Postcard From … Singapore

Sameer Dossani October 19, 2006

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

Foreign Policy In Focus

It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. I’m in a Singapore police station. No, this story doesn’t involve alcohol. Fortunately neither the death penalty nor caning are likely.

The story begins earlier on September 16, when I arrived in Singapore, the site of the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF, from neighboring Batam, Indonesia. My companions and I were organizers of the International People’s Forum vs. the IMF and World Bank (IPF), which wasn’t feasible in Singapore. In January the Singapore government threatened to cane protesters and in the days before the events they made public an official blacklist of 27 people who would not be allowed entry to Singapore.

Their justification: they had already prepared a protest space at the venue, namely an enclosed area roughly the size of a large prison cell. Some friends who were not on the official blacklist were turned away at the airport, indicating that the unofficial blacklist must be much longer.

Naturally, activists, researchers, and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representatives expressed their outrage to the Singapore authorities, IMF and World Bank staff, and to their own governments in Europe, North America, Asia, and elsewhere. To the displeasure and discomfort of the IMF and World Bank, we launched a boycott of the official meetings, and this boycott was joined by nearly all NGOs who work on policy issues. For the first time in living memory, the Singapore government backed down. They “un-blacklisted” 22 of the 27 individuals on the official list.

In response, the “un-banned” and the “still-banned” issued a statement renewing our pledge to boycott the official events and stating that the moves of the Singapore government were a case of “too little, too late.” To read the statement, two of the “un-banned”—Joy Chavez from Focus on the Global South (Thailand) and Antonio Tricarico from Campaign to Reform the World Bank (Italy)—were to go to Singapore where a press conference and public event on the IMF was already scheduled to take place.

I was among those chosen to escort these activists, as we had no reason to believe that the Singapore government would uphold its end of the bargain. Though Antonio and Joy were taken aside at the border, they were permitted to pass after being given a sheet of paper advising them to (please) abide by Singapore law.

At midnight the Singapore police call. Turns out our event MAY be illegal. Great.

After a meeting and some discussions with an ad-hoc Singapore legal team, we determine that the meeting/press conference we are planning the following morning is indeed legal. (It may not have been had it been taking place on the ground floor or had there been see-through windows in the conference room.) Armed with this information, we contact the police again who assure him that, yes, the conference could be legal, but that it may need a license. We need to just stop by the police station for some questions and filling out some forms.

Three of us arrive at about one a.m. to negotiate with the police.

When the officers who called us here come down to greet us and escort us to the room where we’ll be “interviewed,” they are exceedingly polite. Half an hour later, they explain that the only reason for all the questions is to determine whether or not we need a license. We do indeed need a license, they say, and after half an hour spent filling out forms we are free to walk out the door. At 2 a.m.

Aside from the lost sleep, the only cost for the license was $20. Free speech may not be free in Singapore, but it is cheap.

Sameer Dossani is Director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S Network for Global Economic Justice in Washington, DC and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (


S2006 a success, no matter what foreign media said: PM Lee

Yes PM Lee is correct Singaporeans should not be discouraged by the negative coverage from the foreign media. The PAP and those in government should feel disgraced. The PAP has yet again managed to paint a picture on the world stage of an authoritarian regime.

“[T]hey wanted Singapore to open up” sums up the post below from Today Newspaper. Using the term ‘they’ implies that there are no Singaporeans demanding more openness in Singapore.

If that is what ‘success’ looks like – I’ll take ‘failure’ any day.

Wednesday • October 18, 2006

Tor Ching Li

SINGAPOREANS should not be discouraged by the negative coverage — mainly from the foreign media — on the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank meetings held here last month.

At an appreciation event for some 2,700 IMF-World Bank volunteers last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “The foreign media had another agenda — they wanted Singapore to open up, to conform to their standards, their norms.

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

Singapore was criticised for keeping out some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) due to security concerns, as well as for banning outdoor demonstrations.

Said Mr Lee: “The IMF-World Bank wanted us to be a bit more open, and we tried our best to accommodate. But in the end, we were responsible for the safety of the delegates, and we could not shirk the responsibility of whom to let in.”

The fact was that IMF-World Bank officials acknowledged “in private” that, as the host country, Singapore had to decide who to let in and what security measures to take, said Mr Lee.

He added that the CSOs issue attracted a “disproportionate” amount of media attention.

