Thursday, September 27, 2012

The debts of Chee Soon Juan that were not provable in his bankruptcy

It is good to hear that Dr Chee Soon Juan has managed to raise the $30,000 that he had offered by way of settlement to his creditors (which offer had been acknowledged by the OA as has having been accepted by LKY and GCT). 

Perhaps, it is prudent at this stage to be somewhat cautious.  As far the law is concerned, when a person is discharged from bankruptcy, all the debts that are provable in bankruptcy get wiped out.  Creditors will not be able to go after the bankrupt person after his discharge.  However, this does not apply to debts that were not provable in the bankruptcy in the first place.  When a person is made bankrupt, apart from the creditors that made him bankrupt, other creditors will come forward to file their proof of debts.  The OA will not accept all of these claims as debts provable (claimable) in the bankruptcy.  Such creditors may be genuine creditors with genuine cases.  But, they will have to wait.  They can, however, make a claim against the discharged person soon after the bankruptcy is lifted. 

In the email addressed to CSJ, the OA indicates the existence of a claim by DBS bank that the OA had rejected as a debt not provable in bankruptcy.  Such a debt can still be the basis of a fresh claim against CSJ once he is discharged.  I hope that this is a small amount and CSJ has no difficulty in paying off.  If the sum is substantial, we might be dealing with another attempt at applying for bankruptcy by DBS bank this time.  CSJ may not be out of the woods yest. 

OA's email:

7 September 2012

Dear Dr Chee

We refer to your email of 5 September 2012.

2. Please be informed that the Official Assignee ("OA”) conveyedyour offer of composition of $30,000, on 17 August 2012 (the same daywe replied to your email of 8 August 2012) to all your creditors,namely, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and the Attorney-General’s Chambers. We invited them to respond with their views on your offerand their counter-proposals (if any) by 7 September 2012.

3. You may wish to note that the OA has rejected DBS Bank Ltd’s claimfiled against your estate in bankruptcy, as the debt claimed wasincurred after the making of the Bankruptcy Order against you and istherefore not provable in your current bankruptcy.

4. Your three creditors have since replied on 30 August 2012 and 3 September 2012, informing us that they have no objection to youroffer of composition of $30,000. Please let us know when you will beremitting the sum of $30,000 to our office. Upon receipt of the sum,we will need to ask your creditors to formally vote on the offer. Once they have voted their acceptance of your offer, the OA willprocess the necessary paperwork to effect the annulment of yourbankruptcy.

5. Please note that a certificate of annulment issued under section 95A(1) of the Bankruptcy Act will be binding on your creditorsinsofar as it relates to any debts due to them which are provable inthis bankruptcy.

Yours faithfully
Lydia Loh

Friday, September 21, 2012

And the mine explodes!

In my previous post, ( I was questioning the wisdom of MHA wading into the saga of the Archbishop's letter.  They could have stayed away and avoided embarrassment.  They didn't.  And now they have stepped on a mine. 

Function 8 (evidently riled up by MHA's press statement) has released a letter written by them to the Archbishop after the latter's withdrawal of his first letter.  This is Function8's letter:

1 June 2012

Dear Monsignor Nicholas Chia

May we first say that we were very happy to receive your lett er of 25th May 2012 in support of the commemorati on event of Operation Spectrum to be held on 2 June 2012 and your wish (parts blacked out by F8 to protect the direct contents of the Archbishop's original letter). We received and appreciated it as a gesture on the part of the Catholic Church in Singapore to recognize truth and acknowledge the injustice suffered by the former detainees of Operation Spectrum and their families.

Needless to say, we are deeply disappointed and puzzled to receive your letter of withdrawal, just five days later.

Whatever might have transpired to pressurize the head of the Catholic Church in Singapore to withdraw the letter, we would like to think that you can now understand why the detainees had to make their "confessions" under the duress of torture and the threat of indefinite detention without trial.

