What is real freedom of speech?

Whenever it’s a case of Government versus the people, it is easy for people to side with the people. That’s understandable. Big Government. Nazis. Bullies against the small man.

But we sometimes forget the Government and the civil service are made up of warm blooded human beings. They are the people too. When we talk about a government department, it is not just an entity. It is people, like you and me. With families. With dignity. With a bright future like everyone else. Trying to make a decent living. Like the saying goes, “There is no such thing as a society. It’s you and me.”

So I read this big argument between the Government and the Workers’ Party over the latest judgment by the Court of Final Appeal. What the 2-1 majority decision says is this – the government is not a person. So it cannot use the law against harassment and to correct fake news. At first glance, it sounds reasonable.

Except that if you think a bit deeper, you would realise two things. One, the two judges who disagree with the Chief Justice misread the intent of the law. It provides for the Government to get the offending party to correct their false reporting. They are not talking about harassment. They are talking about getting the mischievous or guilty party to own up and correct their mistake.

WP used freedom of speech to argue their case. If you think about it, what the government is asking is in fact that. If you say something wrong and the court agrees you are lying and I ask you to correct your mistake and you refuse – you are indeed impeding freedom of speech. So by getting the truth out through the guilty party, you are indeed promoting better freedom of speech.  So WP’s position does not hold water.

Then the WP tries another tack. They say if you have all the vast resources to correct the error, you don’t need to be protected. The individual should be allowed to say all kinds of defamatory stuff about the Government or a department and then hopefully people will read the clarification somewhere else.

As one official told me, it is as good as saying rich people and companies do not need defamation laws since they have resources to communicate somewhere else. That is a sure invite for mischief and taking down our government departments.

 

So what does the judgment mean?

If I don’t like a certain CEO of a statutory board or a junior officer of an agency, I can blog everyday and claim that department is anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay or anti-whatever nonsense I can think of to sabotage the people there. Over time, hopefully it sticks and the people in that department suffer and people lose faith in the department.

I can use it as a pressure point to HDB officers who refuse to give me my flat early by saying HDB is corrupt, HDB is anti-Chinese, HDB is this and that. And I don’t need to correct myself even when proven false? Since HDB can use its other means to hopefully address my mischief?

I don’t like the taste of a medicine from a hospital. I can blog every day that the hospital is reckless in dispensing medicine and that people have died from it- and I can get away with it. Hopefully, people will stop going to the hospital so that I get to punish a certain pharmacist I don’t like.

What does that mean for all of us in Singapore? Everybody can have a go at any government department if they are not happy with one chap there, whether he is the senior official or a rude counter lady. Our latest trust index showed our Government is still very much trusted by our people – around 70 per cent, one of the highest in the world. The developed nations – looked upon highly by the liberals and our dear opposition – scored in the 30s.

But if we do nothing about the harassment law and allows the intent to be lost by all this politicking thanks to the WP, the losers are not just the government and civil servants. It is you and me and anyone who needs to count on a good government to a better livelihood.

 

 

Allegations of corruption: AHTC vs. AMKTC

Ang Mo Kio Town Council’s former General Manager Victor Wong is under investigation by the CPIB. Pro-opposition folks like Andrew Loh and Lee Li Lian have been quick to jump on the case. One needs to remember he is innocent until proven guilty.

They complain that the press has not covered it as extensively as the AHPETC or AHTC saga.

Eh, wait for CPIB to charge the guy if they really find something criminal lah. Then you can have daily front-page splashes like when the CNB and SCDF heads were charged. Those guys were much more highly-ranked than Victor Wong, and they were still charged and dragged through the mud. Remember all the saucy details of sex escapades? Proof that we should have faith in our system. 

The PAP Town Council dealt with the allegations much more transparently. Once a complaint was made, the probe started. And announced relatively soon. Remember there will also be personal damage to the accused if the probe eventually turns up nothing.

Meanwhile, opposition folks lied through their teeth to deny their problems. Andrew Loh said, “There were investigations by the MND/HDB, the AGO, PriceWaterHouse, and KPMG…In their final reports, there were no complaints of WP or AHPETC stalling investigations.

