Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sorry Alfian, NMP Thio Li-Ann has finally earned my little bit of sympathy

After being terribly disappointed with NMP Thio Li-Ann’s performance (here and here) in the parliament for her infamous, homophobic speech, NMP Thio Li-Ann has finally earned my little bit of sympathy for being the target of a spate of ‘hate mails’. In my opinion, Mr Alfian Sa’at, a multi-literary award winner which includes the NAC-SPH Golden Point Award for Poetry and NAC’s Young Artist Award for Literature, should not have acted recklessly to include strong words such as “piss on your grave” in his email but use his excellent linguistic skills to rebut her. He has since apologised for his honest mistake and Ms Thio has decided to let the matter rest.

Why Alfian posted copy of e-mail to NMP online

IN THE report, 'Police question poet over e-mail to NMP' (ST, Oct 30), it was stated that I had 'emerged as the writer of the strongly worded e-mail to Nominated MP Thio Li-ann'. This might suggest that the exposure of my identity as the letter-writer was involuntary, and that it was a check with the police that had pinpointed me.

In reality, I had already decided to claim ownership and personal responsibility for the e-mail last Saturday. I posted a copy of the e-mail online, explicitly identifying myself as its author.

Contrary to some reports that stated that it was penned by an 'unnamed stranger', the e-mail was sent from my personal e-mail account, signed off with my own name.

Your article also stated, twice, Professor Thio's assertion that 'it was full of obscene and vile invective'.

I wish to clarify that the e-mail was no more than four lines in total, in which an impolite word appears but once.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister by Catherine Lim

This letter was forwarded to Singapore Daily and she has stated her reasons for publishing this article online on Cherian George's website.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

This open letter is a plea which, as a concerned Singaporean, I am making with some confidence, since at no time has your government been more sincere and earnest in inviting feedback to make our society an even better place to live in.

My plea concerns the long-standing issue of political openness. It had, in the more than 40 years of PAP rule, been a source of much unease in the relationship between the government and the people. Now and then, the unease would erupt in the open, with the people agitating (usually through permitted channels such as letters to the press, public forums, dialogues with members of parliament, etc) for a long overdue political opening up, and the government firmly, often sternly, reminding them of more important national concerns, such as bread-and-butter matters that affect the lives of everyone.

But despite the lack of agreement, there was reason to hope. For there were signs that the PAP leaders saw a political opening up as a necessary goal , even if a very disagreeable one, to be achieved sometime in the future, even if a very distant one. There was no escaping the fact that Singapore, being a permanent member of the free world of practising democracies, is open to international scrutiny. I recollect your PAP colleagues talking about the need to proceed cautiously in the controversial matter of political reform, the need to avoid the perils of ‘revolution’, by adopting the peaceful process of ‘evolution’, variously called ‘incrementalism’ and ‘gradualism’, to emphasize the small, even imperceptible, but definitely forward-moving steps. The message seemed to be: ‘Be patient. In good time. When we are ready.’

Now I note with alarm that this is not going to happen. For the new model of PAP governance which, under your premiership, is shaping up to provide the definitive, final framework for government policy in the next 40 or more years, has no place or role for political freedom. There are two principal features of the model that provide the evidence to support this worrisome thought.

Firstly, the current nationwide campaign of sweeping change to transform Singapore into a world-class society able to hold its own among the best in an increasingly competitive world, pointedly excludes political reform. Such a conspicuous and complete exclusion has never been seen before. It bears the marks of a major policy decision, and clearly has a message to send out. Hence while business, technology, education, civic society, the arts and entertainment have undergone spectacular changes that are transforming both the physical landscape and the national psyche, the political domain has shrunk into a tiny backwater, stuck in the Dark Ages of neglect while a brilliant Renaissance is sweeping on. The few political clubs that had existed in the past have closed down, and no new ones are expected to appear. Even the very term ‘political reform’ has vanished from the national vocabulary, like something too irrelevant, embarrassing or tiresome to mention.

Recently I asked some friends if they thought that the ongoing process of liberalisation might somehow reach even the isolated political precinct , and they would at last see what they had witnessed only in other countries or on TV - public assemblies, placard-waving street demonstrations, political satire in the media,etc. ‘Not in our lifetime,’ they said.

The message sent out by the government is clear: We don’t need all these. Without the noise and unruliness of political activism getting in the way, we get our job done quickly, smoothly, effectively. Look at the mayhem it’s creating elsewhere.

