Lawyer fee slashed not considered overcharging but doctor fee slashed is

October 25, 2014

I refer to the 16 Oct 2014 Straits Times letter “Don’t equate reduction of costs with overcharging” by the Singapore Law Society.

The Singapore Law Society added ink to the recent saga of overcharging by SMC lawyers without necessarily shedding light to the issue.

While the Law Society deems it the winning lawyer’s duty to charge as much as possible, it also says that it doesn’t condone overcharging. Putting the two statements together, the Law Society’s position must be that the winning lawyer has a duty to charge as much as possible without overcharging.

But what constitutes overcharging? That is the crux of the issue. Did SMC lawyers overcharge? Ironically, throughout its letter, the Law Society makes no mention whatsoever of that most crucial point – what constitutes overcharging. In other words, it’s still possible that while SMC lawyers conformed to the Law Society’s creed of charging as much as possible, it still erred in having overcharged Dr Susan Lim.

SMC lawyers charged $1.33 million at first. Going by the Law Society’s logic, $1.33 million must have been as much as SMC lawyers should dutifully charge. But whether $1.33 million also amounts to overcharging is not clear from the Law Society’s explanation.

The $1.33 million was 400% of the $317,000 SMC lawyer fees were eventually slashed to. Is the Law Society of the opinion that charging 400% of what the judge allowed constitutes overcharging or does not constitute overcharging? One shudders to think that the Law Society might consider 400% as not overcharging. In that case how high must lawyer fees go before the Law Society would deem them as overcharging? 4,000%? 4 million%? Where is the boundary to the Law Society’s greed?

If the Law Society doesn’t equate the slashing of SMC lawyer fees as being a case of overcharging, surely the Law Society will also agree that the slashing of Dr Susan Lim’s fees also did not constitute overcharging? Or is the Law Society going to use one set of rules for lawyers and another set of rules for everyone else?

So in the end, having said so much, the Law Society still did not explain why even though both had their fees slashed down, Dr Susan Lim was punished while SMC lawyers got away scot free.

Straits Times, Don’t equate reduction of costs with overcharging, 16 Oct 2014

MUCH ink has been spilt following recent claims of overcharging by lawyers representing the Singapore Medical Council (“Medical, legal professions need to clear the air” by Dr Jeremy Lim Fung Yen, Oct 3; and “Legal profession’s unregulated pricing structure” by Mr Philip Williams, last Saturday).

Without commenting on specific cases before the court and the inquiry committee, it appears necessary to explain the process to the public.

There are two typical situations – when one reviews one’s lawyer’s bill, and when one reviews the opponent’s lawyer’s bill.

In Singapore, the general rule is that the losing party has to pay costs to the winning party. Parties can agree on the quantum to be paid, or if they disagree, the court will decide the amount payable after hearing arguments from both sets of lawyers. This is known as taxation.

The winning party’s lawyers submit an itemised bill of costs for taxation, which sets out the work done, time spent, lawyers involved and quantum claimed. This bill of costs is subject to the court’s detailed scrutiny, and the losing party is entitled to challenge both the overall quantum claimed as well as specific items.

The winning party is entitled to a reasonable amount of all costs reasonably incurred. Any doubts about reasonableness are resolved in favour of the losing party. The quantum determined by the court is an amount that the losing party ought reasonably to pay, and not what a lawyer may reasonably charge the client.

The law actually intends that there will be an appreciable margin between what a losing party pays in taxed costs, and what a winning party has to pay its lawyers. It is an attempt to reach a fair balance between the victor and the vanquished.

In practice, most bills of costs submitted for taxation are reduced. The winning party’s lawyers have a duty to seek the highest quantum reasonably arguable, and the losing party’s lawyers have a duty to seek the highest possible reduction of those claimed costs.

The court will balance both views and decide. That a winning party’s bill of costs was reduced on taxation should not automatically be construed as overcharging. Indeed, if a client is dissatisfied with his lawyer’s bill, he can also tax that bill in court.

The Law Society does not condone overcharging by lawyers, and complaints about overcharging are subject to a statutory regime. Complaints made to the Law Society are referred to independent committees for investigation. These committees are not appointed by the Law Society, and it has no control over them.

The public can have every confidence that there are long-established safeguards in place to address overcharging, whether by one’s own lawyer or by an opposing lawyer.

Shawn Toh

Director, Communications

The Law Society of Singapore

Possible reasons why notebook constituted evidence for offence

October 24, 2014

I refer to the 19 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Police have the right to hold notebook”.

The police explained that Section 35(1)(c) of the Criminal Procedure Code empowers the police with the right to seize any item suspected to constitute evidence of an offence.

That means the police must have suspected that Han Hui Hui’s notebook contained evidence of her purported ‘crime’. Wonder what that suspected evidence might have been.

Maybe the police thought Hui Hui wrote “I am guilty, I committed the crime, I confess” in her notebook. That would have constituted a confession and hence evidence of her ‘crime’. The police may have thought that Hui Hui was too shy to confess upfront so she wrote her confession in her notebook which must therefore be confiscated.

Or maybe the police thought the notebook was a scrapbook full of incriminating picture evidences that Hui Hui had compiled and brought to the police station but fell just short of giving to them.

Or maybe the police thought the notebook contained a treasure map that led to a treasure trove of evidences Hui Hui had nicely stashed away for them.

The police couldn’t have thought that the notebook merely contained notes of the interview because the police have their own notes and also the video recording of the entire interview session.

Whatever is the reason, the police must have truly believed that the evidence could be found in Hui Hui’s notebook so they had to keep it in order to flip through it again and again to find it. They couldn’t simply photocopy it as they could have also suspected that Hui Hui used invisible ink to make their job a little bit more challenging and worthwhile.

Maybe the police thought Hui Hui used the notebook to slash or to hit children so they had to do a DNA analysis of the book to verify the victim’s DNA in order to nail Hui Hui’s crime.

Police work can be so interesting it almost feels like child’s play.

Straits Times, Police ‘have the right to hold notebook’, 19 Oct 2014

POLICE yesterday returned to blogger Han Hui Hui her notebook and said they were acting within their powers in retaining it as part of an investigation.

The notebook was taken from Ms Han, 22, last Friday when she was questioned over a Sept 27 protest in Hong Lim Park that disrupted a YMCA charity carnival.

Both events were held at the same venue but in different areas of the park.

Responding to a query from The Straits Times, a police spokesman said that under Section 35(1)(c) of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police had a right to seize any item “suspected to constitute evidence of an offence”.

But the notebook was given back to Ms Han, as the police no longer needed it for investigations, the spokesman added.

Earlier, Ms Han’s lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, had said in a statement e-mailed to the media that the police had overstepped their powers. He had sent a letter of demand to the police on Tuesday, saying the notebook was private property and should not have been seized.

It contains notes Ms Han took when she was being questioned by the police, which Mr Ravi said were considered “privileged legal communication”.

But this was refuted by the police in a letter to Mr Ravi, who released it to the media.

The police wrote: “Your client’s notebook is not a document covered by legal professional privilege. Notwithstanding this, the police (are) of the view that it will not be necessary to retain the notebook any further for investigation.”

Ms Han, and several others, have been questioned over their involvement in the fracas at Hong Lim Park.

She was the organiser of the protest, and had led a few hundred people in a march around the park, encroaching on the lawn where the charity carnival was held and frightening some children with special needs who were performing on stage.

It is understood that the police tried to contact the protest’s co-leader, Mr Roy Ngerng, last week but he was not in Singapore.

On Wednesday this week, he said in a Facebook post that he was in Malaysia attending a conference.

Section 35 gives NEA no purview over fairs that do not involve cooked food

October 23, 2014

I refer to the 15 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Court battle over WP town council’s CNY fair begins”.

NEA lawyers claimed that the five stalls selling festive decorations, cookies and potted plants contravened Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which states a permit is necessary for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.

But Section 35 falls under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers of the Public Health Act which covers sections 32 to 42 as follows:

32. Food establishments to be licensed
33. Licensing of hawkers operating from stalls, etc.
34. Licensing of itinerant hawkers
35. Director-General may issue temporary permits
36. Licences for private markets
37. Persons with infectious diseases not to carry on business
38. Unauthorised structures
39. Cleanliness of markets and stalls
40. Articles of food unfit for human consumption
41. Cleanliness of vehicles, equipment, etc.
41A. Penalties for offences under this Part
42. Notice to attend Court

Nearly every section of Part IV is related to food. For example:

• Sections 32, 33, 34, 36, 39 deal specifically with food establishments, hawkers and markets

• Section 37 deals with employment of persons with infectious diseases presumably because that has an effect on food safety

• Section 38 relates to stalls and food establishments

• Section 40 deals specifically with food

• Section 41 deals with vehicles used to transport food

• Sections 41A and 42 deals with penalties and court issues

So practically all the rules in Part IV has something to do with food. It is therefore not unreasonable to say that Section 35 should also be associated with food. After all, the powers of the NEA specific to Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers should not go beyond anything related to food. It wouldn’t make sense for example that under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers, NEA has the power to rule over a trade fair involving computer accessories. That wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t make sense. If there is a law empowering the NEA to rule over a trade fair involving computer accessories, that law cannot come under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers. Either that or Part IV has to be renamed Food Establishments, Markets, Hawkers and Computer Accessories.

Hence, Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers should give NEA absolutely no purview over a trade fair involving non-edibles like festive decorations and potted plants. That is to say, the WP trade fair, whatever its name, doesn’t contravene Section 35 as long as the fair didn’t involve food.

So the only legitimate concern NEA may have are the cookies sold at the WP trade fair. But if the cookies were taken from a supplier who also supplies them to retailers elsewhere with approval, then clearly NEA has absolutely no reason to find fault with the WP trade fair.

Finally, nowhere in Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers does it state that CCC approval must be sought.

Straits Times, Court battle over WP town council’s CNY fair begins, 15 Oct 2014

A TRIAL involving the Workers’ Party (WP) town council began yesterday, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) lawyers saying it was never given a permit to run a Chinese New Year fair in January.

Still, the Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) went ahead with it in Hougang Central, a district court heard.

The event ran from Jan 9 to Jan 30, with five stalls, selling festive decorations, cookies and potted plants, among other things, between blocks 811 and 814.

This, the lawyers argued in their opening remarks, constituted a “temporary fair”.

As such, it contravened Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which states a permit is necessary for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.

