Singapore court denies govt claim over Marcos money

By SANDY ARANETA
The Philippine Star

Singapore’s High Court has denied the Philippine government’s claim to the $23-million Marcos funds in the city state, the lawyers for human rights victims said Thursday.

In a statement, lawyer Rod Domingo Jr. said at issue in the Singapore case is over $23 million of money originally hidden by former president Ferdinand Marcos in a Swiss bank before being transferred to Singapore.

“Following nine months of briefing and several oral arguments, Justice Kan Ting Chiu of the Singapore High Court entered a judgment denying the (Philippine) Republic’s major defense,” he said.

Martial law victims claim the money to partially satisfy their now $4 billion judgment against Marcos, he added.

The Philippine National Bank claims it is custodian of the money for the Republic, Domingo said.

Lead counsel Robert Swift said it is a significant victory on the way to obtaining a final verdict for the entire $23 million of Marcos funds.
“The Singapore Court upheld Singapore’s sovereignty to decide ownership to property located in Singapore,” he said.

“The tragedy is that the Republic is so heartless that it opposes every effort by Filipino human rights victims to recover on their judgment.

“The Republic even opposes the US Court-ordered distribution of the first payment of US$2,000 to each victim from monies already collected in the US on their behalf.”

Domingo said that “the government’s claims to the money in Singapore are sinking fast.”

“I think the Singapore Court is sending a signal to our government that it wants this matter settled or there could be dire consequences,” he said.

Despite spending over $1 million in legal fees and the engagement of Singapore’s largest and most influential law firm, the Philippines is losing the case, he added.

Domingo said the Presidential Commission on Good Government’s vaunted defense of sovereign immunity, as in the Arelma case, has once again been debunked and shuttered.

“When will it ever stop working against the oppressed victims of human rights abuses?” he asked.

Domingo said in a 27-page decision, Kan ruled that the arguments made by PNB were arguments of the Philippine government, and not those of PNB.

“The Republic has therefore, by its agent PNB, laid its claim before this Court and has submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court,” Domingo quoted the decision of the Singapore High Court. Kan also assessed costs, including legal fees, against the Republic and PNB, he added.

The 9,539 Filipino victims of martial law are part of a class action litigated in the United States against Marcos for torture, killings and forced disappearances, Domingo said.

The Philippine government has asserted that it was awarded the money by the Philippine Supreme Court in July 2003.

The litigation began in 2003 when West LB, a Singapore Bank, was confronted with competing claims for the money and deposited the money to the Singapore High Court.

Early in the litigation, PNB argued the case should be heard in the Philippines, but the Singapore High Court denied that request and assessed costs in favor of human rights victims.

In early 2006 the Philippine government entered the case to try and force its dismissal, arguing it was a claimant to the money but was entitled to sovereign immunity and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Singapore Court.

In 1995, a US jury awarded the human rights victims an amount which, with interest, is now worth $4 billion.

The judgment was affirmed on appeal.

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A Loong and winding road

Read the letter to Lee.

From OpenDemocracy
Tom Burgis
21 – 12 – 2006

A year and seventy-two nominees later, openDemocracy readers vote for and against the world’s primary Bad Democrat. Tom Burgis opens the envelope.

If there is one offence that makes Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong a worthy Worst Democrat of 2006, it is the lone, corrosive idea he has peddled throughout his two decades in politics to justify his family’s iron grip on the southeast Asian city-state.

The idea – which has, in one way or another, been borrowed to lend some moral bunting to some of the year’s most scurrilous political acts – is pretty simple.

In a globalised world, the Lee doctrine goes, where dogs in Chicago or Brussels eat dogs Shanghai or Mumbai, there is one commodity that is simply too expensive: freedom.

Singapore therefore cannot afford democracy. Were they not so roundly marshalled, its populace would doubtless immediately down tools, slope off to the woods and indulge in all manner of unproductive behaviour. Grant them a free election and before you know it everyone’s splurging the national savings on designer pets and dancing girls.