We do not regard the event we are organizing as "political activities", but as an effort to achieve restorative justice. This is a human and necessary stage in the healing process for the former detainees of Operation Spectrum, their families and friends. We are somewhat amazed and dismayed that you seem to suspect - without giving any reason (and indeed there is none) - that there is any ulterior motive to use your letter outside of the event, in any way at all.

How did you come to this conclusion? We had not even solicited the letter from you in the first place.

We note that you have copied a Mr (parts blacked out by F8 to protect the identity of the person) in your letter of withdrawal and are puzzled as to his role in this matter when he was not copied in the fi rst letter. Should we also copy this response to Mr (parts blacked out by F8 to protect the identity of the person)? Out of courtesy, we will await your response.

Lastly, while we can understand that Christians are obliged to "render to Caesar what is Caesar's", in the context of Singapore, we are curious to know what you think they should "render to God" in this same context.

Yours sincerely,

The Organisers

The first paragraph is sufficient (despite the blanked out portions) to indicate that the Archbishop had expressed support for the event. 

Someone has been copied into the letter of retraction.  One wonders who that might be.  Someone from the Church?  Someone from the government?  Why would that person be copied into the letter?  More questions. 

Let us not get sidetracked from the key issue.  Whatever might have transpired between Function 8 and the Archbishop and however any party may be alleged to have acted irresponsibly, is irrelevant for the rest of us.  What is relevant is whether government officials had brought pressure upon the Archbishop to retract his letter of support. 

If such pressure was placed on the Archbishop, how did the officials come to know of the letter?  Were the members of Function 8 and their meetings subject to surveillance by the ISD?  If as is repeatedly alleged, the ISD's function is to prevent terror attacks, why would their efforts be directed at the activities of a civil society group?  (Although many of us in my generation and those older than me have taken it for granted that the ISD may have done routine surveillance on citizens for political purposes, I have increasingly heard from a younger generation of PAP apologists that the ISD and the ISA is necessary for the prevention of terrorist activity.  These persons ought to consider whether the surveillance activities of our state is limited to crime prevention and prevention of terror or such surveillance activities are extended to political activities of persons seen as being unfriendly towards the ruling party.)

Of course, I am speculating a fair bit here. 

The following scenario is also entirely probable:
Archbishop writes a letter to Function 8.  A few days later, Minister has a routine meeting with the Archbishop where the latter frankly reveals the fact of the letter written to Function 8.  Minister suggests that it is not advisable to have the letter released to the public and persuades the Achbishop to withdraw the letter.  On day 5, Archbishop writes to Function 8 to withdraw the letter. 

We will never know the truth.


A short aside...  I just saw the scanned image of Function 8's letter. 
Let me make a guess as to the missing bit.  I typed out the text on a Word document and the following words fit in perfectly into the blacked out portion....   "truth to be established and justice to prevail."    So, that first sentence might have read as follows:  "May we first say that we were very happy to receive your letter of 25th May 2012 in support of the commemoration event of Operation Spectrum to be held on 2 June 2012 and your wish for truth to be established and justice to prevail."  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

MHA walks into a minefield

When I read Alex Au’s blog post on the letters written by Archbishop Nicholas Chia to Function 8 (one of the organisers of the Speakers’ Corner event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the detention of the so-called Marxist conspirators), my eyebrows were raised a little.  But, I wasn’t too surprised at the possibility raised by Alex that some ‘friendly’ visit from the state might have persuaded the Archbishop to reconsider the wisdom of his original letter.

All the usual suspects (including myself) that would normally read Alex’s blog would have gotten wind of this information.  Very few would have bothered to discuss this beyond a few casual conversations.  Perhaps, one or two blogs might have picked up on it and repeated it.  After a short while (perhaps a couple of days), any interest in the subject would have died out. 

But, to my surprise, first the Archbishop comes forward to explain the reason behind his retraction and then Function 8 and MARUAH get upset and set down their position and guess who wades into the battlefield…..  the Ministry of Home Affairs.  Honestly, I didn’t expect MHA to come forward to release a statement on this one.  The best part is that they pretty much admitted that somebody from the government had met up with the Archbishop.  Of course, this is presented as a routine meeting. 