But the AHPETC, whose chairman is Ms Sylvia Lim, is disputing NEA’s argument. Its lawyer Peter Low pointed out that it was a “mini-fair” or an “event”, and hence did not require a permit.

He also said he would seek clarification from the NEA on why it was necessary to get the Citizens Consultative Committee’s (CCC) approval when applying for such a permit. The CCC in question was the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, which Mr Low told the court was chaired by a People’s Action Party grassroots leader.

The case before District Judge Victor Yeo started from a letter the town council wrote to the NEA on Dec 20 last year, asking if a permit was required for the Chinese New Year (CNY) event.

The NEA said “yes” three days later, and e-mailed to the town council application forms for a “trade fair permit” and a “trade fair foodstall licence”.

On Dec 24, AHPETC replied that the forms were “unsuitable”, given that it was organising and operating the event by itself.

NEA reiterated that a permit was required and the town council submitted the forms. But it struck off the words “trade fair” and substituted them with “event”. It also stated the event would be held from Jan 10 to Jan 30 as opposed to Jan 9 when it actually began.

On Jan 9, the NEA told the town council via e-mail that the application was incomplete and could not be processed.

The AHPETC did not respond to the e-mail, nor to a subsequent warning to stop the event.

NEA prosecutor Isaac Tan did not elaborate on the missing documents in the application.

Mr Tai Ji Choong, who is NEA’s director of environmental health, told the court that a permit was required for temporary fairs so that “there would not be disamenities caused to the community”. These include noise nuisance, pest infestation and food hygiene issues.

During cross-examination, Mr Low wanted Mr Tai to explain why it was necessary to get the CCC’s approval as a condition for the permit.

The judge, however, agreed with Mr Tan’s objection that the issue surrounding the conditions for a permit should not be argued in the present trial but at a judicial review.

Mr Tan also argued that the matter of not applying for a permit was one of “strict liability”. Citing littering as an example, he said whether or not one intended to litter was immaterial.

He also said that since the AHPETC did not appeal against its rejected application, it should not use the court to find out why it was not given the permit.

Mr Low later showed the court a revised trade fair application form dated July 2008, which states “only grassroots organisations, town councils and charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institutions are allowed to hold fairs”.

But the forms the AHPETC received last December did not have the words “town councils”.

Mr Low asked when and why the change was made. Mr Tan objected, saying it was irrelevant as the issue before the court is whether the event needed a permit.

If found guilty, the town council can be fined up to $1,000 and, for subsequent convictions, a fine not exceeding $4,000 and/or a jail term of up to three months.

The trial continues today.

Rebutting Lawrence Wong

October 21, 2014

I refer to the 18 Oct 2014 Straits Times report of Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech “Long-term policy issues must be studied objectively”.

Wong claim 1: Lee Kuan Yew had tremendous courage in the face of great adversity

Lee cried and cried at our independence and ended up convalescing at Changi chalet for six weeks. He also worked for the enemy during the Japanese Occupation. If those are examples of courage then crying, running away from problems and working for the enemy are the hallmarks of the courageous.

Wong claim 2: Military, Garden City, Singapore River were breathtaking works of audacity by PAP founders

Our military was trained by the Israelis who also provided our military doctrine. Like so many other things, the key job was always performed by foreign contractors or consultants. Let us not praise PAP so much that we forget that they merely brought in foreign contractors or consultants to do the job.

Our Garden City is essentially built upon what our former British colonial masters bequeathed us that includes our most famous Botanical Gardens which is also our best hope for a UNESCO listing. Let us not praise PAP so much that we forget that they inherited a solid foundation that virtually guaranteed their success.

There are so many beautiful rivers in First World cities. What’s so breathtaking about ours compared to so many others? It takes a person with Third World mentality to have his breath taken away by our Singapore River.

How can our 50th independence anniversary be our Golden Jubilee? We may have been independent for 50 years only, but we have been around for far longer than that.

Wong claim 3: Small states vulnerable

Small states are no longer as vulnerable today as their survival is now underwritten by the US.

Modern East Asia, including Southeast Asia is what it is today because of the crucial role the United States played in underwriting security in Asia-Pacific. The U.S. provided security and stability that helped to stem the tide of communism, the 7th Fleet kept the ceilings open. The U.S. generously opened its markets to the region, and that sustained economic growth and prosperity of many Asian countries. In turn, that created conditions that allowed East Asia, beginning with Japan, to seize opportunity to uplift their people’s lives, and China is a most recent example of that. Success of countries in the region created a dynamism which has also created new challenges and opportunities, and let me add … the U.S. did all of it.

The Brookings Institution, Southeast Asia and the United States: remarks by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Singapore foreign minister K. Shanmugam, 22 Sept 2014

Wong claim 4: Communist war in Malaysia and region was our war too

Porous borders of the ISIL / ISIS conflict in the Middle East doesn’t mean that the ISIL / ISIS are at war with Singapore. Similarly, porous borders of the Malaysian jungles, doesn’t mean the Malayan communists were at war with Singapore.

Some Singaporeans joining the fight in Syria doesn’t mean that ISIL / ISIS are at war with Singapore. Similarly, some Singaporeans joining the communists’ fight in Malaysia doesn’t mean the communists were at war with Singapore.

Foreign interests being targeted by ISIL / ISIS doesn’t mean that ISIL / ISL are at war with Singapore. The Malayan communists on the other hand, operated strictly in the jungles of Malaysia and never once touched Singapore after being ousted by our Special Branch.

Lee Kuan Yew’s counter actions on home ground weren’t against communists but were against innocent people like Tan Lark Sye, Lim Chin Siong and his Barisan colleagues who weren’t communists.

Wong claim 5: Government means deciding together as one people

When the government ignored the people and bulldozed through the Population White Paper, did that mean deciding things together as one people? When the government ignored the people and went ahead to build two casinos, did that mean deciding things together as one people? Mr Wong must have puffer fish cheeks to be able to say that.

Wong claim 6: Singaporeans must try for themselves and trust the system

Picking cardboard pieces off the streets or cleaning tables at food courts in old age is the system that Mr Wong wants us to put our trust in?

Singaporeans contribute money to the central pot only to find it wasted in poor government investment decisions.

Singapore already had interracial and inter-faith harmony prior to PAP’s existence.

Wong claim 7: Lee Kuan Yew believed in equal opportunity for all regardless of wealth and status

Lee Kuan Yew’s Graduate Mothers Scheme is a clear example that Lee Kuan Yew did not believe in equal opportunity for all.

He also admitted and sought our acceptance that our primary school admission system isn’t meritocratic but is based on the social class of parents.

Asiaone Education, MM Lee acknowledges admission to primary school is unfair, 14 Nov 14 2010

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has acknowledged that primary school admission is ‘not meritocratic’, but is ‘inevitable in any society.’

‘At the primary stage, the choice is not made in a uniform way. You have a brother there or sister there, your father or mother is an alumnus, and so on,’ he said.

‘So it’s not meritocratic; it’s based on the social class of your parents, whether they went into better schools.’

Wong claim 8: Widespread social discontent, nationalism, xenophobia

Social discontent: Mr Wong can only blame himself and his government for not taking care of people’s welfare

Nationalism: What is wrong with nationalism? Does Mr Wong prefer widespread sellout of our country?

Xenophobia: Another one of Mr Wong’s attempts at painting white as black. Given current sentiments on the ground, xenomania is the black, rejecting xenomania is the white. Rejecting xenomania isn’t xenophobia.

Wong claim 9: First World democracies have become fractured, chaotic and unpredictable

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, the following table shows that the best run countries in the world are First World democracies.

Country 2013 WGI Government Effectiveness
JAPAN 1.59

Wong claim 10: Some groups called for zero foreign worker growth

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, those groups called for growth in resident workforce before turning off the foreign worker tap.

Straits Times, MPs spar over WP plan to grow local workforce, cap foreign labour, 6 Feb 2013

The WP plan envisions growing the resident workforce at a rate of 1 per cent a year through attracting more locals back to work. If this is achieved, the WP wants the tap on additional foreign labour turned off, and for the size of the foreign workforce to remain at the current level.

Don’t always quote Mr Rajaratnam

It is not always wise to quote from Mr Rajaratnam who said many stupid things including changing the one-man-one-vote system:

The Straits Times, 24 Dec 1986, page 1
Raja’s views are his own – Chok Tong
Govt has no intention of changing one-man-one-vote system, he says

The First Deputy Prime Minister yesterday made it clear Mr S. Rajaratnam’s remarks about remodeling Singapore’s democratic system were the Senior Minister’s personal views. Mr Goh Chok Tong also said that the Government had no intention of changing the one-man-one-vote system.

Mr Rajaratnam’s remarks were off-the-cuff … He had spoken freely, under the impression that the session was off the record.

Wong claim 11: Easy to win attention by disagreeing with government

Contrary to what Mr Wong said, it’s much easier to win attention by agreeing with the government rather than by disagreeing with it because state controlled television and newspapers give attention to those who agree with the government rather than those who disagree with it. Those who paint white as black and black as white are more often than not those who agree with the government. It is they who revel in their own “originality” in cocktail parties without realizing that they’ve become the laughing stock beyond the confines of their immediate circle. How can such stupid ideas as earthquakes in Singapore help solve real and vital problems affecting Singapore?

Wong rhetoric: Go beyond partisan politics

How can a School of Public Policy named after the biggest and baddest of Singapore partisan politics be expected to go beyond partisan politics? Going beyond partisan politics will require the thorough cleansing of the School of Public Policy to rid it of political elements. Renaming the school as the Albert Winsemius School of Public Policy will also help establish its new non partisan mission as Dr Winsemius was never involved in Singapore politics but had contributed immensely to Singapore public policies.

Any detailed exposition of policies will required similarly detailed critique of those policies in order that the democracy of deeds doesn’t become the autocracy of misdeeds. No matter how persuasive the arguments of professional oppositionists, they will never get as much publicity in state controlled media or press as mumbling state stooges.

Straits Times, Long-term policy issues must be studied objectively, 18 Oct 2014
This is an excerpt of a speech by Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s 10th anniversary conference yesterday where the book, The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew, was also launched.

LOOKING back, one cannot help but be struck by the tremendous courage that former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues showed in the face of great adversity.