“Western-style democracy has not always delivered stable, legitimate and effective government”, Lee Hsien Loong told newspaper editors – quite correctly, of course – in October 2006. With more than a whiff of sophistry, he went on to explain why this necessitates Singapore’s “predictable environment”, namely the dynastic rule that began when his father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s first premier in 1959. Such liberties as a “rambunctious press” or the “clever propaganda” enabled by the internet must be stamped out to ensure order and keep the cash flowing in.

It’s a catchy line and has been deployed by almost all the ne’er-do-wells who have graced openDemocracy’s monthly list of the men, women and institutions who have done injury to the good name of democracy.

A notorious galère

Take Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s bon vivant despot. Even as Koreans starve on scraps of food aid, Kim’s songun (military first) policy requires every last resource to be channelled into martial production, the banner under which the party maintains control. His defence minister explained the policy thus: “Comrades, we can live without candies, but we can’t live without bullets.” But the military can, we must presume, spare enough to keep the Dear Leader in choice Cognac and prime donkey, but then one would expect no less for a leader who, according to this stirring ode, descended from heaven.

Or Alexander Lukashenko, another autocrat with a nice line in rousing if rather ham-fisted musical propaganda. “Listen to daddy”, trill his acolytes, “who is the master in the house.” The same message was delivered less tunefully when protesters massed on the streets of Minsk to challenge Lukashenko’s fraudulent victory in March’s elections: keep your nose to the grindstone, or I will apply the grindstone to your nose.

And Lee’s line – belied as it is by some of the bravest thinkers of the age, who point to India or Botswana, where democratic governments have slashed poverty – is wheeled out not merely by tinpot dictators, as the staggering hypocrisy with which 2006 started and ended evinces.

In January, Palestinians went to the polls to choose between Fatah, the corrupt incumbents at the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas, its Islamist but more efficient rival. Ringing in their ears were the exhortations of the United States and its allies for Arab states to embrace democracy – a dream for which so many of their Iraqi brothers had so gladly laid down their lives.

When Hamas won, election observers wondered whether this was the tipping point, the moment when, like the African National Congress (ANC) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) before them, the militia would begin its transition from bloodthirsty resistance to political compromise.

They did not get to find out. Infuriated, the United States, the European Union and Israel laid siege to the PA, reducing members of the incipient government to filling the fiscal coffers by smuggling suitcases of currency into their ministries (not the direction, it’s worth noting, in which cash-stuffed luggage usually travels).

The Palestinians had made one fatal error. The election was fine – the problem was the result.

It was Leeism writ large: if we the mighty few are not to jeopardise our strategic interests, you the unwashed simply cannot be left to your own devices.

Then, nearly twelve months later, with Gaza and the West Bank still in flames, Tony Blair departed an inutile EU summit to fly to Baghdad, Ankara and Ramallah to deliver another round of lectures on how to be “purer than pure” in public office.

That he made no mention of corruption, impunity or the rule of law may have had something to do with the announcement a day earlier that the UK had dropped a criminal investigation into fraud allegedly committed (who’d have thought it?) during a multi-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Or perhaps Blair’s omission was due to the absence from his side of his trusty middle-east advisor and tennis partner Lord Levy – but then he’s been terribly busy.

In any case, as the British premier spouted platitudes about safeguarding exports, the rationale was clear: justice is just too damn expensive.

It was, aptly enough, at a gathering of the global financial institutions that even those most indebted to Lee for his lesson in sophistry felt obliged to rebuke him.The world had watched May’s elections, seen opponents intimidated, dissidents chased through the courts and the media shackled, but had averted their gaze. Singapore was churning out millionaires at record rates – why shed any tears for a few woolly idealists?

But at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in September, things were different. Even Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration hawk turned bank president, was compelled to reprimand his host when Lee went one step too far, unleashing his repressive apparatus on outlanders.