The second feature of the new model of governance is the systematic use of fear to silence existing dissident voices and discourage potential ones. While there has always been a climate of fear under PAP rule, the new model seems to have developed it into a distinct strategy of control, making special use of an instrument that has come to be known as the ‘out-of-bounds markers’. These are rules which stipulate what Singaporeans can and cannot say should they choose to criticise the government. The effectiveness of the markers is derived from their being deliberately left undefined and unexplained, for two obvious reasons. Firstly, it allows the government to have its own interpretation of each case as it arises, to suit its purpose. Secondly, since no one knows when or whether the markers are being overstepped, everyone plays safe by practising self-censorship which can be a more effective curb than direct censorship.

In general, the markers may be said to allow criticism only on the government’s terms, that is, only on subjects it approves, and only in a manner that does not undermine respect for its authority. In theory, then, any criticism can be construed to be a violation of the markers. In practice, the government not only tolerates, but encourages criticism regarding practical matters of day-to-day living, such as maid levies, safer roads, saving water, the CPF. But it responds severely to any criticism of government style or competence, creating enough fear for the critic to make quick and often permanent retreat.

Hence while the fear experienced by Singaporeans is by no means the kind experienced in a police state, it is still a palpable one, creating wariness and affecting behaviour, even in routine, everyday activities. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that it could become pure paranoia, as seen in the many coffeeshop stories about Singaporeans not wanting to talk too freely with taxi drivers who may be government spies, not daring to be seen with ex-political detainees or members of the opposition parties, in case of secret surveillance , not voting for the opposition in the general election for fear of being found out and losing their homes, jobs, promotions,etc. The most feared punishment is the defamation lawsuit which can result in permanent financial ruin.

And now, having painted this rather direful picture, Mr Prime Minister, I must go on to make an observation with something of admiration mixed with puzzlement. Your strategy of fear, questionable though it is, is being used to serve a purpose that is totally laudable. Not even your severest critic can doubt that your purpose is no more than the well-being and prosperity of Singapore . Indeed, the true starting point for an understanding of the ‘why’ behind all your policies would the assumption of this commitment, and the starting point for an understanding of the ‘how’ for their implementation would be that of a practical, realistic problem-solving approach. These two assumptions of commitment and pragmatism clearly sum up the entire PAP strategic framework.

In this particular instance of your use of fear, your pragmatic rationale must have gone something like this: It is our job as the government to give the people a good life; we will not be able to do so if we are constantly subjected to the disruptions that come with political activism; therefore we must get rid of the hindrance quickly by using the most effective means of all - instilling fear.

Hence the fear becomes, in a rather roundabout and paradoxical way , the it’s-only-for-your-own-good strategy of a caring parent. It is this paterfamilias role that softens the PAP image into that of a protective and thoughtful leadership, in stark and edifying contrast to the many corrupt regimes around, where fear is used for pure self aggrandizement.

Moreover, as if to soften the image further by compensating for the use of an instrument that has brought anxiety to many and misery to some, you have, Mr Prime Minister, in keeping with what has been observed to be a generally kind and compassionate disposition, made tremendous efforts to reach out to all those in the society who are by no means enjoying the good life – the poor, the old and infirm, the unemployed, the handicapped, the mentally ill. You have certainly fulfilled your promise, made at the start of your premiership, to create an inclusive society where no one will be left out.

Material prosperity infused with warm humanitarian impulses – this is as good as it can get for any society. Singaporeans, enjoying life in arguably one of the safest, most comfortable and most prosperous societies in the world, and at the same time being constantly reminded to show concern for the less privileged, can only give wholehearted support to such a salutary model of governance.

Indeed, your new, unique model may have an appeal beyond its own shores. For in its ingenious blending of carefully selected elements from the democratic system on the one hand, and autocratic rule on the other, it may be just the model sought by new, fledgling democracies in Asia that have become disillusioned with the western model. The Singapore model must be the only one in the world where capitalism at its most liberal , comports well with autocracy at its most fearsome. Political pundits may see it as a desirable compromise model, whether it is called ‘benign authoritarianism’, ‘enlightened autocracy’, or ‘inspired paternalism’, and even recommend it as an alternative model worth emulating. Singapore, the small city state once described by a much bigger neighbour as no more than a little red dot on the world map, will have reached prominence on the world stage when and if that happens.

Into this glowing picture, I will now have to inject a sombre note, running the risk of being a spoilsport (even an ingrate, for I came to Singapore from Malaysia forty years ago, and have been enjoying a wonderfully safe, comfortable and happy life since). I would like to draw attention, very respectfully, Mr Prime Minister, to a certain flaw in your model of governance, which could have serious consequences in the future.