The sheer audacity of what they did was breathtaking – from deciding it was possible to have a formidable military, to creating a Garden City and cleaning up the Singapore River; from deciding to make Singapore self-sufficient in water, to deciding to take on the communists when they were in their 30s.

Mr Lee holds firm convictions, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the world as it is.

He had “big ideas” but he also knew when to adapt to realities.

As we move into Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence, our Golden Jubilee, it is timely to look at some of his important ideas.


ONE “Big Idea” is that small states are inherently vulnerable and require a strategy to survive. Mr Lee himself reminded us that “small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation”.

In the era of the Cold War, Mr Lee and his colleagues practised this principle decisively in securing multilateral alliances, building ties with major powers and countering the communist threat on home ground. The struggle waged against the communists is an important reminder that there is no clean line dividing foreign and domestic order. This remains the case today.

The world is in flux and borders are more porous than ever. Events and conflicts far away can affect us. Take the situation in the Middle East, and the expansion of the ISIL threat (ISIL is also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS).

Even if Singapore is not a direct target, foreign interests may be targeted. And we know that a handful of Singaporeans have journeyed to Syria to join the conflict there. So while the events and conflicts abroad may seem far removed from the daily lives of Singaporeans, they can easily fray the fabric of our society, and pose domestic threats to our national security. As a small country, we must always stay vigilant and keep looking outwards, because the changes in the external environment can have a big impact on us.

Sustainable development

A SECOND “Big Idea” is related to the first principle of security, and that is success, not just in the short term, but on a sustained, long-term basis. To survive as a small state, Singapore must make ourselves relevant; and to be relevant as a small state, we must make ourselves exceptional. So the success of Singapore is not a good-to-have, but an existential question. The world is far more competitive today than before. The rate of change has accelerated vastly. We need courage and fresh ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

The point is that we’ve not reached the limits of our potential as a nation. There is still much more to be done and new ground to conquer.

All this must be done with a view to maintaining a fair and just society, with equal opportunities for every Singaporean. Singapore was founded on democratic socialist ideals.

Mr Lee was against welfarism as a blunt instrument of redistributing wealth, and rightly so. But he recognised, and, indeed, passionately believed in, the necessity of a society in which “regardless of wealth and status, everyone has an equal opportunity to make the best of his potential”.

In Singapore today, the Government is increasing social transfers, spending more, and strengthening our safety nets. So it’s no longer an issue of whether the Government should or shouldn’t spend more. We will be doing more.

The real issue is how best to spend the revenue that we get from taxes, in a fair and sustained manner. It’s not so useful to think of the Government as a separate entity from the people, with its own source of funds, as we sometimes tend to do. Rather, government is about the things we decide to do together as a people. Through fiscal policy, we contribute money into a central pot through taxes and we spend that money to give expression to the shared values we wish to promote as a society.

Singaporeans must always have this motivation to try for themselves, with the promise of a better life, and with trust in a system that recognises the necessity and dignity of work and personal responsibility. This is the only sustainable and responsible way forward for Singapore.


THE third “Big Idea” is the need for an orderly society that functions in the best interests for all. Many countries aspire towards interracial and inter-faith harmony. But in Singapore this commitment to secular multiculturalism runs so deeply that it forms a part of our core national identity. We have always emphasised a common national identity, within which there are protected havens for different groups to live and practise their identities.

This rich diversity coupled with strong social cohesion is something precious that we must always cherish. It will not take very much to tear apart the trust and mutual respect that we have developed over the years.

This challenge has become greater for several reasons: the impact of globalisation and technological innovation, which is putting tremendous strain on the workplace; the ease in which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online; and the need for us to socialise new residents and migrants who have come to our shores.

These challenges are not unique to Singapore. Countries around the world are confronting very similar issues.

This is at least partly why we see the rise of populist movements everywhere, tapping on widespread social discontent, as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, to mobilise the masses.

As a result, politics in many mature First World democracies is now more fractured, chaotic and unpredictable than it was just two or three decades ago.

We are not immune from these pressures in Singapore. In our population debate, for example, we had groups that called for “zero foreign worker growth” – it made for a good slogan, never mind the consequences it would have on the economy, local businesses, and more importantly Singaporean jobs. But opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy.

Mr S. Rajaratnam once noted that it’s easy to win attention by disagreeing with the Government. If the Government says “white”, and you write letters or articles in the newspapers advocating “black”, then your column will be read and you will be hailed at the next cocktail reception as an original and bold thinker. This was many years ago, but perhaps it still rings true today. But how does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?

This goes beyond partisan politics. It’s about the kind of democracy we want to be, and that I hope we can be – a democracy of integrity, and a democracy of deeds, made up of an active citizenry who get involved in developing solutions for a better society.

As men and women of our academic and intellectual community, all of you play an important role in this effort. I appreciate your commentaries, including the ones where you disagree with the Government.

May I also strongly urge you to present the full complexities and trade-offs of the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore. There are many difficult long-term policy issues that need to be thoroughly and objectively explored: population, on immigration, on the income gap, or on social programmes.

A detailed exposition of the policy options needed to address these issues may not get as much publicity as arguments made by professional oppositionists. But it will go much further in strengthening our democracy of deeds.

Falsehoods and false lessons from ST forum letters

October 20, 2014

Don’t be taken in by the falsehoods of Mr Chew Kok Liang

I refer to the 20 Oct 2014 Straits Times online letter “Don’t underestimate female soldiers” by Mr Chew Kok Liang.

Why is Mr Chew resorting to using a Malaysian military officer’s encounter with communists as an example of Singapore’s confrontation with communists? Why can’t Mr Chew use an example of a Singapore military officer’s encounter with communists instead?

Mr Chew can’t because there is no such example. Singapore had already separated from Malaysia by the time our military was set up by Mr Goh Keng Swee with the help of the Israelis. So Malaysia’s fight against communists couldn’t have been our fight against communists.

Singapore’s communists had long been defeated by our Special Branch resulting in their retreat into the jungles of Malaya.

Mr Chew was thus wrong to equate the Malaysian military intelligence officer’s encounter with female communists in the jungles of Malaysia as being the example of Singapore’s confrontation with the Communist Party of Malaya.

False lessons from Hong Kong

I refer to the 20 Oct 2014 Straits Times online letter “Lessons to learn from Hong Kong” by Mr Geoffrey Kung.

Mr Kung’s lessons to learn from Hong Kong’s democratic movement are false ones. Hong Kong isn’t the only one that never had any votes under the British; Singapore too never had votes under the British prior to the Japanese Occupation. But that didn’t stop Singapore pioneers from similarly demonstrating and agitating for more voting rights that culminated in Singapore achieving full internal self government in 1959. Many of our demonstrations, like the Hong Kong ones today, were similarly student led.

The correct lesson therefore is that the Hong Kong people have every right to fight for their freedom just as Singapore pioneers had every right to fight for theirs. If Singaporeans feel indebted to the fighting spirit of Singapore pioneers who fought and won full internal self government for us then we of all people should be the first and the foremost to acknowledge and appreciate the similar fighting spirit and self-sacrifices of Hong Kong demonstrators today.

Singapore must be careful not to fall prey to false tales of people like Mr Kung who has betrayed Singapore’s pioneers and forgotten their sacrifices for us. The short term disturbances of Hong Kong can only be for its long term greater good.

Mr Kung must not conveniently assume that the louder group represents the minority. During our recent National Day, the silent majority finally ‘spoke up’ by collectively choosing not to fly the Singapore flag. Just because the silent majority has few spokespersons doesn’t mean they are therefore the minority.

While we must look outward to learn from others, we mustn’t look through tinted glasses and end up learning the wrong lessons. We must also look behind to remind ourselves of lessons from our own history that still has relevance and application today.

STforum online, Don’t underestimate female soldiers, 20 Oct 2014

AS THE Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps opens its doors to women, the debate over their military potential begins anew (“Flexi-terms for SAF Volunteer Corps”; last Monday).

When Singapore confronted the Communist Party of Malaya, it had to deal with female communists.

They were mainly Chinese and physically smaller and weaker than their male counterparts.

But what they lacked in strength, they made up for in dedication and ability.

I knew a Malaysian military intelligence officer who fought the communists. Part of his duties was to turn them to gain intelligence and to aid in search and destroy missions.

In his experience, the women were more deadly.

It was possible to crack or turn a male communist, given time and incentives, he said.

However, try as he might, he could never turn a female communist. They were prepared to die for the cause “no matter what”, he said.

He once led an ambush of a communist patrol and a heavily pregnant communist charged at one of his soldiers with a parang.

He knocked her down with a shot but she got up and tried to charge again. He had to shoot her again, this time, to her death.

In his opinion, female soldiers are as good as male soldiers. They may even be better as they can be more focused and ruthless.

There are many reasons for and against enlisting women, but their fighting capability should not be one of them.

Chew Kok Liang

STforum online, Lessons to learn from Hong Kong, 20 Oct 2014

I VISITED Hong Kong recently and witnessed the so-called “democracy” protest going on there.

The city’s modern development is similar to Singapore’s.

Hong Kong became a British colony in the late 1940s, after World War II.

In the early 1950s, Hong Kong was more a trading port than a bustling city. There was no public housing and the influx of Chinese refugees made the situation worse. There were a lot more people than there were jobs.

But through the hard work of the population, the city grew and prospered.

This pioneering generation is now handing the baton to the younger generation, who did not witness the Japanese war, union riots or secret society fights.

Many of the younger residents have studied overseas, travelled abroad and tasted the affluence of developed countries.

There is an increasing sense of entitlement as families grow smaller and a belief in “my rights”.

The student protest for “democratic” votes illustrates the fact that they have forgotten or do not know that they never had any votes under the British.

Singapore’s young must be careful not to fall into a similar situation, where our economy is damaged by a “louder” minority.

We should look forward and outward and learn from others.

Geoffrey Kung

Unraveling Lee Kuan Yew’s communist paradox

October 18, 2014

I refer to the 11 Oct 2014 Straits Times column “The Communist Paradox”.

Communist paradox

The quintessence of Lee Kuan Yew’s so-called communist paradox is that some condemned communists or pro-communists in the 50s and 60s have paradoxically become non-communists since the 1990s. Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye, two great men who contributed so much to Singapore education went from condemned communists in the 50s and 60s to role models today. That is Lee Kuan Yew’s communist paradox – one can be communist one day and non-communist the next day even though what one did or did not do stayed the same. The communist label isn’t based on some fundamental truth that can stand the test of time. Instead, it is a frivolous tag that can be put on or taken down depending on the whim and fancy of the victors of Singapore politics. How much more paradoxical must it get before Singaporeans finally understand the ridiculousness of Lee’s so-called communist paradox?

Foremost among these men are Tan Kah Kee and Tan Lark Sye. Both … operated in pre-independent Singapore but were hitherto linked with the communist cause by the state: Tan Kah Kee professed admiration for Mao … while Tan Lark Sye had his Singapore citizenship papers revoked in 1963 on the grounds that he had “actively and persistently collaborated with an active antinational group of communists.” Hence recent public references to both men have been singularly focused on their munificence toward education … Their politics as understood by the state is left unmentioned, as is the context of Singapore’s anticolonial history. Singapore’s heroes are thus in limbo – an intermediate state of simultaneous exposure and suppression …

With the clarification of the “misunderstanding,” that the two men were actually selfless champions of Chinese education rather than communists, both men have become fit for emulation in public discourse, for their enterprise and public spiritedness. A PAP member of Parliament who considers himself to be the voice of Chinese-educated Singaporeans … prescribed the emulation of heroes such as Tan Kah Kee. Recalling the tycoon-philanthropist image and erasing the communist label have made them suitable heroes …

Tan Kah Kee’s and Tan Lark Sye’s posthumous rehabilitation and transformation from communists to communitarians, effected collaboratively between the state in search of local role models, and the scions of the families … perpetuates a pop-up story-book dimension … of their human agency.

[New Terrains in Southeast Asian History, Abu Talib Ahmad and Liok Ee Tan, page 226-230]

During the election campaign, the Barisan tried to capitalize on Tan Lark Sye’s status, his activism in the struggle for Chinese education, and his antagonistic relationship with the PAP leadership. They asked Tan for financial support and later for a public endorsement of the Barisan candidates who were Nanda graduates or students. Tan did both, donating $20,000 towards the campaign cost of the 10 Nanda candidates while publicly urging Chinese voters to support them in the election. His hope was that a Nanda graduate would become the Minister of Education in the Barisan government … On 22 September, the day after the election, the Singapore government began legal proceedings to revoke the citizenship of Tan Lark Sye on the grounds that he had “collaborated with a group of communists at Nanda”. Lee Kuan Yew wrote: We had decided to make an example of prominent figures who had acted as front men for the communists, believing that their wealth and standing in the Chinese-speaking community gave them immunity. Number one on the list was Tan Lark Sye, then honorary president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the founder of Nanyang University.

The PAP used this reasoning as pretence to take out a strong leader with much clout amongst the Chinese electorate, eradicating a possible avenue for an alternative to its own power base. Tan Lark Sye could remain in Singapore only because he had gone through the process of British naturalization in the 1950s. Disgruntled, he later took some of his business ventures abroad … In Ipoh, Malaysia, he set up the Tasek Cement complex. At the launch of this industrial venture, he emphasized the considerable financial involvement of Taiwanese partners, defiantly asking the Singapore government why these fiercest of Chinese anti-communists would ever cooperate with him if he had really been a communist sympathizer. He had a point because as a businessmen and a multi-millionaire he was not interested in a communist ideological line. He did think that Chinese language, culture and identity were important issues … however, that did not make him a pro-communist.

[The Business of Politics and Ethnicity: A History of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sikko Visscher, page 155]

… the key leadership in the majority Chinese community were millionaire philanthropists who would thus make good candidates for canonisation, but they either displayed sympathy for the … Chinese Communist Party as was the case with Tan Kah Kee, or like Tan Lark Sye, the largest donor of funds to building Nanyang University, did not necessarily support the PAP’s cultural politics; in fact Tan was stripped of his Singapore citizenship by the government. Pan Shou, the assistant to Tan Lark Sye in the early years of running the Nanyang University, suffered a similar fate.

Nevertheless, in the 1990s these men were conscripted as heroes, after being rehabilitated as exemplar visionaries who supported the cause of education and culture.

Tan Kah Kee’s nephew … responded … to the ‘rehabilitation’ of his uncle’s name by emphasizing that for years ‘some people mistook him to be a communist or a communist sympathizer, but he was neither. He has simply focused his energy to help China and win a place for ethnic Chinese in the world, by contributing to education here and in China. This was not valued in the beginning. But now, it is recognized that there is a need to revive the Tan Kah Kee spirit – this spirit of contributing to society.’

[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 163, 173]

The prominent businessman so celebrated in Singapore’s history today, Tan Kah Kee, for example, was not allowed to return to Singapore following his visit to Peking in 1950. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce … was incensed in 1950 over an immigration bill which restricted immigration of Chinese suspected of Communist sympathies.

[Forging a Singaporean Statehood, 1965-1995: The Contribution of Japan, Robin Ramcharan, page 111]

Lee’s communist paradox was nothing but a myth that must be rejected. All subsequent appearances of the word “communist” in his radio talk will be replaced by the word “Leftist”, “Barisan” or “Lim Chin Siong”.

Singapore not independent under Malaysian rule

Lee was being ridiculous about Singapore becoming independent with the rest of Malaya in 1963. Our merger with Malaya was merely a transfer from British overlordship to Malaysian overlordship. The simultaneous independence from Britain and dependence on Malaysia meant that on the whole we were no more independent than before. In fact, Singapore enjoyed more independence when Britain granted us statehood in 1959 than when we joined Malaysia. Joining Malaysia resulted in us losing, not gaining some of the independence we had previously. Our judiciary and legislature ended up being overruled or nullified by the Malaysian judiciary and legislature.

One result of Singapore’s entry into Malaysia was that the Supreme Court of Singapore became, by virtue of … the (Federation of Malaya) Malaysia Act, 1963 the High Court in Singapore and subject thereafter to the provisions of the (Malaysian) Court of Judicature Act 1964 …:

In the event of inconsistency or conflict between the provisions of this Act (Malaysian) and the provisions of any other written law other than the Constitution in force at the commencement of this Act (Malaysian), the provisions of this Act (Malaysian) shall prevail

Appeals lay from the High Court in Singapore first to the Federal Court of Malaysia …

A second result of Singapore’s entry into Malaysia was that the Singapore Legislative Assembly became the Legislature of Singapore with legislative powers restricted to those matters set out in Lists II, IIB … of the Ninth Schedule of the Malaysian Constitution …

If any State law is inconsistent with a federal law, the federal law shall prevail and the State law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

[Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley, page 634]

Leftists not camouflaging their struggles as anti-colonial

Lee was being ridiculous when he said the Leftists preferred British rule over Malaysian rule because it allowed them to disguise their struggle as anti-colonial. The British didn’t leave Malaysia but continued to stay on in Malaysian bases so if the Leftists had wanted to make use of the anti-colonial pretext, they could jolly well have continued to do so even after Singapore joined Malaysia.

Instead a September 1957 Defense Agreement perpetuated Britain’s right, and obligation, to defend Malaya and to station forces there after independence on 31 August that year. Indeed, it even gave Britain the right to use Malayan bases in defence of other British territories in the Far East, including Hong Kong and Borneo.

Above all … British bases and military services personnel remained deeply desired by communities from Nepal to Singapore, with Lee Kuan Yew fighting to keep British bases until the last gasp, in 1968

[Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia, Tobias Rettig and Karl Hack]

Struggling in Malaysia wasn’t struggling to destroy independence

Lee was being silly when he argued that a struggle within Malaysia would be a struggle to destroy independence and to set up a communist government because he himself had claimed to have struggled against communalism in Malaysia. Since Lee too had struggled in Malaysia, by his own definition, he was struggling to destroy independence and to set up a communist government.

Leftists not seeking matrydom

Lee was being silly again when he claimed that the leftists were seeking martyrdom through imprisonment by the British. Would those detained without trial for so many years have preferred martyrdom in prison or the freedom to fight what they believed in?

Strange example of Dr Nkrumah

Lee was silly to have held Dr Nkrumah up as an example to contrast against Lim Chin Siong and his fellow Leftists when Dr Nkrumah also had Marxist leanings, organized civil disobedience, non-cooperation, boycotts and strikes, was similarly “martyred” in jail and even received a Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union in 1963. Dr Nkrumah couldn’t have been more similar to Lim Chin Siong in beliefs and actions yet Lee hailed Dr Nkrumah but vilified Lim Chin Siong.

However, after Dr Nkrumah came to power, he became more authoritarian and more like Lee, detaining innocent people without trial, illegalizing strikes and transforming his country into a dictatorship. So if Lee thought that hailing Dr Nkrumah meant hailing himself, he should be well advised that it also meant hailing his reputation as an incorrigible dictator.

Just because Nehru or the Tungku didn’t lock up nationalists didn’t mean Lee wouldn’t. Because Lee was neither a Nehru or a Tungku, he was therefore capable of locking up nationalists and anti-colonial fighters.

Where was House of Commons?

Lee was silly to have said that the Leftists preferred to be detained by the British because they would then have the House of Commons speak on their behalf.

Where was the House of Commons or what good was it:

• When Tan Kah Kee was banned forever from entering Singapore in 1950?

• When Tan Lark Sye was stripped of his citizenship in 1963?

• When Lim Chin Siong and his fellow Barisan colleagues were detained without trial during Operation ColdStore?

The Communist Paradox, 11 Oct 2014

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 8th radio broadcast on Sept 29, 1961, was titled The Communist Paradox. This is an excerpt of it from the book, The Battle For Merger:

“I want to explain this paradox, that the communists prefer Singapore still under British control but with the Internal Security Council abolished, to a Singapore independent with the rest of Malaya.

The most important reason why the communists prefer a Singapore still under British control to a Singapore as part of Malaya, is that with the British in control, their struggle for a communist Malaya can be camouflaged as an anti-colonial struggle.

But if they continue their struggle in a Singapore which is independent with the rest of Malaya, it is quite clearly a struggle not against colonialism, but against an independent elected government. Their object will then be obvious, that is to destroy an independent national government and to set up a communist government.

Moreover, when they are dealt with by the government, as they have been from time to time, it is far better for them to have a British colonial government take action against them than an independent elected Malayan government.

To be imprisoned by the British colonialists is to be a martyr, in the company of (India’s) Mr (Jawaharlal) Nehru, (Ghana’s) Dr (Kwame) Nkrumah, (Malawi’s) Dr (Hastings Kamuzu) Banda and many other anti-colonial nationalists.

But to be locked up by Mr Nehru, Dr Nkrumah or (Egypt’s) Colonel (Gamal Abdel) Nasser or the Tungku (Abdul Rahman of Malaysia) is an entirely different matter.

Mr Nehru, Dr Nkrumah, Col Nasser and the Tungku do not lock up nationalists, who are the real anti-colonialists. In fact, they welcome anti-colonial fighters who are nationalists to their ranks.

It is only those who are out to destroy the independence won by the nationalists and to supplant it with a totalitarian or communist government who are locked up by nationalist leaders like Nehru, Nkrumah, Nasser and the Tungku.

There is this added consideration.

If a communist is detained by the British, questions can be asked in the House of Commons in England, resolutions passed in anti-colonial conferences all over the world and speeches made by friendly delegates in the United Nations.

But if a communist is locked up by an independent nationalist government, there cannot be much noise or propaganda made out of it either here in Malaya, or in London, or in the United Nations, or in Belgrade and the other meeting places of the Afro-Asian nations. The Afro-Asian nations are concerned with protecting nationalists and not communists.”

Rebutting DPM Teo

October 16, 2014

I refer to the 10 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Mr Lee’s radio talks on merger fight back in print”.

No communist

It was wrong for DPM Teo to portray the Communist Party of Malaya as being the party that opposed Singapore’s plans for merger with Malaya. The MCP had long been crippled by the Special Branch so it could not have played any role let alone a leading one in Singapore politics then.

The Malayan Communist Party … was not particularly effective. It hosted a meeting … most notable … for the comprehensive surveillance by the British Special Branch … Subsequent mass arrests decimated the MCP

[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, James R. Arnold, page 134]

In December 1949 the Special Branch obtained the full list of the STC through a planted informer, and conducted a raid on 1 May 1950. Singapore Town Committee Vice Secretary Ah Har and three other committee members were arrested … Later that month, 20 more MCP and ABL members were arrested. Seven months later, on 5 December, because of an alert Special Branch officer, STC Secretary Ah Chin and his assistant, Ho Seng, were caught …the mass arrests caused the near collapse of the MCP’s operations in Singapore

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 61]

The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D. Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 26]

The MCP itself … seems to have been more a figment of the imagination of … the British Special Branch and the right-wing forces in Singapore. Its “ghost” may have lived a much longer and more active life than the real one ever did. While the party … attracted idealistic recruits from Singapore … we may question the extent of its organization and power in Singapore, particularly during … 1952-63. Repeated waves of arrests, banishments and defections between 1948 and 1963 severely limited its ability to launch an effective organization

[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control, Carl A. Trocki, page 101]

The leader of the anti-merger group was Lim Chin Siong. Lim Chin Siong was never a communist.

Due to his association with the Chinese trade unions, labour unions, and schools, as well as his past brush with subversive activities in the Anti-British League, Lim was regarded as communist by both the PAP and the British. This was despite the fact that Lim was never linked with any communist organization. Even Chin Peng, head of the Malayan Communist Party stated that Lim was not a part of the party. However, in the eyes of the PAP government as well as the British colonialists, he was one because he had acted “subversively” against their regimes by instigating protests to their policies. Yet when Lim was in government he so scrupulously adhered to constitutional, legal, and democratic methods of government that it put him at a disadvantage. Lim himself claimed he was labeled a communist by the PAP government because it enabled the government to detain him without trial.

[Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary, Leo Suryadinat, page 600]

At the same time, Lee pressured the British to arrest the Leftists under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSP). Recent research shows that Lord Selkirk, the British Commissioner in Singapore, and his deputy Philip Moore believed that the Barisan intended to work within constitutional means. For a time, explaining that the left were a political rather than a security problem, Selkirk and Moore warded off Lee’s calls for mass arrests … London overrode Selkirk and sanctioned the arrests to broker an agreement on merger with the Tungku. The British implicated Lim Chin Siong in an anti-Malaysia revolt in Brunei … On 2 February 1963 … Operation Cold Store detained 113 left-wing political leaders … including Lim. Subsequent British investigations found little evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei plot, but the detentions decimated the left. After Operation Cold Store, the PAP carried out a systematic crackdown on the unions … The government mounted trials of left-wing union leaders for misuse of union funds … In truth the issue was not, as implied, corruption … but a simple failure to maintain proper documentation … due to a lack of expertise … and shortage of funds for engaging accounting clerks.

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 218]

Why Lim opposed merger

Lim opposed merger because it would have reduced Singaporeans to second class citizens in Malaysia.

In December 1961, Lim Chin Siong, the secretary-general of the BS, warned that amalgamation would consign Singapore to second-class status.

[Hegemonies Compared: State Formation and Chinese School Politics in Postwar Singapore and Hong Kong, Wong Ting-Hong, page 68]

Lim had grown concerned about merger with the federation and the prospect that the Chinese would be awarded “second-class citizenship” in a politically Malay Malaya.

[Singapore Stories: Language, Class, and the Chinese of Singapore, 1945-2000, Ernest Koh, page 30]

Mr Lim’s predictions came true. Our Malaysian non-Bumiputra friends lament every now and then about being second class citizens in their own country. Malaysian Indians also took to the streets in 2007 to protest their pathetic status. Lim Chin Siong was thus prescient in not wanting Singapore to be a part of Malaysia. Opposing merger wasn’t an evil, communist scheme but the right thing to do that history has validated.

Several years ago, I was having a friendly banter with a pro-PAP ex-colleague. At some point, she asked “What if Singapore had been led by a lousy party that decided to do a silly thing like merge us with Malaysia? We would all end up as second class citizens!” she exclaimed. I explained to her that such a silly thing did happen and it was Lee Kuan Yew who did that silly thing she mentioned. She was shocked, didn’t know how to respond and just muttered about her lack of knowledge on this. So even PAP supporters intrinsically know that merger with Malaysia had been wrong so it’s bewildering Mr Teo is now resorting to touting the merger as their holy act when it was actually a heinous sin.

Turning the tide

If Lee Kuan Yew had managed to turn the tide, how come all three options in the referendum forms were “Yes” options? Why were there no “No” options? Why even blank votes were counted as “Yes”?

Clearly Lee Kuan Yew didn’t have the confidence he would win the referendum so he didn’t give people the chance to say no. How can that be construed as having turned the tide?

… the PAP passed a bill … The bill postulated that … all blank votes would be counted as supporting the amalgamation. The referendum offered people choices of three alternative forms of merger, but not the choice of whether or not to go through with the merger itself.

[Hegemonies Compared: State Formation and Chinese School Politics in Postwar Singapore and Hong Kong, Wong Ting-Hong, page 68]

There is thus no proof that Lee’s radio talks succeeded in winning back the majority or portraying the Leftists (the word ‘communists’ is rejected because Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan weren’t communists) as losing because all three referendum options were for “Yes” and even blank votes were counted as “Yes” so we would never know what proportion of Singaporean pioneers would have voted “no” had they been allowed to do so.

No armed revolution in Singapore

Mr Teo was wrong to say that Singapore will turn 50 next year. Singapore will turn 196 next year.

It was meaningless for Mr Teo to ask what if CPM had won because CPM had lost and fled to Malaysia and no longer featured in Singapore’s road to independence.

Mr Teo’s reality check was merely self-delusion instead. He should acknowledge that truth has been lacking all this while in our 150th ranked press so there’s nothing wrong for historians to bring truth back to the public.

Since the communists had been forced to flee to Malaysia, how could they have seized power through armed revolution in Singapore? Why couldn’t Mr Teo name even one victim of the supposed armed revolution or struggle in Singapore? Mr Teo couldn’t because for all his talk, he has got nothing to show other than LKY’s one sided speeches. But LKY changes words like a chameleon changes color. The long list of LKY flip flops suggests his words cannot be trusted.

Mr Teo’s so called communist conspiracy was just that – a conspiracy theory that doesn’t hold water because it was based on nothing but the one-sided tale of a man who changes words like a chameleon changes color.

Road to independence

Mr Teo was wrong to say that Singapore’s road to independence began with our merger with Malaya. Singapore’s road to independence began shortly after the end of the Japanese Occupation when Singapore pioneers began to agitate for greater self determination much like what is happening in Hong Kong today. Pressure from pro-independence groups culminated in our achieving full internal self-independence in 1959 and the creation of the State of Singapore, our own Singapore national flag and our national anthem Majulah Singapura that are still in use today.

After the Second World War and a traumatic occupation by the Japanese, a political awakening occurred in Singapore … as they began to anticipate independence … The late 1940s and early 1950s were characterized by labor unrest, strikes, and demonstrations. In 1955, they forced the British to introduce a new constitution proposed by the Rendel Commission … However, the 1955 elections were followed by more riots and social unrest, constitutional negotiations were reopened, and new elections were planned for 1959 with Singapore granted almost complete internal self-rule.

[Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Daron Acemoglu, page 8]

The war ended suddenly with Japan’s surrender on 14 August 1945 … While the returning British troops were welcomed, the occupation had eroded the innate trust in the empire’s protective embrace. New political forces were at work and the road to independence had begun.

[Singapore, Joshua Samuel Brown and Matt Oakley, page 25]

To defuse hostile sentiments against colonial rule, the colonial government in Singapore had agreed to accept the reformation of the local constitutions in 1954, granting Singapore greater internal self-government. Elections held under this constitution in 1955 eventually paved the way for a local government to be formed.
[Singapore in Global History, Derek Thiam Soon Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, page 220]

The Rough Road to Independence: 1945 – 1963

[The History of Singapore, Jean Abshire, page 109]

Leftists did not fear quick end to British rule

Mr Teo’s theory that Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan (the word ‘communists’ is rejected because Lim Chin Song and the Barisan weren’t communists) feared a quick end to British rule and thus rejected merger doesn’t stand up to reasoning because Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan fought for complete independence which would have meant a quick end to British rule anyway.

Lee stated later in his memoirs that Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and Woodhull had been “stirring up demands for an independent Singapore without a merger” from the time of their release from detention in Jun 1959.

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Cheng Tju Lim and Guo Quan Seng, page 173]

At the Anson by-election on 15 July, Lim Chin Siong and seven other left-wing PAP assemblymen withheld support from the government’s candidate and instead backed David Marshall … who stood for immediate independence.

