Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reforming PAP under Kuan Yew is not possible : Dr Poh Soo Kai

.. But after Kuan Yew's death, there may a fight within the PAP. At the moment, there are 3 factions in the PAP..."

A founding member of the PAP and a former political prisoner of 17 years, Dr Poh Soo Kai offers a perspective of the history of Singapore's struggle for independence and gives his views on the current PAP Government and the recent strikes by bus drivers. Recorded in Malaysia.

  Dr Poh Soo Kai and a History of the Malayan-Singapore Left

Monday, December 03, 2012

Video : Exiled dissident Tan Wah Piow speaks

Article and video by

“You can resign and go to SBS,” the drivers were told

by Vincent Wijeysingha

The government has acted in our name as is its duty. It purged an industrial action and returned the nation to business as usual. The bus drivers from SMRT recklessly involved themselves in an illegal strike after refusing to bring their grievances to management or their trade union or seek the assistance of the Manpower Ministry. Twenty-nine have been deported, one hundred and fifty more issued a police warning and the five ringleaders will be tried. Industrial harmony has been restored, the tripartite relationship upheld, and public disorder averted.

As fortunate citizens of this prosperous and stable nation, we can heave a sigh of relief. Those refractory foreigners got what they deserved. How dare they come to our land - which our government built from a fishing village - and demand such indulgences as suitable accommodation and an equal wage. Nobody promised them any of that: if they aren’t happy here they can fuck off back home.

There are too many damn foreigners here as it is. The come here to steal our jobs, marry our women, clog the trains, explode housing prices, beat up taxi drivers, and drive Ferraris too fast. They dance outside Wisma Atria and jam the staircases at Lucky Plaza. Oh, and they smell. And talk too loudly. In strange accents.

In short, they are audacious and unpleasant. Oh, and they smell. Did I mention that? They do. And they talk too loudly.

Twenty-nine PRC workers deported means trains that are twenty-nine odoriferous bodies less crowded.

Except that they mostly built the train stations in the last twenty years. And the condos. And the roads. And dug the drains. And sweep the streets and collect the garbage. And keep one million households clean, children fed, grandparents minded, dogs walked, and laundry washed.

All at a cost so miniscule that our taxes can be kept low. And investment can pour in. And we can go to work in comfort, walk clean streets, and come home to clean houses and clean children.

What price do we pay for these smelly philanthropists?

What price do they pay?

Well, we found out this week. If we are to take a position on what could yet be the most divisive moment of the decade, we should know what we are talking about.

The 25 November Baidu website post of one of the ringleaders soon to be tried for instigating the strike bespeaks a frustrated, despairing man. A man feeling the weight of the unfairness of treatment by a large government-controlled transit company.

 “This is not just a labour dispute, it was an illegal strike,” intoned the responsible minister solemnly at his press conference on Saturday. But what if the law is unfair? What if the law makes it so difficult as to be impossible for a worker to claim fair treatment? What if the law masks an even greater injustice? What then?

I exonerate the minister since he is acting within the constraints imposed upon him. Constraints built into the system over decades. Constraints precisely designed to neutralise anyone who dares to ask for respect and dignity. We are, after all, economic digits, and the minister played out the role that history and the PAP high command has laid out for him. He is, in many senses, an economic digit too.

But should we stand by as our fellow workers, whether born upon this soil or not, are given a wage increase of thirteen cents an hour? Are paid less for doing the same work? Are told to go and join another company if they are unhappy with their pay and conditions? Are made to sleep in overcrowded, bed bug-infested dormitories?

Let us examine the facts of the case as they have unfolded, not over this last week since the bus drivers struck, but over almost six months since their contracts were rewritten. For then we will learn that this was not a wildcat strike by a few unreasonable, demanding, ungrateful ringleaders but the last wretched act in a series of grievances which management and the trade union congress resolutely refused to address but which, if they had, might have averted the strike and prevented so many workers (and their families) from having to pay the ultimate price of losing their jobs.

Some several weeks before July, the workers were informed that their contracts were to be varied effective July. Salaries were to be revised upwards. However, the working week was also to be lengthened from five to six days. Recalculating their raised wages against their longer working hours meant an actual drop in wages.

Additionally, their six day work week did not mean working Days 1 to 6 and then resting on the seventh. It meant being allocated a rest day at any time during each seven day period: Thus they could be off on Monday, work twelve days straight and then be off next on the Sunday of the second week.

This did not include the already existing practice of not paying the drivers for the time it takes to prepare their vehicles prior to starting their first run of the day and servicing their vehicles after the end of each shift. Workers estimated that SMRT sucked at least one hour of unpaid work per shift from each driver. That’s six hours per week, or $150 per month. Which is 750 Renmimbi: a week’s wages in China.

Now, bear in mind that these changes were not negotiated with the workers. They were simply announced. In fact, at some depots, management merely posted a note on the canteen notice board.

The workers, both foreign and local, became unhappy, as necessarily they would. They spoke to their management. Some wrote a petition; some approached The Online Citizen; others came to the SDP for help.

Nothing could be achieved in the face of corporate and government obduracy. As The Online Citizen wrote on 1 October, “All negotiations with SMRT’s HR have failed as well. In a closed door meeting with the SMRT drivers, the Senior Operations Manager of SMRT told the drivers, “You can resign and go to SBS”.”

The matter was delegated to Ong Ye Kung, the failed PAP parliamentary candidate for Aljuneid in 2011. He was in somewhat of a difficult position being, in addition to Deputy Secretary-General of the NTUC, also, in the tripartite format that has served the administration so well these last thirty years, a director of the Board of SMRT. Mr Ong resigned in September without disclosing his reasons: perhaps the conundrum was beyond his intellectual limits.

The matter of the SMRT drivers was pushed onto the back burner. The government ignored the reports in the online press. Frustrated drivers even approached a lawyer for legal advice. The workers eventually struck because even the trifling $25 pay increase wasn’t yet in their latest wage packet.

The reason I am acquainted with this sequence of events, which SMRT and the Manpower Ministry has pretended didn’t come to pass and on which the mainstream press has dutifully kept silent, is because the SDP’s Community Service Unit was involved with some of the workers from before their new contracts came into force and had been liaising through a third party with the petition writers.

I am moved to write this note because in those frustrated Chinese bus drivers, I see my own fate. The powers that govern the allocation of resources, that is, governments and corporations, have never conceded better pay and conditions for workers without a fight, sometimes violent and bloody confrontations merely to exact such simple concessions as a living wage and safe working conditions. I have never believed that I can get on in life without a collective attitude to society. Each man and woman contributing their skills and time to make a nation hum. Capital and labour working together, to use the phraseology of a past age. So, in the fate of some workers who, in the intransigence of great power, had nowhere else to turn except to withdraw their labour, their only power against power, as it were, I see my own fate as a worker.

No doubt, there are some who will accuse me of politicking, of turning this into an opportunity to ‘bash’ the government. It is a convenient accusation and one which, ultimately, benefits no one but those who would prefer that we remain economic digits, rather than self-respecting citizens of a free society.

To use that time-honoured word so hallowed by the PAP, I will be accused by some of trying to “politicise” the issue. The first prime minister’s formulation, which writer Catherine Lim found to her cost, that to involve oneself in politics one must join a political party, is both self-serving and dishonest. All citizens, indeed all people, through the very fact of their existence, are responsible for the political structures, economic conditions and social framework of their community. The word politics stems from the Greek for ‘city’. Living in a city, a community, makes us all responsible for its functioning. In Athens, the cradle of democracy, it was not just a responsibility but a duty.

And so, as I have watched events unfold over the last week and heard utterance upon utterance from official sources whose proximity to the truth has been stretched beyond sight, I ask you to consider the key underlying issues inherent in this sorry affair.

I start first with the anti-foreigner sentiments which I think are important because they have thinly-veiled the debate this last week. The levels of xenophobia in our country have been rising exponentially over these last twenty years. I know what xenophobia is. I spent long years in the UK, itself facing a xenophobic assault by those threatened by the presence of foreigners. I spent much time in Australia and in Germany where I saw the same processes unfolding. And at home in Singapore the same trends are emerging.