The MHA’s full press statement is as follows:

MHA’s Statement on Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s Comments

The Government values its long-standing relationship with the Catholic Church and the Catholic community in Singapore, and deeply appreciates Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s many contributions to religious harmony in Singapore.

2 As part of building trust and understanding and to maintain religious harmony in Singapore, government ministers meet regularly with various religious leaders in Singapore. Such closed-door meetings allow a frank exchange of views specially on sensitive subjects. This is a well-established process that is appreciated by both ministers and religious leaders.

3 We note Archbishop Chia’s statement yesterday that he had withdrawn his earlier letter as its contents did not accurately reflect his views on the subject. He also expressed concern that if the letter was used in a manner that he did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore. His decision to withdraw his letter ahead of a political event in June 2012, shows his appreciation of the complexity of our multi-racial, multireligious society, and the need to keep religion and politics separate.

4 The actions by this group to publicise the matter through Mr Au is disrespectful of the Archbishop, and contrary to his views and intentions as conveyed to the group after he had decided to retract his letter. This deliberate breach of the Archbishop’s trust confirms the objective of this group to publicly involve the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.

Issued by
Ministry Of Home Affairs

This seems to be a very ill-advised move on the part of the MHA.  This issue can now be amplified thanks to the fact that MHA came forward to issue a statement.  Now, the online community would have a field day raising question after question.  I did not, initially, have any intention to blog on this matter.  But, given the MHA response, there are more questions raised.  

In its statement, the MHA states:  . “He also expressed concern that if the letter was used in a manner that he did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore. His decision to withdraw his letter ahead of a political event in June 2012, shows his appreciation of the complexity of our multi-racial, multireligious society, and the need to keep religion and politics separate.”

If I take the statement at face value and do not construe any attempt by the government to put a spin on the Archbishop’s letter, then the following is clear:

a)      Something in the letter was capable of harming social harmony (although the Archbishop did not intend it).

b)     That ‘something’ relates to the ‘complexity of our multi-racial, multireligious society’

c)     That ‘something’ might involve the mixing of religion and politics

What kind of statement made by the Archbishop could be characterized as being capable of doing the above?

i)        A statement referring negatively to a particular race

ii)       A statement referring negatively to a particular religion or religious denomination

What is the likelihood of the Archbishop’s original letter making even an inadvertent statement to that effect?  He wrote an unsolicited letter to the organizers of the “That we may Dream again” event.  Any rational Singaporean reading about the sequence of events would come to the conclusion that the Archbishop’s letter would, at most, have contained one or all of the following assertions:

i)                    That his prayers are with the ex-detainees

ii)                   That he hopes that truth about the ‘Marxist conspiracy’ would be established one day

iii)                 That he does not support detention without trial

iv)                 That he supports the organisers’ call for the abolition of the ISA

v)                  That he supports the development of civil society in Singapore and the consequent call for greater human rights protections

None of the above assertions (whilst sensitive from the perspective of the PAP government) could be construed as being capable of disrupting social harmony.  (Of course, I am fully aware that the phrases ‘social harmony’, ‘multi-racial & multi-religious’ and ‘mixing religion with politics’ are part of the tiresome, clichéd routine employed by the government to keep reason at bay and they were probably deployed here unthinkingly and without realizing the illogicality in the present context.)

It would have been logically incongruous for a letter written to the organizers of an anti-ISA event, to include a statement making a negative reference to a race or religion.  The only possibility is a reference to Mas Selamat (being an ISA detainee) as an exception to the norm of political detention under the ISA.  Such reference may arguably be ‘sensitive’ if it is couched as an argument that it is ok to detain an alleged Islamic terrorist without trial, but not ok to detain any others without trial.  It is highly unlikely that the Archbishop would have said anything to that effect in his letter.  But, only such a statement could be even remotely be construed as affecting social harmony and having something to do with the complexity of our multi-blahblahbah society.   