[Malaysia, A. J. Stockwell, page 145]

What did the pro-communists want Lee to fight for in London? It was immediate independence. This was their goal, and the reason why Lim Chin Siong had supported Marshall all the way in the failed negotiations of the previous year.

[Singapore: The Unexpected Nation, Edwin Lee, page 141]

The rest

It didn’t matter that the Malaysian government would clamp down on the CPM as the British colonial government before them did so too. In any case, Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan weren’t CPM.

Mr Teo’s acknowledgement of the communists’ conviction was hypocritical at best given the scathing remarks he had given them. He should show courage and wisdom in recognizing the distinction between Lim Chin Siong’s Leftists and the CPM and in recognizing the frailty of his accusations that are based on the one-sided words of a chameleon.

Mr Lee’s radio talks on merger fight back in print, 10 Oct 2014
He made 1961 broadcasts to expose communists’ agenda, rally support

IT WAS a tumultuous time, with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and its allies out to derail self-governing Singapore’s plans for merger with Malaya.

Taking to the airwaves in 1961 for 12 radio broadcasts to expose the CPM’s real agenda to seize power, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew managed to turn the tide.

A compilation of the talks, first published in 1962, has been reprinted. The Battle For Merger was launched yesterday, on the same date as Mr Lee’s last broadcast 53 years ago.

At the launch, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said its release could not be more relevant as Singapore turns 50 next year. If the CPM had won, Singapore would be a very different place today. The book will “provide a reality check” to attempts by some historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue, he said.

“They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger. They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution,” he said.

Mr Teo, the Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister, said the CPM’s armed struggle and the Communist United Front’s efforts to destabilise Singapore have been well documented by academics and writers. They include top CPM leaders such as Chin Peng and Fong Chong Pik.

These accounts, he said, support a key argument Mr Lee made in his speeches then: that a communist conspiracy to take power was being played out over the issue of merger with Malaya.

The communists and their supporters opposed the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) vision for merger, fearing their activity would be curbed. They did so through violent and subversive means, arming themselves and infiltrating trade unions and political parties.

In 1961, the pro-communists in the PAP tried to capture the party. After failing, the faction broke away to form the Barisan Sosialis.

Mr Teo said Singapore’s road to independence began with the attempt to merge with Malaya – a move that communists, who were in the ascendency regionally and in Singapore, strongly opposed.

“Merger was against the communists’ interest… First, it would result in the quick end of British rule in Singapore and make it harder for the Communist United Front to disguise its agenda to establish a communist regime as an anti-colonial struggle,” he explained. “Second, the CPM expected the anti-communist federation government to clamp down on them, as internal security would come under the central government in Kuala Lumpur once merger was achieved.”

Mr Lee’s broadcasts, which began on Sept 13, 1961, were pivotal in lifting the curtain on the communists and exposing their manoeuvrings. It succeeded in getting the majority to back merger in the referendum in 1962.

National University of Singapore historian Albert Lau said the majority of Chinese speakers were on the fence then. “Mr Lee set out in his radio talks to convince the people that, by supporting merger, they would be on the winning side. He wanted to portray the communists as fighting a losing battle. In this, he succeeded.”

The book launch comes as the Government barred from public screening here, the film To Singapore, With Love by film-maker Tan Pin Pin, over its partial portrayal of CPM members who condoned violence and subversion. Officials say the book’s reprint and launch were planned much earlier.

In his speech, Mr Teo acknowledged there should be respect for the personal conviction of those of different views who fought on the communists’ side. But “we should, even more, acknowledge and give our respect and appreciation to the Singaporeans who had the courage and wisdom to reject the CPM’s ideology and tactics”.

Rebutting Mr Mahbubani’s silly earthquake theory

October 13, 2014

I refer to the 11 Oct 2014 Straits Times column “To future-proof the country, build a wise citizenry” by Mr Kishore Mahbubani.


Contrary to Mr Mahbubani’s claim, earthquakes often happen in Tokyo. They do not rarely happen in Tokyo. In December 2012 Tokyo experienced earthquakes once every two, three days.

The Japan Times, Tokyo-area frequency of quakes still high, 4 Jun 2014

The frequency of earthquakes measuring magnitude 3 or stronger in the Tokyo metropolitan area at the end of last year remained higher than before the massive Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 … According to the research … the frequency in December 2012 rose to one every two to three days.

If Tokyo is wise in making expensive investments to earthquake-proof their buildings despite the ‘remoteness’ of major earthquakes hitting them, isn’t Singapore stupid then for not making similar expensive investments to earthquake-proof our buildings despite the remoteness too of major earthquakes hitting us?

Clearly, the ‘remoteness’ of a major Tokyo earthquake is different from the remoteness of a major Singapore earthquake. A major earthquake is not as ‘remote’ to Tokyo as it is to Singapore which explains the difference in attitudes towards earthquake-proofing homes. While the probability of a major earthquake hitting Tokyo on any particular day is low, the probability that Tokyo will experience a major earthquake over 30, 50 years is quite high. That is why people in Tokyo are willing to spend on earthquake proofing, because the probability that a building will experience a major earthquake over its lifetime is quite high. Singapore, on the other hand will hardly experience a major earthquake over 30, 50 years.

The University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute predicts there is a 70% probability that the capital’s metropolitan area will experience a magnitude-7 quake within four years and a 98% probability within the next 30 years.

Tokyo sees high quake probability, scientists warn, CNN, 27 Jan 2012

Mr Mahbubani’s calling for Singapore to earthquake proof our politics is like a calling for us to earthquake proof our homes – silly and ridiculous.

Exceptional Singapore

Mr Mahbubani’s idea of Singapore’s success as a statistic aberration is one based on a highly selective view of the world. His claim that no other new nation-state has enjoyed 50 years of peace and prosperity is based on imagination, not truth.

Singapore isn’t the only new nation state that has experienced peace and prosperity over the last 50 years. Minister Shanmugam explained how East and Southeast Asia enjoyed peace and prosperity due to US involvement:

Modern East Asia, including Southeast Asia is what it is today because of the crucial role the United States played in underwriting security in Asia-Pacific. The U.S. provided security and stability that helped to stem the tide of communism, the 7th Fleet kept the ceilings open. The U.S. generously opened its markets to the region, and that sustained economic growth and prosperity of many Asian countries. In turn, that created conditions that allowed East Asia, beginning with Japan, to seize opportunity to uplift their people’s lives, and China is a most recent example of that. Success of countries in the region created a dynamism which has also created new challenges and opportunities, and let me add … the U.S. did all of it

The Brookings Institution, Southeast Asia and the United States: remarks by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Singapore foreign minister K. Shanmugam, 22 Sept 2014

Both LKY and his son PM Lee commended Suharto for bringing 32 years of peace, stability and prosperity to Indonesia till 1998. Add to that the years of peace and prosperity after 1998 and Indonesia would have had roughly the same number of peaceful, prosperous years as us.

PM: Well, after President Suharto resigned … back in 1998 … Suharto had given us stability for 30 years and that stability had created prosperity in Indonesia and allowed other countries in Southeast Asia to prosper … for the last ten years, we have had President Yudhoyono and there has been stability, there has been growth …

Singapore Summit, 20 Sept 2014, PM Lee

There is thus nothing aberrational about Singapore’s peace and prosperity that cannot be explained by US involvement in East and Southeast Asia.

What is the kind of “normal instability” experienced by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand in the last 50 years that Singapore hasn’t experienced? Has Mr Mahbubani forgotten our 1969 racial riots? Is Mr Mahbubani ignoring our Little India riots this year? Mr Mahbubani’s concept of stability or instability seems to rest on selective amnesia.

Institutional independence, US dysfunction, populist government

Singaporeans have witnessed one incident after another of institutions hopelessly aligned with the PAP. We cannot depend on these institutions to act fairly and justly in normal times or in times of political crisis.

It was with the same rationality that Singaporeans voted for PAP promising HDB flats. But unlike the agricultural subsidies in Thailand or the petrol subsidies in Indonesia, HDB flats have never been subsidized since Day 1 but have been hyper inflated ever since. Only fools believe that a discount over a jacked up price is a subsidy.

Mr Mahbubani cannot convince us of US dysfunction when US is ranked 3rd in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index.

Mr Mahbubani’s description of a populist government making use of its legislative powers to override checks and balances fits PAP to a T. Singapore’s populist PAP government made use of its legislative powers to enact the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act in 1974 to effectively control the press and override this important institutional check on the government.

Educated citizenry

Mr Mahbubani held the Swiss up as a wise, responsible, well-educated citizenry for voting against the Swiss minimum wage on 18 May this year. But the Swiss also voted against spending $3.5 billion to purchase 22 new Gripen fighter jets from Sweden on the same day. They also voted against immigration this year. So if Singaporeans similarly vote against buying F35 fighter jets or vote against immigration, will Mr Mahbubani say we are not wise, not responsible and not well educated? Mr Mahbubani’s concept of a wise, responsible, well-educated citizenry seems to rest on the people conforming to the government’s decisions. If that’s the case, North Korea has the most wise, responsible and well-educated citizenry in the world.

If Mr Mahbubani sincerely does not wish to see Singapore citizenry fall prey to a populist government, he should have encouraged Singaporeans to vote against the PAP promising easy HDB upgrading in return for votes.

Mr Mahbubani’s definition of a good education system is a circular one. If a good education system is one that delivers a well-educated population, then what is a well-educated population? A population that has received a good education system?

The universal benchmark for how well educated a population is, is literacy rate. North Korea’s 99% literacy rate trumps Singapore’s 96%.

If Mr Mahbubani sincerely wishes for more peer-to-peer engagement in Singapore, he must first fight for press freedom because it is difficult for Singaporeans to engage older fellow citizens who may not know how to use the Internet who must therefore be engaged through the press.

School of Public Policy

Government agencies are already churning out one policy paper after another like the Population White Paper which has largely been consigned to being flushed down the toilet bowl. There is no need for more policy papers to flush down the toilet bowl. Mr Mahbubani should instead fight for Singaporean referendums similar to the Swiss ones so that we can make it clear to all who the silent majority is and what we collectively want. If Mr Mahbubani thinks that the current electorate is not wise, responsible or educated enough to vote at referendums yet, surely he must also think that the current electorate is not wise, responsible or educated enough to vote at elections?