The flaw is in the government’s assumption, indeed its unshakeable belief, that the excellence of leadership will continue well into the future, well beyond the earthly lives of the present leaders and the leaders who come after, because of a special continuing process of self-renewal that it has so carefully and painstakingly built into the model. By this process, using the most stringent standards, promising young men and women are selected, tested and trained for leadership, so that the core principles of hard work, discipline and incorruptibility laid down by the party founder Mr Lee Kuan Yew, can be preserved for all time. Since the corollary of good leadership is trust and support from the led, there will be a strong and enduring government-people relationship through the generations, ensuring the permanent well-being of Singapore . Hence, if the PAP aims to be a government in perpetuity, it is only because of this highest of goals.

Here’s where this idealised picture falls apart: it ignores the inevitability of change through time. Twenty, thirty years down the road, there is certain to be a change in quality in the leadership. And it will be a change in the direction of decline, simply because in a globalised world of rapid, overwhelming change that has greatest impact on the young, the original core PAP principles and values will steadily lose their influence and may even disappear altogether. The future PAP leaders will therefore be very different. As I have often pointed out in my commentaries, in the worst-case scenario, a corrupt leader could appear on the scene, and get away with it, because of the ingrained, unquestioning trust of a fearful, overdependent people. Recently, during the question-and-answer session at a ministerial forum at Nanyang Technological University, Singaporean students mainly stayed silent, leaving foreign students to ask questions of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

However, it will only be a matter of time, in this era of increasing and intense global exposure, before we see a change in the attitude of the younger generation. For one thing, they will not feel the same gratitude for the good life, as their parents and grandparents; for another, they will be less deterred by the climate of fear. This is because the impulse for political freedom is a very powerful one, being an innate driving force in human nature, seen in every society , in every era of human history. No matter how much it is suppressed, diverted or ignored, it never goes away, but eventually asserts itself in one form or other. Young Singaporeans, at some point in the future, will realise that no amount of material prosperity can compensate for the denial of this basic human right, and will feel the need to strike out to claim what is rightfully theirs.

It is illuminating, Mr Prime Minister, that in your current dialogues with college and university students, they are less interested in what you tell them about the challenges of economic and social development, than in your thoughts and intentions with regard to the issue of human rights, public debate, public consultation, alternative voices,etc. Among them must be individuals who will be the future’s tiny minority of rebels , such as the wildly creative artist ready to defy conventions, and the ferocious non-conformist with political leanings, ready to challenge the establishment. It is a pity that your model has a place for the first but not the second, for surely true progress in society depends on the nurturing of both. And it would be the greatest pity of all if the young political rebel soon lost heart, got absorbed into the majority, and concluded, like them, that compliance with the powers that be, made for a more comfortable life. Fear, whether it results in people yielding in submission or lashing out in resentment must be the most damaging force in society.

I had begun this letter with a plea. It is an earnest plea to consider what can be done to remove this fear, for only then can the process of political reform begin, to lead eventually to what every society needs for resilience and the capacity for renewal– a continuing core, even if only a tiny minority, of alert, savvy, skeptical, dedicated and above all, unafraid citizens who can be relied on to be the movers and shakers. Indeed, no nation can be called great unless it can claim such a citizenry which transcends all governments. The greatest legacy of the PAP may, ironically, be in the creation of a society that no longer needs it.

Mr Prime Minister, the reality is that this process of political education and nurturing can only be initiated by you and your colleagues. For other parties, such as the media and the educational institutions lack the necessary clout; in any case, they would prefer to look to you to set the tone and direction. A political opening up in Singapore - a real one, not the tokenism of a Speakers’ Corner - is the work of many years, and would require much honesty, patience and perseverance. But if you and your colleagues begin the process with the same resolve, energy and intelligent planning that you have brought to the many economic and social challenges of recent years, it will be the most promising start indeed.

Yours respectfully
Catherine Lim

Related articles:
The PAP and the people — A Great Affective Divide
Managing Political Dissent

377A Issues: Social Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians

For quite a while, the "377A Penal Code Homosexuality Debate" has been a rallying point for many Singaporeans. Everyday, we are seeing more blog posts on this topic. I would admit it is, however, very difficult to determine if the reluctance to repeal 377A would eventually result in further discrimination against the homosexual population.

Basically we are dealing with 3 issues:

  • The right of gays and lesbians to have equal protection under the law
  • Christianity believes that homosexuality is a sin, and thus gays are fair game to marginalise and deny the benefits of married heterosexual couples
  • Conservative mentality

The first issue should have been a non-issue as irregardless of the sexuality of a person, every Singaporean should have equal and fair treatment as detailed in our Constitution and in our national pledge where we recite: “To built a democratic society, based on justice and equality..”. The second issue, however, is a religious one. Since it is a religious issue, we should all understand that religious beliefs do not have any place in our laws.