But have we stopped to consider from where our antipathy comes? Have we wondered why the Singaporean Chinese approach their mainland cousins in so hostile a manner? Why Singaporean Indians have become increasingly antipathetic to those from the subcontinent? Could we not, in our opposition and antagonism to the immigration and foreign labour policies, which we have never had a chance to debate adequately, be railing against the weakest elements in the enterprise, the migrants themselves? Could we not, in our powerlessness against government policy, be attacking he who is easiest to attack?

Every day in the online media, in social discourse, in face-to-face interaction we rail against foreigners. But organise a forum to discuss ways of communicating our displeasure to the government and exploring policy alternatives, and only a hundred people turn up. My view is that we feel powerless and can scarce believe that the government would listen to us. And why should it? Have we ever given them cause to recognise our views as significant and important? We cave in at every opportunity. We acquiesce in each new policy. We watch in silence as cabinet ministers tell us from on high that, despite our opposition to immigration policy, it will remain in place and that we will have to like it or lump it.

In my view, the root of our xenophobia is not our hatred of foreigners. In a sense, all of us, with the exception of our Malay brothers and sisters, are foreigners on this island. Our ancestors all came here, much like the SMRT drivers, in search of a better life. We have grown up exposed to and sharing in cultures totally different to ours. How can we, so outward-looking and globalised, hate foreigners?

Our Indians and Malays swear in Chinese languages! Our Chinese eat fish head curry at Race Course Road with their fingers, halal mooncakes and char kuay teow are freely available, and the Eurasian and Peranakan communities, in my view the best and most colourful elements of our community, are cultural deposits not found anywhere else in the world. In short, in our very beings we are internationalist, globalised and open to diverse cultural forms.

So, we must look elsewhere for the explanations. My view, which I ask you to consider, is that what we are really opposed to is the government’s immigration policy, not the beneficiaries of that policy. We are no more averse to peoples of other races flocking to our island now that our parents and grandparents were three and four generations ago. And if we cannot find some way to communicate our views to the government in such a way that it will listen, then our society is on a collision course with the political equivalent of the Andromeda Galaxy. Why? Because a society resting precariously upon such unhappiness, such alienation, cannot remain peaceful, stable and productive.

Many have expressed outright xenophobic views about the Chinese bus drivers. “Go home, Ah Tiong,” seems to be a popular sentiment. I ask you, in this note, to reflect with me on the wider reasons underlying their action and, so, to clarify what this is all about. Because if you do not, if we do not, we will have missed another opportunity to grow up and take our place in a democratic, free society, not languishing in the infancy of our nation, still content that Big Brother will do our thinking and our value setting for us.

In the light of the inevitable accusations that I suspect may come my way, allow me to share my thoughts on this lamentable demonstration of state power which has attacked the system at its strongest potential point, that is, its labour force, and at its most vulnerable justification, the stability of our economy and its amenability to foreign investment. If I have at the very least got you to ask some questions we have yet left unasked, then I think I can withstand the accusation.

There are three issues to look at.

One is the ‘At All Costs’ argument. It is a rhetoric founded upon the crisis mentality that the government posited in the early years of its existence: that Singapore, bereft of even limited natural resources, lately shorn of its hinterland, and now finding itself in a hostile ‘Malay sea’, could little afford such fripperies as human dignity and joy. Oh no, oh no, it was said, if we let up on our eternal vigilance, if we cast doubts on the probity of our administration, if we slack for even a second, we would be mired in perdition, that favourite word of the apocalyptic Lee Kuan Yew.

And unfortunately, we bought the rhetoric, ceding to our leaders more power than was appropriate to their offices and slumping into a state of intellectual inertia from which only our access to alternative media, books and journals is lately releasing us. So, our leaders consistently voted themselves the highest ministerial salaries in the world to afford mansion homes in Second Avenue and Binjai Park; second homes at Nassim Jade; foreign education for their children; overseas luxury flats in Cambridgeshire or the London Docklands. Meanwhile, the wages of our people flatlined at the middle and decayed at the lower levels and housing and healthcare prices skyrocketed while cabinet ministers consistently tell us to hang on just a little longer for that Golden Age that is just within sight. To our shame, we stomached the oratory, even as our leaders own lives showed a very different outcome. We became hostages to the very discourse of success.

The second issue to consider is the proposition, invented and propagated by the PAP, that Singapore has a fine administrative structure designed purposefully for the wellbeing of the people. We heard it this week when Tan Chuan Jin, acting Manpower Minister, assured us that legitimate processes exist for the settlement of labour concerns and disputes, and that if only the Chinese bus drivers had availed of them, they would have avoided the iron fist of the law that slammed upon their backs early Monday morning.

This is a patent fiction. And the minister knows it, which makes his dishonest pronouncements, all the more shameful. He and his immediate predecessors have, for the last eight years been advised and informed of the structures of the Ministry of Manpower that militate against fair treatment of workers, particularly foreign workers, particularly low-waged foreign workers, particularly low-waged, less-educated foreign workers.

In these last eight years, the activist groups, HOME and TWC2, have bombarded the Manpower Ministry with report upon report and, literally, countless complaints about labour processes that not only disadvantage foreign, low-waged workers but in some instances result in their being maimed or killed.

Tan Chuan Jin and his colleagues are comprehensively aware of this. His behaviour over this last week has shown him to be a man either systematically incapable of telling the truth or of grasping the realities of his department. I posit neither proposal: I merely offer them for public interrogation. (And perhaps a response from the minister himself.)

"There are appropriate grievance handling processes in place, and workers are advised to speak to their HR and management to discuss and resolve any employment-related issues amicably, rather than take matters into their own hands," the ministry pronounced.

In a scathing article on his blog, Yawning Bread, on 1 December, the incisive and, as usual, erudite Alex Au made just this point. He said, “The government pretends there is a process for labour justice, but there isn’t and its absence sows the seed for future instability.” My own stint at TWC2 as its Executive Director and my close dealings with HOME’s Jolovan Wham and other labour activists evidences this to be so.

And as I have narrated the six-month long duration of this deplorable saga, the workers did try every means at their disposal to resolve their concerns. They were told to go and work for SBS. They did not have adequate processes as the minister claims.

Another poorly-advised government placeman, Cedric Foo, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, piously said that workers should follow due process. "I think work stoppages are not the way to go, especially in the case of essential services, it shouldn't be the course of action since there are unintended consequences - commuters face disruptions and they are not even involved in the dispute," he said.

Except that the workers did follow “due process”. But they all ended in a blind alley. For six months they tried to talk to anyone who would listen and the government ignored them. For Mr Foo to now pretend that they did not use the means available to them – and the concomitant, albeit silent accusation, that they were precipitate and reckless – is again, I ask you to speculate, either foolish, unintelligent, or just plain uninformed. Mr Foo will need to search his conscience and perhaps if his strength finally finds him, he may wish to respond.

“Workers should go through their unions if they have union representation, or go to the MOM or the Industrial Arbitration Court,” he added. In Sunday’s papers we read that the NTUC thoroughly supported the government’s position on the strikes. We also know, because that is not something that could be hidden, that the relevant Deputy Secretary-General of the NTUC deputised to deal with the workers’ grievances, faced a significant conflict of interest. Mr Foo may wish to explain how the workers might have been expected to obtain redress from such a shamelessly armlocked set-up. Again, I invite him to respond.

"The MOM takes the workers' actions very seriously," said yet another spokesperson. From my adumbration above of the events that unfolded, not over five days, I remind you, but over almost six months, MOM only took their actions seriously when they had the potential to challenge the government in a very public way. When the workers were content to carry their concerns through Mr Foo’s ‘due process’, the government, the corporation and the trade union simply ignored them. For Mr Foo and General Tan to now pretend that they did not follow ‘due process’ is, at the very least, disingenuous.

The new SMRT CEO, Desmond Kuek, replacing Saw Paik Hwa, who left wealthy but in disgrace some months ago, returned from holiday and quickly got his script right. He joined his political masters in repeating ad nauseam that SMRT took a serious view of strikes and the drivers should have used the proper channels to raise their concerns and feedback. “There are open channels of communications with all our Service Leaders (SLs), such as regular townhall sessions and staff dialogues," he is quoted as saying.

