Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"I have lost everything but I have no regrets"

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it's for real
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then they'll raise their hands
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharaoh's tribe
They'll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered

Lyrics by Bob Dylan
Performed by Marcus Carl Franklin


An excerpt of the introduction to Make It Right For Singapore

published in 2000
by Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam

I have, as a result of going into politics, lost everything. I have no bank account to speak of and do not own any property in Singapore nor hold any stocks or shares in any company. My practice has suffered as a result of my entering into politics way back in 1971. I drive a car but it is one that my son has lent me. I count it as the Grace of providence that I have not been detained and made to spend long years in prison like Mr Chia Thia Poh who spent 23 years in prison and often in solitary confinement.

This book is my humble presentation to the people who in any democratic society are the final judges of what is good for the society they live in. The speeches have one constant theme running through them. That in any democratic society it is the members of the society - the people - who matter.

That they should determine collectively the good of the society and not have it determined for them by anyone above them, however benevolent.

That the society as a whole should take responsibility for its affairs and participate in the making of decisions that affect them.

That power belongs to the people and the government only exercises powers delegated to it by the people.

That the people are the masters and not the government which is only a servant of the people.

That if this does not obtain in any society it ceases to be a democratic society and the people are reduced to being slaves in their own country. Slaves have no say in what their master ordains for them.

It follows that in every democratic society, the individual matters, however lowly he may be. The dustman is as much entitled to his dignity and the rights to preserve that dignity as the highest person in the land is.

These rights which have been termed human rights are inalienable and no person should be deprived of them even in the supposed interest of the community. It is a blot on the community even if one person is deprived of his rights.

It is only by protecting the rights of every single individual that the community as a whole is protected.

The rights are those that are necessary to the full development of the individual's dignity as a human being.

The rights to housing, education, medical care, food and clothing. Besides these material rights, are those inalienable rights but no less important. The right to liberty, freedom from arbitrary arrest, to think, to speak his mind, to associate with his fellow beings in speaking together, to move freely and the right to live his life without fear under the law.

To know what the law to which he has agreed through his elected representatives prohibits him from doing and to live his life fully without transgressing the law. That he can only be deprived of any of his rights after it has been proven to him that he had broken his contract with his fellow members of society.

Deprive a human being of these inalienable rights and you make him less than a human being however well off he may be materially.

A person loses his dignity if he is not allowed to think and give utterance to his thoughts whether alone or in the company of others. I am a passionate believer in all these. We are at the highest level of creation when we have taken on the image of God.

The speeches scan the period from June 1997 to November 1999. Although a full Parliament was in place in January, Parliament did not meet until the end of May. The government functioned without Parliament. In a parliamentary democracy government takes its authority from Parliament but in Singapore the government was constituted and exercised power before Parliament was sworn in. This was also the position after the 1988 and 1991 elections..

The right to justice is an integral part of human rights. Indeed it is justice that protects and safeguards human rights. I am concerned at some unhealthy trends in Singapore in the administration of criminal justice - the part of justice which protects human liberty and freedom. It is a concern that many lawyers in Singapore share.

It is my hope that Singaporeans may find some inspiration in my speeches. Although, as I said, I have lost everything. I have no regrets.

My reward has been the esteem I have met everywhere I go in Singapore and that is something no amount of money can buy.

I thank God that he has given me the health and strength to render such service as I have tried to from 1971.

- J.B. Jeyaretnam (1926 - 2008)