The third would be that of a perception or attitude towards homosexuality. In my opinion, those who have positive attitudes towards gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are those who say they know one or more gay, lesbian or bisexual person well - often as a friend or colleague and I think negative attitudes towards homosexuals could be prejudices that are not grounded in actual experiences but are based on stereotypes. So until it becomes clearer that homosexuality is not a choice but something people are born with, something which can not be preached against, and gay sex is not deemed to be the only culprit for the AIDS disease, I believe the government would just sit on the fence and not do anything.

But even so, I do hope the government sees the importance for society to be better educated about homosexuality to prevent the issue from turning into a serious social problem in the future. I feel educating all Singaporeans about sexual orientation and homosexuality is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information about homosexuality is essential to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality—whether homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual.

We should show genuine compassion for others, even when we disagree with them and we should also take a firm stand for what is right.

Related articles:

The Kway Teow Man: On Section 377A

Cognitive Dissonance: Alternative Perspectives

Friday, October 26, 2007

To do a “Brokeback Mountain” on 377A: Understand the Homosexuals

Just as everyone is debating over the social, religious, moral aspects of the petition to repeal the 377A of the Penal Code and the hullabaloo created by the parliamentary speech made by NMP Thio Li-Ann, no matter which side you take, for or against the repeal, perhaps we should try to understand more about the lives of homosexuals. One good example to explain my point could be the triple Academy award-winning movie “Brokeback Mountain”. To quote Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote a review on the official movie website:

“So begins a sporadic and tormented affair in which the two meet once or twice a year for fishing trips on which no fish are caught. Jack urges that they forsake their marriages and set up a ranch together. But Ennis, haunted by a childhood memory of his father taking him to see the mutilated body of a rancher, tortured and beaten to death with a tire iron for living with another man, is immobilized by fear and shame.

Both Mr Ledger and Mr Gyllenhaal make this anguished love story physically palpable. Mr Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. The pain and disappointment felt by Jack, who is softer, more self-aware and self-accepting, continually registers in Mr Gyllenhaal's sad, expectant silver-dollar eyes.”

The fact that this is a film about two men in a homosexual relationship will upset a lot of Christians to begin with. But my aim is not to challenge the Christian belief that homosexual life is wrong as I do not want to be seen as someone who is anti-Christian but I feel there seem a general misconception among some Singaporeans especially Christians to see gay relationships as no more than gay sex.

Director Ang Lee's portrayal of a secret passion between two men torn apart by societal norms and distance described the widespread non-acceptance of homosexuality in the 1960s. We do have something common with the characters in Brokeback Mountain: Jack and Ennis's constant battle to live differently within a culture that rejects their way of life. The ‘conservatives’ seem to be sterotyping homosexual lifestyles or relationships as being morally wrong that they will ultimately lead to promiscuity. Why are homosexuals being seen as ‘monsters with poisonous dicks’ and not individuals with feelings? What the conservatives should do now is to stop preaching on the wrongs of the homosexual life but to embrace diversity. Only then can we begin to share and build relationship with the gay community to allow a gradual acceptance of them into our society.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Repression has not stopped a single moment in Burma

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations expert on human rights in Myanmar vowed on Wednesday he would not be constrained by the military junta when he visits the country next month to report on the recent crisis. U.N. special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said he believed detentions continued after last month's suppression of demonstrations, which were led by Buddhist monks in several major cities in the impoverished southeast Asian state.

"What annoys me is that the repression has not stopped a single moment -- this is what annoys me -- despite all the universal appeals," he told reporters at the United Nations.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, which was made public on Monday, Foreign Minister Nyan Win said Pinheiro could visit Myanmar before a summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) opening on November 17. It will be his first visit to the country in four years. "I will ask free access, the secretary general will ask free access," Pinheiro said, adding that visiting prison cells to speak to detainees was "a requirement."

"Today the ambassador (of Myanmar) assured me that they will give full cooperation," he added. "If they don't give me full cooperation, I go to the plane." Asked if he was concerned that his movements might be restricted, Pinheiro said: "Usually I go where I want." Pinheiro has said he believes the crackdown last month killed many more than the 10 deaths officially acknowledged. Pinheiro, a Geneva-based Brazilian law professor who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, has visited Myanmar six times since 2000. But he has not been allowed back since November 2003, despite repeated requests. He said he now intended to visit for around five days immediately after U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who expects to go in the first week of November on a mission to facilitate dialogue with the opposition.


