alleged accomplice, a Zambian woman, was not mentioned in recent media reports, but because drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence in Singapore, it is feared that she will be given the death penalty as well.

Amnesty International recognises the seriousness of these crimes and supports all calls for justice. Amnesty International, however, opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the most fundamental human right: the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and there is no escaping the risk of error, which can lead to the execution of an innocent person.

Most death sentences in Singapore follow convictions for drug trafficking. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for mandatory death sentences for at least 20 different offences and contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defence.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has called for the death penalty to be eliminated for drug-related offences and has argued that the mandatory nature of the death sentence is a violation of international legal standards.

Singapore’s policies and practice bucks the solid and long-standing trend towards global abolition of the death penalty. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, eight countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Sixty years later, the number stands at 138. Within the Asia Pacific region, Singapore is one of 9 states that retain the death penalty in law and practice. 27 states in the region have either abolished the death penalty or are holding a de facto moratorium.

As not all sentences and executions are reported publicly, it is possible that there have been more death penalty cases in the last few weeks. Amnesty International has requested that the Singapore government make public comprehensive information about the state’s use of the death penalty. Singapore has yet to publicly provide the requested annual statistics covering the period from 1993 to the present day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Two local activists, Seelan Palay & Chong Kai Xiong, arrested outside MOM for speaking out on Burmese work permit issue

This blogpost (or my twitter) will be updated if i get any news.

Plainclothes police officers keep watch and block a demonstration placard by standing in front of activists (wearing red t-shirts) during a two-man protest in Singapore January 12, 2009. The activists were protesting against what they say is unfair treatment of Singapore-based Myanmar nationals who took part in a mass demonstration in front of the Myanmar embassy here last year during the country's vote on a constitutional referendum.

Police officers escort an arrested activist during a two-man-protest in Singapore January 12, 2009. Two activists were protesting against what they say is unfair treatment of Singapore-based Myanmar nationals who took part in a mass demonstration in front of the Myanmar embassy here last year during the country's vote on a constitutional referendum.

2 activists arrested for speaking out on Burmese issue
Ng E-Jay
12 Jan 2009, 1.30pm

Two activists, Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong, were arrested at around 1pm for staging a protest outside the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Building over the non-renewals of Burmese work permits.

The activists, who were decked in red T-shirts, were holding placards.

The activists were arrested on grounds of trespassing.

More updates will be posted when available.
More Burmese facing expulsion from Singapore

Seelan Palay

Yet another two Burmese nationals working in Singapore have fallen victim to the Government for their support of the pro-democracy movement in their home country.

In the latest development, Singapore’s Manpower Ministry is refusing to renew the work permits of Mr Moe Kyaw Thu, 35 and Mr Win Kyaw, 38, who had both worked here for 11 years each. Moe is a construction supervisor and Win, a technical supervisor.

This drastic turn of events resulted from the two men’s involvement in highlighting human rights abuses by the Burmese military junta following its crackdown of the pro-democracy movement in Rangoon led by monks in September last year.

Moe in particular appealed to MOM reiterating that he has no police record of any kind and he has fully respected the laws of Singapore while working here.

Both men have participated in the activities of the Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP), an advocacy group formed in Singapore after the military crackdown. The group was involved in organizing and conducting a series of public campaigns in Singapore against the Burmese regime.

One of the activities was when over 40 Burmese, assembled in groups of four, held a peaceful protest along Orchard Road on 20 Nov 07 during the ASEAN Summit in nearby Shangri-la Hotel.

Following the event, the group was accused by the Singapore Government of deliberately breaking local laws. Its members were given a police warning for their participation in the protest. But none of the Burmese activists were ever charged with any unlawful act while pursuing their political objectives.

The hands of the PAP Government first became apparent in September this year when three members of the OBP were expelled when their work permits or residence in Singapore came up for renewal.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng defended the Government’s action then, stating that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority “considers this small group to be undesirable persons and rightly decided they should leave.”