The reality is that Singapore “did the right thing”, he said.

“All the S2006 delegates knew the truth. They were impressed not just with our efficiency, but also with the pride which everyone showed, and the commitment of every staff and volunteer,” said Mr Lee, who congratulated the volunteers on the success of the meetings.

Mr Lee cited some examples of those who went the extra mile, such as a chauffeur who took photos of a delegate with his own digital camera and printed them as a gift.

“One officer so impressed a foreign delegate with the quality of service that he jokingly asked if she would marry him,” he said.

The visitors also related how their liaison officers went beyond the call of duty to buy them lozenges for their sore throats, or of one who helped retrieve a pair of lost glasses late into the night.

Said Mr Lee: “You have shown how, at a critical moment, ordinary Singaporeans can rally together, rise to the occasion and put up an extraordinary performance.”

Andy Xie’s Email in Full

Andy Xie
The purported text of his leaked e-mail found on Little Speck’s site:

I participated in the panels on Commodity (sic) and China-India and in some obligatory dinner parties. On Friday night the Singapore prime minister invited the speakers at the meeting that the Singapore government organised. Trichet, Larry Summers, Paul Volker (sic) Chuck Price, the finance ministers of ASEAN countries were there. No government official from China was there …guess I was there to make it look like China was represented.

The dinner was turned into an Oprah with PM Lee Hsein Long (sic) at the center. The topic was on the future of globalization. People fawned him like a prince. Of course, he is. There are two reigning princes in the world that the Davos crowd kiss up to, Jordan and Singapore. The Davos crowd are Republican on economic issues and democratic on social issues. Somehow they manage to put aside their moral misgivings and kiss up to Lee Hsein Long and Abdullah.

I tried to find out why Singapore was chosen to host the conference. Nobody knew. Some thought it was a strange choice because Singapore was so far from any action or the hot topic of China and India. Mumbai or Shanghai would have been a lot more appropriate. ASEAN has been a failure. Its GDP in nominal dollar terms has not changed for 10 years. Singapore’s per capita income has not changed either at $25,000. China’s GDP in dollar terms has tripled during the same period.

I thought the questioners were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalisation. Actually, Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering center for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well. To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corrupt money from China.

These western people didn’t know what they were talking about. Aside from the nauseating pleasantries some useful information came out of it. Trichet sounded very bullish on euro-zone economy (sic). He noted that euro-zone was catching up with the US in growth rate (sic) and talked about further gain in 2007. His tone was much more bullish than our house view. As Japan is surprising on the downside, I don’t see how the rise of euro-yen could be stopped.

Larry Summers and Paul Volker (sic) were very worried about the US economy. As you probably know, Alan Greenspan is talking the same way. At the CLSA conference last week, he talked like one of his critics. There is fear of a US collapse. Many Americans think that an RMB reval (sic) would save the US. This is just a dream, in my view.

Most were worried about the future of globalisation due to income inequality. As average workers in the west are not seeing wage increase (sic), they may vote against globalisation. I thought that they were understating the benefit from cheap consumer goods. However, as inflation comes back, it does diminish the benefits for western consumers.

No-one was worried about the growth outlook for China and India. The Indian Planning Minister was very bullish, talking about 9% forever.

My sense is that policymakers are relexed (sic) about the short-term economic outlook but anticipate a US collapse at some point. Americans think that RMB reval could save the US. So they would keep pressuring China.”

Andy Xie
Morgan Stanley

Andy Xie’s Singapore swing

By Steven Irvine | 4 October 2006

Morgan Stanley’s vocal star analyst suddenly resigns. An email he wrote about Singapore may explain why.

The market was shocked on Friday when Morgan Stanley announced that its Asia economist, Andy Xie, had resigned. The announcement was brief and mysterious, giving no explanation of why he was going or where he was going. With Morgan Stanley’s bonus period only two months away, it looked like a very strange time for the Shanghai-born Xie to leave the firm.

The Hong Kong rumour mill quickly began speculating as to why Xie had left. Attentions have focused on an email that Xie penned on September 18. Many copies of the email – which was about Singapore – have since been passed around by the region’s fund management and banking community.

The subject line of Xie’s email was ‘Observations on the IMF/ World Bank conference’. That event was hosted in Singapore, and the email was written just after the conference finished. The email consisted of nine paragraphs but it is the third and fourth that have attracted most attention.

