Wanna act tough, go all the way la

Once in a while, we get these retired senior civil servants or diplomats who emerge from the woods to try to tell the current Government and the civil servants how to suck eggs. The message invariably would be – be bold, take risks, break new grounds, challenge your bosses, be a maverick. These are usually the same people who would instinctively bow and ask “How high?” when Lee Kuan Yew asked them to jump. Now that the old man is gone, they suddenly become the enlightened lot.

So I read this piece by our esteemed diplomat Ms Chan Heng Chee. Silly of me to not think deep enough and forward it to my civil service friend to tell him to wake up his idea. My astute friend was quick enough to dissect the piece for me and point out how contradictory the commentary (or was it a speech) was.

Here you are – a now self-anointed elderly stateswoman – I guess I can call her elderly since she must be like 75 – with all the swagger and trying to tell civil servants to be gung-ho, be the maverick, not to be scared, speak up without fear, go for broke with taxpayers’ money. And then within the same editorial space, committed the same kiasu, kiasi cardinal sins which she herself is accusing her civil service colleagues of!

Why do I say that? In her piece on what is needed for leadership in today’s global environment, she talks about the uncertain world, black swans or outlier events. And then, she went to name all the events which didn’t exactly look like black swans to me. Invasion of Crimea? Blockade of Qatar? Airbnb? Amazon? Lehman? Despite her years in diplomacy, her threshold for geopolitical and business surprises is really low.

But I digress. That’s not quite the point. She talks about the need for diversity and youth in leadership in the modern world.  She names Trudeau, Macron and Varadkar, all in their late 30s and 40s. And then, to protect herself in case she ended up like her old friend Kishore Mahbubani, she had to spend the next paragraph painstakingly assuring the public she thinks Lee Hsien Loong should continue in office well beyond an old age. Talk about still wanting to hedge your bets when you want to come across as bold. Just when you think you going to have another maverick hitting home another strong commentary, we are immediately brought down to earth: she is no different from the people she is slamming.

Next, she laments the lack of courage among the civil servants in taking on new, bold and huge initiatives. Like, for instance, she related the story about how some civil servants will only do stuff that have been tested. Anything not done before would not be accepted. I actually share her sentiment,  having had to deal with some B-less civil servants in the past. So you think you are on to something good. Break a leg. Make a big splash, you think she’s going to bark at her civil service colleagues.

Alas, she went on to the next point about sandboxes! Sandboxes which others are doing and we’re copying? Start small, controlled experiments. And when they succeed, then go big! In short, when not sure, don’t take big risks. Look at what the Chinese are doing in Shenzhen, Guangzhou in their special economic zones, she preaches. Er, have you read your own previous paragraph, Ms Chan. The special economic zones are probably the classic “Let’s copy someone first, not take too much risks, start small and then when sure, then expand. (In case Ms Chan has forgotten, the SEZs came after Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and took ideas from us and went home and unleashed that economic reforms. Again, see what others have tried and succeeded.)

Isn’t that what the civil servants are doing? Mind you, they are not entrepreneurs dealing with their own money. They are using hard earned taxpayers’ money. A little conservatism is not a bad idea sometimes. In the same vein, we have also read of how some government departments are wasting money on new untried technology or dabbling in businesses they have never done before and losing millions.

So there you have it. What a let down from the good professor. And what an irony. If she succeeds in anything, she inadvertently confirmed she is none other than one of those gutless digits herself – always looking not to be caught offside with the establishment and trying to keep herself in the good books with her bosses. And to think she is at the end of her career runway with little to lose. If she can’t even go all the way in her pronouncements and take some risks like Kishore or Bilahari, then can we really hope our younger civil servants can do better?

Singapore’s next court saga

$33 million paid out now void – where did it go?

The Straits Times ran an explosive story today, that Aljunied Hougang Town Council is suing WP MPs to recover improper payments.

Not that you’d know it from the headline, which states “AHTC takes legal action against Workers’ Party town councillors over past payments”. Nothing to suggest the “town councillors” were not just residents but sitting MPs and GE candidates (Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh and Kenneth Foo).

I remember that when FAS officials were arrested, people like Kirsten Han said, “Why didn’t the mainstream media state ‘ex-PAP MP arrested in their headline?”

Will they say the same thing now? After all, this is a much more serious case. Sitting MPs allegedly misusing their residents’ money. Nearly 5 million dollars of it went to “overpayments or payments without proper certification of work being done, among others”. Who are these companies that benefited?

That’s not all- there’s a total $33 million paid to a company run by WP supporters, now declared wrongful payments. It’ll all be aired in court- no amount of dodging can save these WP MPs now.