I need not repeat to him that they did try all the channels open to them. None worked, as he well knows. The Online Citizen reported way back in September:

On 8th August 2012, a group of SMRT drivers petitioned the Union Chief Lim Swee Say demanding reinstatement of their previous five day workweek and salary package. Their negotiations have reached a stalemate.

I spoke to three drivers from SMRT on the 25th of September and they tell the same story that they have taken a forced pay cut since May 2012. According to the drivers, the Secretary General and Executive Committee of NTUC agreed with SMRT Management to accept the unfavourable proposal. Under the new scheme, the drivers said that they have been taking home about $400 – $500 less each month. It is estimated that each driver will lose in excess of $3500 in earnings from May to December 2012.

All their attempts to negotiate a fair wage have come to a naught. The drivers have also petitioned the Prime Minister, who then referred the drivers to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The MOM in turn referred them to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), only for LTA to bounce this matter back to MOM. After six weeks, they are back to where they started – MOM has referred this back to NTUC.

Now, the third issue we must address if we are going to make any sense of the matter is the methodology of the government when confronted with challenge or dispute.

As I have established above, the processes that exist at the administrative level to respond to labour concerns are a chimera at best, a delusion or a lie at worst. So we can safely mark down General Tan, Mr Foo and their colleagues’ interpretation of things. They may never have taken a walk through their grievance processes but I assure them that I have. And Jolovan Wham has. And Kenneth Soh of TWC2 has. And Alex Au has. And they will all, to a man, tell you that they only crawl into seeming life when pushed and prodded against their will. Read the numerous reports and press statements and personal stories on their websites and you will know this too.

As Alex Au, who has become very familiar with labour processes through his involvement at TWC2 said in the same blog post I referred to above, “The government therefore is misleading the public by suggesting that it had processes to help. It does not. Our mainstream media do our public no service by not putting their brains to use before printing slavishly what the government says.” I have no option but to join Mr Au in his challenge to the authorities and I issue a new one: Justify the statements you have made in this last week or remain totally vulnerable to the accusation that you have been economical with the truth.

Minister Tan Chuan Jin, pretended to a great deal of ignorance when he said at his press conference on Saturday,

SMRT must take steps to ensure that such severe breakdowns in labour relations should not happen again. We all know that there are statutory requirements that companies need to fulfil and these are expected of all companies but there are also many non-statutory practices which frankly any good company should fulfil as well and this includes how you manage your staff, employees, how you engage them and how you look after them, looking after their welfare and this includes both local and foreign employees and frankly it is common sense, companies are expected to do that.

The issue is really why did this happen? Why was it allowed to fester? We do understand that the channels of communication are there. So the question is, did it filter upwards? Did it not filter upwards? And why not? And those are things we have to examine."

I am afraid I have to tell him his protestations are mealy-mouthed. The nation, through the good offices of The Online Citizen, has known about this matter since September. Mr Tan cannot claim ignorance now: he comes across as either incompetent or not telling the whole truth. I invite him to clarify.

Let us turn then to how the government does in fact deal with dispute? It locks people up as it did this week. It deports them or refuses to allow them back in, as Dr Ang Swee Chai found, or revokes their citizenship if that is possible, and Tan Wah Piow found this to his cost. It tortures people. It bankrupts people or silences them through the threat of defamation suits. It writes threatening letters as Ng Eng Hen did last week. It fabricates evidence – as Dr Vasoo did twenty years ago – to deprive people of their living. Lest I be accused of fabricating this, I draw evidence from the fact that this accusation has been published abroad in my colleague, Chee Soon Juan’s book, Democratically Speaking, available these last three months and against which Dr Vasoo has not raised a whimper.

This is its modus operandi, refined over fifty years. If General Tan knows this not, he knows very little. As his party founder, Lee Kuan Yew, once said so shamefully, “repression is like making love: it’s always easier the second time round.” Indeed he should know.

Now couple that climate of fear and retribution with the PAP’s remaking of itself as an institution synonymous and indistinguishable from the nation itself. Couple that with a media entirely controlled by the government as to function simply and solely as its mouthpiece. Couple that with a 100% success rate at its defamation suits. Couple that with a trade union movement so closely tucked up in bed with both the government and the corporate world as to be largely interchangeable one from the other; Mr Ong Ye Kung being the best example. Couple that with a Societies Act that has phenomenal power to regulate the extent and conduct of civil society. And couple that with the universities who are so anxious to walk the line laid for them by the government that they have not used their talents on even a single occasion to point out the flaws in the system and their damage to innocent, decent citizens.

And crown the whole sorry theatre of absurdities with Whitley Road Detention Centre and the marks upon their psyche that Vincent Cheng and Teo Soh Lung and Chia Thye Poh and more than a thousand victims of the PAP still carry and you arrive at what, this week, Alex Au called a petitionary state and Chan Heng Chee once termed a “petitionary political culture”.

It is not a culture of equals. It is a culture of supplicant and benefactor. The polity that the PAP has habituated us to is one where our just deserts can only come from a Cabinet in a good mood or facing a General Election.

Again, if General Tan knows this not, he knows very little.

If at this point in this limited essay, I have at least captured your attention, if not agreement, allow me to go further and examine the role of trade unions.

The middle 1800s were a time like no other in the history of the modern world. The widespread availability of new materials like steel; the rapid invention of machines; the discovery of electricity; the harnessing of steam and coal; and the expansion of raw material availability and markets in the colonial enterprise gave rise to what historians have come to call the Industrial Revolution.

The new factories divided work processes into minute tasks such that the craftsmen of yesteryear disappeared and a new phenomenon arose, the factory worker, a deskilled, unlettered operative contributing only a small part of the whole production process. There were no more guilds of craftsmen but a huge mass of workers, divided one from the other by favours and bribes. Professionalisation and machinery gave rise to economies of scale in the primary goods market: the farms and ranches. The capital accumulated from these new industrial and farming ventures created great wealth. A new world of exploitation and estrangement, what Marx termed anomie, was born.

Gradually, as the exploitation of workers increased, so did the waking up of these workers, aided by social workers and political activists. Trade unions began to be formed to campaign and later negotiate better wages and healthier and safer working conditions.

Pope Leo XIII became alarmed at what he saw as the increasing exploitation of the common people. With the assistance of Cardinal Manning, the English bishop who placed himself so closely on the side of the workers, the Pope penned a letter to the world entitled Rerum Novarum, where he said,

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.

The trade union movement, drawing from the support of all right-thinking people gradually came to occupy a central place between capital and labour, ensuring that labour was disciplined and capital was inclusive and not given to cutting corners at the expense of the workers’ wellbeing.

The situation in Singapore in the post-Second World War period mirrored the situation earlier in the west. Trade unions rose up to safeguard workers against the caprice of colonial entrepreneurs and their Asian brothers-in-arms. Lee Kuan Yew, a young ambitious and, as history has shown, thoroughly unscrupulous lawyer, rode to prominence on the back of the beleaguered unions.

In office, as Michael Fernandez and Loh Kah Seng showed in a recent paper, Lee entirely destroyed the trade union movement and then remade it in the form in which we see today, a form propagated by puny plenipotentiaries like Lim Swee Say.

What, fundamentally, does a trade union do? It does not exist to manage supermarkets and chalets, good though these amenities are in themselves. At its basic and best, trade unions protect workers precisely like the ones at the centre of this episode. Speaking on behalf of workers with one voice, they hold management to account, they prevent arbitrary use of management and state power to exploit and to cheat, they guard against exploitation.

The Singapore unions and their Congress reneged on their historical duty to these workers. Feeble, quisling functionaries, they betrayed their workers and sided with a corporation that sought to pay its workers less for working more and then joined in pounding them into the ground when they took matters into their own hands to do what Lim Swee Say and his lamentable deputies could not do.

There is another element which is equally alarming as the behaviour of Tan, Lim et al who, as I said, can be exonerated for they are only acting out their parts in return for handsome salaries, chauffeurs and status. They are frail administrators to whom the inducement of a generous monetary exchange is sufficient to buy their compliance.

It is the online behaviour of my fellow Singaporeans which saddens me equally. People have speculated whether the drivers’ claims were true or not or whether they were excessive and unreasonable. Should we or should we not allow strikes and particularly in the essential services which hold up and inconvenience our lives. We should get rid of these foreigners and employ more locals so that they can’t hold ‘us’ hostage. Surprisingly, some are even angry that their action resulted in rapid remedial action by the authorities. And of course, taking shelter in the safest of all propositions, some have cried that the law is the law and no one should break it.