Alas, the Singapore model – waved like some map to Elysium in front of poor country governments the world over – does not look to be going anywhere fast.

That said, a fair crop of the seventy-two Bad Democracy nominees over the past year have seen their power curtailed, so we may cling to hope that receiving our shameful gong will hasten the end of the Lee era.

But then, it seems there are those who feel no shame – such as Silvio Berlusconi, the first of our Bad Democrats and entitled, as the only winner to be booted from office, to the last word, with his fabulous insight into the delusions with which the mighty prolong their power: “I am the Jesus Christ of politics”, he said at the start of this year’s campaign. “I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone.”

Singapore’s international complaint dismissed

The pursuit of a physician across borders has fallen at the high court.
Rex Dalton

Biopolis is recruiting international experts, who will watch this case with interest.
A British court has cleared the way for a prominent English epilepsy expert to return to research, after a protracted international dispute over studies four years ago in Singapore.

On 21 December, the British High Court ruled that British authorities acted appropriately when they dropped an investigation of improprietries against neurologist Simon Shorvon, now a professor at University College London.

The ruling is a setback for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), which had pursued its case against Shorvon, whom it had found guilty of professional misconduct, across international borders.

The allegations were brought to the attention of Singapore’s health authorities by Lee Wei Ling, Mr Lee’s daughter, who resigned from the project and was appointed to succeed Dr Shorvon as NNI director at the start of this year. John Burton

Last year the British General Medical Council (GMC) decided to drop their own inquiries into Shorvon, having found no grounds for action. This decision was not received well by the SMC, which, in an unprecedented move, filed a case in the High Court of Justice in London. It claimed that the GMC’s decision was unsustainable and breached a duty of fairness to the SMC in not having consulted it properly.

The High Court has now dismissed this claim, saying the British medical council’s decision was rational and sustainable.

“This judgement removes an unjustified slur on my reputation,” reads a statement from Shorvon, who is now a professor and subdean at the Institute of Clinical Neurology at University College London, UK. “I am delighted.”

“I hope now that I can be left in peace to pursue my research,” he adds. He has not been able to apply for grants during the legal fight.

I hope now that I can be left in peace to pursue my research.

Simon Shorvon

Medical councils rarely pursue physicians beyond the borders of their own country with such aggression. The case will likely be watched with interest by others in the field, as Singapore is actively recruiting leading international researchers for its Biopolis complex, a futuristic centrepiece of biomedical research.

A spokeswoman for the Singapore Medical Council would only say that the judgement was under study. An appeal is possible.

Head hunted

Shorvon was recruited in 2000 from University College London to direct Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute. But shortly thereafter, he became embroiled in conflict.

He was accused by Singapore officials of obtaining neurological information on 13 patients without consent, recruiting them for his research without proper consent, and changing their medication levels without proper consent. He was dismissed in 2003 by the Institute. Neuroscientist Lee Wei Ling, the daughter of former prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, replaced Shorvon as the institute’s director.

The SMC found Shorvon guilty of professional misconduct in 2004, after he had returned to the United Kingdom. He was fined and removed from the register of medical practitioners in Singapore.

Shorvon has denied emphatically any impropriety. He declined to be interviewed this week.

The British General Medical Council became aware of the situation in 2004 and Shorvon, by then in London, sought a UK review to help to clear his name. In 2005, it determined the allegations in Singapore could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and halted its inquiry.

Point-by-Point rebuttal to Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement

21 Dec 06

Below is a reply by Dr Chee Soon Juan to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement dated 20 December 2006.

Point 1: Marking of food trays.

MHA: It is normal Prisons procedure to record the food consumption of inmates under close watch. This procedure applies not just to Chee Soon Juan but to all such inmates.