WP can’t even cry political persecution now. The charges were filed by an independent committee, led by Philip Jeyaretnam, son of ex-WP leader JBJ.

Let’s see if the “independent” sites and commenters give the same treatment to this story as they do to any government controversy. Then we’ll see if they’re really working for the Singaporean people.

Anyway people of Aljunied and Hougang, you tahan WP so long already! Time to change your minds?

Why should LKY’s grandson be treated differently from Alex Au?

OK, I want to talk about the Lee family.

More specifically, Li Shengwu and his aunt Lee Wei Ling, otherwise known as the feisty “no filter’’ sister of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Perhaps, they have been used to that sort of powers and privileges that their grandfather’s and father’s positions accorded them all these years? That they should feel they are different from the rest of us? That they are above the law and must be treated special?

So we all thought we were going to have a truce. All quiet on the Oxley front. And then this fellow, Shengwu, a privileged well-educated rich kid of Lee Hsien Yang and Lim Suet Fern, (yes Lim, you haven’t earned the right to be a Mrs Lee, I’m afraid) decided he wants to be smart about it. Or was it smug?

Over the weekend, the third generation Lee decided to upload a post on his Facebook to his friends where he took an aim at the Singapore judiciary system, calling it “pliant’’. Essentially he is saying the judges here are not independent. Mind you, he is talking about a judiciary system which tops the world rankings and that was painstakingly built none other than his own grandfather Lee Kuan Yew.

And to add further insults, he just about attacks his own grandfather by encouraging everyone to read a (now refuted) New York Times piece which slammed Singapore. In short, he is slamming his own grandfather, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.  Ironically, the late Lee Kuan Yew mind you, was particularly protective of Singapore’s reputation.

Now wait. The stupidity doesn’t end there. Then comes Lee Wei Ling. When the Attorney General’s Office said it was probing into the Facebook post on possible case of contempt by Shengwu, she let fly at the government and claimed the Big Brother (no pun intended) and the civil servants are checking on the Facebook of private citizens and their conversations. She seemed to suggest that sharing on social media with friends does not amount to contempt.

Despite all the top notched education, these two – Shengwu and Wei Ling – appear to have little understanding of the laws and the workings of the social media. (Amazingly, one is a President’s scholar and the other is a fellow in Harvard and a world class debater.) You make baseless allegations, well knowing it will viral, and then now cry foul when the comments have taken effect , made their impact and drew a response?

Let me explain. First, you post something on Facebook for a few hundred people to see and you call it a private conversation? Do they even understand each of their friends will have hundreds of other friends? What are the odds they don’t make it to the public?

But that may not even be relevant. Last check a defamation suit can apply even when it is one person communicating with another. A scandalising comment does not need to make it to the mainstream media for it to be followed up. In any case, it wasn’t mainstream media which reported Shengwu’s comments. It was the anti-Government alternative sites which reported on them. The same media whom they have been using in recent fiery exchange with the PM. Wei Ling tried pass it off as private musings. She must have forgotten she and Sheng Wu are part of the most powerful family in Singapore and surely any controversial comments by them on the court would be widely followed and viralled. Shengwu should be best advised not to trust his own friends to make such posts if he doesn’t want to be held responsible for it. Well guess what, thanks to his little venture, the news will now surely make it the mainstream media.

Second, the law on contempt. Are the Lee family above the law? Isn’t it ironic? If Shengwu doesn’t want the courts to be “pliant’’ and hopes to see it operate independently, then all the more the AGC should be hauling him for questioning over his comments on our judiciary system. As recent as 2015, one Alex Au, a gay activist was charged for contempt of court and convicted. So was foreigner Alan Shadrake who was also convicted of scandalising the courts.

Now, here‘s the question I have for everyone. Can anyone give me a good reason why Shengwu should be treated differently from Alex Au and Alan Shadrake if our courts and judges are indeed independent? He being the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew? He being the nephew of the Prime Minister? Certainly, our founding PM would not have it. He left a system where he himself is not above the law, let alone the grandson.

And speaking of the founding PM, why is the grandson hiding overseas siding with the Western media to attack this great nation his own grandfather built? That surely is ungratefulness at the highest order. The kid benefited enormously from the country his grandfather and uncle built. His father’s jobs at Singtel and F&N paid for his education.

What do we get in return? A shocking attack on his own grandfather and our judiciary system which both helped to build a system that produced the successful country that we have.

How many of LHY and LWL’s allegations are true?

Take away the political posturing, here’s what we really know so far.

  1. Did LKY feel gov’t gazetted the house?

LHY admits that LKY was told there was no gazette. So, if he really wanted to demolish the house at all costs, he would just do it before his death. Who would dare say no? And if PM really indicated he wanted to preserve the house, why would LKY bequeath it to PM?

