Monday, December 15, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Restoration of America

I posted the following on the Soulcast blog on 18 August 2006 and it was titled: "Why I admire America". Today with the historic election of Barack Obama as President, I feel compelled to repost it here:

I am not an American. I am probably one of millions of people around this planet seething with anger about American foreign policy and what it has done and what it is doing to the rest of the world. I express negative views about the Bush administration's policies. I oppose the so-called "war on terror" used as a cover for domination of oil resources in the middle east. etc. etc. etc.

An American listening to me might easily assume that I have a lot of disdain for the USA and Americans. But, I'll let you in on a secret.

I love all the great and glorious ideals of freedom and liberty that America stands for... those ideals that are enshrined in its constitution. As someone living in a country where freedom of speech, freedom expression and freedom of assembly have been practically wiped off the public domain (driving most of us into the last frontier of the internet), I have always admired Americans and their ideals. And I guess, that is why it has pained me to witness the gradual erosion of those rights and ideals in the USA since 9/11. If the PATRITOT ACT, guantanamo, domestic surveillance under inherent executive powers and such other assortment of legal and extra-legal measures are utilised to destroy rights in the very place that I looked up to as the beacon of liberty, then what can we say about the future for the rest of us living in repressive societies of varying degrees.

Like the rats migrating to America believing that there are no cats in America (a la American Tail), those of us in other parts of the world have lived under the impression that America is truly a land of the free. The post-9/11 USA looks terrifyingly like an Orwellian nightmare.

But, amidst all of the gloom of the last few years, here is again another reason why I love America......

A Federal Judge has ruled that the NSA wiretapping authorised by the President under supposedly inherent powers is illegal. This is what she said:
“We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no power not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent power’ must derive from that Constitution.” “The Government appears to argue here that …. because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.”

Ultimately, even when the Executive appears to assume excessive powers, there is enough sanity and independance within the Judiciary to ensure that the Constitution and the rule of law are not usurped.

Thank God for the sane voices. Long live liberty.

That was posted two years ago as I saw a glimmer of hope in the Supreme Court repudiation of the Bush enchroachment on civil liberties. Today, I hope that the Obama Presidency would usher in a return to America's core constitutional values and by doing so restore that great nation to its rightful status as the beacon of liberty.

The 44th President of the United States of America

The scenes are euphoric. The moment is historic. A man of partial African origin has become the President-elect of the most powerful nation on this planet. At this point I think the following words of Martin Luther King are apt:

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!³

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ultraman can protest at Hong Lim: Superheroes have saved the Singapore Constitution

Approximately a year ago the following article appeared on Reuters:

Singapore anime figurine protesters meet real police
SINGAPORE, Sept 7 (Reuters) - A protest action by a group of Singaporeans with Japanese anime figurines such as the 5-inch tall Ultramen, robots and monsters with placards met some real-life police in the city-state.
A handful of fans of Japanese anime had turned up at a Singapore public park on August 25 with armfuls of the toys to protest against a clampdown on Internet downloading of anime material by Singapore animation distributor Odex.
The incident was not reported in the local press, but pictures and accounts have started circulating on many blogs and political Web sites. (
"The police didn't stop us from what we wanted to do. But their being there was enough to intimidate," the event's organiser -- who only wanted to be known by his online moniker Zer0 -- told Reuters by telephone.
He added that police -- who had four anti-riot vans at the scene -- also took down the anime fans' particulars and that they were filmed by plainclothes policemen. A police spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment.
Public protests are rare in Singapore, where outdoor demonstrations are banned and any public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.

What a long way we have come. At the National Day Rally last week, the PM announced that Singaporeans can now protest peacefully at Speakers’ Corner without a permit. It seems that this can be done from 1st September onwards. Civil Disobedience has worked! Singaporeans may have remained a little fearful of entering into the political fray. But, Ultraman and gang are superheroes with supercourageous hearts and not to mention deadly powers, skills, etc. They have done an excellent job in getting the authorities to relent a little. None of the superheroes were arrested or charged. Now, a year later, it is perfectly legal for all Singaporeans to gather and protest at Hong Lim.

So, it is with great pleasure that I commemorate the anniversary of the Anime protest today. :-)

A note to Ultraman: You still cannot protest at the Youth Park.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

errrrrr..p - Who wrote the rally speech?

National Day Rally speeches are not intended to be funny. I am sure, however, that any good speaker would throw in a joke or two in the speech just to hold on to the attention of the audience. So, how is this for a joke:

'When ERP was increased, we also reduced road tax and improved public transport. As a result, many more Singaporeans can now own cars. With more cars on the road, we need to increase ERP to keep traffic flowing.' - PM Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally 2008

ERP was intended to reduce traffic.
COE system was also intended to reduce traffic.

According to the Straits Times report today (18 Aug 2008): 'He said that since 2000, the Government has been making it easier for many more Singaporeans to own cars. Vehicle-related taxes have been progressively reduced and more Certificates of Entitlement (COEs), which one must have before purchasing a car, have been released.'

This has made vehicle ownership easier and put more cars on the road.
This has increased traffic.

Solution: Increase the ERP.

And then, when it starts doing its job, implement more policies to put more cars on the road. When when traffic gets worse, increase ERP.

A never-ending spiral of ever-escalating costs. A money tree that really grows. Wow! That's brilliant.

To be fair, I merely read the quote in the Straits Times article online. Something could have been lost in the translation. Perhaps there is some nuance to the words that may be better apprehended if one watches the speech. Perhaps it was a candid admission of a flaw in the policy of making car-ownership easier since 2000 and that something would be done to fix it once and for all and that it would not be turned into a cash-squeezing spiral.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

General Elections in 2009?

The PAP prepares for its elections early. There is nothing unusual in that. I think there are some early signs that the ground is being prepared for the next GE. I know. We had the last one in 2006. But, a GE after 3 years is not unusual in Singapore. I predict that there might be one towards the end of next year.

Recently, MM Lee warned Singaporeans about a freak election wiping out all that has been achieved in 5 years. SM Goh spoke virulently about winning Hougang back and urged members of grassroots organisations (who ought to be non-partisan) to question fiscal capabilities of opposition run town councils. We have seen a series of articles about the Singapore brand of governance, always intended to differentiate ourselves from Western-style liberal democracies and to defend our pragmatic bread and butter theory of governance. (A certain someone said 2000 years ago that men shall not live by bread alone.)

On 21st July 2008, the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill was tabled in Parliament for the First Reading. Of course, I wondered if they were going to change the electoral system a little bit here and a little bit there. A cursory glance of the Bill reveals that the amendments are directed at overseas voters.

In today’s Straits Times I read that MM Lee has again warned Singaporeans against voting for the opposition. The latest assessment is the Singapore miracle could disappear within 3 to 4 years; not 5 years. In an earlier post, I have addressed this issue of a ‘freak’ election. What I find interesting about the statement in today’s paper is that to placate our desire for more opposition voices, the system might make some accommodations.
'We know that Singapore wants opposition to check the PAP. We'll find a way to have more voices inside the assembly, but not at the risk of voting in a Division 2 or 3 Government.' - MM Lee

I wonder if there are now plans for more Nominated MPs. Maybe, elected Nominated MPs. MPs nominated by a Parliamentary Committee and presented to the people for an island-wide election where the best vote winners get seats. Who knows… I better not give them funny ideas.

I digress… Coming back to my original point, it appears that there is some talk in the air about elections. Not talk of the obvious kind. That would commence when the Straits Times comes out with some opinion piece or other about elections or electoral boundanries. (wait a minute - didn't they recently discuss the GRC system in ST?)
At a time when we are facing inflation and there is a segment of the population that has not experienced wage increases for the last 10 years, some would say it would be foolish for a ruling party to start talking about elections. But, the PAP is very well experienced. They are not going to call for elections the minute talk about elections has been put around. Eventually, they will wait for the 3-year mark to be crossed. The current global economic climate is somewhat uncertain. We will feel some of the effects and it is possible that this would be status quo for the next few years. So, the best strategy would be to get the people to look ahead long term, bite the bullet and stay the course. If this rhetoric of freak elections, our brand of democracy (that we ought presumably be xenophobically proud of), alternative ‘voices’ (not votes) in parliament, economic fragility, etc is maintained for about a year, it will sink into the collective psyche and form part of the overall narrative for the citizenry to accept more PAP years.

But, if the ground is not sweet towards the end of next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the GE will be held off until a sweet spot opens up. So, since I’m not really a betting man, I’m not making any predictions. :-)

Friday, August 01, 2008

A peek under the carpet

I saw this on Diary of a Singapore Mind. But, I think it is important enough to be re-posted. So, here it is - the combined effect of inflation and wage freeze. Not all of us are similary squeezed. But, there is a sizeable part of our population that is suffering. I find it painful to watch old people queue up for food. These are our nation builders. They should be enjoying their retirement.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is the Constitution redundant?