CSJ: When the question of marking was first raised by my wife, Ms Huang Chih Mei, and sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, on 4/12/2006, Monday, both Mr Chandra Kumar (MHA official) and Queenstown Reman Prison (QRP) Superintendent Hoon categorically denied that prisoners’ trays were marked, unless it’s for vegetarian food. I am not a vegetarian. If it is the “normal” practice to mark the food trays of inmates under close watch, why did Mr Chandra Kumar and Mr Hoon say they had no knowledge of the marking?

In this connection, the food trays of Chee’s associates, Yap Keng Ho and Ghandi Ambalam were also marked to allow Prisons to monitor their food intake. This was done following Yap’s declaration that he was going on a hunger strike.

Point 2: Food trays were not marked on previous occasions

MHA: For Chee especially, the marking of food trays should not be new as this procedure was applied to him when he was in prison in Oct 2002 and again in Mar 2006. He had no complaints then about the marking of his food tray.

CSJ: My foodtrays were most definitely not marked on previous occasions when I was imprisoned. On this point, the MHA first it says that my food tray was marked “following Yap’s declaration that he was going on a hunger strike.” [emphasis added] But it later says that my food tray was also marked on previous occasions on Oct 2002 and Mar 2006. How can this be when Mr Yap was not even in prison when I was incarcerated in 2002 and in March this year?

Point 3: Allowed to choose among unmarked trays

MHA: To address this and assure him, Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked
trays from 2 Dec 2006 but he continued to persist in not eating.

CSJ: This is not true. I repeatedly told prison officials that I did not want to continue to eat prison food until I saw my wife. QRP refused to allow my wife to see me until 4/12/2006 (eight days after I stopped eating the food in the marked trays). When I was finally allowed to see my wife on 4/12/2006 in Changi General Hospital, and after Mr Chandra Kumar gave the assurance that I could select from unmarked food trays, my fears gradually eased and agreed to eat the food served in the hospital. The first time that I was told that I could choose from unmarked trays was 4/12/2006 (at the CGH) and not 2/12/2006 (while I was still in prison) as claimed by the MHA.

It is therefore wholly untrue for the MHA to say that although “Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked trays from 2 Dec 06 but he continued to persist in not eating.” CGH’s records would unequivocally show that I had eaten the food on the same day that Mr Chandra Kumar assured me that I could choose from unmarked trays.

Point 4: Insisting on eating home-cooked food.

MHA: He also persisted in his demand that he would only eat home-cooked meals prepared by his wife. (Prisons policy, which applies to all inmates, does not allow this.)

CSJ: Again, it is not true that I insisted on eating only home-cooked food. During the hospital visit on 4/12/2006, my family was allowed to buy me some biscuits & packet drinks for me. I consumed these. I clearly indicated that I didn’t want food that was in marked trays or those handled by prison officials. To reiterate: After Mr Chandra Kumar assured that I could choose from trays that were not marked, I then started to eat the hospital food.

Point 5: Refusing to eat hospital food.

MHA: Chee refused to eat even the meals served by the Changi General Hospital…

CSJ: As mentioned above, I ate the food served by CGH during my stay at the hospital. This is easily verifiable in the hospital records. There was even a CCTV in my hospital room recording this. MHA can eaily produce this to prove who is not telling the truth.

Point 6: Request for medical records.

MHA: Chee claimed that he and his family members have repeatedly asked for a complete set of his medical report but have not received them. This is certainly untrue. Chee only gave his consent to the authorities for his medical report to be released to his sister on 14 Dec 06.

CSJ: The facts are incontrovertible. My lawyer faxed QRP a letter on 13/12/2006 asking for the medical records. My sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, also faxed a letter requesting for the said documents on 12/12/2006. QRP have these faxed letters and should produce for the public to see. I myself asked for the medical results when I returned to QRP on 7/12/2006. It is therefore yet another lie for the MHA to say that is “certainly untrue” that my family and I had repeatedly asked for the medical reports.

Point 7: No sleep deprivation.

MHA: On his return from Changi General Hospital, Chee was placed in a cell equipped with CCTV. The lights at such cells are kept switched on from 6 pm to 8 am the following day…

CSJ: First, let it be noted that the prison had admitted to keeping the lights on in my cell throughout the night and morning hours (6 pm to 8 am the following morning). I repeatedly complained to the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the lights at night were keeping me awake and this affected me tremendously. There is a reason why we all turn off the light when we sleep at night – our bodies respond differently to light and darkness. Keeping the lights on during sleeping hours for a prolonged period (in my case, for a straight nine days/nights) deprives one of proper rest and this affects one’s health.

Point 8: Prison needs to monitor inmates with suicidal tendencies.

MHA: [The lights are left on] for visibility to enable prison officers to monitor inmates under close supervision, including those with suicidal tendencies or who may cause self-inflicted injuries.

CSJ: The MHA needs come up with more credible answers. Suggesting that I had “suicidal tendencies” or “may cause self-inflicted injuries” is complete and utter rubbish. Psychiatrists at QRP and CGH have examined me, and if the results indicated that I was suffering from any “suicidal tendencies”, they should produce it. Obviously, the turning on of the lights at night is just an excuse to deprive me of sleep and affect my psychological health. Is it not possible for the prison to use an infra-red camera to do the recording with the lights off?

If the prison is really monitoring inmates had “suicidal tendencies” or “may cause self-inflicted injuries”, why did it not similarly monitor Mr Yap Keng Ho who had announced publicly that he was conducting a hunger strike while imprisoned?

Point 9: Sleeping without trouble with lights on.

MHA: Prison officers observed that Chee’s cell-mates slept without trouble. At his request, Chee was also given valium and was observed to have rested at least 6 to 7 hours each night. This was recorded by the CCTV camera.

CSJ: I and my cell-mates had great difficulty sleeping with the lights on. As mentioned, I repeatedly requested the prison doctor, psychiatrist and Superintendent to turn off the lights at night. It is silly for the MHA to continue to argue that I and my cellmates “slept without trouble” for more than a week under bright lights when everyone knows that our biological functions and circadian rhythms are disturbed the lights are on at night.

Point 10: Books were not taken away as punishment.

MHA: When he was referred to the hospital, Chee brought with him 7 books for his reading while in hospital. On his return, these 7 books were required to be subjected to security screening. This is a standard security procedure for all items, books included, which are brought in from outside into the prison.

CSJ: These seven books were among the 32 books that I had first brought with me to the QRP when I was first taken to prison 23/11/2006. At no time did the seven books leave the sight of prison officials to and from CGH.

Point 11: Refusing medical assistance in prison.

MHA: Between 25 Nov 06 and 4 Dec 06, Chee resisted blood tests (to establish the cause of his purported nausea) and medical assistance from the prison medical officer and the doctors of Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: I only refused to have invasive measures that required needles to be inserted into my body. This would include the drawing of blood by a syringe and application of IV drips. During the said period, I repeatedly requested to be allowed to see my family before I would consent to such invasive procedures. The prison, however, adamantly refused to allow me to see my family. However, I continue to allow my blood pressure to be taken, my ECG to be monitored and gave urine samples.

I also agreed to all non-invasive procedures to be conducted on me (two CT-scans, an ultra-sound scan, two X-rays, and urine samples). I allowed blood to be drawn after I was allowed to see my family.

Records in QRP and CGH would back up my account of the matter. Would the MHA make public these medical records so that the truth can be ascertained once and for all? By refusing to disclose these facts, the MHA is trying to cover up the truth.

Point 12: Strangely resumed eating at CGH.

MHA: Then just as strangely as Chee had stopped eating on 28 Nov 06, Chee abruptly resumed eating his meals on 4 Dec 06. He ate his dinner ordered from a menu of choices at Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: There was nothing strange that I started eating the food at CGH. I have said all along that I wanted to see my wife first before I would resume eating. I consumed hospital food when my wife was allowed to see me on 4/12/2006. That was also the day when Mr Chandra Kumar promised us that there won’t be any more markings on my food either in CGH or QRP.

Point 13: Deciding to eat when returned to prison.

MHA: On his return to prison, and when he was placed in a cell under CCTV observation, Chee decided to eat prison meals and behaved well enough to be eligible for remission of his sentence.

CSJ: I started to eat prison food after assurance from Mr Chandra Kumar and Suprintendent Hoon that there won’t be any more markings on my food. I was also threatened that my yard time, family visits, and even consultation with lawyers would be denied if I did not eat the prison food.

Conclusion

From the above it can be seen that the MHA’s statement is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies. The Government should provide documents and recordings that it has in its possession to reveal the truth rather than make statements that it can neither substantiate nor prove

.

Politics is no laughing matter in Singapore

By Geert De Clercq | December 20, 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chewing gum, homosexuality, public protests… the list of things frowned upon is long in Singapore. But satire? Yes, that too. Seriously.

Political humor is playing a bigger role than ever in the city-state, and despite government’s insistence that politics is no laughing matter, satirical websites are blossoming.

TalkingCock.com, an irreverent website that relentlessly pokes fun at the Singapore “gahmen” (government), gets 4 million hits per month in a country of 4.4 million, while popular blog mrbrown.com receives some 20,000 downloads per day for its droll podcasts about life in Singapore, up 10-fold from a year ago.

“These websites touch a popular vein. They deal with issues of everyday life in a language that can be understood in the kopitiam (coffee shop). It’s like the parables of Jesus,” said researcher Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Others say government disapproval of these websites has added to their appeal.

Colin Goh is the only public face of the large collective that puts together TalkingCock.com, a website named after the term for “talking nonsense” in “Singlish” — the local patois of English laced with Hokkien Chinese and Malay words.

“The others do not want to reveal their identities, they are too scared,” said Goh, a former lawyer with degrees from University College London and New York’s Columbia University.

Goh and friends set up TalkingCock in 2000 in New York, where he lives. The project has since grown into a huge, rambling site with dozens of anonymous contributors.

Goh insists the site’s focus is on humor, not on politics.

“All humor is about daily life. It just so happens that in Singapore, the government occupies such a large part of our lives,” said Goh, who is also an award-winning film director.

“SERIOUSLY”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of TalkingCock.

In his national day speech on August 20, Lee actually showed a slide of TalkingCock.com.

“If you want humor, you go there. Some of the jokes are not bad. Not all of them,” he said.

In another speech on April 1 — April Fool’s day — Lee said there was space for political debate in Singapore, but stressed that discussions on politics must be taken seriously.

“Countries can become unstable if political figures are not given basic respect and acceptance,” Lee was quoted as saying by state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

Goh said he vaguely agrees with the government that jokes are no substitute for real political discourse.

“It is bad for the satirist when people look to the satirist for alternative serious political commentary. We’d be very happy to go back to our court jester status,” he said.

Singapore print and broadcast media are government-owned or controlled, but on the Internet anti-government views abound.

Catherine Lim, Singapore’s best-known fiction writer, said the government’s allergy to satire is not surprising.

“It’s a very Asian, Confucian thing, especially if you take it to the point where you make them lose face. That is absolutely intolerable, even in a society as modern as Singapore,” said Lim, who has angered the government before with her criticisms.

Australian academic Garry Rodan, who has written extensively about Singapore politics, said the Singapore government is not comfortable with political jokes because “humor challenges the notion of a foolproof meritocracy.”

Lee has said repeatedly that the government tolerates dissent but would respond to criticism that it disagreed with.

“Because if we don’t respond, untruths will be repeated and will be believed, and eventually will be treated as facts and the Government and the leaders will lose the respect of the population and the moral authority to govern,” Lee said.

MINCED PORK PODCAST

mrbrown — the Internet moniker for blogger Lee Kin Mun — was the first satirist to find out what that response could be.