Come on, this is LKY. He didn’t bend before the British Empire, he didn’t bend before the Communist world, he didn’t bend when the whole region was fighting us. Would he be so easily pressured? As proven by Heng Swee Keat’s recounting and his letter to Cabinet, he chose to leave the matter to government, because his values were that Singapore should take precedence over anyone, even himself.

Maybe PM would be in a stronger position now if he hadn’t given in to sibling pressure and sold LHY the house. Guess he just wanted to keep the family together. Unfortunately his siblings don’t feel the same way.

  1. Does LHL wants to preserve the house for political capital?

Wrong on so many levels.

LHL wants to retire soon, and his son is not interested in politics. So he doesn’t need the political capital. Singaporeans are not that stupid, LHY. We can judge our PM based on his work in the past 13 years, not based on whose son he is.

He’s not involved in any government discussions on the matter. The current government is not going to decide it anyway.

Just ask yourself: If LHL wasn’t the PM, would government still think about preserving the house? Certainly! Then where’s the abuse of power here?

  1. Was the Ministerial Committee secret?

DPM Teo Chee Hean’s Press Secretary has released documents showing that LHY and LWL were informed of the setting up of the Committee, and what it will do.

Of course, they didn’t get to know who was in the Committee and what options it was considering. That’s just like any private citizen. If you write to HDB now, ask whether your flat will be en-bloced and who decides this, you also wouldn’t get that information. Why should the Lee siblings expect any different?

  1. Did PM receive the Deed of Gift improperly?

PM was updated about the major exhibition, as he should be. Anyway as a beneficiary of the estate, he was entitled to know. He did write to his siblings to tell them off for insisting on leaving out the second part of the demolition clause. LHY says this is using the information for a private legal dispute- except that there is no such dispute!

  1. Did Ho Ching give items to NHB when LKY was sick, without permission?

On the alleged date of offence, Ho Ching was halfway around the globe.

After LKY died, she tidied up items while LHY and wife were holidaying. At that time, it was not known that LHY and LWL were executors of the will. So as a family member, she was entitled to do so. Nonetheless, she kept LHY and LWL updated on the loans (loans, not gifts!). Seems like they didn’t object till the dispute blew up more than two years later!

  1. Is A-G Lucien Wong biased?

Lucien Wong hasn’t done anything in this case as A-G. AGC is being consulted by the Ministerial Committee on the validity of the will, but again, anything Wong or the Committee say can be ignored by a future government.

It’s normal for A-Gs to have had previous ties with the government. They can just recuse themselves from related discussions. LHY has shown no proof to his claim that Wong is acting improperly.

 

At the same time, LHY has not explained if his wife drafted the Last Will in conflict with existing rules. Every time their claims are debunked, they move on to a new claim to confuse Singaporeans.

So the next time LHY and LWL allege something, ask yourself: why should I believe them when most of what they said hasn’t been true?

Damp Squib

I was watching what the WP would say about the Oxley saga.

Well, Low Thia Khiang said government shouldn’t have engaged the siblings on Facebook. Hello, Teochew uncle, now young Singaporeans only read Facebook leh. It has more readership than the mainstream media. How can government let allegations just fly on Facebook?

He obviously has not kept up with the times. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have his own Facebook page.

Then Sylvia Lim questioned the independence of Attorney-General Lucien Wong.  But I was thinking, anyone appointed as Attorney-General is definitely a top legal mind. If they used to be a Supreme Court judge, they have been appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

If they used to be top private lawyers, they would have been fighting against government prosectors every day in court. Or they have had Ministers or MPs as clients, or worked with those who are lawyers. There’s no way to ensure that the A-G doesn’t know any top government officials at all.

Anyway, WP could have brought up the Lucien Wong issue months ago. It has nothing much to do with the Oxley saga.

They also talked about the conflict of interest in the Ministerial Committee. But anybody in the Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister. Most of them have worked with Lee Kuan Yew before, either in Cabinet or as his staff. The benchmark here is whether they could personally benefit from the matter- like PM- not whether they simply know the people involved.

WP wants a special select committee. I guess to give the impression of impartality, they want the committee to have members from WP. So they’re essentially asking the Cabinet to outsource the decision to Low Thia Khiang?

Did you notice it? At the same time, they keep asking PM to settle it in court. That means they don’t think there is any abuse of power. Good to hear that from an opposition party- shows Singapore’s system is working well!

FamiLEE Feud- Minus the Smokescreens

Wah, so much to catch up on! I go away for almost one week and the battle at 38 Oxley Road continues unabated. Thank god, the wifi was weak in our Bali resort and I don’t have to follow the embarrassing blow-by-blow accounts.