Oh really??!! When someone only talks about “final reports”, you can be pretty sure he doesn’t want to talk about anything else that happened. In any case, the AHTC case is not done yet. Investigations are still on-going. What makes him so sure there is nothing to it?

And guess who are the ones who were dragging the case on – instead of coming clean from day one.

 Let’s take a look at their stalling tactics.

1.       Not submitting reports for years.

They have not submitted properly verified accounts since 2013!

2.       Refusal to appoint accountants.

Went to court for a whole year until courts orders them to appoint a Big Four accountant.

3.       Repeated lies

–          Lie 1: Said AHPETC’s accounts are problematic because they have not been able to get data from the former managing agent, or from authorities like MND.

Truth: Issues are either what AHPETC promised to fix a year ago but had not, or nothing to do with handover issues.

–          Lie 2: Said they can’t report on S&CC arrears as their finance staff are busy preparing information for the AGO audit.

Truth: AHPETC stopped submitting monthly S&CC arrears reports after April 2013, when the AGO audit only started in Feb 2014. Sylvia Lim quickly denies she said so in the first place.

–          Lie 3: Low Thia Khiang says in Parliament that AGO did not find AHPETC engaged in corrupt practices nor any money lost.

Truth: AHPETC has been trying to claw back money from their managing agent FMSS. They have stopped paying FMSS and are in court because of this. This is how they act when there is “no money lost”?

–          Lie 4: Said they are insolvent due to MND’s withholding of funds.

Truth: Sylvia Lim had rejected MND’s offer to disburse half of the funds. Also, AHPETC’s financial position consistently deteriorated between FY11 and FY13 even though full grants were given by MND during these three years.

Let’s go a step further to question- why did WP stall investigations? Why did they lie so many times, when they knew they will be swiftly contradicted by facts? Why do they keep saying the government is persecuting them, or the government also has issues? Because they know Singaporeans see them as the underdogs and want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Because they know many people can’t understand the accounting jargon, and if they keep muddying the waters, people will give up following the case. Most importantly, because they know that under the Town Council Act (before recent amendments), Town Councils are only accountable to their residents and councillors. They can’t be charged for financial incompetence, only voted out. So they focussed on deceiving the people, not actually managing their town well.  But remember, if or once a criminal act is found in subsequent investigations, they may end up in court as well.

Compare this to the Victor Wong case. AMKTC received a complaint about him, and proactively called CPIB in. Remember the Town Council Act I talked about- they didn’t have to. They behaved like people who want the truth out, so that they can fix the lapses. Unlike the WP MPs, who are behaving like people who know if the whole truth comes out, they won’t escape blame.

Power Comes from the Barrel of the Gun

Two events happened at the end of 2016.

On Nov 23, nine SAF Terrex infantry carrier vehicles, en route from Taiwan to Singapore, were seized in Hong Kong. The Chinese foreign ministry pretty much confirmed they were behind it by warning Singapore not to engage in official exchanges with Taiwan. China oversees Hong Kong’s foreign and defence policies.

Until now, the Terrexes have not been returned. Although Singapore “communicated its formal position”, Hong Kong Customs have not even given an official reason for why they were seized. The big bully continued to hold us hostage.

Meanwhile on Dec 15, China seized a drone belonging to the US Navy in the South China Sea. Within days when the Americans cried foul, Beijing was quick to accede to them. On Dec 22, China returned the drone intact after “friendly consultations”. Even after President-elect Trump said they could keep it!

Why the difference? Well, the US military is the most powerful military in the world. They spend $601 billion a year on their military, much more than China’s $216 billion, and in fact more than the next nine militaries combined.Their military superiority is beyond doubt. The Chinese know it.

Singapore? We spend $9.5 billion a year on our military. We’re a tiny nation that China probably thinks they can overrun in a week.  Why should they respond to our protests?