In July, his weekly column in state-owned newspaper Today was axed after he had poked fun at a series of price hikes that followed soon after the May 6 general election.

“It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government,” the information ministry wrote in a blistering reply.

In his National Day speech, Lee said the satirical column had “hit out wildly at the Government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone.”

One of mrbrown’s podcasts had a starring role in the run-up to the elections when it mocked the way the government harped on for days about an opposition candidate’s bungled attempt to submit an election form.

mrbrown’s podcast parody of the affair as a food stall vendor hounding a customer over an order of a bowl of minced pork noodles was downloaded 200,000 times and spread like wildfire in the blogoshpere.

Like others in Singapore’s lively Internet scene, both mrbrown and Goh are worried about an upcoming revision of the penal code, which could take into account “new technological developments” such as the Internet.

“At any time, the government could drop the guillotine on us. So, not very funny times, I’m afraid,” Goh said.

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

From CNN. However this is nothing new nor unique to Singapore.
Singapore flames ‘uncaring elite’
POSTED: 0551 GMT (1351 HKT), December 19, 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) — When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she’d give him a piece of her mind.

She called him “one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country” on her own blog and signed off with “please, get out of my elite uncaring face”.

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

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

“Coming from an MP in the prime minister’s constituency, these comments really were political dynamite,” political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

“If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground,” he added.

Singapore is Asia’s second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore’s Gini index — which measures inequality of income distribution among households — of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

“Yes, the Gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages,” National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.

Welfare as a dirty word
Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidized and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore’s first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

“We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers’ Party, has called for a ‘permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system’. I think that is an even dirtier five words,” he said in a speech on November 13.

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to “tilt the balance in favor of the lower-income groups”.

While Lee’s ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament — where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats — the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers’ Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

“They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don’t do anything about the income gap,” Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more “workfare” schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers’ pay.

On May 1 — five days before the election — the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.

Marie Antoinettes
Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger’s comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that’s out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about “elite envy”, the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $6,500 a month, while such families make up just 13 percent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical Web site TalkingCock.com, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

“The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes,” he said.

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And where does this income inequality begin…

1. Singapore Prime Minister’s Basic Salary US$1,100,000 (SGD1,958,000) a year
Minister’s Basic: US$655,530 to US$819,124 (SGD1,166,844 to SGD1,458,040) a year

2. United States of America President: US$200,000 Vice President: US$181,400
Cabinet Secretaries: US$157,000

3. United Kingdom Prime Minister: US$170,556 Ministers: US$146,299 Senior Civil
Servants: US$262,438

4. Australia Prime Minister: US$137,060 Deputy Prime Minister: US$111,439
Treasurer: US$102,682

5. Hong Kong Chief Executive : US$416,615 Top Civil Servant: US$278,538
Financial Sec: US$315,077

Source: Asian Wall Street Journal July 10 2000

Vote For Lee Hsien Loong

For twelve months, openDemocracy’s readers have visited shame upon the heads of the planet’s worst despots, kleptocrats, finaglers and warmongers. Our monthly Bad Democrat poll has put six candidates to the public vote. Each winner has been notified of his achievement and now goes forward to this, undoubtedly one of the least coveted prizes in politics, the Bad Democrat of the Year award. You can vote for your choice below, or, if you prefer, send a cheque to the usual address.


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It was only when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank rolled into town in September that the extent of the suffocating control the premier exerts on Singaporean society was write large. Even Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con hawk turned World Bank president, described the regime as “authoritarian“. Chee Soon Juan, the opposition’s most vocal politician, and his fellow democracy campaigners had been banging on about such abuses for years – and generally had their arguments brushed away with a copy of the city-state’s economic growth figures. Elections in May saw websites that fell short in their sycophancy blocked. Lee and his father – who continues to hold the dubious post of “minister mentor” – have taken adopted a litigious strategy to maintain their grip on power: if it moves, sue it.

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