“I tried to find out why Singapore was chosen to host the conference,” wrote Xie. “Nobody knew. Some said that probably no one else wanted it. Some guessed that Singapore did a good selling job. I thought that it was a strange choice because Singapore was so far from any action or the hot topic of China and India. Mumbai or Shanghai would have been a lot more appropriate. ASEAN has been a failure. Its GDP in nominal dollar terms has not changed for 10 years. Singapore’s per capita income has not changed either at $25,000. China’s GDP in dollar terms has tripled during the same period.”

Xie then continued that he thought some “were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalisation. Actually, Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering centre for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well. To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corrupt money from China.”

These remarks were made in an email that Xie intended to be circulated internally within Morgan Stanley. But it got leaked, and was soon making its way around the region. This proved to be a highly embarassing situation for Morgan Stanley. Singapore is one of the US firm’s key investment banking markets in Asia.

Commenting on Xie’s departure a spokesperson for Morgan Stanley says: “We do not comment on personnel issues. We do not elaborate on the reasons of our employees’ departure.”

But on the subject of the email, the spokesperson adds: “This is an internal email based on personal suppositions and aimed at stimulating internal debate amongst a small group of intended recipients. The email expresses the views of one individual and does not in any way represent the views of the firm. Morgan Stanley has been a very strong supporter of Singapore and has a great deal of respect for Singapore’s achievements.”

Xie joined Morgan Stanley in 1997 and was a managing director. He regularly ranked highly in investor polls as one of the region’s most popular economists, thanks in large part to his direct style and forthright opinions. The 46-year-old, who has a doctorate from MIT, previously worked at the World Bank and Macquarie Bank.

Copyright Ltd

If anyone has access to the email in full and has the nerve, post in the comment section please. I have found another extract from the email that was posted on bloomberg.

At a dinner party hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, “people fawned him like a prince,” Xie wrote. “These Western people didn’t know what they were talking about,” he wrote, describing the praise for Singapore as “nauseating pleasantries.”

From Financial News…

Referring to a dinner hosted by Singapore’s prime minister, Xie wrote: “I thought the questioners were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalisation…These western people didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Sympathy, not brickbats, for LKY

Published by Charles
Mon, 02 Oct 2006
Tan Siok Choo
Taken from The Sun

In Kuala Lumpur and in Jakarta, the statement by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that the Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia “are successful, they are hardworking, and therefore, they are systematically marginalised” has generated much anger.

Instead of hurling brickbats at Singapore’s former premier, Malaysian politicians should offer Lee several mega-litres of sympathy.

It is much needed. Two events in September and one in July have added up to a summer of discomfort for Lee and Singapore’s top leaders.

Last month’s annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Singapore is one example. Intended to generate more than four million smiles, this much-hyped event – on which the Singapore authorities had spent US$60 million (RM220 million) in preparations – initially provoked 30 frowns.

Although 30 is an insignificant number, the frowners included three high-profile personalities – World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato and the president of the European Union (EU).

In a strongly-worded statement, Wolfowitz said barring 27 activists from civil society organisations (CSOs), accredited by the World Bank and the IMF, from entering the republic was “a breach of the formal agreement” Singapore had signed with the two Washington-based institutions three years ago.

After Wolfowitz said the ban was an embarrassment to Singapore, the World Bank and the IMF, the Singapore Government relented and announced 22 out of 27 activists would be allowed entry into the republic.

Equally embarrassing were accusations by CSOs that Singapore had been selected as the conference venue because of its authoritarian reputation. Denying the accusation, Peter Stephens, regional communications manager of World Bank, said Singapore had been the only country to submit a formal bid to host the event.

Poor Singapore! Instead of focusing on the record turnout of 20,000 people for the IMF/World Bank meeting in Singapore and the epochal reform in IMF voting power, the international press seemed to delight in headlining the negatives.

International newspapers like the Financial Times put on its front page the three-day stand-off between Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and the police at Speakers Corner.

Furthermore, the Sept 19 coup in Thailand that ousted controversial premier Thaksin Shinawatra generated even more negative press for Singapore.

Thrown into the spotlight was the US$1.9 billion (RM6.9 billion) purchase of Shin Corp – a company owned by the former Thai Premier – by the Singapore Government-owned Temasek Holdings in March this year.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Eric Ellis described Temasek chief executive Ho Ching’s purchase of Shin Corp as a “spectacular misjudgment”. Ho Ching is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“As Thaksin banked Temasek’s tax-free cash, Thais burnt Ho Ching’s effigy on Bangkok streets, reducing the reputation created for her by Singapore spin doctors as a safe pair of hands,” he said.

