Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Singapore justice in 1974: Slander permitted, because it's in Hokkien

J.B. Jeyatretnam

Tay Boon Too (郑文滔)

Straits Times,

THE High Court yesterday dismissed with costs two defamation suits by the Workers’ Party (represented by J.B. Jeyatretnam), arising from an election rally speech by Mr. Tay Boon Too (郑文滔, PAP MP for Paya Lebar, 1966-1976), then a PAP candidate for Paya Lebar, at Lorong Tai Seng on Aug. 25, 1972.

The plaintiff had claimed that the two defendants had defamed the party with a claim, allegedly attributed to Mr. Tay, that it had received $600,000 from Kuala Lumpur (in the suit against Mr. Tay) and “from a foreign country” in the action against the Broadcasting Department [Radio Singapore], when this was “false”.

The two defendants, the judge observed, had not sought to justify their statements that the plaintiff had received the money. [i.e. Tay Boon Too had not given any proof of his statement.]

The action against Mr. Tay, which was for slander, failed on the main ground raised on his behalf – that the plaintiff had not proved in law the “publication” of the words complained of.”

Mr. Tay’s speech was in Hokkien and there was no evidence before the court and also in the plaintiff’s amended statement of claim of the Hokkien words which the plaintiff regarded as “defamatory.”

The judge said the only official language of the court was English and it was fatal to the plaintiff’s case not to have the original words, as alleged spoken in Hokkien, set out in its pleadings.

*********  My comment  ************

To clarify matters, the judgment reads:

Here the slander alleged was spoken in Hokkien but the words complained of were set out in English in the amended statement of claim. English is the official language of the court and in that context any other language would be a foreign language (Galley on Libel & Slander, 7th Edn, paragraph 987). If the slander alleged is in a language other than English it must be set out in the statement of claim in the foreign language precisely as spoken and followed by a literal translation. It is not enough to set out a translation without setting out the original or vice versa. (Gatley on Libel & Slander, 7th Edn, paragraph 987). While the absence of a translation in the pleadings may not be fatal to the plaintiffs case the absence of the original words in the foreign language in question is.

What a technical manoeuvre. For the absence, in the statement of claim, of a sentence in Chinese, whose absence has no impact on the substance of the case (the sentence in Chinese could be produced during trial), a slander could not be challenged in court.

And the case can be misleadingly, though correctly, summarized thus: "The Workers' Party sued Tay Boon Too for slander, and lost." (implying that Tay's statement was true.)

Tay Boon Too had not denied making the statement. He did not need to.

He also did not need to prove that his statement was true.


The Broadcasting Department, sued for libel, succeeded in its defence, raised in its pleadings, that its news bulletin reports on the subject matter were “fair and accurate” and related to “a privileged occasion” (an election rally).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Burden of Disease and Healthcare Reform

Fail to understand the burden of diseases, fail to understand healthcare reform (Part 1)

Singapore Democrats, Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Ansari Abudeen (source)

Following the launch of The SDP National Healthcare Plan, many questions have been raised about the healthcare system in Singapore. I would like to discuss this subject by way of analysing the SDP's plan.

This, however, cannot be done without a firm understanding of the burden of diseases. I will, therefore, begin the discussion with this first of a three-part series of articles by focusing on why managing and reducing the burden of diseases should be the purpose of government expenditure on healthcare.

While there is a larger than expected positive expression of support for the SDP's plan, I had anticipated a much healthier debate from the traditional sceptics and cynics.

What is evident in their argument is the little understanding that they have about the purpose of government healthcare expenditure, which is to help the country to not only manage but also reduce the burden of disease in the population.

There were a few arguing that SDP’s plan must be rejected on the basis that the plan will lead to long waiting lines even though they have not provided any evidence to back up their claim.

The purpose of government spending on healthcare system should not just be about avoiding long waiting lists, which is just a single component of the burden that diseases can impose on a country.

Diseases impose various types of burden on a population. In order to properly understand them, they need to be measured using a variety of indicators.

The first, and main, indicator is the epidemiological burden which can be understood in terms of mortality (deaths) and morbidity. Morbidity can be defined as ill health in an individual and to levels of ill health in a population or group. This can be quantified in terms of how many people fall ill, by what condition and for how long.

Another indcator is loss of resources. This will be covered in the next part of this series.

Unfortunately, little effort has been spent to gather evidence on these indicators in Singapore.