What the two incidents drive home is this – power comes from the barrel of the gun. If we do not have the military to back us, our best diplomatic efforts won’t get us anywhere. How esle would countries like Indonesia and Malaysia treat us as equal? Is it enough to count on the goodwill of our friendly neighbours? I think it’s best we arm ourselves well and that allows us to speak softly.

Come to think of it, Paul Tambyah and SDP, you still want to cut defence spending by 40%?

When Town Council managers start issuing cheques to themselves outside…

KPMG has issued another report on the WP-run AHTC (formerly AHPETC). Things look bad.

 

What KPMG found out

– – Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) paid $23.3m to a private company FMSS.

– The TC’s General Manager, Deputy GM, Finance Manager and Operations Manager also owned FMSS. They were basically signing cheques to themselves, with residents’ money!

– Improper payments to third parties like suppliers, consultants and contractors

– Paid $2.7m to a consultant without calling for a tender for seven projects.

– Paid $44,000 without adequate supporting documents.

 

Over-payments to FMSS and contractor FMSI

– Extra payment of $608,911 for ‘project management fees’.

– ‘Not determinable’ payment of $893,665.

– First contract of $5.4m awarded with no proper justification or tender waiver

– Second contract of $23.2m awarded without securing competitive rates

– Paid $1.2m more that if it had kept previous managing agent CPG.

 

KPMG’s assessment of AHTC

“A failed control environment”. Meaning the situation is very serious and many things have gone wrong.

– Improprieties “could amount to criminal conduct” if committed deliberately

(Remember, WP MPs have said that no money was lost, and that they didn’t do anything wrong because they’re not in jail. Now KPMG’s findings are completely different!)

 

Role of WP MPs in this

– Supposed to represent interests of the residents who voted for them

– AHTC Chairman and Vice-chairmen, Pritam Singh, Sylvia Lim and Png Eng Huat, supposed to co-sign payment cheques and oversee payments

– Let the TC management, also their long-time supporters and friends, overpay themselves

 

Now every resident of Aljunied and Hougang has to ask himself- Can I trust the denials of my Town Council and MPs any more? Will my hard-earned money be paid to WP supporters? Will the Town Council properly maintain my lifts, electricity fittings and other essential amenities?

Everyone has to decide for himself.

 

Kids: Is it about space and money?

Ever wonder how our population exploded in the 60s when we were poor and lived in small homes? Or how the families in tiny two- and first generation three- room HDB flats produced five, six, seven, eight kids? The original batch of HDB flats in Queenstown and MacPherson had families with 8-10 kids and they lived in all of 645 sq ft – about the size of a shoebox studio. Hey, where did they all get the sex?

As we get richer, better educated and bigger homes, we have fewer and fewer kids – not because of the space problems but because we over-educated ourselves to think too much ahead of the problems you may face in having kids. We become kiasu, kiasi and stop taking risks and fun. We worry about everything even when we have more.

But in the 60s, with less money and less space, hey they were going at it. And boy, did we turn out alright too.

As someone once said, the best contraceptive one can have is education.

Don’t blame us for your own problems

Much has been said about Indonesia’s decision to bring back money parked in Singapore. The so called tax amnesty has attracted some worries that Singapore’s position as a financial hub may be threatened if a massive amount of funds flowed back to Indonesia.

Much of that fear is unfounded. According to a RHB report, the tax amnesty scheme in Indonesia has had a much smaller impact on funds flowing out of Singapore’s private banking industry than feared. The funds flowing out of Singapore likely made up only 1-2 per cent of assets under management (AUM) of the private banking industry. Some 79 trillion rupiah (S$8.3 billion) was repatriated in the first nine-month phase of Jakarta’s tax amnesty programme.

What’s more important to know is that the tax differential is not the main reason why monies are parked in Singapore. Granted, offshore funds can attract better preferential tax rates. But for decades, wealthy Indonesians have also looked to the Singapore as a safe haven for their assets. Foreign funds that park money in Singapore are attracted by its stable political environment, strong regulatory regime, rule of law, sound banking system and efficient telecommunication infrastructure, among other things. The many political crises and upheavals that the Indonesian Chinese had to endure from time to time in the last few decades also prompted many to keep some of their monies in overseas markets like Singapore, Hong Kong and other financial cities. In short, there are many reasons why people put money in Singapore and tax benefit is just but one.