Nowhere, except among our more gifted commentators such as Andrew Loh and Alex Au have I heard the harder questions asked and challenged laid. Nowhere did I hear anyone ask how their families were coping with a salary increase of thirteen cents an hour. Nowhere did I hear the cry raised that we should at least wait to hear the whole story before moving so decisively to charge these men and then imprison them awaiting trial even though they are no danger to society and will not, cannot, abscond if bailed.

This is unbecoming of us. It is not worthy of us. Their wellbeing is our wellbeing; we cannot presume to enjoy life when the very enjoyments we take for granted have been afforded to us by the workers whom we are content to see paid so little and bullied so much when they, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. We owe them a bit more than that.

Workers rights are indivisible. We cannot ask for concessions on our own behalf but ignore or deny them to others because they happen to come from a different country. To use another hackneyed phrase, we are in this together. I can’t drive my own bus to work powered by petrol I processed myself on a road I laid myself. I can’t build my own office building or office furniture. I don’t cook my own food in the canteen or wash up the tableware.

If, as fellow workers, joint participants in this enterprise we call society, we cannot see this elementary truth, we have a lot of learning yet to do. But do it we must, because make no mistake about it, our government will have on hesitation in dealing with us in the same way it has dealt with the Chinese bus drivers. None whatsoever. Do not rest content that the PAP carries a torch for the Singaporean worker; it does not.

We cannot let these Chinese workers take the rap for asking only for fair employment. And we cannot agree to their punishment when all the processes that exist in our name denied them the basic right to have their grievances heard. Throughout history, concessions have only been won against corporations and governments when they have been demanded. If you think that the right to an eight-hour day, a forty-hour week, a one hour lunch break, and basic safety and health standards were given to you on a platter proffered by Lim Swee Say and his friends, you are very severely mistaken. These Chinese workers, by doing what we have been cowed from doing ourselves so long, have in fact widened the democratic space for us. And in time to come, when we are less afraid to think for ourselves, we will come to thank them.

The government’s final response on the matter, notwithstanding the trial of the five that is to take place imminently, inadvertently admitted that the workers’ grievances were all entirely well-founded. It acknowledged that communication channels are poor, grievance procedures are improper, management and HR policies are wanting, and the accommodation of the drivers is substandard. It also said the paltry wage increases and the differentials should be revisited.

Desmond Quek, admitted, “It is unfortunate that this incident has happened. It shows that more needs to be done by Management to proactively manage and engage our Service Leaders (SLs)." Indeed

And as my description of the six-month history of this affair above has shown, my accusation of inertia, documented by The Online Citizen, is equally well-founded. This being the case, the government position that the workers deserve to be expelled, warned or tried is misplaced and unfair. It has no right to do now that it has admitted itself that their grievances were real.

Speaking for myself, as a citizen, as a worker, and not as a member of any organisation with which I am associated, I support the strike by the 184 Chinese SMRT bus drivers. They took to the picket line only because the union, the corporation and the government singularly ignored their pleas. If that means I contravene the provisions of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, then so be it. Someone has to tell the truth. These workers’ plight is not a situation I will pretend didn’t exist or should not have taken place or didn’t need to happen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rev James Minchin and our secret police

I have often been asked if there are government-planted informants in our opposition and civil society groups.

My reply : Yes, there are.

The following is based on my investigation as well as observations made by veteran opposition members :

Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD) had for many decades infiltrated pro-Communist and left-wing groups. When Communism collapsed, surveillance were re-calibrated to focus on three areas - political opposition, government critics and religious organisations (in particular Islamic groups).

How to spot an informant :

1. He or she is likely to join your organisation not at its inception but sometime after your group is publicised, or after some public controversy.
2. He or she is likely to sign up alone.
3. He or she is likely to not display much inclination to your cause although they will complete any task you give them.
4. He or she is not vocal during discussions.
5. He or she may volunteer to take minutes, videos or photographs at meetings or events.
6. He or she is likely to have some connection to Ministry of Home Affairs either by way of a previous vocation or family ties.
7. He or she will not take part in anything that is remotely deemed illegal, such as a protest (outside of Speakers' Corner).

All that said, there is really no need to be alarmed or get paranoid. The informant's job is not to subvert your work, at least not directly. Their job is merely to relay information to their political masters. They are likely to be free-floaters and are paid per assignment.

- Martyn See

Here, former ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung spills the beans on Singapore's secret police.

Rev James Minchin and our secret police
by Teo Soh Lung
21 Nov 2012
When I wrote my last post (11 Nov 2012) on the deportation of Rev James Minchin, I did not even remotely think that two mainstream media (The Straits Times (ST) and TODAY) would on the following day, 12 Nov 2012, inform the world that Function 8 had, more than a year ago (allegedly in Aug 2011), contributed to the Singapore government’s dossier against him. How did ST and TODAY know it was Function 8 which had organised the forum at which Rev Minchin had allegedly said that “the rule of law was bypassed and corrupted in Singapore, and questioned the independence and integrity of the judiciary?” Incidentally, this oft repeated phrase “questioned [or sometimes “undermined”] the independence and integrity of the judiciary” irritates me. Is the judiciary our most fragile and sweetest smelling flower, our beautiful Keng Hua that blooms at midnight and survives only a few hours? Does it always need the government to protect its standing?

As stated in the press release of Function 8 of 19 Nov 2012, it did not invite anyone from the media to any of its forums. How did Janice Heng of ST and the anonymous reporter/s of TODAY know that it was at a Function 8 event that Rev Minchin uttered the alleged words MHA complained about? Did the reporters tail Rev Minchin throughout his stay in Singapore? Or did anonymous officers of MHA instigate the reporters to name Function 8? Was the media aiding and abetting MHA in its preparation for some sinister happening to Function 8? Even if the media intended to aid and abet MHA, shouldn’t its reporters check with Function 8 as to the truth of MHA’s allegations before publication? Compliance with this golden rule of good journalism is surely important when the alleged words had contributed to Rev Minchin’s traumatic expulsion from Singapore.

ST also reported that MHA said that Rev Minchin “had breached regulations on the involvement of foreigners in political talks by speaking at the forum without the necessary permit.” MHA did not cite the law but ST took it upon itself to proclaim that Rev Minchin should have had a “Miscellaneous Work Pass” before he commented on domestic politics. This implied that Function 8, if it was indeed the organiser of the forum, was in breach of the law more than a year ago. Function 8 had in its press release denied any breach of the law.

I don’t know if the ST had consulted its lawyers on this issue. I am very certain that ST is incorrect but the law is not my concern in this article. My concern is this: “How did MHA know that Rev James Minchin had said “the rule of law was bypassed and corrupted in Singapore, and questioned the independence and integrity of the judiciary”” at the forum? Which forum and where and when was it held? MHA must be precise when it makes serious allegations against a person who because of what he is alleged to have said, is deported.