The 76% and 75% who trust the NGOs and the government respectively shows that the people’s trust in NGOs is only little better than their trust in the government.

The four research institutes of the School of Public Policy already have a large thrash of policy papers that no one is referring to for policy debates. There is no need for an even bigger thrash of policy papers that no one will refer to.

Government agencies have always been using data and arguments to state their case. But far from disarming critiques, these selective data and arguments have always been a source of liability for the government and ammunition for critiques to fire back and to highlight the government’s folly.

The School of Public Policy has never played a catalytic role since its inception but has largely been consigned to the inconspicuousness of making noises in the spectator stand.

There has been no lack of policy papers from the School of Public Policy but it has yet to produce any phenomenal, far reaching policy paper that can address deep, systemic issues that has been plaguing our country for a long time. It would be wise for Singapore’s business community not to throw good money after bad by supporting a school that clearly doesn’t have the right answers. Any investment in the School of Public Policy would simply be money down the drain that would serve no useful purpose except to support a lunatic’s fantasy about earthquakes in Singapore.

Straits Times, To future-proof the country, build a wise citizenry, 11 Oct 2014, KISHORE MAHBUBANI

BIG Idea No. 9 is also a difficult one: “Future-Proof” Singapore. What does the phrase “Future-Proof” mean?

The best way to explain it is to use an analogy from the world of earthquakes. Earthquakes happen rarely. But they do happen. Hence, it is wise for a city like Tokyo, which is in an earthquake zone, to legislate that all buildings should be engineered to be earthquake-proof. They should be able to remain standing even if a major earthquake hits Tokyo. Of course, this makes the cost of buildings in Tokyo much more expensive, but it is a wise investment to make.

Discerning readers of my columns in The Straits Times where I highlight Big Ideas that would help Singapore navigate the next 50 years, would have picked up a rising concern of mine that Singapore’s future will be challenging.

Indeed, even though the prospects are as remote as a major physical earthquake hitting Tokyo, we cannot rule out a major political earthquake hitting Singapore. Since we cannot rule out such a political earthquake, we should “future-proof” Singapore so that it can withstand one.

Inevitably, some of the more virulent voices in Singapore’s social media will accuse me of scare-mongering. Hence, I need to explain why the statistical probability of political shocks is high. To explain this, I need to explain why Singapore’s success so far has been a statistical aberration.

To put it simply, no other new nation-state has enjoyed 50 years of such peace and prosperity, as Singapore has. The first 50 years of Singapore’s history after independence were therefore an “exceptional” performance. It took exceptional leadership, exceptional governance, and exceptional luck to create an “exceptional” performance.

Let me now state an obvious point: the word “exceptional” means “exceptional”. It also means “not normal”.

Since exceptional performances do not last forever, it will be perfectly normal for Singapore to experience the “normal” stresses and strains of other societies. And if you want to understand what “normal” means, just look at South Korea and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Since we have not experienced the “normal” instability that other societies have experienced, we may not be prepared to handle “normal” instability. The goal of this article is to suggest one major “stabiliser” we can build in Singapore to handle political shocks.

I should quickly add that we have wisely invested in a few stabilisers already.

Powerful stabilisers

OUR strong civil service and excellent judiciary, to cite two examples, are powerful stabilisers. The quality of the people who serve in these institutions is remarkable. Hence, in the event of a political crisis, they are likely to perform well. Yet, it is also true that when a “populist” government is elected, it is more than likely to behave irresponsibly and either override or weaken these institutions.

And it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of a “populist” government emerging in Singapore.

It is rational for populations to vote in a government which promises them subsidies, such as the agricultural subsidies in Thailand or the petrol subsidies in Indonesia.

It would also be unwise to assume that this happens only in developing countries. Eminent American scholars have begun to warn that American democracy is becoming dysfunctional.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Dr Francis Fukuyama, one of America’s leading political scientists, has said this: “And while democratic political systems theoretically have self-correcting mechanisms that allow them to reform, they also open themselves up to decay by legitimating the activities of powerful interest groups that can block needed change. This is precisely what has been happening in the United States in recent decades, as many of its political institutions have become increasingly dysfunctional.”

If the powerful American Constitution and its system of checks and balances have failed to prevent dysfunctional governance in the US, we in Singapore should take heed and look for even stronger ways and means of preventing dysfunctional governance.

Only real safeguard

STRONG institutions can help. But as populist governments have shown the capacity to use their legislative powers to override institutional checks and balances, the only real safeguard against populist governance is to have an educated citizenry.

We have had a good recent example of how a responsible and well-educated citizenry can behave.

On May 18 this year, the Swiss population was asked to decide whether the Swiss minimum wage should become the highest in the world. I fully expected the Swiss population to vote themselves a pay raise that the government and private sector would have to pay for. Similarly, if a political party were to promise cash subsidies of $10,000 per Singaporean family (paid for by tapping into Singapore’s reserves), it is equally probable that the Singapore population would support this.

Fortunately, the Swiss population showed that they were a remarkably wise people. They actually voted against giving themselves an increase in the minimum wage.

This is what we have to do in Singapore: develop an equally wise citizenry that will not fall prey to populist governance. We want a population that will vote against any populist party that promises easy subsidies.

The big question is: how do we develop such a wise citizenry?

The good news is that we are halfway there. Over the years, we have developed an education system that is the envy of other countries in the world. A good education system, by definition, delivers a well-educated population.

That is the good news. But there is also bad news.

The bad news is that a well-educated population requires a different kind of engagement.

Some of the top-down approaches that worked well in the early years of Singapore’s governance will not work when dealing with a well-educated population.

Intelligent peer-to-peer engagement is what a well-educated population expects. This is exactly how the Swiss government engages its population. It uses reason and logic to explain to the population why it should not vote itself a pay rise.

For example, Mr Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss Economics Minister, said: “A minimum wage of 4,000 francs (S$5,340) could lead to job cuts and even threaten the existence of smaller companies, notably in retail, catering, agriculture and housekeeping. If jobs are being cut, the weakest suffer most.”

To help a well-educated citizenry make well-informed decisions, I would like to propose that we “future-proof” Singapore by creating a treasure trove of well-researched and well-reasoned policy papers on all the major challenges that Singapore will be facing in the next 50 years.

This could be done by government agencies. And they should certainly do this.

However, research shows that the population is more likely to put greater trust in papers produced by non-governmental organisations. For example, the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 76 per cent of Singaporeans trust NGOs, while 75 per cent trust the Government. Thus, evidence from both NGOs and the public sector will help to shore up this treasure trove of information.

This is one small contribution that the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy can make.

Armed with four well-established research institutes (the Asia Competitiveness Institute, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, and Institute of Water Policy) and a strong faculty (including both academics and practitioners), it is in a strong position to build a treasure trove of public policy papers that a well-educated citizenry can refer to any time a major public policy debate breaks out in Singapore.

The best way to disarm a seductive populist politician is to show data and arguments that will demonstrate the folly of marching down the populist path.

Obviously, the Lee Kuan Yew School cannot do the job alone. It can, at best, play a catalytic role of sparking a process of deep reflection on the future options for Singapore. The hardest point to put across to a population that has enjoyed 50 years of peace and prosperity is that this long record of peace and prosperity is not natural or normal. If it were natural or normal, more nations would have enjoyed Singapore’s track record. We do need to prepare our population for “normal” times.

The business community of Singapore has benefited enormously from the 50 years of good governance that Singapore has enjoyed. The value of all their assets (including real estate and market cap values) will diminish significantly if good governance diminishes in Singapore.

Hence, one of the wisest long-term investments that the business community in Singapore can make is to support the creation of this treasure trove of policy papers to jump-start a process of deep reflection. An investment of 1 per cent of their annual profits would be a tiny cost, but it could result in massive dividends if it protects Singapore from political earthquakes.

Minister Lui’s COE accounting misleading

October 12, 2014

I refer to the 9 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Citizens account for more than 80% of COE purchases”.

Minister Lui reported that we the 61% citizens are taking up more than 80% of the COEs. He seems to be saying that we citizens are taking more than our fair share of COEs.

Minister Lui’s figures are as follows:

Citizens PRs Non-PRs
People (%) 61 9.6 29.4
Cat A COE (%) 89 9 2
Cat B COE (%) 84 12 5

But non-PRs comprise of:

Domestic helper 14%
Construction, marine sectors 46%
S pass 8%
Employment pass 12%
Children 21%


Domestic helpers, construction workers and S pass workers are low wage foreign workers who have no reason to want COEs. Similarly, non-PR children should also have no need for COEs. They should be excluded from comparison. However, if non-PR children are excluded, children of citizens and PRs should also be excluded. But there is no separate information on citizens’ children or PRs’ children as they are normally lumped together as one.

So the only thing that can be compared based on Minister’s Lui’s information is citizens and PRs.

Citizens PRs
Population (%) 86 14
Cat A COE (%) 91 9
Cat B COE (%) 88 13

From the table above, it can be seen that the % take up of COEs by citizens is generally in line with its share of the population.

But that’s beside the point. Why should a precious national ‘resource’ like the COE be shared in the same proportion amongst citizens, PRs and non-PRs? Citizens by virtue of their status should get a higher proportion of COEs.

Suggestions on COEs

COE allocation should first and foremost be based on citizenship. Citizens should be allocated most of the COEs with the rest shared amongst PRs and non-PRs. COE allocation amongst citizens should be by income. The following COE categories are suggested:

• Category 1: Citizen, annual income $1 million and above
• Category 2: Citizen, annual income at least $500,000 but less than $1 million
• Category 3: Citizen, annual income at least $250,000 but less than $500,000
• Category 4: Citizen, annual income at least $150,000 but less than $250,000
• Category 5: Citizen, annual income at least $100,000 but less than $150,000
• Category 6: Citizen, annual income at least $50,000 but less than $100,000
• Category 7: Citizen, annual income less than $50,000
• Category 8: Non-citizens
• Category 9: Motorcycles
• Category 10: Company vehicles, taxis, buses


• Citizenship can be easily identified using the NRIC or FIN
• Categories 1 to 7 should be allotted a total of 92% of the private car quota
• Apportionment of quota amongst categories 1 to 7 should be in proportion to their actual population ratios. This information is readily available from IRAS. The information may be a year old but population ratio by income shouldn’t shift dramatically from year to year
• Category 8 should be allotted 8% of the private car quota
• The exact percentages can be adjusted according to changes in population ratios

Annual income

• Annual income can be easily ascertained through the income tax
• A housewife can purchase a car at the lowest income bracket. That’s ok because a housewife is entitled to purchase a car to fetch her children around
• If a person gets promoted to the next income bracket, the new income tax won’t show until the following year so he has a year to buy a car within his or her old income bracket


• The effect of this allocation is that COE price will vary widely between Categories 1 and 7. While we may end up with much cheaper COEs in Category 7, COE in Category 1 may shoot up to $1 million. The overall effect could be an increase, not a decrease in COE coffers.
• The fairness of the system is similar to that of the progressive income tax system where the rich pay more, the poor pay less.
• It is also similar to the HDB allocation system where different income brackets are set for different flat categories
• There is nothing to stop the ordinary man on the street from re-selling his COE + car to someone in the higher categories. The higher category man gets his COE + car while the man on the street gets to earn some pocket money. Both are happy.