In the ongoing saga, despite their employers wanting to retain them, Moe and Win have been ordered to leave Singapore by the end of January 2009.

“If they send me back, my family will suffer greatly. I’d have to spend the rest of my life in prison.” said Moe.

The latest expulsions go against the sympathy and support that Burmese pro-democracy activists receive throughout the world. The inhumane act of the Singapore Government is an indirect endorsement of the murderous Burmese junta.
Post update at 0110hrs, 13 Jan 09:

I went to see Seelan & Kai Xiong at the police cantonment complex yesterday evening. By the time i got there about 6.30pm they were already released on bail. Both have to report back on 26 Jan. I met up with them and a couple of other friends later at Serangoon for dinner. Sgpolitics has photos of them after their release.

Not surprisingly, the Ministries of Manpower & Home Affairs issued a joint statement putting their usual spin on things.

Read Jaslyn Go's 2 activists pose more danger than a gathering of 200 foreign workers?? and Singapore Democrats' report local activists arrested for supporting Burmese cause. Also see Rachel's Double standards? and Martyn See's One country, two systems Part 3.

Singaporeans arrested for protest in support of Burmese Activists from choonhiong on Vimeo.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Reclaiming our ('not-the-PAP' version) history

In a post last year, i recommended a new book titled Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-War Singapore. I've begun reading the book again. I spent some time typing out parts of the Introduction which you can read below. I've also included titles of the Chapters from the book.

‘Reclamation” is a very familiar concept to Singaporeans. The sea is continually being ‘reclaimed’ and the coastline smoothed to allow for new housing and industrial estates. The term ‘reclamation’ also means retrieving something that has been lost. The chapters in this book contribute towards both kinds of reclamation. One the one hand, we intend to construct new, refreshing and sometimes challenging histories of Singapore. On the other hand, we want to reclaim for future generations the memory of a period extending from late colonial days into the 1960s when Singapore was host to a dynamic and idealistic culture of political contestation and pluralism.

When we say these histories are ‘new’, we simply mean that they have not been written into the history of Singapore as it is usually told. They are ‘new’ histories based on old memories and archives that have, for the most part, been neglected or forgotten – and so are ‘paths’ that have not been taken. The result, we hope, is an upgraded conception of Singaporean history – not one that replaces the standard ‘Singapore Story’ sponsored by the regime, but one that complements it, allowing the histories of those unrecognised contributors to the construction of Singapore to be told alongside those who have claimed sole responsibility.

Most of the papers in this book were first presented in 2005 at an international symposium hosted in Singapore by the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute (ARI) under the direction of Professor Anthony Reid and opened by Mrs Jean Marshall, the widow of Singapore’s first Chief Minister, David Marshall.

The Symposium

The symposium was planned as an academic conference for about three dozen scholars who could sit around a table and discuss each others’ research papers. When registrations from the public passed the 200 mark we realised that it was going to be much more than this. For many locals it offered a rare opportunity to open windows into their society’s past that were usually shuttered – for them the ‘paths not taken’ were not primarily histories to be upgraded, but societal memories to be reclaimed, and – sometimes – reputations to be redeemed. One member of the audience, a Singapore lawyer and mother of teenagers, bemoaned the fact that her children had no inkling of the events, situations and personalities that we were discussing. Their Singapore history lessons at school were completely silent on the topics we were covering. It was as if they had never existed.

This book has thus become an archaeological experience. We found ourselves forced to clear away the overburden of the ‘Singapore Story’ in order to recall the worlds of the past that existed now only in myth and in the memories of the few who could not forget. Except for these and those few historians who had bothered to dip into the archives and consult the survivors, many of the events of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, even the 1970s and 1980s, had become terra incognita. So successful has the current regime been in obliterating the unresolved past, that the ‘Singapore Story’ of Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP) was all that remained visible. There was only the account of their struggle for ‘survival’ against colonialism, communism, large and unpredictable neighbours, and uncertain economic circumstances. This was followed by the triumphal story of rapid economic development. In this history, even the contributions of Lee’s colleagues tended to be swamped by the Lee Kuan Yew story, thus narrowing the story even further.