Dr Ong Chit Chung was the MP for my former constituency, Bukit Batok. I felt that as a mark of respect I should refrain from discussing the issue of a by-election until after the passing of a week. I have met the man on two occasions. Once at a meet-the-people session and once when he made a house visit as part of gathering support for the lift upgrading programme. My condolences to his family.

Now that his seat is vacant, should a by-election be held? What is the legal position?

According to the Today paper, Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC MP) said that the constitution “does not require a by-election”.

Based on an earlier report from the Today paper, Dr Thio Li-Ann is supposed to have expressed the following views:

No by-elections need to held “until there’s no one left in the GRC”. But while there was no legal requirement, she was of the view that “when you elect a team, you elect a whole team; so since this is not the team anymore, you should see if people want a new team.” – Today, July 14 2008

Let us see what the Constitution says:

Article 49 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore
Filling of Vacancies
49. —(1) Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.
(2) The Legislature may by law provide for —
(a) the vacating of a seat of a non-constituency Member in circumstances other than those specified in Article 46;
(b) the filling of vacancies of the seats of non-constituency Members where such vacancies are caused otherwise than by a dissolution of Parliament.

Therefore, if a seat is vacant and it is not because Parliament has been dissolved (i.e. this is not a general election) then the vacancy shall be filled by election.
The Constitution requires that the vacancy be filled by an election. Therefore, when an MP has passed away and there is a vacancy, a by-election must be held.

What is the manner in which the election is to be held? Article 49 states that the election will be in the manner provided by any law relating to Parliamentary elections.

There is a law relating to Parliamentary elections in Singapore. That is the Parliamentary Elections Act (cap 218). The relevant provision of the PEA is as follows:

Writ of election
24. —(1) For the purposes of every general election of Members of Parliament, and for the purposes of the election of Members to supply vacancies caused by death, resignation or otherwise, the President shall issue writs under the public seal, addressed to the Returning Officer.
(2) Every such writ shall be in Form 1 in the First Schedule and shall specify the date or dates (referred to in this Act as the day of nomination) not being less than 5 days nor more than one month after the date of the writ and the place or places of nomination (referred to in this Act as the place of nomination).
(2A) In respect of any group representation constituency, no writ shall be issued under subsection (1) for an election to fill any vacancy unless all the Members for that constituency have vacated their seats in Parliament.

Section 24 deals with the issuance of a Writ of Election. During a General Election or when a by-election is called, the President issues a Writ of Election. Section 24, Subsection 2A, states that no writ of election shall be issued for a GRC unless all MPs in that GRC have vacated their seats.

On a surface reading of s.24 of the PEA, one would get the impression that there is no necessity to have a by-election. But, isn’t this inconsistent with the Constitution?

Article 49 is clear that the vacancy ought to be filled by election. At most it merely makes allowance for the election to be held in accordance with a procedure prescribed for Parliamentary Elections. The PEA is a statute that prescribes the procedures for parliamentary elections. However, the PEA attempts to assert that no Writ of Election shall be issued in the case of a vacancy of a seat in a GRC. This is clearly inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Constitution does not allow Parliament the discretion to pass a law that would negate a by-election. It allows Parliament to pass laws that would prescribe procedures for the conduct of elections. The words in the Constitution are very clear: “in the manner provided by or under any law”. It does not say that Parliament is permitted to pass laws that prevent the filling of vacancies. It says that vacancies must be filled. The manner in which they are filled can be provided under the law. However, the PEA seeks to exclude a by-election altogether. By providing that the President shall not issue a Writ of Election, the PEA has effectively overridden the Constitutional provision that an election shall be held.

Hence, s.24(2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act is unconstitutional.

Article 4 of the Constitution:
This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

So, my question to those who claim that the Constitution does not require a by-election or those who try to adopt a ‘practical’ approach to the question of looking after the constituency is this: Have you read the Constitution? If not, please do so. If yes,please explain how the s.24(2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act could be consistent with Article 49 of the Constitution.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Of Word Games and Human Rights, democracy, rule of law and all that Jazz (Part 2)

In continuation of my earlier blog entry where i was analysing the Ministry of Law's response to the IBA report, I was planning to do an analysis of paragraphs 7 & 8. These are the relevant paragraphs:

7. The human rights allegations in the Report also have no substance. Singapore had responded in detail to them in our 9 April response to the draft report. Singapore, like nearly all countries, subscribes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are interpreted and implemented according to the specific histories, cultures and circumstances of each country. Every society must find and decide the appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities for themselves. Human rights groups in IBAHRI have closed ranks with other Western human rights NGOs to prescribe for Singapore and all new countries, especially China, Western norms of liberal democracy as the only way to bring stability and prosperity. They believe that free market policies cannot succeed without Western liberal democracy, and it is their mission to make other societies adopt the Western model.
8. No NGO has greater interest and understanding of Singapore's history and internal balance than Singapore's leaders, to be able to set norms that will work for Singapore. Whatever the shortcomings of the Singapore government, from our record no one has doubted that our overriding objective has been to get Singaporeans better educated, to understand and be exposed to the globalised world we are now in. So we adjust our laws and systems to maximise the benefits from global forces to make Singapore a thriving cosmopolitan city, where Singaporeans and foreigners live and work in a peaceful, safe and open environment. We listen carefully to all advice and then decide the right balance for ourselves. So far we have not done badly.

I find it difficult to digest the idea that IBA is closing ranks with other NGOs or that it doesn't have a right to render a friendly advice. Before I could formulate my thoughts coherently and write about those two paragraphs, I have read the following from Michael Backman in The Age, 17 July 2008:

As you read through the measured paragraphs of the IBA report, you can almost feel the pleading; the advice to a friend: "you're wealthy, you're educated, you're like us now. Take that final step — join us — the community of civil, prosperous societies. Do it, before you embarrass yourself more." But this friend is too proud to listen.

The full article is at

Whilst I don't agree with every aspect of Backman's article, his characterisation of the IBAHRI report as an advice of a friend is very apt. We have reached a level of development where we can safely cross over to the other side. There is no point in our government repeatedly asserting that given our unique cultural, social, historical, etc. background, we have to chisel a system that works best for us. There is surely a system that worked for us in the economic developmental phase of nation-builidng. But, we must remember that we are building a nation and not a company. The next step is the emotional fulfilment of being Singaporean; of having a sense of belonging; of having a sense of civic responsibility; of having a stake in the decision-making process; of having a say in relation to government policies; of being able to critique the political goings-on without the constant fear (imagined or otherwise) of reprisal lurking next to every thought that we wish to express.

We are more educated. We are economically more well off. But, why must freedom languish in the abyss. Let us lift ourselves and march confidently. Criticisms sharpen our perspectives, broaden our understanding and ensure enlightened governance.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

nkosi sikeleli mandela

Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela.

As a teen, I was greatly inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid. What a colossal struggle and what an amazing feat against all odds. Mandela is an inspiring icon of our times.
What I most appreciate about South African story is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to heal the wounds of the people. Instead of allowing a cycle of violence to be perpetuated; instead of calling for retribution; instead of unleashing a lynch-mob, the post apartheid leaders embarked on the path of forgiveness and healing. An Amazing stroke of political genius.

Happy 90th Birthday, Nelson Mandela.

The following is a list of quotations from Mandela:

Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

In my country we go to prison first and then become President.

It always seems impossible until its done.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Money won't create success, the freedom to make it will.

There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

There is no such thing as part freedom.

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

And finally, a quote from his trial in 1964:

'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'

Monday, July 14, 2008

Inflation may lead to wage increase but there is no evidence the other way around

What was Mr Tharman talking about?

My layman brain is throbbing with a big, fat headache. Are there any economists out there that can explain?

Our Finance Minister says that wage increases will fuel a second round of inflation. I have been trying to work out the dynamics in my mind as rationally as I can. I have tried speaking to people to see if anyone can shed light on the relationship between wages and inflation. Looks like it can be argued both ways (for and against the Minister’s proposition). After doing a bit of google-searching, I have discovered this excellent policy discussion paper:

“Does Wage Inflation Cause Price Inflation?” by Gregory D. Hess and Mark E. Schweltzer (Policy Discussion Paper, Number 10, April 2000), Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Gregory D. Hess is the Danforth-Lewis Professor of Economics at Oberlin College and an academic consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Mark E. Schweitzer is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

The Abstract of the discussion paper says it all:
“Recent attention has turned from unemployment levels to wage growth as an indicator of imminent inflation. But, is there any evidence to support the assumption that increased wages cause inflation? This study updates and expands earlier research into this question and finds little support for the view that higher wages cause higher prices. On the contrary, the authors find more evidence that higher prices lead to wage growth”

The conclusion that they reach at the end is:
“There is little systematic evidence that wages (either conventionally measured by compensation or adjusted through productivity and converted to unit labour costs) are helpful for predicting inflation. In fact, there is more evidence that inflation helps predict wages. The current emphasis on using changes in wage rates to forecast short-term inflation pressure would therefore appear to be unwarranted. The policy conclusion to be drawn is that inflation can appear regardless of recent wage trends.”