So, taking the MHA statement at face value, I should arrive at the conclusion that there was some kind of racially or religiously sensitive statement.  But, that conclusion would be incongruous with the context of the letter.  In all likelihood, the content of the original letter was politically embarrassing for the government.  The Archbishop coming in support of a political event that was intended to commemorate the 1987 ISA detentions was capable of undermining the credibility of the PAP government.  Even a simple statement such as “I pray for you” or “I support your cause” would have been politically sensitive.  It would not have affected social harmony.  But, it would have cast the government in a bad light. 

So, it would appear that the real issue was not about social harmony or the multi-racial, multi-religious nature of our society.  The real issue was related to the mixing of religion and politics:-  The commentary by the head of a Church on a political matter where the negative publicity would damage the ruling party’s image.  It would not cause social disharmony.  Our society would not descend into a state of violence or chaos.  But, more people may be persuaded to see the PAP in a negative light. 

The following is the Archbishop’s statement to the press after Alex Au’s article.  Chronologically, this preceded the MHA’s statement. 


Archbishop’s Press Statement

"I refer to the article by Mr Alex Au which he says is based on second hand information. Mr Au could only have obtained such an ccount from the group he referred to, with which I had communicated in private. I had earlier decided to withdraw my letter to this group as, on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject, and if used in a manner that I did not intend, may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore. The group had acknowledged my decision and returned the letter to me.

The article by Au, which has appeared now, months later, confirms the correctness of my earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group.

The Catholic Church has always maintained the position that it will not involve itself in political activities. We have always worked in harmony with the Government to contribute positively to society, rather than set ourselves on a collision path with the Government.

Au's article confirmed my fear that the group would use my letter in a manner that I did not agree with, and make use of the Office of the Archbishop and the Catholic Church for their own ends.

These irresponsible actions can easily cause serious misunderstanding between the Catholic Church and the Government, and damage the longstanding trust and cooperation between the two. It is most regrettable that Au and the group have acted in this manner."


Whilst Function8 and MARUAH have taken issue with the Archbishop’s press statement, I want to highlight the last three sentences.  Operating on the mind of the Archbishop is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the government.  A reasonable inference to be drawn from this press release is that whilst the original letter from him would not have directly blamed the government, his solidarity with the organisers, detainees or their families by writing a letter relating to an anti-ISA event could be used by event organisers to suggest an anti-government stance on the part of the Archbishop.  This would have harmed the relationship between the Church and the government. 

This then, is the real issue of ‘harmony’ being referred to:  A cordial relationship between the government and the religious leaders in Singapore.  What the Archbishop must have feared is unnecessary bullying from the government.  What the government must have feared is the unraveling of the government’s image in the eyes of, if not a majority of the citizens, then at least a sizeable segment of the Catholic community. 

At this stage in this saga, what are the established facts?

a)      The Archbishop wrote a letter to Function 8 (presumably supportive of the anti-ISA event)

b)      The Archbishop retracted the letter (allegedly because the contents did not accurately reflect his views & they could inadvertently cause disharmony)

c)       Some meetings have taken place between government officials/ministers and the Archbishop (the purpose of the those meetings may or may not be related to the letter sent to Function 8)

What is the issue at stake here?  The possible behind-the-scenes government intervention in relation to the Archbishop’s letter.  If there was such involvement, then it would be confirmation that this government isn’t about to fundamentally alter the way it does things. 

For reference, the following are statements from Function 8 and MARUAH

Function8’s press statement:

We are deeply saddened by the comments of Archbishop Nicholas Chia reported in The Straits Times of 20th September 2012. He made three unsubstantiated remarks:

1.       That Mr Au’s account (in Yawningbread) could only have come from Function 8, with whom he had communicated in private.

2.      That he decided to withdraw his letter of support “because if the letter were to be used in a manner that I (Archbishop) did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore.”

3.      That Mr Au’s article appearing now, months later, “confirms the correctness of my (Archbishop’s) earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group.”