Although elements of these alternate histories still existed in some accounts, most scholars treated these perspectives in a rather negative fashion. The pre-PAP age was portrayed as a chaotic and uncertain time before the events of ‘real’ history took place. And yet, for those who know the era, it was one of dynamism, great political movements, and high aspirations. This was true, we argue here, not only for the rest of Asia, but also for Singapore itself.

The age was one of revolution and hope, a hope that, many will argue, has yet to be fully realised, even today. In remarks addressed to the symposium, Professor Wang Gungwu, who not only lived through most of the events covered in this book, but was also an active participant, portrayed some of the sentiments being expressed as a kind of ‘nostalgia’ for a bygone era and unachieved dreams. Professor Chua Beng Huat suggested that much of the interest in the panels was from Singaporeans who ‘love to hear others tell them how bad they had it’. Perhaps parts of both are true, but whatever the case, it is clear that the presentations touched a nerve that many felt was long in need of stimulating. It is in that spirit that we offer these papers.

The book is the final output of a research project funded in its pilot phase by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Australian Technological Network of Universities in 2001, and later by the Australian Research Council (ARC). The project’s founders, Carl A. Trocki and Michael D. Barr, were both based in QUT at the beginning of the project, but it soon became a multi-institutional project as Barr moved to the University of Queensland and then Flinders University, and Yao Souchou and Lily Rahim of Sydney University joined. By this stage it had also become an international project, as several colleagues from the National University of Singapore – notably Huang Jianli, Tim Barnard and Kevin Tan – came on board. The international status of the project was cemented when ARI agreed to host the project’s symposium in Singapore and Professor Chua Beng Huat from ARI joined Trocki and Barr as a symposium co-ordinator.

Our aim was to recast Singapore’s post-war history through accounts of the civil and political movements that operated outside the parameters of imagination created by the ruling PAP. It was largely intended to present a ‘not-the-PAP’ version of Singapore’s recent past and to focus on the positive contributions and efforts of those alternative movements. The work was never intended to present an anti-PAP or anti-Lee Kuan Yew approach to the study of Singapore’s social and political order. Unfortunately, that disclaimer has become slightly tendentious, despite our best intentions. In a number of cases, it has been impossible to provide a satisfactory account of a particular movement without noting the manner in which it met its demise or was destroyed. The fact that these paths were not taken was often the result of forceful action by those in power. One does not make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the recent history of Singapore is littered with its share of eggshells.

The Book

The book is divided into four thematic sections. The first two papers, grouped under the heading, ‘Opening New Paths’, introduce the age and the ideas. The second group of papers deals with party politics during the 1950s and 1960s, and the third group focuses on broader social, cultural and popular movements within Singapore between the late 1940s and the mid-1970s. The final section, containing only three papers, discusses the 1980s and 1990s, with some consideration of what sort of civil society activity is currently possible in Singapore.


Carl A. Trocki and Michael D. Barr

Part 1: Opening New Paths

1. Imperial Subjects, Straits Citizens: Anglophone Asians and the Struggle for Political Rights in Inter-War Singapore – Chua Ai Lin