“Thais stopped using the television, airlines, finance and technology businesses Temasek bought. Now Shin buyers wear a US$2 billion (RM7.4 billion) paper loss on the deal after less than six months,” Ellis wrote.

Perhaps more mortifying for Singapore is the comment by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University.

“We hear a lot from Singaporeans about transparency and what integrity they have in business. But I’m afraid that by their own standards, Temasek has failed the test,” he said.

Yet another source of negative press was the unexpected resignation in July of Lee’s younger son, Hsien Yang, as chief executive of Singapore Telecommunications. Better known as Singtel, the company, 54% owned by Temasek Holdings, is Singapore’s biggest listed entity and Asia’s fifth biggest phone company.

A Reuters story notes Singtel’s new head will face strong headwinds. With two-thirds of pre-tax earnings from operations outside Singapore, growth will depend on overseas expansion. According to a poll of 19 analysts, Singtel could post a 17% slump in net earnings to S$3.46 billion (RM12.7 billion) for the year ending March 2007.

Unkind analysts pointed out Singtel shares, listed on Nov 1, 1993, have traded below the price of S$3.60 (RM8.20) at which they were sold to institutional investors for over six years.

Singapore leaders are unaccustomed to such negative publicity. As a gesture of sympathy, Malaysian politicians should send Lee a box of mooncakes as a reminder that to receive sweetness, he should first give sweetness.

Thank you message from the protesters

From the Singapore Democratic Party
25 Sep 06

Dear Fellow Singaporeans,

We want to say a very heartfelt thank you for all the support you showed during our 72-hour protest last week.

In our small and humble way we wanted to show to the mighty PAP regime that it cannot continue to steamroll over our fellow citizens and us – at least without having to pay a political price.

And many of you helped us. Those of you who sat with us through the nights, you presence made us stronger. Those of you who sang, your voices lifted our spirits. Those of you who came by to share a meal with us or just to say hello, your kind gestures were soothed our minds and bodies.

As the days wore on, we could see that many of you had become bolder and came by to sit with us, despite the police cameras rolling. By the final night much of our fears had gone away.

Critics note that there were very few people who came to support us. It is true that we did not see supporters by the thousands. But in a climate where the police were doing everything they could to discourage Singaporeans from joining us – including seizing our publicity flyers, turning away the public at Speakers’ Corner, taking photographs of our supporters and asking for their particulars, and most important blacking out the news of the protest – the numbers that we saw are truly remarkable and extremely encouraging.

Several of you who defied your own fears and police intimidation to show up at the protest site were marvelous. There were also some younger members of the Workers’ Party who came and chatted for a while. A couple of them even bought some cheng tng and other refreshments. Thank you. Your gesture is greatly appreciated.

The many of you who took pictures and videos of the protest and posted them on the Internet, who helped to disseminate news reports as they came in thick and fast, who emailed your friends and told them what was going on you were all part of our protest and we owe you a debt of gratitude for your assistance.

And to the many of you who emailed us, a big thank you. To the couple of you who didn’t have very nice things to say, we hope to change your minds one day.

September 16, 2006 will go down in history as a day when Singaporeans came alive. Every one of you who was involved in one way or another, big or small, was part of a team that took on the PAP machinery. Without you the protest could not have been as effective.

All of you can truly take pride that we, the proud citizens of this nation, have begun this process of taking back what rightfully belongs to us.

Movements never start with the masses. They always take place with the few taking the first steps followed by greater numbers. We hope to see more of you in the coming weeks and months when we organise seminars to raise awareness and train more democracy activists.

Take heart and don’t stop believing that one day, democracy, too, will come to Singapore.

Yours in solidarity,

Gandhi Ambalan
Chee Siok Chin
Jeffrey George
Charles Tan
Teoh Tian Jin
Chee Soon Juan
Francis Yong

Empower Singaporeans Rally & March – Speeches (Day 4)

Approx. 20 minutes

Activists standing down from their protest on Sept 19, 12.30pm. The speakers were Chee Soon Juan, Gandhi Ambalam and Chee Siok Chin. The activists left Hong Lim Park in a private car.