Any new healthcare plan that is proposed needs to answer these questions: First, how many more lives can it save? This is obviously difficult to answer as public data is not yet available. Nevertheless, between a universal healthcare system and one that is not, the former has a greater chance of saving lives, provided it gives priority to evidence-based policies.

This is one of the reasons, along with the wide-ranging benefits, that inspired member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to adopt a resolution in 2005 that encourage countries to develop health financing systems aimed at providing universal coverage.

Incidentally, one of the objectives of universal healthcare, which is what SDP is proposing, is timeliness in access to care. Evidence suggests that healthcare systems that are universal and responsive do not lead to long waiting times for patients seeking treatment.

Second, how can morbidity in the patient population be better managed? In other words, how can the well-being, care provision and risks of deterioration of the health status of a patient population be improved even if the condition and the duration of the illnesses do not change? There are many proposals in the SDP’s plan to suggest that morbidity in the patient-population will be better managed.

Third, how can the morbidity level in a patient-population be reduced? In other words, how can the proposed healthcare system reduce the expected or current number of patients falling ill and/or the duration for which they typically fall ill? Though the details in SDP’s plan in this area is limited, there are a few indications that this is achievable in the SDP’s healthcare model. Fundamentally it is a patient-centric model rather than a bureaucrat-centric model and it has given some policy strategies such as giving importance to preventative medicine, improved screening programs, etc. which suggest a strategy to reduce morbidity levels.

The SDP model also gives priority to evidence-based prevention strategies instead of prevention strategies that are not proven but easy to implement.

Indeed SDP’s healthcare plan shows promise of better management and reduction of burdens that diseases impose on Singapore society.

When SDP was compiling this report, I did not get to see it until the day they made it available to the public. It has received the attention it deserves. It is a plan that charts a new direction for healthcare in Singapore, one that is benchmarked and consistent with the best in the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development (OECD) healthcare systems.

This healthcare plan is also more consistent with the policy guidelines of the WHO than the current set of healthcare policies.

It has certainly achieved history by pushing dialogue and debate on healthcare in this country.

However, no healthcare plan guarantees slaying the dragon of disease burden - the SDP does not pretend that its plan will. But to slay that dragon requires, first and foremost, a plan that shows promise.

No political party holds any magical solution or monopoly of solutions. It is, therefore, important that there be a competition of ideas and debate as this will lead to pertinent areas being brought to the public's attention that would otherwise remain hidden, and their solutions proposed.

Other players such as the public, researchers, healthcare providers, etc have as much a role to play as politicians in formulating healthcare policies due to the complex nature of healthcare today.

At every level, we must ask the central question: How do we manage and reduce the burden of diseases in the population?

Ansari Abudeen is a Singaporean working as a health economist in the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales. He is also a PhD candidate. In 2011, one of his research projects won a national award for research excellence. Ansari has also provided consultancy on evaluating cost effectiveness of communtiy pharmacy service provisions and economic value of asthma research. Currently, he is providing consultancy to a state ministry of health, Indigenous community organisations and service providers in Australia on implementing frameworks to monitor and evaluate health outcomes.

Part 2. Part 3

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Singapore - the part Sri Lankans don't know

The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, March 18, 2012 (source)

Growing underclass: Rich gets richer, poor gets poorer
To most Sri Lankans, Singapore represents an oasis of prosperity, growth, great shopping, a high quality of life and superior wages. But social activist and opposition politicians, who are freer to speak now than decades ago during the iron-clad rule of Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew, the appearance of prosperity and wealth masks a hidden reality: a growing underclass of people not moving up the ladder and a subtle form of repression.

"Our per capita income is (Singapore dollars) S$63,000 per (about US$50,000 per year) which is about the 3th-4th highest in the world. However we still have local people who are earning S$500 a month as cleaners and often they tend to be very elderly people, 60 -70 years and sometimes in the early 80s," says Vincent Wijeysingha, a 42-year old social activist cum politician with Sri Lankan roots from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), where he functions as the treasurer.

Sri Lankan roots
Vincent Wijeysingha's grandparents migrated from Ceylon to Malaysia (then Malaya) in the early 20th century. His grandmother – on the mother's side were Burghers from Malaysia. After the Second
Vincent Wijeysingha
World War ended, both sets of families moved to Singapore where his parents met and were married. Dr Wijeysingha was born and schooled in Singapore where his father Eugene was a highly, respected educationist, principal of Temasek Junior College later principal of Raffles Institution till 1994. "My mother has cousins in Wattala while my father's cousins are in Baddegama while there are some Burgher relatives in Nugegoda. The others are spread across the world," he says.
When he contested the May 7, 2011 parliamentary polls, unsurprisingly his party didn't win a single seat given the country's rigid, one-party political system. However, the ruling PAP vote base fell to 60.1% from 76%, 10 years ago, while the main opposition Workers Party secured six seats, up from its previous one. Dr Wijeysingha's party vote share also rose 4% to close to 100,000 votes among the two million voters.

Discussing Singapore’s success and its wealth and quality of life that has drawn admiration from across the world, Dr Wijeysingha - in Colombo to attend the annual congress of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats last week, said Singapore is a privatized welfare state with each resident contributing to a fund which tends to marginalize the older people, often tradespersons or cobblers who have no money and are forced to work even in their '80s.

Getting work is not easy as most employers could employ unskilled foreign workers for as low as S$450 which in any way is not a living wage.

Last year inflation was 5.5 % and inflation is mainly created by housing and transport - both of which the state controls since 86% of the population live in government flats. "This masks the growing underclass.

There are various levels of discrimination in terms of race with the Malay community suffering the worse. There are inequities in how government money is spent, one being the number of non-ASEAN foreign students being gives full scholarships to local universities which costs $36 million a year," he said adding that the reason for this spend is in the hope that they would work in Singapore after graduation and secondly to improve the university rankings internationally. There are higher marks given to universities which attract large numbers of overseas students.

He said the other resentment is government wages - that of ministers who are the highest paid in the world. "Compare a cleaner getting 20 cents an hour as against the Prime Minister earning S$1000 per hour? In fact the 10% richest (of the population) are getting richer while the 10% poorest are becoming poorer," noted the politician, who has a social work degree and worked on issues relating to low waged migrant workers before taking to politics.

In a relaxed conversation about his roots, aspirations, where he would like Singapore to be, the Singaporean politician shares his thoughts on a range of political, social and economic issues that should interest Sri Lankans:

Excerpts of the conversation:

On migrant workers

The plight of low wage migrant workers is appalling. Singapore has always been a cheap labour economy and the country's economic progress has always been based on capital inputs - labour and more money going into the production process.

Singapore's wages for domestic workers range from S$320 (US$260-270) for the lowest paid to S$600 per month at the top normally where Filipinos are the recruits because they speak English, and have experience with children and old people. There are 1.1million households in Singapore of which 1/5th have foreign domestic workers, many hired to look after children or old people while the employer-couple is out working.

A recent survey said domestic workers work up to 16 hours a day and only 12 % have a day off. The wage can be low as 20 cents an hour which is absolutely scandalous.

There are one million migrants ranging from domestic workers (201,000 -who are the least paid and have little protection), to lawyers, doctors and other professionals. One out of three in Singapore is a non-resident. There are 3 types of working visas - work permits for the unskilled earning up to $2000 per month who are domestic workers and those in manufacturing, construction, cleaners, waiters, etc; the next level is those with polytechnic diploma qualifications like supervisors in factories with technical skills who earn between S$2,000-S$3,000 a month. Those above these wage levels are the professionals who are permitted to bring their families along, a concession not given to those in lower levels of employment.

This is based on the (former Prime Minister) Lee Kuan Yew theory that only the intelligentsia measured by their qualifications spawns intelligent children. These are the people encouraged to come and live in Singapore. The 'unintelligent' measured by the fact that you are a domestic worker or construction worker, are not allowed to stay longer than the contract permits. This also extends to the worry that Singapore has of domestic workers having children in Singapore. They have to undergo a mandatory pregnancy and HIV/AIDS test every six months. If they are found to be pregnant or have contracted HIV/AIDs, they are deported immediately.

Freedom and conscience

In 1993 when I went to the UK to study social sciences, I read many books that you couldn't find in Singapore which gave a totally different understanding of the country. I came back twice to Singapore during my PhD studies for research purposes, one of which was a project researching the conduct of elections. This was done with the Open Singapore Centre, of which my party leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was Director.

However encouraged by the overtures of the government led by Lee's son who was urging young people to return and contribute to the economy and be free to criticize government policy, I returned in 2009 with the feeling that this was the right place to be.

Nine months later I read a book by Teo Soh Lung, jailed for an alleged Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the state and in that autobiography she spoke at length of the arbitrary arrests and the repression that followed.

It shocked me but I still believed that things had changed; this was 25 years ago and the PM was encouraging people to return. About a month later (2010), a book written by a Singapore- based British journalist was released in which he looked at how the death penalty operates in Singapore and revealed several miscarriages of justice. Most worrying, according to him, was that if accused persons convicted of drugs use were poor, inarticulate and came from a backward community they were more likely to be hanged than if the accused was a urban, middle class professional. The book was published on a Thursday but on Saturday he was arrested and the books removed off bookstores. He was charged, convicted of criminal defamation and contempt of court and served a jail term. This was the turning point for me. I said to myself that in any other country if a book uncovers miscarriages of justice, the state would investigate this. In Singapore, the messenger is silenced.

Welfare and the elderly

Welfare is privatized with a portion of your earnings retained by the state under the Central Provident Fund which pays for old age pensions, healthcare and also foreign education. This often marginalizes the poor who are unable to save enough (through this scheme) to take care of their medical care when they grow old. A recent study showed that income mobility is somewhat static - people who are born poor will die poor. The resentment is not much in inequality - inequality is a fact of life. It is more in the government rhetoric and of the outcomes of policy which are skewed and out of sync with modern needs.

Media freedom

The government controls the mainstream media to suppress these issues. The main media group - the Singapore Press Holdings is majority-controlled by the state. The chairman of this group is always a government nominee. The CEO is also a government appointee and on occasion has been recruited from the once-dreaded Internal Security Department(ISD). The director of that unit when Teo Soh Lung was jailed was eventually promoted as CEO of the media group.

In the elite model of management at the top - all those in government, military, judiciary, civil service, etc, are related either by blood, political roots or social connections. They appoint one another to positions of authority.

There are no privately-owned, independent stations, no private newspapers except foreign papers. Even though these 'controlled' newspapers have a lot of revenue and readership, Singaporeans now increasingly consider this media as a mouthpiece of the state.

Living wage

The general consensus seems to be that the average wage should be around S$2700. Recent figures show that 440,000 workers earn less than S$1700. Our party position is that no one can live on less than S$6.80 an hour or S$50 a day, but probably half of the population live below this level. Of the total of 3.1 million workers (out of a population of 5.2 million), two million are local workers with the rest foreigners. The government has a schizophrenic approach in its management of the economy and the people.

It acknowledges that the country needs to upgrade the economy. Our traditional industry is manufacturing and construction, for which labour and land are required, both of which we don't have. We need to import labour while Singapore is just 720 sq km in size.


For a long time the government has been pushing the need for services and the creative arts. The thinking is that Singapore needs creativity and young people who think differently.

However in such a creative society, the political impact is going to be huge. Some level of social chaos will emerge since you cannot control a country and allow it to be creative at the same time. The creative element has led to an upgrading of the community with criticism growing on the Internet- people use blogs and all parties have websites. There is no control of these as Singapore is positioning itself as a knowledge economy.

The impact of the Internet and the freedom of thought and views have led to a decline in the government vote base. In 2001, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won 76% of the vote, by 2006 it fell to 66% and at last year's poll slumped to 60%, a drop of 16% in the last 10 years.

Information is the oxygen of democracy and this will change Singapore. More than the Internet, the Government is concerned about mass action and public protests, and its international image. Two weeks back 100 Bangladeshis struck work as they had not been paid for three months. The Government quickly moved in and within two days they were paid whereas some workers don't get paid for months and no one bothers.


Singapore has one of the highest percentages of foreigners in the world accounting for 33% of the population. Fertility replacement levels are low because of the population control programmes in the 1970s where the mindset was small families.

There is significant demographic change with a growing number of foreigners and people beginning to articulate their resentment. In population density terms, Singapore has seven persons per square metre (size of a small table) or 7200 per sq km.

While going to work or shopping, there are tensions and snide remarks often directed at the migrant workers, the lowest wage earners. There is racism on the trains and offensive racist comments on the Internet. Even some politicians jumped on that bandwagon.

So the resentment is there, it's difficult to separate these from policy issues. I won't go far as saying it's a powder keg situation but these are issues. The same happens in London, France or Australia where the rhetoric is similar.