2. Internationalism and Political Pluralism in Singapore, 1950-1963 – Sunil S. Amrith

Part 2: Party Politics

3. The United Front Strategy of the Malayan Communist Party in Singapore, 1950s-1960s – C. C. Chin

4. Chinese Merchants in Politics: The Democratic Party in the 1955 Legislative Assembly Election – Sikko Visscher

5. Winning and Losing Malay Support: PAP-Malay Community Relations, 1950s and 1960s – Lily Zubaidah Rahim

6. David Marshall and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Singapore – Carl A. Trocki

Part 3: Activists and Popular Movements

7. Malay Cosmopolitan Activism in Post-War Singapore – Timothy P. Barnard and Jan van der Putten

8. Civil Society and the Malay Education Council – E. Kay Gillis

9. All Quiet on Jurong Road: Nanyang University and Radical Vision in Singapore – Yao Souchou

10. The Young Pathfinders: Portrayal of Student Political Activism – Huang Jianli

11. The Left-Wing Trade Unions in Singapore, 1945-1970 – Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng

Part 4: Walking Narrow Paths

12. Singapore’s Catholic Social Activists: Alleged Marxist Conspirators – Michael D. Barr

13. Internalised Boundaries: AWARE’s Place in Singapore’s Emerging Civil Society – Lenore Lyons

14. History Spiked: Hegemony and the Denial of Media Diversity – Cherian George

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chee Soon Juan responds to Chief Justice, Attorney-General & Law Minister

Chee responds to CJ, AG and Law Minister
Singapore Democrats, 6 Jan 2009

Mr Chan Sek Keong
Chief Justice

Mr Walter Woon

Mr K Shanmugam
Minister for Law

Dear sirs,

Your speeches during the opening of the legal year were unmistakable references to my colleagues and I. Yet, like Mr Lee Kuan Yew, you did not deign to mention us by name. This is rather impolite, if not altogether puerile.

Be that as it may, allow me to address the points that you raised.

Mr Chan says that "the mission of the courts requires that its authority be respected by all" and that this respect is "fundamental and critical to the rule of law." Amen.

What you fail to state, however, is that the rule of law is not just a system where the government passes legislation and everyone unquestioningly obeys. The concept of the rule of law necessitates the limitation of state power and the respect of human rights.

Our Constitution spells out what these limitations are. It also defines the rights of the citizen.

Are citizens treated equally under the law?

Of importance are two fundamental articles. Let me start with Article 12 which says that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law."

Is everyone in Singapore treated equally under the law? The question is highlighted by two recent protests: One was conducted by the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) and the other by Tak Boleh Tahan activists. Both were conducted outside Parliament House, both involved displaying placards, both were commemorating the same occasion (Consumer Rights Day) and both involved persons wearing t-shirts bearing a slogan. The difference is that CASE is run by PAP MPs whereas the TBT protest was made up of human rights defenders.

While CASE was allowed to conduct its activity, my TBT associates and I were arrested and now face prosecution.

It could be that CASE, being affiliated with the Government, does not require a permit because under the Rule 2(1) (f) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act "any assembly or procession held by or under the direction or control of the Government" is exempt from a permit.

But herein lies the rub. Is such a Rule valid under Article 12 of the Constitution which expressly says that all persons are equal before the law?

Or it could be that CASE may have had a permit to conduct its protest, in which instance arises the question: Why was a permit granted to CASE but not to TBT?

Can the Government ban protests outright?

The discrmination between CASE and TBT is especially salient when the Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said in Parliament that he has "stopped short of allowing outdoor and street demonstrations."

With reference to Article 14 – which states that "every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression" and that "all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms" – does the Minister have the power to ban outdoor demonstrations in the first place and even if he does, why did he not apply the law equally to CASE?

Remember Article 4 unambiguously states that: "This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void."

These questions need to be examined by the Judiciary which has a sacred duty to ensure that, one, laws introduced by the Government do not violate the Constitution and, two, that they are not used to discriminate against certain groups of citizens.

Laws cannot be passed or applied will-nilly to buttress the power of the ruling party while suppressing the political opposition and civil society. When the ruling party imposes and enacts such unjust laws, the judiciary must intervene to protect the rights of the citizenry.

This is, in essence, what constitutes the rule of law. Absent such a judicial function, the rule of law is just a buzz phrase used to prop up a facade.

What other chief justices say

Your counterparts in democratic jurisdictions where the rule of law is genuinely practiced all acknowledge this aspect of the judiciary's role vis-a-vis the rule of law.

The former Chief Justice of India, Mr P N Bhagwatie, noted that "The judiciary is one such institution on which rests the noble edifice of democracy and the rule of law. It is to the judiciary that is entrusted the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of power conferred upon it by the Constitution...It is the solemn function of the judiciary to ensure that no constitutional or legal functionary or authority acts beyond the limits of its power nor that there be any abuse or misuse of power."