Our response is as follows:

1.       Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s initial letter to us, and the subsequent one withdrawing the first letter, were not marked “private and/or confidential”. Indeed, in discussing his first letter, members of Function 8 concluded that it was intended to be made public on 2 June 2012, the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum. The retraction of the first letter made us cancel the plan. The organisers of the 2 June event subsequently decided that we would try to have a private dialogue with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

2.      Archbishop Nicholas Chia assumed that Mr Au could only have obtained an account of what he wrote in his article from Function 8. Has His Grace forgotten that his second letter was cc to a third party and that his staff and others within the Church may also have sight of the letters?

3.      What was his initial letter intended for and what are the unintended manners in which it could possibly be used to ‘harm the social harmony in Singapore’?

4.      Finally, we do not understand how His Grace can draw the conclusion that the disclosure of his own letter can “inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore” and that the fact that Mr Au has now written an article confirms the correctness of his earlier decision to withdraw the letter.

In the midst of a national conversation called by the prime minister, we believe there is no room for whispered meetings on the issues above. We request Archbishop Nicholas Chia to publish his first and second letters and advise on what transpired between the time his first letter was written and his second letter so that the public can judge for themselves whether the actions or inaction of Function 8 and Mr Au were “irresponsible and regrettable”. For clarity, His Grace should also make known to members of the public if his first letter to the organisers of the 2 June event was solicited or unsolicited.

Function 8 Ltd

Here is MARUAH's press statement in full:

"MARUAH, a human rights NGO, is a partner with Function 8, in particular for the June 2nd 2012 event to mark the 25th Anniversary of the alleged Marxist Conspiracy. MARUAH's position is that it is timely for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up to review the detentions under Operation Spectrum.

As part of this collaborative effort MARUAH was informed of the letters that the Archbishop had sent to Function 8 and we are aware of the contents. The letters reflect diverse views on key content areas in relation to preventive detention without trial. Both organisations made a decision not to publicise the letter(s) till we sought clarifications from Ministry of Home Affairs and other relevant parties. This decision was taken as we feel it is a better way forward as both organisations are mindful of the previous pain within the Catholic community over what happened in 1987 where the Church, the government, the detainees and the community were involved. We agreed that after these approaches to reach out for dialogues had been tried and tested we would review this incident of the letters. It is unfortunate that the matter of the letters was leaked to the media before we could receive clarifications from the relevant bodies. Both organisations had wanted to focuson seeking a dialogue rather than dealing with the Archbishop's letters a public manner through the media.

Having said that, MARUAH has to state that we are deeply disappointed with the remarks of the Archbishop in his response to the media queries. An opportunity to understand the change in the position of the Archbishop vis-a-vis preventive detention without trial was missed. We are still clueless as to whether there was intervention by the State in this matter and if so, on what grounds and to what extent. Instead civil society has been vilified in the Archbishop's remarks which are the opposite of our intentions to preserve harmony by seeking clarifications.

Nevertheless, it is more important to move forward. We are keen to have dialogue with the Ministry of Home Affairs on our ongoing efforts at public education and advocacy on preventive detentions without trial. We will also be very happy to meet the Archbishop in relation to this matter.

More importantly, it is very important to us, and to many other Singaporeans that an independent Commission of Inquiry be set up as we are perturbed by the many contradictions in this case. This was the work that began on June 2nd between MARUAH and Function 8, to ensure that the rights of those detained are protected and fulfilled through an inquiry.

Braema Mathi


MARUAH Singapore"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Everybody's talking about talking

The hottest topic of the season on the local blogosphere is the 'National Conversation'.   Everyboy's talking about why we need to have the Nat-Con, what is the government's agenda, how we can contribute to it, etc, etc.  If it was intended to be the National Distraction, I think it is succeeding.  Nat-con is the political equivalent of a viral YouTube video.  (I am having images in my mind of PM doing a dance a la Gangnam Style.)

I also suspect that just like a viral video, in this fast-paced, low-memory-capacity age, this Nat-Con phase will die out soon enough. 