We all know that MHA has the habit of bugging private conversations of citizens, non citizens and members of organisations. It is part of its job and we pay them. But I question the legitimacy of spying on lawful activities of people and organisations. Let me narrate one instance of MHA’s snooping of a respectable organisation, The Law Society of Singapore. 
In 1986, lawyers requisitioned an extraordinary general meeting to pass a resolution calling upon the government to withdraw the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 1986. One of the objectives of the bill was to oust the popularly elected Mr Francis Seow from being the society’s president. The meeting was held at a hotel and more than 400 lawyers attended. I was the mover of the motion which was passed almost unanimously. What surprised me subsequently was the revelation that the entire private proceedings was tape recorded by the Ministry of Law, presumably using the good services of MHA. Soon after the meeting,  
I was summoned before a parliamentary select committee at which the former prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew questioned me at length about my speech at the meeting. He showed me a transcript of my speech. I quote part of the report of that parliamentary committee. For easier reading, I have inserted “Prime Minister” and “Teo” in the questions and answers: 
Prime Minister: … Read your first paragraph. I have sidelined it for you to make it simple. “We call this meeting simply because …, read it? --- 
Teo: Mr Chairman, can I ask a question? This speech appears to me to have been a transcript of what I said at the EGM. And I would like to know how this manage to get into the hands of Mr Lee. 
Prime Minister: In the age of the tape recorder, you want to know how I am able to get a transcript of what you said? --- 
Teo: But how did the tape recorder get into the EGM room? 
Prime Minister: I am not interested, Miss Teo. I am interested in taking you through what you said. I didn’t make the speech. You did. If you didn’t make the speech ---?--- 
Teo: I don’t deny making the speech. 
Prime Minister: Let’s go through it? --- 
Teo: But I would like to know how that --- 
Prime Minister: How I was given the speech? By the Ministry of Law? 
Teo: So the Minister of Law had set a tape recorder in the room. 
Prime Minister: Yes, please. I assume that?--- 
Teo: Right, thank you. 
Prime Minister: Read it?--- 
Teo: Where do you want me to read?
Now that I have re-read the Minutes of Evidence recorded, I realise that some words may be missing and they are probably represented by ---. I recall that after asking several questions, the prime minister said “I am told that it was so easy to transcribe your speech”. 
Somehow this sentence is missing from the Minutes. But it does not matter. The prime minister did admit after some persuasion, that the Ministry of Law bugged the room. 
Once upon a time, in Eastern Europe, the secret police spied on everyone. For the secret police, it was a comfortable job (even if it was a loathsome job) that enabled them to live well. For those imprisoned as a result of their work, like the dissident Czech playwright, essayist and poet, Vaclav Havel who later became the president of Czechoslovakia, it was years of torture, loneliness and hardship in cold prison cells. 
In today’s Singapore and in the light of our earnest National Conversation, should the subject of how much money we spend on spies who invade the privacy of individuals and organisations that mean no harm to Singapore be discussed? Are such spies necessary for the progress of our country? Shouldn’t we open our minds about what foreigners say about us and debate with them when we do not agree with what they say instead of shutting them out of our country? Or should we tell the world that Singapore is not a developed country and does not believe in freedom of speech and the rule of law? And lastly, shall we tell the world that our judiciary is as fragile as our lovely keng hua, and has to be protected by the executive always?

Fr James Minchin barred from entering Singapore
by Teo Soh Lung
11 Nov 2012
I said in an earlier post that “It would have been better for the government to demolish Minchin's arguments using its controlled media rather than to ban him. Its action has defeated itself. Its refusal to change will ultimately bring about its downfall.” 
The deportation of Fr James Minchin, author of “No Man is an Island” may have surprised somepeople in Singapore even though there had been deportations of lawyers assisting the SDP recently. In the 1990s, some of my friends and acquaintances were prevented from entering Singapore. There were occasions when I had waited at the airport for friends who were supposed to have arrived but failed to show up at the arrival hall. They were simply detained in a room, disallowed the use of the telephone and told to board the next flight home. A friend’s friend was interrogated for several hours by “old hands” of the secret police and departed to the last port of embarkation. In those days, there were no handy mobile phones and I wouldn’t know if they would have been allowed to call from their mobile phones and communicate with their friends who were waiting for them when they were denied entry. In those days, I was in no position to comment as there was no internet. So my friends and acquaintances were quietly deported. We simply felt the injustice of it all but did nothing, not that we can do more or anything for Fr James Minchin this time.
In the 1990s, the intimidation of the immigration police and I suspect, officers from the Internal Security Department was common. Anthony Lester QC was stopped at the airport and made to wait in a room while officers apparently checked if he had a right to return to see his former client.

A friend had her passport retained at the airport and told to report to the immigration department to retrieve it. She was interrogated for two days and told to cooperate in order to make life easier for them and for her. In the end, she had the sense to tell them that they can do whatever they want but that her passport did not belong to the Singapore government. 
In the 1990s, there was no internet. The inability of a person to enter Singapore means that his channel of communication with friends in Singapore would have ended more or less. Letters by snail mail would take time and effort and the chances of him losing contact with friends in Singapore would be natural. Today however, skype, emails, facebooks, youtube, twitter, cheap telephone calls and airflights etc would not cut off links between the deported and whoever he wishes to contact in Singapore. So what is the use of the Singapore government barring Fr James Minchin from entering Singapore? 
I can only think of two reasons. Old habits die hard and old methods that worked in the past are hard to discard. The temptation to remind individuals that the Singapore government is all powerful and that its power to deport anyone it deems acting against its interest (not necessarily against the interest of the country) cannot be undermined. That may be so but in today’s internet age, would the Singapore government like to preserve and project the old image that it is intolerant of criticisms, whether from Singaporeans or foreigners? I don’t know. I can only say that by preserving and projecting its old authoritarian image, it has failed to keep up with a changing society and may ultimately bring about its own downfall. It would have been better for the government to openly criticise what Fr Minchin said in the interview with Vincent Wijeysingha of the SDP using its mainstream media, issue press statements or call a press conference, (here I am assuming that this interview sparked the action taken by the immigration for it happened just a few weeks ago), listen to what others say about its views and that of Fr Minchin. After all, “No Man is an Island” was written in the 1980s and even Fr Minchin admits that Singapore is now a more open society. Surely such a view is a compliment to the PAP. But perhaps the government no longer has faith in its own mainstream media since it is always “slightly behind the curve” as Cherion George said recently.

From the time Lee was a schoolboy, his aggressiveness has been the subject of comment. A story in circulation during the 1960s came from a family source. The eleven-year-old Harry asked an uncle for one of his canaries. The uncle refused an
d thought no more of it until he discovered the dead bird: the boy had pulled all its feathers out. 'If he could not have it, no one else would.' 'Lee would hit anybody' was the testimony of another old family friend.

Since coming to office, Lee has tended to indulge his instinct to bully and demolish. The need to flee from untenable situations have been reduced and dignified by the mechanism of physical or mental withdrawal. Power mostly removes the humiliation of being bested.

Within this dominant characteristic of aggression we may trace elements of rage, fear and self-aggrandisement. They may be proportionate to what arouses them, or they may carry an extra force derived from a previous injury. They make a negotiated settlement so much harder.

Two quite separate sources related the following story: 'A former Singapore newspaper proprietor, now retired, was having an audience with Lee and apparently not toeing the line. Lee leaned over, grabbed him by the collar, and said "I'm a thug, you're a thug, and as one to another, you'll do what I say."

- James Minchin. No Man Is An Island, 1987


Further readings :

James Minchin refused entry to Singapore

Friday, November 02, 2012

The PAP's Top 10 Slippery Slope Arguments

1. If we do not continue to import foreign workers, the economy will go into a tailspin and your daughters will end up as maids in other countries.

2. If we help the poor too much, we will end up a welfare state where nobody will work and everyone waits for handouts.

3. If we allow one person to protest, more will follow and there will be pandemonium on the streets everyday.

4. If we legislate a minimum wage, companies will fold and move elsewhere, unemployment will rise and the economy will crash.

5. If we do not pay our ministers well, we will attract corrupt and hypocritical office holders who plunder our reserves and ruin the country.

6. If we abolish the ISA, terrorists will run amok, bombs will go off and the country will descend into darkness.

7. If we allow every worker to withdraw their full CPF upon retirement, they will squander all their money frivolously and recklessly (on casinos and other ill-advised investments).

8. If we allow biased political films and cartoons, it will denigrate the standing of our political leaders and undermine the people's confidence in the government.

9. If we allow free discourse on race and religion, it will create social disharmony which will lead to a repeat of the 1964 racial riots.

10. If we allow the opposition to take over, garbage will pile up, assets will depreciate, investors will stay away, reserves will be squandered and the country is finished.

One more for the road.

“If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off the bar top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar top dancing… a young girl with a short skirt dancing on it may attract some insults from some other men, the boyfriend will start fighting and some people will die.” - Vivian Balakrishnan

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We are a loyal opposition, loyal to Malaysia : Lee Kuan Yew

In 1964, the PAP contested on the opposition ticket in the Malaysian Federal General Elections. It won just one out of nine seats contested.