It is also worth noting that Indonesian domestic politicians have been quick to point fingers at Singapore for the assets parked overseas. Some politicians and media have erroneously – whether deliberate or not – said Singapore refused to sign an extradiction pact with Indonesia and that Indonesians have been siphoning money up north. Some went as far as to say that these people are hiding in Singapore with their money.

What they didn’t say was Singapore did sign an agreement with Indonesia on the extradition and it was the Indonesian parliament that didn’t want to ratify it for it to be enforced. And meanwhile, these supposedly crooked Indonesians are allowed to travel openly on their passports to and fro Indonesia. No-one over their end had bothered to stop them coming out. So hey, don’t blame us for your own problems.

 

Paul tells us his boss Chee is “truly’’ unelectable.

It has been a surprisingly quiet period. Nothing seemed to be happening out there. Didn’t get to write much as a result. I would have thought the Elected President issue would have given the usual critics of the government a lot of fodder and opportunities to take a below the belt hit at the ruling party. Alas, Singaporeans understood the issues at hand. Or they are just not bothered by a non-issue that doesn’t give them any money or take away any from them.

This Paul Tambyah fellow finally gave me something to chew on. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post ran what I thought was a pretty balanced piece on the proposed changes to the elected presidency here. But Paul, the SDP ex-candidate, was not happy with the coverage. He went into the reporter’s Facebook post, accusing him of leaving out the recent Bukit Batok by-election. He even accused the reporter of being influenced by the paper’s owner, China’s Jack Ma, without a shred of evidence.

Funny, how Paul is giving this SCMP fellow a taste of his own medicine. A media friend tells me the same cocky reporter had apparently gone into a local journalist’s facebook to accuse him of convenient lapses in editorial standards in his coverage of a local issue. Talk about doing unto others.

Back to the good doctor. Put aside that Tambyah himself is ignoring data that says over 90% of Singaporeans prefer a President from their own race. Let’s look at what Bukit Batok actually tells us.

True, a minority did win the BE. But that was against Chee Soon Juan. That unelectable fellow who refused to take a hint even after over 20 years of clear non-mandate. Still, Chee pulled off virtually the same swing (12.11%) as in the Punggol East BE, despite being

  1. From the SDP

The SDP’s average vote share in GE2015 was more than 12% less than the WP. They are simply not as popular as a party.

  1. Proven to be unelectable

CSJ got 38.8% of the vote, 5.5% higher than in the GE just 8 months ago, and much higher than he has ever achieved (ranging from 20.25% to 34.86%, including 24.5% in the Marine Parade GRC by-election in 1992).

Would Chee have gotten such results without benefiting from the race card? Judging by media reports that some were asking voters to “just vote for the Chinese guy”, even some of his supporters didn’t think so. Perhaps Dr Tambyah’s party loyalties prevent him from seeing this.

Paul obviously isn’t the brightest politician around. (Isn’t he the same fellow who said we need to cut defence budget by 40 per cent and combine home affairs and defence into one ministry?)  What he doesn’t realise is he actually dug himself into a no-win situation with that comment about Bukit Batok. Don’t you see how flawed it is and not doing his own idiotic boss any favour by saying that?

If race does not matter in Bukit Batok, it actually means Singaporeans there  truly put aside race considerations and reject the SDP chairman by a large majority even if it is a harmless by-elections  – yes he is not electable. Ouch! One way or another, he is that idiot who is not electable.

What’s more, during by-elections, people mainly vote according to party, favouring the opposition party. But in a presidential election, where the candidates are not members of any party, race will probably be even more of a factor.

It’s sad that race is still a factor in our elections. But equally sad how SDP is deliberately ignoring this fact, despite any evidence to the contrary, just to further their political agenda.