In the meantime, what are we missing out? 

Well, the Auditor General has dropped a bombshell and almost nobody has noticed the explosion with the lone exception of Kenneth Jeyaretnam.  Kudos to Kenneth for having had the patience to run through the AGO's report which is available here:  Most of us, including myself, would tend to give boring financial stuff a miss.  (I guess it is good to have a finance guy in the opposition.)

Kenneth has done an excellent job on his blog in highlighting a Constitutional breach by the Ministry of Finance.

The relevant part of the AGO's report that highlights the Constitutional breach goes as follows:

"President's Concurrence Not Obtained for Promissory Note Issued

33.   The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Revsed Edition) includes safeguards to protect the past reserves of the Government.  One such safeguard, set out in Article 144 of the Constitution, requires the President's concurrence for the granting of certain loans and guarantees. 

34.   AGO found that the Ministry of Finance did not comply with Art 144 of the Constitution when it issued a promissory note without obtaining the required President's concurrence.  The promissory note for US $16.34 million was issued on 4 January 2012 to the International Development Association.  In March 2012, the Association encashed US$2.94 million from the note.

35.  The Ministry explained that the President's concurrence was not sought because of an administrative oversight stemming from an officer's lack of familiarity with the relevant processess needed for such a transaction, which occurred infrequently.  Following AGO's observation, the Ministry took immediate steps to rectify the matter. 

36.   The Ministry subsequently obtained the President's concurrence and issued a fresh promissory note in place of the one issued on 4 January 2012 which is invalid.  There was no draaw on past reserves as the Ministry had made the cash payment of US$2.94 from its own operating expenditure budget for the financial year 2011/12.  The Ministry has reviewed its internal processes and tightened its standard operating procedures to prevent similar occurrences in the future."

Art 144 is of particular interest to me as it involves one of the powers of the Elected President that is clearly acknowledged by everyone along the entire political spectrum in Singapore to be the discretionary power of the President.  Whilst there might be argument about other powers (whether stipulated or not in the Constitution), it is clear that the President is not in any way constrained by the Cabinet in relation to Art 144. 

When the decision of the Singapore government to grant a loan to IMF was announced on 20th April 2012, I blogged about the possibility that Art 144 may have been infringed:

I followed that up with another post where I speculated about the possible government defence.  There is an Alice-in-wonderland argument (passable as a matter of legal logic even if it may defy common sense) that was used by the government in 1997 when confronted by questions from JB Jeyaretnam about a loan to Indonesia.  I have addressed this here:  The gist of the government's argument (as presented by the then Attorney General) was that the Constitution prohibits the raising of a loan and the giving of a guarantee without the President's consent and that it does not prohibit the giving of a loan or the raising of a guarantee.  Art 144 is as follows:

Article 144.
—(1) No guarantee or loan shall be given or raised by the Government —
(a)except under the authority of any resolution of Parliament with which the President concurs;
(b)under the authority of any law to which this paragraph applies unless the President concurs with the giving or raising of such guarantee or loan; or
(c)except under the authority of any other written law

I am not sure if the AG's chambers will resurrect this old argument in the IMF loan case (Kenneth Andrew Jeyaretnam v Attorney General).  The way that their Affidavit is drafted, there is little indication of whether they would assert that the giving of a loan is not prohibited by th Constitution. 

Given the fact that the Auditor General considers any loan advanced without Presidential approval to be unconstitutional and void, (and given the fact that even the Ministry of Finance appears not to have disputed that in the case of the Promissory Note to the International Development Association) any argument by the Attorney General in the IMF case that the giving of a loan does not require Presidential approval will be highly inconsistent.  It is clear that the MOF thought that the lack of Presidential approval for the promissory note was an oversight.  It is also clear that the Attorney General in 1997 argued that no Presidential approval was needed for the loan to Indonesia. 

It will be interesting to see how the arguments play out in Court. 

As for words and the meaning of words and the causing of words to mean a thing other than the meaning of words, here is something from Alice in Wonderland:

'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'