"I do not believe people in Kuala Lumpur are less hard-working, less skillful, have less imagination and drive, than people in Singapore. Nor is there any difference between Penang, Seremban, Malacca or Johore and Singapore. In fact the success story of Singapore, of the last few years, was one achieved to a large extent by men from Malaya. Seven out of nine Singapore Ministers came from Malaya, seven out of nine Permanent Secretaries came from Malaya, four out of six judges are from Malaya. So also most of Singapore's trade union leaders and business executives have come from Malaya. For many years there was a drift of talent to Singapore. These Malayans helped Singapore succeed. Now with Malaysia the stage is set for these men to do their duty by Malaya and by the States of their origin. With the wealth of experience gained in the struggle in Singapore they can make the social revolution in Malaya succeed with even fewer mistakes."

"A victory for the nine PAP parliamentary candidates -- five in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, and one each in Penang, Seremban, Malacca and Johore -- will trigger off the social revolution in Malaya. True, if we have nine seats in Malaya, plus 12 in Singapore, the total of 21 could make PAP the largest single party outside UMNO."


"The choice before Malacca is this contrast, between an M.C.A. type of government that talks of building a property-owning democracy, of which the Wolferstan housing scheme in Malacca is an illustrious example, 143 units at $14,000 per unit.
The alternative is Singapore's low cost housing at $4,000 per unit, with a flat every 45 minutes.
Our candidate, Mr. Chua Sian Chin, is born and bred in Malacca. A vote for him is a vote for this honest and effective leadership typified by one of the finance ministers from Malacca, Dr. Goh Keng Swee. What Malaysia needs is a practical man who will provide the people who earn $65 per month with some of the social amenities of a modern civilized society paid for more by the "haves" in the States in order to ease the burden of life, free school books for the poor, scholarships in abundance for the bright children, free clinics and hospitals, free social amenities for recreation in community centres, better roads, more and free water supplies, electricity, drainage and anti-flood projects, housing and social welfare. All these things make for a democracy of reasonably social standards and social services for all, not a democracy of property-owners of the few."


"The lack of social change has been because two multi-millionarie finance ministers, first Tun H.S. Lee and next Mr. Tan Siew Sin, have been in charge of the financial and economic policies of Malaya. If these policies had any relevance in meeting the social and economic problems of our time, there would not have been the growing volume of protest against the MCA in the towns, leading to the spontaneous surge of support for the PAP's policies with out participation in these elections."


"I had spoken of the need to narrow the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" in a social revolution.

In 1962 Singapore spend $63.0-million as against Malay's $93.6-million for health services. This means that per head of population for health services, Singapore spend approximately three times more than Malaya. This difference in health services lead more than 4,000 mothers from Johore every year to come specially to deliver their babies at Kandang Kerbau Hospital. We shall be happy to direct these 4,000 women, who often arrive in taxis on the point of delivery, to some other institution which is paid from the Federal vote if only Mr. Tan would tell us where. It will save Singapore about 10% of the expenses of K.K. Hospital."


"Whatever our faults it is not communalism or chauvinism. In Singapore where the Malay vote is only 15%, we have honored Malay rights and give all Malays free education from primary to university level, something the Central Government cannot do. Our sin, it would appear, is to be able to muster a following in the urban areas which includes a large bulk of the Chinese."


"At the moment, 90% of the armed forces and police are Malays. The Malay leadership is unhappy at the prospect of having to introduce more Chinese, Indians and other races into the armed forces. This may weaken the army as the last defence of Malay political pre-eminence. But at the same time, the Malay leaders know the guerilla battle will go on with Indonesia, and they cannot go on just having Malay soldiers to fight this battle. The armed forces must be strengthened by non-Malays. If the non-Malays are loyal, then the 30-40% non-Malays in the police force cannot be a security danger in Malaya. And it is in the interests of our urban population to show the Malay leadership that we are loyal to Malaysia and that we can be trusted to defend it. The danger is not that we shall be sent as soldiers to the front and die. It is that we may not be allowed to train to defend the country. Then we shall not be allowed to be trained to defend the country. Then we shall be spectators as when the Japanese army marched in to enslave us in 1942 while we watched hopelessly."

"The best election result to preserve Malaysia against external threat is one in which all UMNO candidates are returned in the rural areas and pro-Malaysia parties are returned in the urban areas. The best result internally for our progress and for bringing about the winds of change in economic and social policies is to have the UMNO leadership returned, but the MCA discarded, a vote for the MCA is a vote for the continued inactivity, complacency and decadence. To bring about this change, there must be a jolt on the leadership of the Government. That jolt can come about by voting for the PAP and other opposition parties who, like the PAP, are pro-Malaysia."


"We spend 15 times as much as Kuala Lumpur on social welfare benefits ($8.9 per head as against Federation's $0.59), about three times as much on health benefits ($37 per head as against Federation's $13.5) and twice as much on education ($52 as against Federation's $32) per head of population. What is more, we get more worth out of every dollar than Kuala Lumpur. We build a two-room flat at $4,100 whilst Johore builds the same type of unit for over $7,500. We build a three-room flat for $4,900 whilst the same type of unit in Malacca cost $9,000. And so it is with the cost of all the schools, hospitals, clinics, creches, and community centres. We have over 150 community centres, both urban and rural type, for an island of 220 square miles. We have over 25 clinics, including maternity and child health centres, to ease the pressure on five hospitals."


"One of the most noticeable features of the urban areas in their attitude towards the MCA leadership is the humiliation people feel at having these men represent them. That they are greedy is bad enough. Worse they are clowns, and often they make one feel a fool.

I once sat through an opening ceremony of a $17-million building in Kuala Lumpur. There were hundreds of dignitaries from all over the world who had come to attend an international conference in Kuala Lumpur. I heard the man not only thank the architect and give a history of his career of how this expatriate had
gone on study tours of such specialised buildings on our behalf and at our expense. Then he capped it all by expressing his grateful thanks to the contractor
who had probably the largest share of the $17-million. It's time we restore our self-respect.

We are in Malaysia. These men do represent us abroad. And they give us the creeps as they falter and fumble. Every time they go to the conference arena to meet the enemies on our behalf, we pray for them. For if they fail, we fail. Let us be done with these men. The UMNO horse will run and win. But for our own sake, let us get some of people who really know how to train and ride the horse to victory."


"Parliament democracy of the one-man one-vote will work only if people choose rationally from the alternatives they are offered in an election. The ideal is never offered. The voter is faced with a limited choice of alternatives. He must reconcile his hopes and aspirations with the parties offered him.

We have not contested in all the urban areas because it is not practical in the present situation. We may have been misunderstood as a challenge and an alternative to UMNO as the next government. We have a token number of candidates, but a token of considerable significance. If all the nine win, an agonising reappraisal will have to be made. In the heat of elections, it is said that even though there are only five MCA MPs left, UMNO will still carry the MCA that may well be. But can UMNO leaders go through the awful predicament of pretending for the next five years that these five MCA MPs really represent the urban Chinese? Five men who have won by UMNO's leave and licence in Malay rural areas?

The rational choice in these elections is to vote for UMNO in the rural areas, and vote for the PAP in the urban areas. Where there is no PAP, vote for other pro-Malaysia opposition parties. Where the choice is between only the MCA and the S.F. then out with the S.F. For whilst the MCA has been a bane on our society, the S.F. will be a blight on Malaysia."


"I am disappointed that the nine PAP candidates did not fare better. But I take great satisfaction in the fact that far from being a disruptive force, we have helped to bring home the dangers of Indonesian confrontation and subversion and contributed to the rout of the Socialist Front.

The results could not have been better for international effect. No government in the world can now doubt that Malaysia is the free will of its people -- Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya. All the strident voices that were raised against it over the last few years were those of reckless adventurers and traitors.

My one concern at the election results is that it means the old order will carry on, the same old economic and social policies in the same old way. This would be a retrograde step and must be prevented. Exposing and isolating the S.F. meant that the MCA benefitted. But the issue was too vital for petty party considerations to deter us from pressing the lesson home. We had hoped that our token participation would have given the people of the bigger towns an opportunity to endorse our economic and social policies towards a more egalitarian society. But I am afraid the token participation was too subtle a method of doing it. Since we said "back the Tunku" and since the Tunku said "back all my colleagues in the MCA and MIC", we had to accept this situation arising."


"It gives me great satisfaction to see around us in this House all those who took a leading part in the formation of Malaysia. It gives me equal satisfaction to see that many of those who obstructed and opposed Malaysia are no longer with us. We shall not miss the false prophets in the Socialist Front who did their vicious best to wreck Malaysia.