Multiple car ownership
• 2nd car: Top up 50% of prevailing COE or $25,000 whichever is higher
• 3rd car: Top up 200% of prevailing COE or $100,000 whichever is higher
• 4th car: Top up 400% of prevailing COE or $200,000 whichever is higher
• 5th car: Top up 800% of prevailing COE or $400,000 whichever is higher
• 6th car: Top up 1,600% of prevailing COE or $800,000 whichever is higher

No more than 6 cars for any person no matter how rich he or she is.

Straits Times, Citizens account for more than 80% of COE purchases, 9 Oct 2014

FOREIGNERS tend to steer towards bigger cars, but Singapore citizens still make up the bulk of new car purchases.

Citizens, who make up 61 per cent of the total population, accounted for more than 80 per cent of new car registrations in 2012, 2013 and the first eight months of this year, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

He gave the figures on Tuesday when replying to opposition MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

More specifically, citizens accounted for 89 per cent of Category A cars (up to 1,600cc and 130bhp) and 84 per cent of Category B cars (above 1,600cc or 130bhp).

Non-citizens make up the rest.

Among them, permanent residents (PRs) – who form 9.6 per cent of the population – accounted for 9 per cent in Category A and 12 per cent in Category B registrations. For non-resident foreigners, the respective figures are 2 per cent and 5 per cent. The numbers exclude cars registered to companies.

Motor dealers such as Cycle & Carriage (Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Mitsubishi), Performance Motors (BMW) and Wearnes Automotive (Bentley, Land Rover, Jaguar, McLaren, Infiniti, Volvo) have noticed more foreigners in their showrooms in recent years.

They tend to be largely from China, India and Indonesia, they said. But Ferrari agent Ital Auto said Singaporeans still form the vast majority of its buyers.

Said its marketing manager Nicholas Syn: “Foreigners are painfully aware of what cars cost back home, or in the region.

“A quarter-million euro sports car in Europe could easily cost $1.3 million here.”

The statistics Mr Lui cited also show a disproportionately large percentage of PRs registering commercial vehicles.

Between 2012 and August this year, they accounted for 32 per cent of non-company registrations of vans, trucks and buses.

Most commercial vehicles are registered to companies, but hawkers and owner-operators of heavy trucks can register these vehicles in their own name.

Explaining the phenomenon, National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said PRs may be more disposed to businesses that require the use of such vehicles. “No matter what, the figure is high,” he said. “Does this imply that Singaporeans are moving away from certain types of business?”

On the other hand, Dr Lee was not surprised that PRs were getting more Category B certificates of entitlement than A.

“PRs with the choice of car ownership can afford bigger cars because of their economic standing,” he said, noting that Singapore is selective in picking its PRs, who tend to be more talented, more educated or better paid.

Lasting Power of Attorney system adequate? Ha ha

October 11, 2014

I refer to the 8 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Lasting Power of Attorney system has adequate safeguards” and the 9 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Another LPA storm brews over a rich person’s assets”.

One day after Minister Chan Chun Sing declared that our LPA system has adequate safeguards, another contentious LPA case emerges.

Ms Sylvia Lim’s suggestion to reinstate the option to inform others of an LPA application doesn’t contradict Mr Chan’s concern that “not everyone wants to inform certain family members of their decision.” If a person doesn’t want to inform certain family members, he can simply uncheck the option to inform others. Better still, the applicant should simply be allowed to list the names and NRIC of those he wants to inform in the LPA application. In that way, those whom the applicant doesn’t want to inform won’t be informed while those whom the applicant wants to inform will be informed.

Saying it is up to the certificate issuer to do the job professionally doesn’t solve the problem if there is an inherent weakness in the system that has nothing to do with the professionalism of the certificate issuer. If the medical practitioner or psychiatrist okays the LPA application, what professional reason has the certificate issuer got to say no?

The recent LPA commotion involving Madam Chung has shown that a medical practitioner’s or psychiatrist’s assessment may not be sufficient to validate an LPA application as the independence of the medical or psychiatrist assessment can be easily doubted later on by the authorities. If the whole basis of the LPA which is the medical or psychiatrist assessment can be so easily doubted later on, doesn’t it show that the fundamental basis of the LPA is actually quite weak?

Given that our LPA system is only four years old, it should not be deemed as being cast in stone but should be refined as problems surface along the way. Ms Lim has provided some good suggestions but our minister conveniently brushed them off, ignored obvious issues and refused to resolve them. This reminds us of the period between 2007 and 2011 when the people constantly highlighted the problem of runaway property prices but the PAP just kept turning a blind eye until they were told in no uncertain terms through the ballot box.

To avoid the system becoming overly onerous, additional checks can be confined to LPA cases that do not conform to a predefined set of guidelines or that which confound common sense and experience. For example, it would be unusual for someone to appoint an unrelated person whom he or she has known for less than 5 years as the LPA. This should raise a red flag and prompt for more investigations to ascertain the validity of the application. This is consistent with the principles of both law and accountancy to always err on the side of caution.

Mr Chan should list the countries that have less onerous LPA systems than ours. The last thing we want is to compare with Uganda or Afghanistan.

Straits Times, Lasting Power of Attorney system has adequate safeguards, 8 Oct 2014

WHETHER a person informs family when setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a personal choice, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing told Parliament yesterday, stressing that the scheme has adequate safeguards.

He was responding to questions from Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim on the scheme, which allows a person aged at least 21 to appoint another to make key decisions on his welfare and finances should he lose the mental capacity to do so.

Ms Lim, a lawyer, asked why an option to inform others when applying for an LPA was removed from the form last month, and whether the ministry would look at bringing it back.

Mr Chan replied that it was removed after feedback from applicants, who could still, on their own, decide to share the information. “Not everyone wants to inform certain family members of their decision and that is the dilemma. We leave it to the best judgment of the individual to inform the person that he wants to inform.”

The LPA system, which was launched four years ago, has come under scrutiny after a former China tour guide was accused of manipulating an 87-year-old Singaporean widow into giving him control over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

The widow, Madam Chung Khin Chun, applied for the LPA naming 40-year-old Yang Yin as her donee in 2012. Her niece, tour agency owner Hedy Mok, found this out only earlier this year. She then started legal action against Mr Yang, alleging that he took advantage of her aunt, who was diagnosed with dementia this year.

An LPA is issued only after a lawyer, medical practitioner or psychiatrist witnesses and certifies the application.

Yesterday, Ms Lim asked if the Government would consider an “additional check” by these professionals to ensure that the applicant is not unduly influenced. She highlighted that in Scotland, they would have to decide on the applicant’s independence, based either on personal knowledge or by consulting someone else.

Mr Chan said this would be up to the certificate issuer who, regardless, is expected to do the job professionally. “I can appreciate that sometimes a second pair of eyes does help but we must always be careful not to overly burden the system,” he explained, stressing that applicants should consider who they wish to appoint as donees carefully. He pointed out that the system here is “much more onerous” than in other countries, where in some instances a person does not need a professional to certify the LPA.

Straits Times, Another LPA storm brews over a rich person’s assets, 9 Oct 2014

ANOTHER wealthy elderly person said to be suffering from dementia. Another Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). Another lawsuit.

But this time, the person in the eye of the storm is not a previously unknown tour guide, but someone who has made headlines before.

Madam Kay Swee Pin was in the news some years back for suing the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) after it suspended her for lying that she was married to Mr Ng Kong Yeam, a former boss of SA Tours.

Now Madam Kay, 62, is caught up in a new legal tussle over allegations that she forged the signature of Mr Ng, 75, in 2011 to obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to manage his affairs. Mr Ng has dementia.

Mr Ng’s son, Mr Gabriel Ng, said in court documents he had found transfers of his father’s assets to Madam Kay – including the transfer to her of all his shares in Natwest Holdings, a 99 per cent shareholder of SA Tours – “highly suspicious”.

“Natwest was estimated to be worth between $15 million and $20 million at the time of the transfer. It is surprising that all but one share would be sold to Madam Kay for a mere $1 million,” Mr Gabriel Ng said.

The older Mr Ng, a former lawyer, is at the centre of a family feud over management of his personal welfare and financial assets – including SA Tours in Singapore and Malaysia – estimated to be worth up to $30 million. The dispute involves Mr Ng’s legal wife, Datin Ling Towi Sing, their three children, including Gabriel Ng; and Madam Kay, managing director of SA Tours, and their daughter, Eva Mae, its marketing manager.

At issue is an LPA that Madam Kay obtained on Dec 28, 2011 by allegedly forging Mr Ng’s signature to launch legal proceedings, on Mr Ng’s behalf, against his legal wife and children, and others.

An LPA is a legal document allowing a person to appoint another to make key decisions should he lose mental capacity.

It has been in the news after a former tour guide from China was accused of manipulating an 87-year-old Singaporean widow into giving him control over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

In Mr Gabriel Ng’s application to revoke the LPA, and for his family to be appointed deputies to manage his father’s affairs, he argues his father did not execute the LPA personally.

He also argues statutory requirements were not met as his father did not personally attest to the statements in the LPA.

Mr Gabriel Ng claims there were two attempts by Madam Kay to execute the LPA. He says that, relying on a purported letter of authority, she allegedly forged Mr Ng’s signature.

But Madam Kay, in court documents, denied the allegations of forgery, saying she had signed Mr Ng’s name because he “was irritated with her for informing him that he had to sign the forms again”, and because he had “given (her) authority to do so”. But she said she was “unable to find” the original letter of authorisation.


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