Former UK Lord Chief Justice Bingham said: "The rule of law must, surely, require legal protection of such human rights as, within that society, are seen as fundamental. It is that ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them reasonably, in good faith, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred and without exceeding the limits of such powers."

UK Lord Chancellor Irvine in the House of Lords determined that "Any system of law under which the individual was convicted and made subject to a criminal penalty for breach of an unlawful byelaw would be inconsistent with the rule of law...If subordinate legislation is ultra vires on any basis, it is unlawful and of no effect in law."

Canada's Chief Justice, Madam Beverly McLachlin, wrote that "Judges must resist...making 'law' out of what cannot be just, and hence, in a profound sense, cannot be legal. To do otherwise is to allow injustice to hide itself under the cloak of false legality."

Sadly, I am reminded of your opinion as Attorney-General, as you then were, in the aftermath of the elections in 1997. PAP ministers, including the prime minister, had entered polling stations without authorisation. You explained, with excruciating logic, that under the Parliamentary Elections Act "unauthorised entry into or presence within a polling station" is not an offence.

Worse, you concluded that "those unauthorised persons who only wait or loiter inside a polling station on polling day do not commit any offence under the Act."

And yet the Act clearly states the presiding officer shall "exclude all other persons except the candidates, the polling agent or agents of each candidate, the Returning Officer and persons authorised in writing by the Returning Officer, the police officers on duty and other persons officially employed at the polling station." The ministers who entered the polling stations did not fall into any of these categories.

Fulfilling international obligations

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” and that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”.

Save for the most autocratic of regimes, these rights are recognized by every government in the world and have given rise to legally binding obligations. The UDHR is now part of customary international law, binding on all states and guaranteed to all persons.

Furthermore Singapore voted in favor of General Assembly Resolution 28/251 in 2006. This resolution was made to establish the UN Human Rights Council which stipulates “that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing”.

In 2003, Singapore also signed the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Three Branches of Government which pledged to protect the "fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief". (empahsis mine)

Why do I mention these international agreements? Chief Justice Bingham said that the "rule of law requires compliance by the state with its obligations in international law, the law which whether deriving from treaty or international custom and practice governs the conduct of nations."

Extra-legal or extra-constitutional?

My arguments above also apply to the comments made by AG Walter Woon. Mr Woon says that my colleagues and I have conducted a "campaign to force a change in our laws by extra-legal means."

Obviously, you are confused. Our campaign is to compel the ruling clique to return to the rule of law. If there is anything "extra" about what is going on in Singapore it is that the PAP has been ruling the country through extra-constitutional means.

Since the Constitution is the supreme law of this country, your description of changing laws by extra-legal means is better applied to the PAP instead of the SDP.

You also said: "The essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all." For the reasons I enumerated above, I cannot agree with you more. The trick is for you to conscientiously practice what you so eloquently preach.

Fooling the people

Mr K Shanmugam noted that my associates and I did not like certain laws and the way we showed it was "to go out there and protest." Your statement, ironically, contradicts what CJ Chan and AG Woon try so hard to portray.

In case you haven't realised, protests to affect the introduction, passage, and enactment of legislation is a right enjoyed by citizens in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, US, Europe, etc; in other words, in societies where the rule of law exists. The right to citizens to conduct peaceful protests is exactly what the rule of law permits and what democracy encourages.

But protest is not only used to affect the state's decision-making process. It also allows the people to participate in the political process and helps bind them to society. Given the exodus of Singaporeans, is this such a bad thing?

Your argument that "the way to change the law was to get elected politically and argue in Parliament why the law should be changed" is, to put it delicately, disingenuous. Wasn't it Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who, in a rare moment of candour, avowed that he intends to buy his support and fix the opposition? Mr Lee Kuan Yew even goes to the extent to say that the army will be called in in the event of a "freak" election where the opposition wins power.

Other of your party bosses have unabashedly insisted that Singapore will remain a one-party system. Does all this sound like a situation where one can get democratically elected, let alone do it in enough numbers to change laws? In the words of Abraham Lincoln: you can fool some people some of the time...

Rule of law cannot be merely proclaimed

What the three of you have described is not the rule of law. Rather, it is a system where laws – unjust laws, laws that run contrary to our Constitution, and laws that contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – are used to suppress the rule of law in Singapore.

You are probably aware that the International Bar Association, an organisation whose conference the Government and Law Society welcomed and keenly participated in, said in its report that "A strong and robust rule of law requires respect for and protection of democracy, human rights – including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly" but that the "Singapore Government is currently failing to meet established international standards in these areas."

The truth is that the rule of law must be practised, not merely proclaimed. Saying that we have the rule of law in Singapore does not make it so. If and when the rule of law is entrenched in this country, I assure you that respect will flow not just from the mouths but also from the hearts of the people.

Yours faithfully,

Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party

Law won't tolerate attacks
Courts' authority must be respected by all, says CJ; Shanmugam and A-G echo his words
By K. C. Vijayan, Law Correspondent, Straits Times, 4 Jan 2009

The Chief Justice, Law Minister and Attorney-General made clear yesterday that they would not brook any attack on the courts here.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, speaking at the opening of the legal year in the Supreme Court, noted that the mission of the courts requires that its authority be respected by all.

'This is so fundamental and critical to the rule of law, and the just and proper governance of a state, that the law itself will not tolerate any attempt by any person to undermine public confidence in the courts by making false and scandalous allegations,' he said.

'The courts need to be protected in that regard by the law.'

His remarks were echoed in the comments of Attorney-General Walter Woon and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, and come in the wake of several high-profile cases that were convicted for contempt of court last year.

Among those prosecuted were former Singaporean lawyer Gopalan Nair, three activists who showed up in the court with offensive T-shirts, and the Asian Wall Street Journal.

Present at yesterday's ceremony were Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar, former chief justice Yong Pung How, High Court judges and about 200 senior lawyers.

In his address, Professor Woon spoke at length about the need to protect the integrity of the judicial system.

He said that there appears to be a campaign by certain people both here and abroad to attack the integrity and independence of the Singapore courts.

The Attorney-General's office has had to charge several people to show that it is not permissible to 'undermine the courts and judiciary for political or ideological reasons'.

He recalled the spate of incidents last year that began with the first day that he took office in April.

A group of activists linked to an opposition party had come to the Attorney-General's Chambers and sought the return of items seized by police investigating certain offences.

They threatened to stay all night and call in more supporters to stage a protest if their demands were not met. They left after more than an hour following repeated requests.

'I can only conclude they were testing our resolve and probing to see how far we could be intimidated by their tactics,' he said.

This was followed shortly by another incident in the Supreme Court where three activists wore T-shirts to accuse the court of being a kangaroo court.

All three were subsequently charged and convicted.

On the heels of this came an e-mail to various people in Singapore stating that a judge of the Supreme Court had 'prostituted herself' in certain proceedings.

The culprit, politician and former Singaporean Gopalan Nair, also posted the same remarks on his blog. He was jailed for three months for contempt.

Mr Nair has since been repatriated to the United States where he has reposted all that he said.

This was then followed by a series of commentaries in 'an international newspaper' casting aspersions on the integrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary, Professor Woon said.

In November, the Asian Wall Street Journal was fined $25,000 after being found guilty of contempt of court for publishing three articles in June and July that alleged bias and lack of independence on the part of the judiciary.

Prof Woon stressed that these prosecutions are not instituted lightly.

He said that while freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution, the line is crossed 'where a person deliberately attempts to undermine the authority of the courts by casting aspersions on the integrity of the judges in order to further a political or ideological agenda'.

He said the assault on the courts appears to be 'part of a broader campaign to force a change in our laws by extra-legal means'.

This involves the deliberate breaking of laws in an effort to pressure the Government to amend them, rather than go through the 'unexciting route of campaigning for change through proper constitutional means'.

Stressing that those who oppose the Government cannot be expected to be excused from obeying the law, he said: 'The essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all.'

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs, said that the Chief Justice's remarks on the rule of law were timely.

He noted that in the last few years, there have been people who did not like certain laws and the way they showed it was 'to go out there and protest'.

The way to change the law was to get elected politically and argue in Parliament why the law should be changed, he said.

'But an aggressive small group of people think they can change those laws by going out there and protesting and the courts have repeatedly emphasised they will apply the law as it is. That is justice according to the law,' he said.

'Unfortunately, even publicly sometimes, this is forgotten. People forget that some of these protests are really aimed at breaking the law and changing the law and is that what we want?'

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Singapore's last village to disappear; Short film on Kampong Lorong Buangkok

A 23min documentary from 2007 in 3 parts.

A Reuters report from Dec 21, 2007 followed by a Jan 3, 2009 New York Times report.
Rush for land to sweep away last Singapore village
By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chillis and limes grow in a lush garden between colorful cement houses with leaking metal roofs in Kampong Buangkok, a village with no roads or computers.

The sight would be nothing out of the ordinary in much of southeast Asia. But Singapore's last village, nestled in a forest clearing, is an oddity in the sophisticated city-state where skyscrapers and high-speed Internet are the norm.

Simple kampongs -- the Malay word for village -- were synonymous with disease and poor sanitation when they went out of style as Singapore introduced government housing in the 1960s.

Mass relocations to tower block Housing Development Board (HDB) flats saw the number of kampongs dwindle. Once home to 40 families, sole survivor Kampong Buangkok now houses only 28, who fiercely guard community bonds among arching banana trees.

"I know all my neighbors, we meet every day, doors open. It's not like the HDB flats, where you can live and not know anyone," said Ramlah binte Kamsah, a secretary in her mid-forties who has lived in the kampong for 40 years.

The village in northeast Singapore, the size of three football fields, has few cars.

"They always ask me if I want to build a road here, but I tell them -- no road. Real kampongs don't have roads," said Sng Mui Hong, owner of the land of Kampong Buangkok, gesturing to the dirt path which runs through the village.

Sng, who is single and in her fifties, inherited the piece of land from her father. While the booming economy and an influx of foreigners has led to a red hot property market, her rates are as low as $6.50 ($4.45) a month -- prices maintained for 30 years.

"If you increase the rent and the prices outside go up, how will the people in here cope?" said Sng, who added that most kampong dwellers are poor and shun Singapore's glitzy malls.


Built 60 years old ago on low-lying land, the kampong has weathered many floods.

But the biggest danger it faces is not a natural disaster, but Singapore's voracious appetite for land.

In Singapore, history and heritage are often found at the receiving end of a wrecking ball.

The space-starved island, about one third the size of Greater London, has one of the world's highest population densities. For decades it has reclaimed land from the sea and razed landmarks to make space for development.

"Of course we want to preserve the kampong -- sentimental fools like us. These are the last traces of old Singapore, everything old has been torn down," said Victor, 51, a blogger who writes about life in old Singapore.

However, a government plan aims to turn the kampong into schools and housing.

"Given the need to optimize the use of land in land scarce Singapore, it may not be viable to retain the kampong in its current state," said a spokeswoman from the government redevelopment agency.

Sng has made it clear to private developers that she does not intend to sell her land. But the reality is she would have to sell the land to the government if required, based on the state's laws. Some villagers fear they may only have a year left.

Tan Choon Kuan, 75, comes to the kampong every Sunday with his family to paint. His grandson Nicholas Goh, 17, said the kampong is a "refreshing change from urban Singapore," as they sat next to half-painted canvasses and smoking mosquito coils.

"I can't do much about the government plans to redevelop the land. But by painting these scenes, I preserve it for the future generations," Tan said, dabbing brush strokes on a leafy picture.