The fundamental distinction between us and two other opposition parties, the P.M.I.P. and the S.F., is that we want Malaysia and the democratic system to succeed, even though it means credit is reflected thereby on the Prime Minister and his colleagues. We are a loyal opposition, loyal to Malaysia and the democratic system of government that obtains in Malaysia. Our criticism will therefore be directed to pointing out the dangers of policies that will lead to failure and to checking the lapses of political leaders and administrators that could lead to a breakdown of the whole system. But a loyal opposition does not mean that a subservient opposition. Criticisms, however unwelcome, will have to be made, seriously and in good faith. We hope they will be taken equally seriously and in good faith.

It is inevitable that the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa must move towards a more egalitarian society. For having stimulated men's minds for more equal opportunities and mobilised men's energies and loyalties to be rid of the inequities of the colonial system, there is no stopping the process after independence. This is a tide of history. It would be foolish to stop it. We deem it our duty to ease the way forward towards a more just and equal society.

This consolidation must take place at two levels. First, the three new States -- Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah -- must be made more and more to think and to feel a part of the new Federation. This is a two-way process. The leaders of the Central Government set the pace and the leaders of the State Governments can help to quicken or dampen this pace by the manner of their response. If we think and feel as Malaysians, then we will talk in the same language. This in turn will imbue our people with the same values and objectives. Within these five years we should strive to make the three new States regard themselves and be regarded by the eleven old States as a part of Malaysia and as closely integrated as the old eleven.

But if at the end of our term, we are thinking, feeling and reacting not as Malaysians as so many Malays, or Chinese or Indians, or equally bad as so many Malayans, Singaporeans, Sarawakians, or Sabahans, then our future will be in jeopardy. We must not fail our own people.

One of the reasons why Western style parliamentary democracy has failed to take roots in the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa is that the government in power does not contemplate with equanimity the passing of power to the opposition, and also because the opposition opposes merely to bring the Government down regardless of the harm inflicted upon the country.

The Prime Minister has never been in a personally stronger position. He is even stronger now than he was in 1955 when on the issue of Merdeka 50 out of 51 Alliance candidates were returned. I say he is even stronger now because he has got this present mandate after nine years of office with everybody knowing what he stands for. From his position of strength, he can demand higher standards of his colleagues in the Government and of the officials in the administration. If he does so, the country will be that much the healthier and eventually the happier for it. From us he will get no carping criticism for the sake of scoring points. We have a vested interest to see that he succeeds in creating a healthier economy and more honest effective administration."

Those who oppose Merger are fools : Lee Kuan Yew

On 16 September 1963, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak were formally merged and Malaysia was formed.


"Sir, merger always has been of historical necessity and those who oppose it will, in Marxist phraseology, be buried by history. I think my colleagues and I on this side have read enough of Karl Marx to understand their thinking. Buried by history, Sir, is a phrase which means you are a fool. I mean “you” metaphorically. You went against the current and inevitable process. My colleague says it is not too late. I say, well, good luck to them. Maybe if they change, go to church and pray, or kneel down, count their heads, there is still time."

"In other words, you cannot have appointed a Chinese and say he represents Chinese. Shake him by the hand. And say, “Here you are. He is your leader”. That is not the way. Chinese or Malay, by leader it means he leads, he fights for the nation and for the section, for the community that he represents. In my case it has been my privilege to fight for the just rights of Singapore in Malaysia. And therefore I say we have a role to play in Malaysia, not to take over but co-operate."

"There are two types – political undesirables and secret society elements. We have the right to request such a person shall not enter our State, just as the Federation will have – I saw in the newspapers today, someone mentioned “Sheikh Azahari”. It was not Sheikh Azahari I had in mind. What I had in mind was Said Zahari, the former editor of Utusan Melayu, who is a Singapore citizen. He came back to Singapore and he found the Federation causeway blocked against him and he never went back. Well, in the same way, we have got quite a number of gentlemen, Mr. Speaker, Sir, who do not add much to the prosperity of Singapore and, in fact, increased the general police expenditure, the C.I.D. expenditure of Singapore. I think they can well be looked after by the State from whence they came."

"You cannot govern Singapore on the basis that it is a small state and that you can squat on it. This is the vital heart of a throbbing region, a region in the midst of
flux and turmoil and revolution. This is the centre – a big market place and now with common market, the industrial base. Nothing can take away our natural
harbours, our airport. I do not know if Members have read hard-headed businessmen’s appraisal of Singapore after Malaysia. Share prices bear it out, land prices, land values bear it out. The Member for Farrer Park will know. There is no gain saying this. And we are prepared to share all this with Malaysia provided gradually over the years as we throw in more into the common pool, so our voice in national matters must increase."

"Sir, I would like to take this opportunity at the last meeting of the Assembly with these two powers – as I said when we meet again, I will have discharged my responsibilities, I hope completely, successfully without a blot on my copybook: no riots, no revolution, no arson; thirty days to go"

"Mr. Speaker, Sir, at last we have reached almost the end. Another 30 days. Midnight of 30th. One second past midnight, I hand over security, police, prisons, army."

Read also :

The day when Singapore became part of Malaysia

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

An Eulogy

by Martyn See

In 2006, after I had made a documentary on Said Zahari, I found the world of former ISA detainees opened up before me. The late Mr Tan Jing Quee had invited me to his home on several occasions, and it was where I first met Dr Lim Hock Siew.

He was a mild-mannered, gentle and soft-spoken person. But everytime he spoke, I found myself leaning over to hear everything that he had to say. He was precise. He minced no words. He also hardly repeated himself, except for two refrain. One, that he had refused to sign any declaration while under detention for almost 20 years because the ISD had wanted him to confess to something that he never did or advocated. He would use the analogy : They wanted me to say that I'll stop beating my wife.

The other refrain was his utter contempt for Lee Kuan Yew. Even though Dr Lim was a founding member of the PAP and had met Mr Lee several times in his home on Oxley Road, he told me that he had found Lee to be totally untrustworthy very early on. In his one and only interview with the Straits Times, when asked by the reporter if he had read Mr Lee's autobiography, Dr Lim replied,"I read it like Harry Potter." That answer actually went into print in the Straits Times. 

I've heard from sources that MM Lee at that time was unhappy about the piece. And thus it was no surprise that when I submitted Dr Lim's first post-detention public speech, recorded at the launch of The Fajar Generation in 2010, to the Board of Film Censors at MDA, the minister Lui Tuck Yew decided to ban the film, stating that it "undermines confidence in the government." It was the same reason his predecessor Dr Lee Boon Yang had used to ban my earlier film on Said Zahari. A few days after the video was banned, Dr Lim texted me on my phone and asked how many hits it's been getting on YouTube. Like me, he was clearly delighted that the ban had generated more interest.

Dr Lim never dwelt in the past. He kept himself abreast with current issues of the day. He once mentioned to me that he read my blog daily. In his recent speech last year at the memorial of Mr Tan Jing Quee, he challenged the then Presidential candidate Dr Tony Tan to repeat his claims that the ISA had never been used on political opponents. He also brought up the Occupy Wall Street movement and how we are witnessing a revolt against capitalism.

Dr Lim Hock Siew was a hero to me. He exemplified all that which are sorely absent in our political leaders today - the courage to speak one's minds, the tenacity to stand by one's own integrity, a compassion for the plight of the poor, and a quiet humility to his own sacrifices and suffering for democracy and for the people of Singapore.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chan Heng Chee "mouthing PAP mantras"

By Teo Soh Lung

Professor Chan Heng Chee’s letter of 21 June 2012 to The New York Times cannot go unchallenged. She said:

“Even as Singapore evolves, we cannot forget our fundamental vulnerabilities as a small, multiracial society.

The Internal Security Act was used in the past to deal with a violent insurgency and active subversion by the Communists. It remains relevant as a pre-emptive tool to safeguard security, especially against the threat of terrorism.

Several countries have introduced similar preventive measures.”

As a political prisoner once upon a time and a friend of several former detainees who were imprisoned for decades and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by the PAP government, I am convinced that though Singapore is a small country, we do not need the Internal Security Act (ISA). Indeed, if we had abolished the ISA after the British left our shores or even after we were ejected from Malaysia, Singapore would today be a thriving democracy and an intellectual hub in South East Asia.