The policy paper can be accessed online:

On a related note, the European Central Bank recently warned against wage increases and alleged that wage increases would lead to another round of inflation. But, the European Trade Union Confederation has rebutted that. The following is an extract from a Reuters article dated 1 July 2008:

BRUSSELS, July 1 (Reuters) - Trade unions in the European Union chided the European Central Bank on Tuesday for urging caps on wage growth and reiterated their opposition to any interest rate increase.
The European Trade Union Confederation said ongoing wage bargaining or expected wage trends would trigger no second-round inflationary effects -- the feed-through of high energy and food prices into the wider economy -- as feared by the ECB.
"The ECB's concerns on wages are unfounded and dangerous. The ETUC calls upon the ECB to stop using wages as an alibi to hike interest rates," ETUC General Secretary John Monks said in a statement.

So, how did our trade unions respond? In fact, our Finance Minister was speaking directly to one of our trade unions. He was at a dinner organised by the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union. Mr Philip Lee, the Deputy President of the Union is reported to have said that his union would not push for higher wages. Incidentally, Mr Tharman is the Chairman of the Union’s Council of Advisors. Looks like the Union would be taking the Chairman’s suggestion to heart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Of word games and human rights, democracy, rule of law and all that jazz

The International Bar Association has released a report entitled, ‘Prosperity versus Individual Rights? Human Rights, Democracy and the rule of law in Singapore.’ The Ministry of Law has responded swiftly to the report. Let’s see what the Ministry has to say.

From para 2 of MinLaw’s response:2. From a quick perusal of the Executive Summary, we note that IBAHRI has not taken into account our comments on their draft report, sent on 9 April 2008. We release a copy of our comments previously given to the Chairman of the IBAHRI on the draft report, for your reference.”

It is MinLaw’s assertion that IBAHRI had not taken into account their comments. This is a reference to a letter dated 9 April 2008 from Mark Jayaratnam, Deputy Director of the Legal Policy Division of the Ministry of Law. I went through the IBAHRI report and for good measure I used the ‘search’ tool available for pdf files. Mark Jayaratnam’s letter is referenced by the report 19 times. They have ‘taken into account’ the comments. Although, it is clear that it does not necessarily agree with the comments, IBAHRI has, where appropriate, quoted from the letter to illustrate the Singapore Government’s viewpoint.

The moral of the story… don’t jump to conclusions based on a quick perusal of the Executive Summary. Surely, the Executive Summary is not going to exhibit the government’s comments. I suspect that when MinLaw asserts that IBAHRI did not take into account the comments, what they really had in the mind was that IBAHRI did not agree with their comments. One can take into account an opposing thesis and then disagree. The fact that one disagrees does not mean that one has not taken into account the opposing thesis.

From para 3 of MinLaw’s response:
“3. The IBAHRI Report questions the independence of the Singapore Judiciary. This is contradicted by Mr Fernando Pombo, President of the IBA, who stated in his opening speech at the IBA Conference in Singapore last October that lawyers the world over were coming to Singapore because:
"this country has an outstanding legal profession, an outstanding judiciary, an outstanding academical world in relation to the law".”

It is quite clear from the IBAHRI Report that the allegations directed at the issue of the independence of the judiciary are muted and qualified. IBAHRI does not go all out to claim that the judiciary is not independent. They have acknowledged the high standards maintained by the judiciary and the high standards within our legal system. But, they have sought to address the nagging doubt that is raised by some of the ‘political’ cases that have appeared before the courts. The criticism is measured and I believe it is not inconsistent with the IBA President’s comments at the IBA Conference last year.

“The judiciary in Singapore has a good international reputation for the integrity of their judgments when adjudicating commercial cases that do not involve the interests of PAP members or their associates. However, in cases involving PAP litigants or PAP interests, there are concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence, which casts doubt on the decisions made in such cases. Although this may not go so far as claimed by some non-governmental organisations, which allege that the judiciary is entirely controlled by the will of the executive, there are sufficient reasons to worry about the influence of the executive over judicial decision making. Regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient. In addition, it appears that some of the objective characteristics of judicial independence, including security of tenure, separation from the executive branch and administrative independence may be absent from the Singapore judicial system.”

IBAHRI’s comments and their findings do not assert an actual executive interference in judicial affairs. In fact, they are suggesting that there is room for improvement. After all, justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.

From Para 4 of MinLaw’s response:
“4. Other independent observers agree. The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), which rates Asian countries on their business and legal environments, regularly rates the Singapore judiciary highly. PERC's Asian Intelligence Report 2006 explained that this was because the Singapore judiciary demonstrated three essential elements of judicial independence. First, the courts and individual judges within the system are publicly perceived to be impartial in their decisions. Second, judicial decisions are accepted by contesting parties and the larger public. Third, judges are perceived to be free from undue interference from other branches of government. The IBAHRI Report failed to acknowledge these facts.”

IBAHRI does refer to the PERC Asian Intelligence Report of 2006. In the section D of the Report under the heading ‘Singapore’s International Rankings’, IBAHRI has outline a number of rankings that rate Singapore very highly and some that rank Singapore poorly. Specifically in relation to the judiciary, this is what they say:

“In the judicial and legal system rankings, Singapore has also performed well in international assessments. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2006, which measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians, Singapore ranked fifth in the word. Similarly, in an Asian-only based report, the Political & Economic Risk Consultancy’s Asian Intelligence Report 2006, strong commendation of Singapore’s judicial system was made, stating: ‘Within Asia, Hong Kong and Singapore are the only two systems with judiciaries that rate on a par with those in developed Western societies…’

So, the bone of contention for MinLaw is that IBAHRI did not acknowledge all of the accolades given by PERC. Clearly, if IBAHRI intended to carry out an independent study, it would take into account the findings of multiple sources and draw its own conclusions. We can’t expect IBAHRI to rubber stamp PERC’s findings. All that this indicates is that there is a variety of opinion out there about our judiciary. In any event, the point that IBAHRI seems to make is not so much that our judiciary is not independent but rather that there is a perception of lack of independence.

From Para 5 of MinLaw’s response5. The IBAHRI Report did acknowledge that "Singapore has a good international reputation for the integrity of their judgments when adjudicating commercial cases", but it alleged that for cases that involve "the interests of PAP members or their associates", there were "concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence". Instead of substantiating this grave allegation with evidence, the Report argued that "regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient". This is a feeble justification.

Oh my God! Feeble justification. A very important principle of procedural justice is a ‘feeble justification’. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. This principle is basic. The point is best illustrated through using the process of adjudication. If I judge a civil dispute involving my son as the Plaintiff and some other person as the Defendant, I might still be able to do the honourable thing and adjudicate impartially. I might assure the defendant that I will adjudicate based on the law and the evidence before me and that the Plaintiff will be treated as just any other person. It is not inconceivable that a true man of conscience with a deep sense of justice would be able to perform this separation of reason and emotion.

There is a story about a Chola king in Tamil Nadu that has passed into legend and it is eulogised in classical Tamil literature. Manu-needi Cholan had a son who killed a calf by riding his chariot over it. The king had a petition-bell outside the palace. Any person who felt aggrieved may ring the bell and seek justice. The mother of the calf was ringing the bell violently. The king eventually discovered through his aides the full story pertaining to the killing of the calf. He then ordered that his son be punished for the crime that he committed.
This story is always presented as an indication of how an honourable king would behave when adjudicating a dispute. The unstated fact is that impartiality in adjudication is not a norm and is usually an exception. Surely the norm is that a king would have difficulties in being impartial when his own son is involved. So, it is important that the king does not place himself in a position of a judge when his own son is the object of the complaint. However, that old Tamil story seeks to instill the value of impartiality within the ruler rather than to insist that a system of impartiality be created to distance the king from the adjudicative process so that we can guard against the human frailty (which is a norm rather than an exception).

In English law, which we have inherited, there is a deep sense of impartiality in decision-making that has been implanted within civil and criminal proceedings. In fact, instead of taking chances with the ability of fallible human beings in performing the mental gymnastics of separating their personal emotions (fear, favour, vested interests) from the rational processes, there is a principle of natural justice that no man shall be a judge in his own cause. If a judge is faced with a Plaintiff or a Defendant in a case and there is a personal financial or non-financial interest that the judge has in the case, he must not hear the case. The principle extends beyond actual bias and deals with apparent bias as well. Our own courts have in many cases held the principle to be of application in Singapore. Of course, this is a principle that is utilised in the course of judicial proceedings. So, a judgment can be quashed not only where actual bias is proven but also on the basis of apparent bias.

Therefore, in the context of judicial impartiality and/or independence, there is no reason why the standard of apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence should not be applied.

IBAHRI’s assertion is as follows:

“However, in cases involving PAP litigants or PAP interests, there are concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence, which casts doubt on the decisions made in such cases. Although this may not go so far as claimed by some non-governmental organisations, which allege that the judiciary is entirely controlled by the will of the executive, there are sufficient reasons to worry about the influence of the executive over judicial decision making. Regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient.”

Note that the report does not state that there is no impartiality or independence. It states that there are ‘concerns’ about the ‘actual’ ‘or’ ‘apparent’ lack of impartiality and/or independence. In fact, they were at pains to point out that they were breaking ranks with other NGOs that go overboard in criticising the judiciary in Singapore.
This, however, is the allegedly ‘feeble’ point that they are trying to make: “regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient.”
The point is that it is not enough for a government to assert that there is no interference. Efforts must be made to ensure that the system is not capable of being abused. Efforts must be made to ensure that the system does not allow for the possibility of interference. Efforts must be made to ensure that there can be no reasonable perception of interference. In its report, IBAHRI uses the examples of Judge Michael Khoo, the trend in defamation suits and the Jeyaratnam case that went up to the Privy Council to illustrate the perception of interference. It is clear from the report that there is no actual evidence of interference.

When IBAHRI states that reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient, they mean that a modern state such as Singapore should strive for a higher governance standard. We can no longer be judged like a third world country. We have first world standards in so many aspects of our life. Is there anything wrong in seeking to have a system of governance that excludes the possibility of executive interference in the judiciary?

From para 6 of MinLaw’s response
6. The cases brought by PAP members usually relate to scurrilous and completely untrue allegations of corruption made against them. Providing clean and efficient governance is a longstanding cornerstone of the PAP Government's policy. Thus defamatory allegations cannot be allowed to rest. The accuser has to prove his allegations. The decisions of the Courts in these cases are matters of public record, and can be analysed. Anyone questioning these verdicts should try to do so by examining these decisions properly, rather than making vague unsubstantiated allegations. What the western media continually criticise is that Singapore does not adopt Western, i.e. American, defamation laws that give the media freedom to report libellous untruths without liability to pay damages. It is also absurd to suggest that honourable and upright judges in commercial cases become compliant and dishonourable when dealing with defamation cases involving government ministers.
I will be fair to our judiciary in those defamation suits. The decisions have remained within the rational limits of the English law of defamation that we have inherited. Using defamation suits alone as a basis for alleging the perception of lack of judicial independence would be insufficient. IBAHRI does not rely on the defamation suits alone. In fact in relation to defamation suits, the bone of contention appears to be that statistically, PAP litigants have received much higher damages compared to non-PAP litigants. Incidentally, the IBAHRI statistics are a bit outdated. They end at 1999. IBAHRI also takes issue with the Summary Judgment procedure that is available under our Rules of Court for defamation suits. When a matter is disposed via Summary Judgment, the matter is not heard in open court. In suits involving politicians, this can run counter to the need for the public to view the proceedings so that they can form their own opinion and so that no allegations of executive interference can be made in the judicial process. It is from this perspective that IBAHRI have made their observations vis a vis he defamation suits.

Para 7 and para 8 of MinLaw’s response deserves a separate comment which I will attempt to do in a separate blog.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Wisdom of a 15 year old

This is definitely the quotation of the week (maybe, it might even be the quotation of the year):
Jarret Huang (Secondary 3 student from Raffles Institution): "The sense of persecution is not a reactive measure in my situation but rather it is a pre-emptive measure taken such that certain things which are deemed incorrect cannot be said in certain situations.”

The red-herring that is often thrown at us if we directly question a minister about the curtailment of the freedom of expression is that we have false perceptions of persecution/restricions/etc. The restrictions that exist are purely in the interest of public order and safety and also national security. The restrictions do not prevent legitimate criticism.

Jarret Huang's response to Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's question about whether he feels persecuted hits the mark perfectly.

There is a political climate that has been carefully constructed and repeatedly reinforced that ensures that we practice self-censorship most of the time. It is not persecution but the fear of possible persecution that drives the self-imposed silence that many of us are guilty of.

Once in a while, a little boy would stand up and tell the Emperor that he is not wearing any clothes. :-)

Is this some kind of tennis match?

I was half-expecting a response along the lines of what Ms Yeong Yoon Ying has come up with. TODAYonline has received a letter from her explaining the “murderers, robbers, child molesters and rapists” allegation that she raised in her letter to the Wall Street Journal.

Firstly, the Wall Street Journal had attempted to report about the Lees v Chees defamation suit and they had made statements to the effect that Singapore is lacking in terms of political freedoms. In response to that article, Ms Yeong (MM Lee’s Press Secretary) wrote to the WSJ to set the record straight. In her letter she said:

The case had nothing to do with political freedom. It was for defamation arising from the Chees' false claims that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew are criminals and corrupt. Despite being advised by a Queen's Counsel, they failed to produce any credible defence or evidence to back up their claims.
Having lost, Dr. Chee in open court then called the Singapore leaders "murderers, robbers, child molesters" and "rapists."

My initial reaction to the allegation that Dr Chee said that the Singapore leaders were murderers, etc was: No Way! It can’t be! He wouldn’t have said that. If he did, he must have been insane. Maybe he was taken out of context and he might have said something else altogether different.

Then came Chee Soon Juan’s assertion that the statement by Ms Yeong was untrue. In my mind I was wondering: Hmm.. If it is untrue, how did Ms Yeong bravely make such an assertion. Is there going to be some hanky panky with the transcript. Nothing as blatant as that would happen. Surely, it wouldn’t get that ugly.

Now, Ms Yeong has clarified by producing an extract of the court transcript. The Today paper wrote on 3rd July about this exchange between Ms Yeong and Dr Chee. Today, 4th July, the paper has published an article clarifying Ms Yeong’s position. The relevant part of the transcript is as follows and according to Ms Yeong reproduced from p.115 of the court transcript of the hearing on 28 May 2008:

Mr Davinder Singh: “ ... And to conclude on Dr Chee’s submissions, he says that he doesn’t wish Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong ill. In that same breath, he says he stands by The New Democrat article, which alleged that they are ‘criminals, corrupt, and covered up matters in the NKF’. And under his breath he’s now just said ‘murderers and robbers’.”

Dr Chee: “And rapists, too, you might as throw it in, you know, right? Child molesters”.

Mr Singh: “And this is the man who says “I don’t wish them ill”.

What’s wrong with this picture? Most readers would instantly realise that Dr Chee was being sarcastic. It is the kind of situation where a frustrated man sitting down listening to another person making allegations would remark sarcastically. Those words should not have been taken out of context and played out the way that MS Yeong has done. She says: “having lost, Dr Chee in open court then called the Singapore leaders ‘murderers, robbers, child molesters’ and ‘rapists’.” In the context of the transcript I find it difficult to come to the conclusion that Ms Yeong has come to.

I feel like I am witnessing a couple of kids engaged in a senseless quarrel and I just want to walk up to them and say: STOP IT! This is enough!

For his part Chee Soon Juan should not have responded to Ms Yeong’s letter in the manner that he did. This is what he said:
“The outrageousness of Madam Yeong's lie borders on the comedic. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, or his counsel, is in possession of court transcripts and audio-recordings that would show whether I had uttered those words. He must now produce the part of the transcript that quotes me saying those words or he risks destroying his own credibility.”

I’m sure he would have known that he used the words ‘rapists’ and ‘child molesters’ at least. Even if we assume that he did not say ‘murderers’ and ‘robbers’ and that this was stated by Dewinder Singh, then it is clear that he had at least said ‘rapists’ and ‘child molesters’. Instead of responding by challenging Ms Yeong to produce the transcripts, he should have just set out the context in which the words were used and clarified the issue. We don’t need this kind of back and forth between Ms Yeong and Dr Chee. This is like a tennis match now. But, I guess given the fact that it looks like the words were taken out of context, Ms Yeong has hit a rather week shot into Dr Chee’s side of the court. Will Dr Chee go in for the kill or will he slip before he hits the ball?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Uighurs are not enemy combatants

Here's the story that doesn't make the news much. Amongst the detainees at Guantanamo are Uighurs (ethnic minority in Western China). These persons were living in Afghanistan due to persecution in China and were handed over to the Americans by the Pakistanis for a bounty. It is easy for politicians to use the broad brush of executive prerogative and mark a person out as an 'enemy combatant' or a 'terrorist'. After that these people languish indefinitely under sanity sapping conditions.

It is good to see that the US courts are making decisions here and there upholding habeas corpus and determining the issue of 'enemy combatants'.

The following article is from the Human Rights Watch:

Uighurs at Guantanamo
By Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director, published in FindLaw

June 30, 2008

In a ruling that is years late, but is nonetheless brave and important, a federal appellate court held last week that a prisoner at Guantanamo has been wrongly deemed an “enemy combatant.” Huzaifa Parhat, the prisoner whose fate was at issue in the case, has been in US custody at Guantanamo for over six years.

Parhat is an ethnic Uighur, part of a Muslim minority from western China. Like the 16 other Uighurs who remain in military detention at Guantanamo, Parhat claims that he was never a combatant and that he ended up in US custody by mistake. Parhat says that he was living with a group of other Uighurs in Afghanistan when the 2001 war started, that his group was led across the border to Pakistan, and that the Pakistanis sold them to the United States for a bounty.

US officials realized pretty quickly that the Uighurs were no threat. Indeed, Parhat and others were reportedly determined to be eligible for release from Guantanamo more than four years ago. The reason that they remained at Guantanamo was that they could not return to their home country, and no other country—including the United States—would agree to accept them.

Parhat and the other Uighurs would risk serious persecution if returned to China. Since their continued imprisonment at Guantanamo represents an unjustifiable wrong, and they have nowhere else to go, they should be paroled into the United States.

Chinese Fears of “Splittism”

Uighurs in China face imprisonment, torture, and even execution for what the Chinese government deems to be “separatism” or “splittism.” Having fled to Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban would be sufficient, under the Chinese government’s standards, for the 17 Uighurs at Guantanamo to be viewed as a dangerous threat.

The Uighur population of western China is under tight Chinese control. Because the Chinese fear that ethnic Uighurs want independence for their region of the country, the government has taken draconian steps to repress Uighur nationalist sentiment. As Islam is perceived as underpinning Uighur ethnic identity, the government also represses most outward expressions of Islam.

For Uighurs to celebrate Muslim religious holidays, study religious texts, or show their religious identity through their personal appearance are acts that are strictly forbidden at state institutions, including schools. The Chinese government vets who can be a cleric, what version of the Koran is acceptable, where religious gatherings may be held, and what may be said at such gatherings.

Even the most peaceful Uighur activists, if they practice their religion in a way that the authorities deem inappropriate, face potential arrest and torture.

Whether to Return the Uighurs to the Chinese

US officials have made it clear that they will not send any of the Uighurs to China, but this option was once deemed within the range of possibility.

In a document that was released via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, an unnamed FBI official who worked at Guantanamo in late 2002/early 2003 mentioned the idea. “At the time of my TDY [temporary duty at Guantanamo],” he said, “US officials were considering whether to return the Uighurs to the Chinese, possibly to gain support for anticipated US action in the Middle East. The Uighur detainees at GTMO were convinced that they would be immediately executed if they were returned to China.” The next paragraph in the document was entirely censored.

In a document contained in an earlier FOIA release, an unnamed FBI official described an interview with a Uighur detainee, stating that “[CENSORED] advised that he still has faith and trust in America and please do not return him to [CENSORED].” The censor’s codes show that the first excision in the sentence was made to hide a person’s name, but that second excision was made because the information that would have been revealed—no doubt the word “China”—was considered classified. It is sad that US classification authority was used to protect the Chinese from embarrassment.

While no Uighurs were ever returned to China—and in fact the US managed to convince Albania to take five of them in 2006—the US did allow Chinese officials to visit Guantanamo at one point and interrogate the Uighur detainees.

“They didn’t treat me good,” one Uighur explained, when asked about the visit in a 2004 administrative proceeding. Saying that the Chinese officials made threats, he described how they photographed him and said that he and the other Uighurs were going to be sent back to China.

Walking in Circles

The appellate court’s opinion in Parhat’s case has not yet been released because it, too, contains classified information, but a redacted version is being prepared. Importantly, in the one-page order that has so far been released, the court told the government either to release or transfer Parhat, or—in what would be a pointless and agonizing exercise at this point—to hold a new set of administrative proceedings for him.

In the meantime, Parhat is living a life of useless tedium. He recently described his daily routine to his lawyer, who wrote:
Wake at 4:30 or 5:00. Pray. Go back to sleep. Walk in circles—north, south, east, west—around his 6-by-12 foot cell for an hour. Go back to sleep for another two or more hours. Wake up and read the Koran or look at a magazine (written in a language that he does not understand). Pray. Walk in circles once more. Eat lunch. Pray. Walk in circles. Pray. Walk in circles or look at a magazine (again, in a foreign language). Go back to sleep at 10:00 p.m.
Abdusemet, another Uighur at Guantanamo, has described days on end of doing nothing more than eating, praying, pacing, and sitting on his bed. “I am starting to hear voices, sometimes. There is no one to talk to all day in my cell and I hear these voices,” Abdusemet told his lawyer, worriedly.

“What did we do?” he asked. “Why do they hate us so much?”

Friday, June 27, 2008

PAP, The Opposition & the Resilience of Singapore

PAP, The Opposition & the Resilience of Singapore

MM Lee’s latest warning about Singapore without the PAP is nothing new. It has always been the election scare tactic. Don’t vote for the opposition because you are bored, because you simply want to rebel, because you just want to voice your discontent over particular issues. You just might vote the PAP out of power and Singapore’s success is wholly attributable to the PAP and without them Singapore will be in ruins.

Firstly, this is intended to be a statement about the calibre of the current opposition. Singaporeans are not unintelligent. We know that the current opposition leaders and their party members do not have the same kind of political experience as the senior members of the PAP. But, a long time ago when the PAP was itself an opposition party, its leaders did not have the political experience of people like the late David Marshall. The point is that given Singapore’s political climate of single party dominance, I would not be able to honestly assert that the opposition members of parliament or the members of opposition parties that are not in parliament have the same experience as the current ministers.

Whilst opposition candidates may not have the experience of leading and running ministerial departments, I don’t think anyone can honestly deny the fact that they have their hearts in the right place. Being critical of the government is not easy in Singapore. Being concerned enough about our fellow citizens to the point of being openly critical of our government is also not easy. And where that concern for the fellow man leads a person to join an opposition party and stand for elections or to become an activist in pushing the envelope insofar as our freedoms are concerned, that person definitely has passion for the nation.

The figures that have arisen as opposition leaders in Singapore from 1981 till the present have taken upon themselves an unenviable task. They have done so and continue to do so despite the political and legal impediments facing them. Their courage must be applauded and as rational beings we must also ask ourselves where such courage could come from. Unless these were men and women of exceptional willpower and passion for the nation, they could not have displayed and could not continue to show such courage.

For the above reasons, I find it difficult to be dismissive about our opposition’s heart. There will be those who say that the heart alone is not sufficient when it comes to leadership, especially leadership of the nation. I will concede that experience counts for sure. But, passion is a precondition for effective leadership. We are not talking about corporate management here. We are talking about a country and its citizens; each one of whom is a living, breathing human being with dreams and hopes. Leaders must not be elitist, other-worldly technocrats. Leaders must connect with the deeper concerns of the common man.

Our First Cabinet was not composed of men of great experience. They were men of great passion and vision. MM Lee was one of them. His passion and the passion of his generation of leaders guided the passion of that generation of adults; the adults of the 60s and 70s who were instrumental in producing the Singapore miracle.

When we look for the next generation of leaders who would lead Singapore forward, I dare say that it would be such passion for the nation that would be of incalculable value.

Secondly, we all know that the PAP is not going to go out of power all of a sudden. As much as I am not frightened by such a prospect, I know that there are many Singaporeans who shudder at the thought of a ‘freak’ election victory for the opposition. (note: it is only freak from the PAP’s perspective. One has to be in power for a long time before formulating a view that the people’s verdict is somehow misguided in order for it to be labelled as ‘freak’) The opposition has for some time been adopting what has been termed as the bye-election strategy. They openly declared this as a strategy when they rightly assessed the feeling on the ground. Many people wanted to have their voices heard. But, they didn’t want the PAP to be out of power. By contesting less than half the seats in Parliament, the opposition has been delivering election victories to the PAP on nomination day. Election day was presented by the opposition as an opportunity for people to send more opposition MPs to Parliament.

That opposition strategy has been neutered in part by GRC system. Each GRC team is led by a minister. The loss of a team equates to the loss of a minister. The worries that voters may have had about change in government was effectively channelled towards a worry that a minister might be sacrificed if a GRC team was voted out. Even then voters fired brave salvos in the form of Eunos GRC and Cheng San GRC albeit unsuccessfully.

The point that I am getting at is that a ‘freak’ election victory for the opposition is not possible under the bye-election strategy. Even if the PAP had lost all the seats contested in the last elections, they would have still formed the government. There would have been a sizeable opposition in Parliament that would have been able to keep the Ministers on the toes. Other PAP MPs would replace those Ministers that had lost their parliamentary seats. I am sure the PAP is not going to say that their MPs don’t have that calibre. Such an argument would be counter-productive for the party.

When more and more opposition members gain a foothold in Parliament, they would have ample opportunity to gain political experience and their parties would be better able to build up a shadow government. A shadow government would be the ultimate step in building an effective alternative to the PAP. Having an effective alternative to the PAP is a priority for us as citizens. We cannot assume that good governance is a given. We cannot assume that good governance will always be a PAP trademark. What if the PAP slackens? What if there is complacency? What if there is negligent leadership? We will, in the end, blame ourselves for not having an effective alternative ready and able to take over from the PAP. We will blame ourselves for the mother of all complacencies: electoral complacency.

Voters need to be far-sighted and realise that the gradual rise of opposition MPs in Parliament will be better for Singapore’s future.

Thirdly, and this was clearly not intended by MM Lee, the warning unintentionally implies a lack of faith in our Civil Service. Imagine this scenario. Take away all our existing Ministers. Place all the opposition party leaders in Ministerial positions. The system is not going to grind to a halt. There is a reason why Civil Servants are expected to be neutral and non-partisan. Political parties may come and go. Ministers may come and go. But, the civil servants are always there. They are the ones that ensure the smooth transition of power from one government to the next. Ministers themselves don’t have insights into the workings of a Ministry without the input of their civil servants. To worry about a ‘freak’ election result is to worry about the resilience of our civil service. I believe it is robust enough to carry on functioning effectively whatever party may come to power. If the PAP’s worry is that policy shifts may harm the country’s prosperity, then this is an argument about the policies that are best for the country. These policies will vary from party to party and the policy issues raised by the different parties ought to be debated effectively and openly in public. If the PAP’s worry is about experience in leadership, then I would backtrack to my earlier comments.

The confluence of a robust, resilient and experienced Civil Service and an opposition with passion for the nation (minus the experience) would produce sufficient conditions for the continued positive evolution of our society and nation.

There is one further point that I want to make and I will draw it from a conversation a few days ago. My mother-in-law remarked whilst watching the news that we continue to be able to live with a roof over our heads because MM Lee is still alive. That might very easily be the view of her generation. I’m sure my parents would readily agree. I too, for my part, would not refute the contributions of MM Lee and his generation of leaders. But, too often, the meta-narrative of this nation tends to underplay the contributions of an entire generation of ordinary citizens: the adults of the 1960s and 1970s. The hardest work of nation-building was done by them. They are our unsung heroes.

In the history of any nation or society, its resilience is not dependant on its leaders. Its resilience is found in the collective will of its people. Leaders marshal that will. They don’t exist independent of that collective will.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Of Care and Complacency

A couple of months ago I was returning from a trip to Hong Kong. I enjoy the convenience of going through the automated lane at the airport. Place your passport on the reader; make your way through; place your thumb on the second reader; you are cleared. Very efficient. Very fast. And foolproof.

On that occasion, there was a queue at the automated lane. But, I figured it would move fast and definitely faster than the manual lanes and besides that day there were long queues in all the lanes. So, I joined the automated lane. It was taking a while for each person to get through. A chap standing in front of me remarked to the officer who was trying to assist something along the following lines.... Wah! Nowadays the security is so tight ah? Singapore passport also the machine is taking so long to check.
Obviously it was a snide remark about the glitches in the device that did the scanning. It drew chuckles and smiles from the rest of us in the queue. The officer obviously treated it rather seriously. He said something to the following effect..... Singapore must be careful now. We cannot afford to make any more mistakes.

I'm not quoting verbatim. My memory is not that perfect. But, I must say that it is pretty ironic that all those claims of being careful gave way to a lapse. To be fair, the lapse took place at the budget terminal.
Budget terminal = budget service = budget security

Any lapse by any department in the Home Team is a failure which all in the Home Team family must bear

I'm sure the Home Minister did not mean it when he said, 'Any lapse by any department in the Home Team is a failure which all in the Home Team family must bear'. If he did mean it and if this was not a rapidly and loosely drafted statement, then the following meanings are possible:

a) The 61 year old gentleman slipping through immigration (of all the places I would have thought this would be the most secure and in all honesty I have been complacent about the level of security there) using his son's passport was not a lapse;


b) The incident was a lapse but not a lapse by the ICA;


c) It was a lapse by the ICA but the department is not part of the Home Team


d) The ICA is part of the Home Team but the Home Minister is not as his is a political office and he is himself not a member of the civil service


e) The Home Minister is acknowledging that as a member of the Home Team family he is going to bear the responsibility for the lapse of a 'family member'.

Given the fact that the five possible interpretations are unlikely to constitute the intended consequence of what he said, I would venture that the Home Minister did not mean it when he said, "Any lapse by any department in the Home Team is a failure which all in the Home Team family must bear"
(Unless, of course there is a different sense in which he said it and my plebian brain is unable to logicaly process that meaning out of the statement). :-)

I don't envy the Home Minister. This has been his annus horribilis... and we are just reaching the halfway mark.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Reality at the UN

I found this great quote about the real work that the UN does... This couldn't be further from the truth... The UN is unfortunately a toothless organisation held hostage by the power of the veto at the Security Council and the behind-the-scenes dealings of powerful nations.

Carlos Romulo (former president of the General Assembly of the UN):

"If there is a problem between a weak nation and another weak nation and the UN takes action, the problem disappears. If there is a problem between a strong nation and a weak nation and the UN takes action, the weak nation disappears. If there is a problem between a strong nation and a strong nation and the UN takes action, the UN disappears."

Judging those who judge the judiciary

Chee Soon Juan's strenuous and persistent questioning of witnesses whilst the court had disallowed those questions gave rise to a contempt conviction.
Gopalan Nair's vitriolic verbal assualt making reference to the judge who presided over the case has resulted in a charge under the Penal Code of insulting a public officer. Both of these cases give rise to the fact that there is an interest in protecting the integrity of the judicial system and an opposing public interest in being able to engage in free criticism of the judiciary and to subject them to scrutiny.

Here are some interesting quotes about insults leveled against the judiciary or contempt of court generally. It is quite a task to balance the need for an unimpugned judicial system as a cornerstone of constitutional governance and the need for free expression and free speech so that a little boy can still cry out that the emperor wears no clothes.

In Re S.Mulgaokar(1978) 3 SCC 339.
“The contempt power, though jurisdictionally large, is discretionary in its unsheathed exercise. Every commission of contempt need not erupt in indignant committal or demand punishment, because Judges are judicious, their valour non-violent and their wisdom goes into action when played upon by a volley of values, the least of which is personal protection – for a wide discretion, range of circumspection and rainbow or public considerations benignantly guide that power” - Justice Krishna Iyer

Ambard v. Attorney General for Triandad and Tobago, 1936 AC 322.
"The path of criticism is a public way. The wrong-headed are permitted to err therein; provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken comments of ordinary men." – Lord Atkin

In Re S.Mulgaokar(1978) 3 SCC 339.
“A vague and wandering jurisdiction with uncertain frontiers, a sensitive and suspect power to punish vested in the prosecutor, a law which makes it a crime to public regardless of truth and public good and permits a process of brevi manu conviction, may unwittingly trench upon civil liberties and so the special jurisdiction and jurisprudence bearing on contempt power must be delineated with deliberation and operated with serious circumspection by the higher judicial echelons. So it is that as the palladium of our freedoms, the Supreme Court and the High Courts, must vigilantly protect free speech even against judicial umbrage – a delicate but sacred duty whose discharge demands tolerance and detachment of a higher order”. – Justice Krishna Iyer

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Misreporting by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders – they have again got their facts wrong.

In an article entitled “US blogger Gopalan Nair still waiting the outcome of trial” dated 17th June 2008, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) makes the following assertions at two different parts of the article:

“This trial is a farce. Gopalan Nair appeared today before one of the plaintiffs herself”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. (that’s a reference to RWB)

The case of “insulting” Belinda Ang Saw was heard today with the judge herself presiding over the hearing.

The second sentence is hyperlinked to an AFP article. The AFP article does not state that the matter was heard before Justice Belinda Ang. I believe that the writer of the RWB article must have misunderstood the AFP article. The following is the relevant extract from the AFP article:

In the blog, Gopalan Nair criticised a recent legal hearing at which Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, testified in a defamation case they filed against an opposition party.
Nair, 58, is charged with insulting Justice Belinda Ang Saw Ean by saying she was "prostituting herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders," a court document said.
Justice Ang presided over the hearing.

I believe that the AFP article was making the assertion that Justice Ang presided over the defamation hearing and not Mr Nair’s mention. According to Mr Chia Li Tik’s blog, the matter was mentioned at the subordinate courts on 16th June 2008 and the DPP had requested for the case to be transferred to the High Court. The case has now been fixed for further mention on 14th July 2008 at Court 26 presumably pending the fixing of a date for Pre-Trial Conference at the High Court.

RWB seems to have jumped the gun in their enthusiasm to paint a less than flattering picture. This kind of reporting does not, in any way, assist in promoting the truth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gopalan Nair’s original charge has been replaced (according to AFP).

Judging from an AFP report on the net which is about 4 hours old, Gopalan Nair’s original charge of insulting a public officer via sending her an email has not been substituted. The new charge is apparently one of insulting via the blog contents and it is now under the Penal Code as opposed to the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

In my earlier blog entry, ‘From Folly to Freedom’ dated 5th June, I had said the following:

I’m a little curious as to the precise wording of the charge against him. If the charge was worded in exactly the same manner as indicated in parenthesis above in the AFP report, then there is a serious slip in the charge.
If the charge is eventually amended to one involving the contents in the blog and not the alleged email, then there is likely to be an interesting jurisdiction issue.

My reason for stating the above was that from multiple reports both on the net as well as in the papers, I got the impression that the charge probably stated the email sent by Gopalan Nair contained the words ‘prostituting herself’. I thought it odd that he would have sent an email to her and used the word ‘herself’ instead of ‘yourself’. I couldn’t help but wonder if the person drafting the charge had made a mistake of quoting from the blog instead of quoting from any alleged email. Of course, given Gopalan Nair’s assertion that he did not send the alleged email to the judge, there arose the possibility that there was in fact no such email to quote from and hence the blog became the source of the wording in the charge. The inevitable slip might have occurred.

Of course, there is the legitimate possibility that the charge did not attempt to quote verbatim from the alleged email and that it had paraphrased the email to write in the 3rd person as ‘herself’ instead of the alleged email content which may have been ‘yourself’. Who knows?

Anyway, the story emanating from AFP is that the original charge has now been replaced. So, it is safe to assume that he is now facing one charge in relation to his blog comments about Justice Belinda Ang and another charge in relation to an email sent to Justice Lai Siu Chiu 2 years ago.

On another note: Gopalan Nair neither admits nor denies sending an email to Justice Lai Siu Chiu. But, he has been quite unequivocal in his denial of sending an email to Justice Belinda Ang. The following is from his blog entry:

As far as the Email to Judge Lai Sui Chu, this was more than 2 years ago. I cannot remember if I sent that Email. Even if I did, I was not in Singapore at the time. I was physically in Fremont, Northern California. If I sent the Email, it was from Fremont Northern California. From 2006 March to present I had traveled to Singapore on at least one occasion on November 2006 without incident.

So, he is saying that he may or may not have sent the email. Memory is not perfect. I guess that is a possible explanation. But, of course, the inevitable gut feeling that one gets here is that since he did not deny the email outright, he is either conscious of the fact that he has sent such an email or of the fact that he had composed such an email that he was contemplating the possibility of sending and did not in the end send it out (or he can’t remember if he in fact sent it). Who knows?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Impeachment of Bush

Dennis Kucinich tabled an impeachment motion in the House of Representatives. By a vote of 251-166, the House was pushed the impeachment motion aside to the Judiciary Committee. That is going to be equivalent to sweeping it under the carpet. The motion that he brought against Dick Cheney last year has still been languishing in the Judiciary Committee wihtout any semblance of motion.

What is disgusting is that the Republican dominated House was eager to impeach Clinton for a lie in relation to his sexual escapades but the current Democrat dominated House is unwilling to impeach Bush for lies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and not to mention the unaccounted for civilian deaths in Iraq.

There are those who would argue that Bush is at the end of his term and it doesn't serve any useful purpose in impeaching him at this stage. But, it would serve a very useful purpose. It would send a clear message to all future Presidents that they cannot get away with the outright deception that the Bush administration practised.

Senate Intelligence Committee has itself recently concluded that the Bush administration had deliberately painted an inaccurate picture to justify launching the Iraq war.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (Chairman of the Committee): "In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed." "There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate."

Anyway, it looks like Kucinich's valiant attempt is going to remain just that: an attempt.

Here are the Articles of Impeachment that he tabled in the House:

Article I
Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq
Article II
Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression
Article III
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War
Article IV
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States
Article V
Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression
Article VI
Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114
Article VII
Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.
Article VIII
Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter
Article IX
Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor
Article X
Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes
Article XI
Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq
Article XII
Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation's Natural Resources
Article XIIII
Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries
Article XIV
Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency
Article XV
Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq
Article XVI
Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors
Article XVII
Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives
Article XVIII
Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy
Article XIX
Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to " Black Sites" Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture
Article XX
Imprisoning Children
Article XXI
Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government
Article XXII
Creating Secret Laws
Article XXIII
Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act
Article XXIV
Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment
Article XXV
Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens
Article XXVI
Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements
Article XXVII
Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply
Article XXVIII
Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice
Article XXIX
Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Article XXX
Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare
Article XXXI
Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency
Article XXXII
Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change
Article XXXIII
Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.
Article XXXIV
Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001
Article XXXV
Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders

Ron Paul drops out of Republican race

Ron Paul, the Libertarian leaning Republican, has officially dropped out of the Republican race. Although realistically he was not going to get the necessary delegates to vote for him at the Republican Convention later this year, Ron PAul kept the hopes of his supporters alive by keeping himself in the race.

There was a stage towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year when the net was abuzz with the Ron Paul Revolution. There appeared to be this new hope on the horizon. He was the most popular candidate on the internet. But, the MSM hardly gave him any credence. They won in the end. They succeeded in muzzling his voice and his message. He is, in my view, the person best suited to be President and the one person whose uncompromising and principled views would have done a great deal of good for America and the world.

Well, Ron PAul has announced that he will shift his focus now to maintain a long term campaign for liberty. I guess in the larger scheme of things the Presidential campaign is not the be all and end all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What can I say? (without being charged?)

The Gopalan Nair saga (whatever the wisdom or lack of it that got it started) highlights another more important issue: The freedom to express one's views. How important is this right? What is the extent to which this right can be stretched?

Rights are the antidotes to power.

Often it has been stated that the freedom of speech cannot be unlimited; that freedom must be accompanied by responsibility. Whilst a person has the freedom to speak, he doesn’t have the freedom to hurt or harm. Instigating racial and religious hatred and creating social tensions in the name of free speech is a misguided use of the freedom. So far so good. I’m willing to concede.

What about the use of free speech against public officials?

Constitutional Rights are not rights operating in a vacuum. They are relational. The citizenry’s relationship with the state is spelled out in the form of rights. These are not weapons that we use against our fellow men nor are these empty propositions that we can claim as the badge of a free people. These rights are protections. Protections against potential abuse. Governance entails giving power to a few to administer the many. Societies are complex and governance of all by all is impracticable. So, for want of a better alternative, we confer authority upon those who govern to govern for out benefit. In recognition of the fragile and fallible nature of the human will, we have created systems. The objective and abstract system is intended to ensure that even if human fallibility were to creep into governance, the system would extract and terminate that virus. The Constitution is the anti-virus software running in the background and assisting us in isolating human failings as and when they crop up.

The Freedom of Speech is one such tool. This freedom’s purpose is not to enable an individual citizen to cause harm to others. Its purpose is, amongst others, to enable a citizen to call out and name officials who have allowed their personal frailties to compromise the responsibilities they bear as officials. To allege that an official is corrupt, derelict in his duties, lacking in independence or otherwise deficient in his role is not an invitation for chaos to visit the nation. To allege that an official is corrupt, derelict in his duties, lacking in independence or otherwise deficient in his role does not result in a riot. To allege that an official is corrupt, derelict in his duties, lacking in independence or otherwise deficient in his role is not even a case of tiptoeing onto the slippery slope leading towards the ‘Hock Lee Bus Riots’ (the caricature of chaos within our nation’s collective meta-narrative).

The very purpose of the constitutional right to free speech is to question the actions of those who govern; if necessary, to question the integrity of individual officials. There is no higher purpose that this right serves than to enable the citizen to speak truth to power. Of course, just as the citizen has the right to allege, the official has the right to defend himself against such allegation. The defence against such allegations ought to be conducted in the public sphere through clarifications by the official of the position he adopts.

Criminalization of criticism of public officials runs counter to the fundamental purpose behind the freedom of speech. A threat of force or a threat to the safety of a public official is not a legitimate exercise of one’s freedom of speech. But, an insult is nothing more than a forceful expression of one’s disgust with an official or a system. The Freedom of speech bestowed upon the citizenry is a mechanism for dissent and criticism to be voiced and accommodated within a system of consensual governance. To criminalise the criticism is to nullify the freedom.

I am not trumpeting this freedom as a religion here. (Yes, that is a reference to the Attorney General’s recent comment.) I am merely asserting that it is a practical tool in the hands of the citizenry to make sure that the human failings of those who govern do not compromise the collective good. Often there is a tendency to argue that the freedom of speech is an individual right and that sometimes it has to be compromised in the interest of the greater good of society. But, when the freedom is exercised as a critique of those who govern, it is in fact acting as a tool furthering the collective interest. It is the suppression of criticism that tends to serve individual interests and as a consequence fails to advance the collective good.

Salus populi est suprema lex. Public welfare is the highest law.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Of Rice and Rights

The price of rice is so high
My mom decided not to buy anymore.
But, how could I survive
Without any rice?
“Men shall not live by rice alone”
she preached sagely.
And I suppose I have to wait for the miraculous appearance of gunnysacks in my kitchen tonight.
My rabble-rousing cousin had another take on it.
“You are bitter about rice?
Get yourself some rights!”
“You can’t eat those,”
retorted by mom.
Age often breeds wisdom
And I should have listened to her.
Article 14 was hard to chew.
Tasteless and soaked in saliva,
I had a tough customer in my mouth.
In the end, a glass of water and a quick gulp
Was all it took to flush it down.
It didn’t seem all that bad.
So, I went in search of more rights.
I wasn’t disappointed.
There were plenty of those
And I could print an endless supply.
God bless the Internet!
Papa splashed a smirk
From the side of my hospital bed.
“You should have listened to your mother,”
the smirk seemed to say.

My cousin’s blog entry for that day read:
“He failed to digest what I said.”

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Long Ride

The First African slaves were introduced into what is today the United States in the year 1619.

In 1641, Massachusetts legalised slavery.

In 1808, the American Congress abolished the slave trade.

In 1865, slavery was abolished

In 1868, Afican Americans received full citizenship

In 1870, African men received the right to vote

In 1909, the NAACP was formed

In 1948, the US Army was desegregated

In 1963, the famous speech by Martin Luther King... 'I have a dream' (one of my personal favourites)

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act

In 1968, to quote from U2.... Early morning, April 4th... A shot rings out in the Memphis sky... Free at last... they took your life. They could not take your pride...
Martin Luther King was assassinated.

40 years later... In 2008, Barack Obama has become the presumptive Presidential nominee for a major political party.

History is sometimes very poetic... It is exactly 200 years since the slave trade was abolished. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for the 28th of August. That is the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous 'I have a dream' speech. Barack Obama will be officially accepting the Democratic Party's nomination.

Well... I watch in awe as history sculpts another poetic page.

The Sedition Charge

After having written the last post, I visited Chia Ti Lik's Blog. He has updated it with today's events. It appears that a cautioned statement was taken from his client. The matter has been adjourned to 12th June as the DPP had requested for an adjournment to 'finalise the charges'. Well, I guess this would mean that a Sedition charge may well be on its way.

A Folly and a Freedom

Mr Gopalan Nair, a US citizen, a lawyer, a blogger, an ex-Singaporean and former member of the Workers’ Party has been charged for insulting/threatening a public servant.

I read the blog. The line between bravery and foolhardiness is not always very clear. But, I’m sorry Mr Nair, this is one occasion when I would venture that your dare was just a little over the top. I do hesitate to classify what you did as bravery for it seems more likely to be otherwise. In order not to humiliate you I shall not classify it at all.

I guess you figured that you’d be served with a Writ for defamation and then you would scoot off to the US and never return again. Let there be a default judgment. Let there be an order for damages. They can’t get it enforced in the US.

Talk about a colossal miscalculation. When you open your gap in Singapore, you are navigating a minefield. You, sir, have hit a mine.

Has an offence been committed? It appears that Mr Nair has been charged under s.13D(1)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. S.13D(1) is as follows:

13D. —(1) Any person who in a public place or in a private place —
(a) uses any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant; or
(b) distributes or displays to a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant any writing, sign or other visible representation which is indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting,
shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.

I believe that it is not too difficult to fit his comment about Justice Ang ‘prostituting herself’ within the requirements of s.13D(1).
The offence can be made out very easily. As for the evidence…. its out there in cyberspace. The remarks are clearly on his blog. There were, allegedly, emails sent by Mr Nair to the Solicitor General and the Attorney General.

I wasn’t too surprised to find out that Mr Nair was arrested and questioned. But, it was certainly a surprise to find out that he was remanded for a further 7 days. Prosecution had invoked s.198 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Judging from the blog of Mr Chia Ti Lik, Mr Nair’s Counsel, the argument, inter alia, advanced on the Defendant’s behalf was that s.198 was of no application as it dealt with adjournment of inquiries and trials. With respect, I have to disagree on that point. S.198 is the relevant provision under which a matter mentioned in court for the first time is adjourned. The Defendant was obviously not pleading guilty on that day and clearly the matter could not proceed for trial for want of readiness of the parties and witnesses, if any.

S.198 further facilitates the holding of an accused in remand for a further period of 8 days. It is with regard to the reasons for the remand that I would take issue. What was the need for remanding him in custody. What was the reason for construing that bail was in the first place appropriate and fixing bail in the morning of the hearing and then rescinding the bail and applying for further detention? Mr Chia Ti Lik’s blog alludes to the fact that the investigating officer was on hand to lay the evidence before the court as to the reason for further remand. The Court was, apparently, satisfied as to the reasons for further remand.

This is the part that is really puzzling. The explanatory provision within s.198 is as follows:
‘Explanation..—If sufficient evidence has been obtained to raise a suspicion that the accused may have committed an offence and it appears likely that further evidence may be obtained by a remand this is a reasonable cause for a remand.’
What more evidence did the Prosecution intend to secure through the further detention of Mr Nair. Whatever necessary evidence was already freely available.

As it has turned out, according to Mr Chia Li Tik’s blog, prosecution was planning to add another charge: SEDITION. Now, that is a scary word. It is quite a serious offence to allege against any person. My instinctive reaction was: it would take a great deal of legal creativity to make that one stick based on the stuff that appears on Mr Nair’s blog.

It appears that Mr Nair has been released on bail today and no new charge was added. Sedition would really have been stretching the law.

Incidentally, (and this is the danger with the news in the internet age: speed at the expense of truth), on 4th June 2008, Reporters without Borders reported on their website that Mr Nair had been charged for sedition. Talk about being premature. They must have relied on information from the defendant’s lawyer. Mr Chia states in his blog that Mr Nair told him via phone yesterday that he would be brought to court and he was told that another charge would be added. How’s that for the credibility of Reporters Without Borders! They didn’t do a simple fact check. They could have just reported that he may be charged for sedition. This is how they opened the article:
‘Reporters Without Borders today condemned a case brought by the authorities under the Sedition Act against blogger Gopalan Nair, a 58-year-old American lawyer, who criticised the Supreme Court’s handling of a defamation case.’
Anyway, it is going to be interesting to see how this case unfolds. Based on an AFP report, the charge faced by Mr Nair is of insulting Justice Belinda Ang Saw Ean by sending an email to her with the prostituting comment. After reading numerous online stuff, I’m a bit confused now as to what Mr Nair’s position is on the email allegation.

An AFP report states the following:
According to a court document, Nair is charged with insulting Justice Belinda Ang Saw Ean last week by sending an email which said she "was throughout prostituting herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders".
Chia said the comments essentially repeated those Nair made in a recent blog about a defamation case filed by Singapore's leaders against an opposition party and its members.

Based on the above, I have two possible interpretations:
a) the defendant denies sending an email and the words contained in the charge are extracted from a blog written by the defendant
b) the defendant admits sending an email but asserts that the comments were essentially of a non-threatening nature as they were repetitions of what appeared on the blog.

I believe that it is more logical to conclude that his defence would be (a).

The less credible source, that Reporters Without Borders article that I cited above, states as follows:
‘Nair denied having emailed the judge and said that all his publications on the trial hearings were posted on his blog.’

On the assumption that he denies sending the email, the case would proceed on technical evidence. There has to be proof of the server/pc from which the email originated. Did Mr Nair have access to that PC? Could his email have been hacked into? Digital evidence of the received email, etc. etc.

I’m a little curious as to the precise wording of the charge against him. If the charge was worded in exactly the same manner as indicated in parenthesis above in the AFP report, then there is a serious slip in the charge.

If the charge is eventually amended to one involving the contents in the blog and not the alleged email, then there is likely to be an interesting jurisdiction issue.

But, above all there is going to be the legal issue of Article 14 of the Constitution.