Powerful politicians
The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) General Assembly Conference in Colombo on March 8 -11 March drew some powerful political personalities from Asia. They included Sam Rainsy, MP Leader of the Cambodian Opposition and President of the Sam Rainsy Party who lives in exile, and his wife, Saumura Tioulong, also an MP of the Sam Rainsy Party; Kasit Piromya, former Foreign Minister of Thailand; Dato' Seri Chia Kwang Chye, National Vice President of the Parti Gerakan Rakyat - Malaysia, Son Chhay, MP - Sam Rainsy Party; Gaku Kato, MP Member of the House of Representatives Vice Director-General of the International Department Democratic Party of Japan; and Sri Lankan MP Rajiva Wijesinha (also the immediate, past chair of the CALD) from the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For Teo Chee Hean: Safeguards under the ISA

by Teo Soh Lung (source1, source2)

Part 1

My last response to Minister Teo Chee Hean’s speech in parliament that was reported in The Straits Times of 20 October 2011 was made on 9 November 2011. The sub-title to that reply was Making use of the Church and it drew a number of pretty angry comments. In between then and now, I was somehow distracted by other issues. The news-cuttings of Minister Teo’s memorable speech however, has not been misplaced all these months. It has suffered some severe damage under the claws of my cat, Angel though. She was probably more angry at the speech than me!

As the 25 anniversary of the 1987 arrest of “Marxist conspirators” approaches, I want to demolish once and for all Minister Teo’s specious assurance that there are sufficient safeguards under the ISA. These safeguards are summarised in The Straits Times at page A33 and I shall deal with them in the order set out by its writer or editors.

Only 30 days

The first safeguard is that a person can only be held for 30 days after which the minister or rather the cabinet have to decide if he or she should be issued the Order of Detention for a maximum of two years, renewable at the end of the period or released unconditionally or be subjected to a Restriction Order i.e. subject to conditions, such as restriction of movement or association.

I want to emphasise that 30 days in a prison cell or in a freezing cold room is not 30 days spent in one’s own house. Try putting the minister in a freezing cold room with two spotlights shining into his eyes. He is a military man and he should be able to take the cold better than me. Let him wear the prison garb of cotton top and trousers without his underwear. Make him stand 50 hours out of 72 hours in that room and subject him to continuous interrogation. Let ISD officers shout at him and tell him that everything he said are lies and that he is just good at telling fairy tales. Deprive him of sleep for just three days and nights.

If the minister survives these 72 hours (ISD officers don’t even need to lay hands on him) without making and signing a false statement, then he has my greatest admiration and respect.

From my experience and the experience of my friends, no one can survive three days and nights of continuous interrogation in a cold room in the basement of Whitley Detention Centre. From his account in To catch a Tartar, Mr Francis Seow, the former Solicitor-General could not too. I can say with confidence that even the director of ISD will not be able to withstand 72 hours of continuous interrogation in that cold room. Anyone in Singapore who can survive such treatment without writing a false statement, must either be a hardcore criminal or an imbecile who cannot write a statement no matter how he is threatened.

The cold room treatment is not the only experience all ISA detainees go through. For nearly a week, none of us was allowed contact with the outside world. On the sixth day, two family members were allowed to visit us. Imagine the panic caused to our families when they discover their children, spouses, brothers and sisters missing for 6 long days in a first world country. In this regard, ISA prisoners are accorded treatment worse than ordinary criminals for the latter are at least allowed to be produced in court within 48 hours and family members are informed of their whereabouts by the police.

30 days for ISD officers to investigate a conspiracy or fabricate a conspiracy is a long time. I thought we have the brightest scholars working in the ISD? Why do they need 30 days to decide whether to detain a prisoner or release him? Surely by the end of three days, they would have completed their investigation and either slam the order of detention on them or release them. Why do they need to fully utilise the 30 days allowed by the law? Is it to unnecessarily punish the innocent prisoner or is it because they are so inefficient or so daft that they cannot complete their investigation?

But if they are not able to complete their investigation, how is it that they could produce a script for detainees to appear on state television three weeks after our arrest? Shouldn’t they be putting all their attention on investigating our “crimes” rather than turn us into television stars? Worse, we or at least I was told that if I didn’t appear on television, they would “throw away the key,” meaning I would languish in jail for a very long time.

I shall pause here and continue at a later date because I feel sick remembering what 30 days mean to an ISA detainee. The ISA in allowing a person to be detained for 30 days is not providing him with any safeguard. Rather, the law in allowing 30 days for investigation is granting ISD officers and the government more than adequate time to fabricate a story for public consumption, to instil fear in them and to unnecessarily punish and intimidate a detainee.

Part 2

While the whereabouts of the “Marxist conspirators” were unknown to their families for six days when they were arrested by the ISD at the dawn of 21 May 1987, the whereabouts of eight of us together with lawyer Patrick Seong on 19 April 1988 after the issue of the joint statement denying the government’s accusations and confirming ill treatment were unknown for more than ten days. Then Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence BG Lee Hsien Loong was so angry that he described the joint statement as a “full frontal attack on the integrity, honesty and reputation of the government.” Acting Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said: “They threw a hand grenade in our face. They were not out to seek redress for the alleged torture. They were out to harm the Government and to harm our political stability.” So even though the restriction orders did not prohibit us from issuing the joint statement, we were all re-arrested the following morning. It is laughable that an intelligent minister like Goh had to use the phrase “threw a hand grenade in our face.” What hand grenade was he talking about? Violence exude not from us who were and are law abiding peaceful citizens who did not and do not possess any weapon, but from the minister. Was he “rebel rousing” (to use the words of the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) the public by such words?

A day after our re-arrest, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the government would set up a Commission of Inquiry. Senior lawyers, Francis Seow and J B Jeyaretnam as well as Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party welcomed the setting up of the Commission albeit with certain conditions so as to ensure independence. Chiam cautioned that all of us should be freed before the hearing so that we would not be under any form of duress.

Four days later, Goh Chok Tong informed the public that the Attorney General had been instructed to draft the terms of reference for the Commission which were:

(1) Whether the Marxist conspiracy was a government fabrication.
(2) The circumstances under which eight detainees retracted their previous statements.
(3) Their charges that they were assaulted and tortured during detention last year.

While the ministers were busy issuing public statements to justify the arrests, ISD officers were hard at work in the cold rooms.

For days and nights, the 9 detainees were interrogated in the basement of Whitley Road Centre. “Who was the leader? Who instigated the drafting of the statement? Who drafted the statement? Who typed the statement? Where were the meetings held? What were the reasons for the statement? … ” On reflection today, those were strange national security questions. Why was it necessary to find the author of the joint statement? All of us who signed it must be held equally responsible for it. There were no two ways of attributing responsibility. And strangely, we weren’t asked if we had planted bombs at the Istana or behind Parliament House or attempted to throw any hand grenade at any minister.

We were told to write statements and then to sign statutory declarations. Those who refused were advised to "think of the others." Words like “I know you don’t mind being detained, but think of the others. If you don’t sign the statutory declaration, the others will not be freed”. Those were strong persuasive or threatening words to one in the cold room. Those words coming from senior ISD officers cannot be taken lightly. In the end, all 9 detainees signed statutory declarations before a commissioner for oaths. Some who were ill treated, retracted their statements and swore false statutory declarations, subjecting themselves to prosecution. They regretted doing that subsequently but what else could they do? Get out and be useful citizens again or rot in prison like Dr Chia Thye Poh for 32 years? Already we were “martyrs without a cause” as one of the detainees puts it. Why do we want to make such huge sacrifices? Others who refused to retract that they were beaten up, omitted the deeds of ISD officers by not making any mention on how they were treated.

ISD officers were also busy with former detainees who were released on restriction orders. At least 5 of them had to swear statutory declarations after hours of “interviews” at Phoenix Park. And sadly, despite the co-operation, one of them was subsequently also re-arrested.

Any fair-minded person would have ignored sworn statements made by the 9 detainees. But that was not the case. Goh Chok Tong and Professor S Jayakumar, the Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Law (and a professor of Constitutional Law) proudly declared on the 10th day after our re-arrests that the statutory declarations had made it unnecessary for the setting up of the Commission of Inquiry. They told the public that we had retracted the charges made in our joint statement. As such, there was no longer a need for the Commission of Inquiry! That was it!

The government having concluded their business, the families of the detainees were finally allowed to visit them. It was already the 11th day after arrest/re-arrests. Patrick Seong who was arrested for the first time, was (I think) also not allowed to see his family until the 11th day. During the 11 days, I understand, he was taken to the hospital. Under ordinary criminal law, a person who is accused of committing a crime or re-offends must be produced in court within 48 hours and arrangements for family visits made soon after. ISA detainees can be held incommunicado for as long as the ISD deems fit. The ministers and the ISD decide everything.

And what about improvement in living conditions since we had all co-operated? There was none. We continued to be locked up in those 6ft x 10ft cells with smelly pillows and blankets.