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Gillian Murdoch)

Urban Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up Its Last Village
by Seth Mydans

It is Singapore’s secret Eden, a miniature village called Kampong Buangkok that is hidden in trees among the massed apartment blocks, where a fresh breeze rustles the coconut palms and tropical birds whoop and whistle.

With just 28 houses in an area the size of three football fields, it is Singapore’s last rural hamlet, a forgotten straggler in the rush to modernize this high-rise, high-tech city-state. But apparently not for much longer. Kampong Buangkok is designated by the government for demolition and redevelopment, possibly in the near future. When it is gone, one of the world’s most extreme national makeovers will be complete.

Kampong is a local word for village and also defines a traditional rural way of life that Singapore has left behind.

“The big overhaul began in the early 1960s,” said Rodolph de Koninck, a professor of geography at the University of Montreal and one of the authors of “Singapore: An Atlas of Perpetual Territorial Transformation,” which graphically charts a half-century of change.

As the decades passed, a clamorous tropical settlement reinvented itself as a spic-and-span outpost of the developed world.

Now 90 percent of Singapore’s population has been moved into government housing, and many people have moved at least once again as the city continues to change.

“Everything is up for redevelopment,” Mr. de Koninck said. “Even downtown, things that were developed in the 1960s and 1970s are already being torn down.”

When Sng Mui Hong’s father bought the land in 1956, Kampong Buangkok was a muddy village like hundreds of others around Singapore. No one could have guessed that it would be the last.

Under the city’s master plan, at an unannounced date Kampong Buangkok will be “comprehensively developed to provide future housing, schools and other neighborhood facilities,” said Serene Tng of the Urban Redevelopment Authority in an e-mail message.

Ms. Sng, 55, is now the landowner, wheeling her bicycle among the metal-roofed, one-story homes of her tenants, who are also her friends and pay only nominal rents for their houses.

The government provides electricity, running water and trash collection, and once a day a postman comes by on his motorcycle.

Ms. Sng grew up here, and many of her neighbors were her childhood companions. Few people in Singapore of her generation can say that.

Fruits and flowers cluster in the village like endangered species in a vanishing ecosystem. There are tiny guavas and giant papayas, yams and tapioca plants, dill and edible bamboo shoots, bougainvillea and hibiscus.

Snakes and lizards scurry through the undergrowth, and tiny fish swim in a tiny stream.

Through the trees in all directions, the people of Kampong Buangkok can glimpse the government housing blocks that represent their future.

Under Singapore law, the government can buy the land at any time, at a designated price, and Ms. Sng has already prepared herself.

“If there’s a change, I won’t have my friends any more,” she said, but added: “We must not cling on to things. If the government wants to take the land, they will take it.”

There is no question that Singapore needs the land.

Its population, which was 1.6 million in 1960, has grown to 4.8 million living in an area less than 300 square miles, one of the world’s highest population densities. Planners project a growth of nearly 40 percent by midcentury, to 6.5 million.

“We will need to optimize land use, whether it is though reclamation, building upwards or using subterranean space,” Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan said recently, in describing the plans for population growth.

To make more space, neighborhoods are razed, landmarks are sacrificed and cemeteries — an inefficient use of land — are cleared away, the buried remains cremated and placed in vaults.

In its most ambitious development project, Singapore has simply made itself bigger. In 1957 its land area was 224 square miles. Since then vast amounts of landfill, dumped into the sea, have expanded it by more than one-third, to 299 square miles.

Few people in Singapore know that one village still survives, hidden in trees 200 yards from a highway.

“Even if I want to show my children how I was brought up I can’t show them,” said Ho Why Hong, 50, a taxi driver, as he searched for Kampong Buangkok. “Everything is torn down.”

“When we were growing up we didn’t lock our doors,” he said. “That kind of trust we had. Everyone knew each other. Any stranger who came into the kampong, we knew.”

In modern Singapore, few neighbors know each other, said Sarimah Cokol, 50, who grew up in Kampong Buangkok and now lives in one of the apartments that people here call pigeonholes.

“Open door, close door,” she said in the terse speech of no-nonsense Singapore. “After work, go in. Close door.”