If only we have leaders like former ISA detainees, Dr Chia Thye Poh (jailed for 32 years), the late Dr Lim Hock Siew (20 years), Dr Poh Soo Kai (17 years), Mr Said Zahari (17 years) and Mr Tan Jing Quee (4 years), just to name a few, Singapore would be a more equal and just society today. Our elderly would not have to worry about hospital bills for the state would have provided basic health care. Our school going children would not need tuition every day of the week. They would have been able to enjoy their childhood as much as we did in the past. Our working adults would not need to compete for jobs by working long hours, neglecting their own families. There would have been time for leisure and the pursuit of hobbies that enrich lives.

For more than half a century, the PAP has only one method of governing Singapore – that of instilling FEAR in our people. Those who managed to rid part of this Fear are swiftly arrested and imprisoned under the ISA. The PAP believes and practises the Chinese idiom “Slaughter the chicken to teach the monkey”. Yes, Singaporeans are all monkeys and we need bloody chickens to keep us docile. Hence the periodic mass arrests under the ISA.

The PAP’s constant refrain that “we cannot forget our fundamental vulnerabilities as a small, multiracial society” is simply a ploy to perpetuate Fear in us. I know of no government which uses such a threat to govern a country.

Professor Chan’s bold claim that the ISA “was used in the past to deal with a violent insurgency and active subversion by the Communists” is a claim without basis. I would like to see the evidence that there was any insurgency, let alone, violent insurgency. As Singapore’s ambassador and a citizen who has lived through the 1970s as an adult and had witnessed her friends and contemporaries like Mr Ho Kwon Ping arrested under the ISA, I expect her to know more than others about the PAP’s ruthless use of the ISA. I expect her to read books such as Dark Clouds at Dawn, The Fajar Generation and The May 13 Generation in addition to Men in White and speak the truth instead of following her master’s voice.

Professor Chan also said that the ISA “remains relevant as a pre-emptive tool to safeguard security, especially against the threat of terrorism.” Before she makes such a claim, she should ask if she would like to be imprisoned for 20 years without trial under the ISA. It is easy to talk of the use of the ISA as a pre-emptive tool when the victim is not the speaker.

And finally, Professor Chan claims that “Several countries have introduced similar preventive measures.” Name me one first world country that has such a law as our ISA. Name me one first world country that has a record of imprisoning good citizens without trial for 32, 20, 17 or 4 years.

I am tired of intelligent people like Professor Chan Heng Chee mouthing PAP mantras without making any attempt to investigate the past and without reflecting on what their friends who have been imprisoned under the ISA went through. It is time they stand up for what is right and speak the truth.


Read also :
As Singapore Loosens Its Grip, Residents Lose Fear to Challenge Authority - New York Times
Singapore is (R)evolving - Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Former ISA detainees Chng Suan Tze (left) and Teo Soh Lung (right)

Public Memorial for Dr Lim Hock Siew

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Tributes to Dr Lim Hock Siew

Read also :
I'll forgive Lee Kuan Yew if he admits to his error and apologises to me : Lim Hock Siew
Dr Lim Hock Siew Speaks from Singapore Prison (Date - 18.3.1972)

This is the original letter that was sent to The Straits Times:

"I am saddened to read the news of the passing of Dr Lim Hock Siew. Nevertheless, I am glad that the Straits Times carried a decent report of his demise, "Barisan Socialis leader dies" (ST 6 June), which would at least remind Singaporeans of pioneer political leaders who had fought for Singapore's independence and argued for a different political vision.

As a young lad in the 1960s, I first heard about Dr. Lim from my father who spoke highly of him and his political conviction. My father used to share a stall with Dr Lim's dad, selling fish at the old Tekka Market. Like most people working in the market, my dad did not have the opportunity to attend school. But he was impressed with Dr Lim's academic progress and achievement. More than that, my dad respected Dr Lim for his political conviction and his genuine care for the poor, for example, seen in the low-cost medical treatment that he gave to those who consulted him in his clinic at Balestier Road. Needless to say, like many poor, and usually less-educated people, my dad and mum went to his clinic whenever they needed medical care.

It is a tragedy that he had to be detained in prison without trial for almost 20 years. One day, I hope, his side of the story will be given a fairer hearing, and a respected academic will write a properly researched book of the contribution of political leaders like him. It speaks volume of his character that in spite of his incarceration, he kept his conviction and stood his grounds; qualities which people who aspire to political office should have. One may disagree with his political ideology, but he will be respected by those who know him as a politician who loved his country and cared deeply for the cause of the poor."

The edited version published in ST Forum was this:

thanks to Ravi Philemon

(From left) Dr Beatrice Chen (wife of Dr Lim Hock Siew), Mrs Lim Poh Geok (wife of Prof Arthur Lim), Mrs Doris Poh (wife of Dr Poh Soo Chuan), Dr Poh Soo Chuan (brother of Poh Soo Kai), Dr Arthur Lim, and Mr Lim Chin Joo (brother of Lim Chin Siong) at the coffin of former political detainee Lim Hock Siew, who has died aged 81, at the wake on June 5, 2012. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Friends bid farewell to Lim Hock Siew Dr Lim Hock Siew’s Funeral
Dr Lim Hock Siew - a lesson in resilience, strength and humility
Think Centre’s statement on Dr Lim Hock Siew’s passing
On Dr Lim Hock Siew’s passing…
Dr Lim Hock Siew’s Funeral
Respecting and Remembering Dr Lim Hock Siew
A Man Of Principle
Singapore’s second most stubborn man dies at age 81
Dr. Lim Hock Siew - Unfulfiled Dream of the Fajar Generation....

Friends bid farewell to Lim Hock Siew
They honour the 'people's doctor', recall his humour and optimism

By Phua Mei Pin

DR LIM Hock Siew was remembered yesterday by fellow political detainee Tan Kok Fang as a shining light in the dark days they spent in Changi Prison's 'E Dormitory'.

Mr Tan, 71, recalled of Dr Lim: 'He often said, 'They can imprison my body, but they cannot imprison my spirit'.'

Dr Lim, a founding member of the PAP and Barisan Sosialis, was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act from 1963 to 1982.

That made him Singapore's longest-held political prisoner after Dr Chia Thye Poh.

A medical doctor by profession, he died of heart failure last Monday at the age of 81.

Mr Tan was one of three who gave eulogies yesterday afternoon at Dr Lim's funeral.

Held at his Joo Chiat Terrace home, the funeral was attended by a crowd of more than 100 people, some of whom made a special trip here from Malaysia and Australia.

The largely white-haired group of old friends and comrades spilt out of the house and onto the road. They remained standing in the open to listen to the eulogies even when it rained midway through the proceedings.

Smiles broke across the faces of those gathered, several of whom had also spent time at Changi, when Mr Tan recalled in Mandarin old jokes they had shared.

Dr Lim once told Mr Tan: 'All these years, my body may be in prison, but I often also tour the world. I can travel in spirit.'

Mr Tan said Dr Lim's humour and optimism had given strength to his fellow detainees.

Eye surgeon Arthur Lim, 77, a close family friend since 1950, also stood up to honour 'the people's doctor'.

Dr Lim was the founder of the Rakyat or People's Clinic in Balestier Road.

He returned to medical practice upon his release from detention and would not collect money from patients who could not afford to pay.

Remembering his friend, Dr Arthur Lim said: 'Hock Siew's big contribution was that he cared very much for his patients... He was a great doctor.'

The eye surgeon said he and several other old friends would write a book on Dr Lim Hock Siew's life, so that his story would not be lost.

Two presidential candidates also paid tribute to Dr Lim.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock wrote in a Facebook post that the man should be honoured for making sacrifices for his beliefs.

Mr Tan Jee Say, who spoke at the funeral, said that Dr Lim was his inspiration to pursue politics.

After the eulogies, the cortege moved off in the rain to Kong Meng San Crematorium.

After the body was consigned to the flames and the crowd dissipated, another former detainee Lim Chin Joo, 75, said: 'It is a loss to the country that a man like him could never have the opportunity to contribute to nation-building.'