Where were the members of the Board of Inspection during those 11 days? Were there any safeguards?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chua Lee Hoong's character assassination attempt on Dr Chee Soon Juan

The Online Citizen's facebook posting on 7 March, 2012:

In 2008, Dr Chee in his magnanimity chose not to send a lawyer letter to ST's Chua Lee Hoong for her "unwarranted scathing attempt at character assassination of the most uncharitable kind" *as described by the late Anthony Yeo). Ms Chua had written in that newspaper then, "Today, one cannot help but conclude that the trailblazer (Dr Chee Soon Juan) is more a sputtering meteor, and perhaps one with an antisocial personality disorder.”


Character assassination of the most uncharitable kind
Posted by The Online Citizen on June 9, 2008 (source)

Anthony Yeo, Consultant Therapist at the Counselling and Care Centre, wrote the following letter to the Straits Times political editor, Chua Lee Hoong.

Morning Chua Lee Hoong,

I cannot deny how appalled I was reading your article on Chee Soon Juan (ST June 7).
It appears to be an unwarranted scathing attempt at character assassination of the most uncharitable kind.

This attack culminated in your amateurish attempt at offering a diagnosis of his personality that is flawed in all ways as a diagnosis of personality disorder requires a fuller expose of that which constitutes a disorder.

MM Lee Kuan Yew decided to engage in such denigration of Chee Soon Juan on more than one occasion. His name calling of him as being a psychopath reflects his ignorance as to what a psychopath is.

In any case, such labelling with psychological nomenclature merely exposes his truncated understanding of what a psychopath is, of which Chee does not in any way qualify.

This goes for you as well in your rather denigrating, demeaning and dismissive description of Chee..

You have chosen to highlight whatever you consider to be flaws in his approach and even worse, his character.

And yet, those of us who know him and have worked in some ways with him know otherwise.

I do wonder if you would do yourself, and the public for whom you wrote that article, a favour by embarking on a careful research of everything else he stands for and all that he has been doing without fanfare and publicity. And having done that, would you then have the integrity to offer another perspective of him, another “truth”, that you have so carefully sought to present in your article.

I would have thought there could be a little more charity in commenting on Chee rather than indulge in augmenting the already prejudicial opinions of this man.

One would have thought that any person regardless of what he does deserves respect and regard for human worth and dignity.

In any case, if you do wish to be better acquainted with what would present as an anti-social disorder, I would gladly assist on the basis of my more than 36 years of psychological work with disturbed people.

Anthony Yeo

Consultant Therapist
Counselling and Care Centre


A copy of Chua Lee Hoong’s article can be found here: “The squandered potential of Chee Soon Juan“.


Who is this hatchet woman and court jester?
From Disgrace – The life and times of Chua Lee Hoong (here)

While Chua Lee Hoong of the Straits Times is nowhere near being a prose stylist, nor is she a seasoned chess player, she does harbour pretensions to be court advisor to the ruling regime. But subtlety is not her forte; subterfuge is. Thus when she pours scorn on the Internet only yet again, it reminds one that journalism is merely a gambit for her more duplicitous ambitions. Chua Lee Hoong is not a journalist; certainly not of a class of the more respectable newspapers, but rather like a pawn columnist of a party newsletter. Pity her subordinates.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Donald Low, via Chen Show Mao, on Public Economics

by Chen Show Mao, MP for Aljunied GRC, 3 March 2012 (source)

Economics 101. Many of you wrote to me with your views on the subject of government spending (from which I learned a great deal), including the following [from Donald Low's FC].

****** Chen Show Mao's postscript ************

Recently, many of you wrote to me about issues raised by parliamentary speeches on social programs. One of you summarized in a particularly incisive way the different economic issues raised.

The sender told recipients of his note to feel free to share its contents without individual attribution. He told me that he preferred not to be cited by politicians.

So I shared it with you on my FB page with a preface:
"Many of you wrote to me with your views on the subject of government spending (from which I learned a great deal), including the following."


 First, spending on the poor and disadvantaged is no less of a self-funding investment than any other form of government spending. Whether it is “welfare” for economically vulnerable citizens or spending on growth-promoting “economic” projects, each such spending is a cost in the period it is incurred. From an economics viewpoint, there is no conceptual difference between public spending in healthcare, social safety nets or eldercare projects on the one hand, and spending on security, infrastructure or other economic projects on the other. There seems to be perception among many policymakers that the former is a form of consumption that should be minimized or managed more carefully, while the latter is a form of investment that we do not need to scrutinize as much. This is simply bad economics.