Now if my reading of the piled up articles are correct, here are the real questions and key points we need to focus on. Forget all the smokescreens that have been cleverly thrown up.

The house issue in 3 paragraphs

LKY wanted the house demolished. That’s his personal wish. But he accepted that the Government might preserve it for historic reasons against his wishes. This is documented in his wills and his letter to Cabinet.

PM personally also agrees the house should be demolished. But he can’t abuse his power as the head of government to grant his father’s wishes. We need a proper procedure to decide if it is indeed a heritage site.

Right now, the Government has said it is not going to decide one way or another. The Ministerial Committee already stated publicly that it will just list options for decision by a future government – for all you know with Nicole Seah as PM. The decision point will only come when Lee Wei Ling leaves or dies, maybe not for another 20, 30 years.

See? It’s really not that complex.

What does Hsien Yang want? 

So what is Lee Hsien Yang complaining about? Why is he insisting on getting a promise that the house will be demolished eventually? In short, what is the motive for all the fuss?

Remember, PM offered to sell Wei Ling the house for $1, with the condition that she cannot profit from any eventual demolition. But she rejected the condition. PM had to sell it to Hsien Yang without that condition. If all the younger siblings wanted was the demolition and to honour their father’s wishes, why not accept the initial offer? Wei Ling has also publicly said that Hsien Yang doesn’t want to donate proceeds if the house is sold.

A “demolition promise” will raise the redevelopment value of the house. If the land is sold to a rich PRC developer who can eventually demolish the house and build a condominium, how much money will Hsien Yang make?

Even if that’s true, why is he doing it in this way, through public accusations? What’s more, he keeps throwing up issues not related to the house, like Ho Ching’s character. My view is simple: Political pressure, especially with the Presidential Elections coming up. They’ve threatened to politically blackmail PM before (as sworn by PM under oath and not denied by them), looks like they’re following through on their threats now.

Another reason could be that they know they won’t get their way in a fair impartial consideration. Tellingly, PM has sworn his side of the story under oath. But when the Committee asked Hsien Yang and Wei Ling to do so, they didn’t. Even if they suspected corruption in the Ministerial Committee, they could have given statutory declarations, then used that as a basis to go public. Their refusal to swear their story under oath looks suspicious to me.

And in fact, many of the accusations have already been proven false. Hsien Yang saying that Kwa drafted the last will, and that Ho Ching took LKY’s items when he was sick. The truth is, his wife herself said her firm drafted the will, which might be a conflict of interest and call into question the validity of the will. And Ho Ching lent out the items with PM’s approval, stressing that they need to be returned to the estate. But when the lies are called out, more diversions follow to confuse the public.

So put aside the political blackmail, and you’ll see the true motives. Hopefully instead of whatever personal motives, the interests of most Singaporeans will prevail.

Common Lies about Oxley 38

When I look at what people are saying on Facebook, it’s obvious many have bought into lies about this feud. So here’s the naked truth.

And as always with lies, think about who stands to gain from spreading them!

 

  1. Lie: LHL wants to preserve the house

Truth: LHL personally wants to honour his father’s wishes (i.e. demolish the house). In his declaration to the committee, he just raised questions about how the last will was prepared, and the conflict of interest in LHY and wife being involved in the preparation. This is to clarify what LKY’s true wishes were.

By the way, the house was bequeathed to LHL alone. If he had wanted from the start to preserve it, he need not have sold it to LHY.

 

  1. Lie: Preserving it will help LHL build a political dynasty

Truth: LHL wants to retire soon. His son Hongyi is not interested in politics, despite LWL and LHY’s claims. What political dynasty?

 

  1. Lie: LKY wanted it demolished and that’s that

Truth: LKY’s wishes are disputed. But even if they were not, the government has the right to disregard any landowner’s wishes and preserve the house for its heritage value.

If the government could not overrule rich scions who want to demolish heritage buildings to build condos, what would become of our heritage?

 

  1. Lie: Committee wants to preserve it

Truth: The Ministerial Committee will NOT make any decision about the house. They will simply collect information from all involved and list down the options for a future government. Since the decision will only take place when LWL moves out, the future government will probably not be led by LHL, and may not be a PAP government at all.

Why now? It’s like an investigation- they need to collect the facts as soon as possible, before memories get hazy.

 

  1. Lie: The Committee is on LHL’s side

Truth: What side, when LHL himself wants to demolish the house?

LHL is not involved in the Committee. It consists of DPM Teo Chee Hean and the Ministers in charge of heritage (Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu), land issues (Minister for Law K. Shanmugam, whose Ministry includes SLA) and urban planning (Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong).