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.