Should only monetary or financial returns be considered in determining whether a social spending proposal merits government support? Some of us support the government’s measures to spend more on the elderly, the disabled, the poor and other needy Singaporeans, but lament that these inevitably incur costs. But nothing the government does is “self-funding” in the sense that the project’s financial returns to the government are sufficient to pay for its original government outlay, only in the sense that the project’s overall benefits to society will be worth its costs. It is precisely because there are public and merit goods which the market is not well-placed to provide that we need governments to finance their provision – via either taxation or government borrowing. Whether these are roads and highways, defence, the police and emergency services, the MRT system, schools and hospitals, none are self-funding in the sense that they are “bankable” or viable without public funding. If they were, we would expect the market to provide them. Social spending is thus no more and no less “self-funding” than other types of government expenditure.

The right question to ask is not whether a particular project incurs costs (they all do), or how much it costs (it is the balance of costs and benefits that matter), or even where the revenue for it has to come from (since all government monies are fungible and we always have to prioritize how these monies should be spent). Instead, the right question to ask is this: given all the things that government is asked to finance, which yields the largest social returns? The central fiscal question is always “how should we allocate and prioritize given our scarce resources?”

This brings me to the second point: the importance of having an expansive definition of social returns. Economists often take pains to emphasize that the costs and benefits government uses to determine the merit (or lack thereof) of a particular project should include not just direct or financial costs/benefits, but also indirect and intangible ones. They should also include avoided costs. For instance, if increased spending in early childhood education leads to cost savings as a result of less spending subsequently in learning support programs in primary schools (for children who have not benefited from pre-school education) or less teenage delinquency, these cost savings should be counted as returns. These returns should then be weighed against the costs of the program. Or if an extra $1 million of spending on preventive healthcare for older persons leads to savings of $3 million in the form of avoided costs in acute hospitals, the government would be well advised to spend more on preventive healthcare. Of course, we should also make sure we use the proper discount rate as people value future returns less than immediate returns.

The third point is that there are no economically ideal rates for taxes or government borrowing. Take borrowing. If a road improvement project costing $10 million leads to cost savings of $20 million (say as a result of fewer road accidents and fatalities, or lower costs of road repairs subsequently), that’s an investment return of 100%. Even if government has to borrow to finance that spending, it should do so.

Or take income taxes. There is nothing in economics which says that higher or lower income taxes are necessarily bad for the economy. On the one hand, higher marginal tax rates may reduce people’s willingness to work via the substitution effect. By making leisure less costly, higher taxes encourage people to substitute leisure for work. On the other hand, by reducing people’s take-home income, higher taxes may induce greater work effort as they try to maintain their previous standard of living. This is known as the income effect. Which of the two effects is stronger is entirely an empirical question; there is no reason why the substitution effect would necessarily outweigh the income effect.

Fourth, we should ask if we are indeed at an optimal Budget position currently so that any new social spending measure would require new revenues. To simply assume so may be flawed on at least two levels. The first is a status quo bias, which is that all past and current expenditure items pass the cost-benefit test outline above and that any new projects has to be financed by new revenues. This is quite clearly wrong. Even if all our current spending passes the cost-benefit test, are we so sure that their net benefits are greater than that for new (social) projects? Given how much our operating context has changed – a fast ageing population, wage stagnation, rising inequality – surely the presumption is that we would have to shift some of our fiscal resources to emerging needs and new areas of priority, rather than to assume that the current areas should be similarly funded as before and new areas would have to be financed from new revenues. To insist so would be to lock ourselves in past, and most likely inappropriate, patterns of public spending.

The second reason why such an assumption may be flawed is that it does not take into account our fiscal position of structural surpluses. Given that we have been running considerable structural surpluses for the last 20 years, it becomes even more important for the government to show how continuing to invest our savings abroad yields superior returns than investing in our own people. That we run such large and persistent surpluses also implies that the government believes that it has exhausted all public projects where the social returns exceed their financial costs. I find this hard to believe.

On a related note, the question of whether any new social spending proposals have to be financed by new or higher taxes cannot be properly answered until we have better information on the government’s reserves position and its expected future contributions to financing the government’s spending. While we probably do not need to know the exact amount of reserves for this purpose, government should inform the public of whether it is utilizing the full 50% of net investment returns (NIR) that it is entitled to, as well as what it expects future NIR contributions to be. Only with such information can citizens have an informed debate about whether increasing social spending will entail higher GST or other taxes. Without such information, government’s assertions on how increased spending in healthcare for instance will require higher GST are no better than mine, or anybody’s for that matter.