Pinheiro said his mission was different and more restricted -- to investigate detentions and human rights abuses during and since the crackdown that drew international condemnation. He said Myanmar's U.N. ambassador had informed him that 2,675 of those detained during the protests had since been released. "I don't know how many people continue to be detained," he said. "I think that the situation of fear prevails, I don't think that the repression...has finished." Pinheiro said that as the protests gathered steam in Myanmar last month, there were plenty of warnings that the government would crack down harshly if the international community did not act.

"The international community was not very fast and then you had this terrible repression. But it was a foretold repression," he said. "The government waits for a few days just to observe who was being engaged and then the crackdown comes." The protests were the biggest challenge to 45 years of unbroken military rule in the former Burma since 1988, when some 3,000 protesters were believed killed by soldiers. Myanmar's ruling military junta has faced international pressure, including from its main ally China, to make concessions to democracy activists led by Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are You Sure Gays Are Not Harassed?

He has spoken. Who? Our most esteemed leader, Mr Lee Hsien Loong has spoken. He has mentioned that abolishing 377A would not end the argument whether it is morally, culturally, socially right to accept the sexual activities between homosexuals. He felt repealing the law would not give gays (I wonder why lesbians are not mentioned since they are part of the homosexual group of people) more space but in fact, it would cause more discriminations. Our bloggers, siewkumhong (Sponsor of the parliamentary petition), pseudonymity etc and aggregators theonlinecitizen and singapore daily have made extensive coverage on the ‘pink’ issue.

But there is one part of Mr Lee’s speech which I felt very strongly against. Quoted from Channelnewsasia:

The prime minister said gays in Singapore do have space and they are not harassed.

He said: "Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy, in the private sector as well as in the civil service. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities. But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyle to others or setting the tone of mainstream society."

Did he not remember the gay cycling issue? A group of 40 gays went jogging along Singapore River but they were harassed by undercover police who followed and filmed them. They were not even having mass orgy nor were they nude. So why did the police do that? Did the authorities form a perception the gays would always stop by at some dark corners, take off their clothes and start having orgy sex whenever they meet? There is absolutely no need to waste taxpayers’ money to actively ‘monitor’ their activities this way.

The picnic at the Singapore Botanic Gardens organised by People Like Us was another. It was promptly turned down by the authorities as they did not want to turn the venue for interest groups to politicise their cause. What are they trying to politicise? Did the authorities think the gays might flaunt their assets in front of the tourists and nature lovers, or make them change their sexual orientations? If the government does not allow anyone to do anything which is above the law, I would deem that as an act of harassment.

There are so many incidents which I can use to rebut the PM that gays are not harassed. I am not a gay. Neither am I a gay activist. I just feel our society needs to be more inclusive and understanding towards this group of people. They are Singaporeans who are contributing their efforts to the progress of our nation.

Also read:

You've Got a Problem with Gays and Lesbians?
Nothing Wrong with Being Gay

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Art of Avoiding Answering Questions or Non-Reply

Jeremy Paxman was awarded a broadcasting award for outstanding contribution to television by the Voice of the Listener and Viewer in 1994 and 1997 and was given the Richard Dimbleby Award, Bafta's most prestigious award for current affairs, in 1996 and 2000. The following Youtube video is very interesting as it highlighted how UK politicians tried to avoid answering questions when being grilled by him. I certainly have not seen any such regular grilling sessions on our national TV. Perhaps our politicians can learn a trick or two from them

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Earlier payouts may win more Singaporeans over to annuity: SM

The government has responded positively to the grouses of the people to suggest bringing down the payout age from 85 to 80. But this does come with a price or should I say an additional cost. - a higher premium. At the moment, we still do not know how high this extra premium is going to be and I wonder if the extra cost(less the cost of inflation) could be offset by the total actual monthly payout after adjusting the cost of inflation for the 5-year period from a person's 80th birthday to the last day of his 84th year of age. I seriously hope the government is not trying to fool the public this time.

The following extract was obtained from Straits Times Interactive:

Singaporeans would be more likely to support the proposed compulsory annuity scheme if they are able to obtain a payout at an earlier age. And the 'earlier age' for payouts for the longevity insurance, suggested Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Sunday, could possibly be 80, instead of the proposed 85. He said if people could draw on their annuities a few years earlier, they would likely overcome the 'psychological mental block' they now have towards it.

He was speaking at the third graduation ceremony of the Young-at-Heart! (Yah!) Community College, which promotes lifelong learning among senior citizens. He said in his speech in Mandarin: 'The proposed age is 85, but I am glad that the Minister for Manpower is prepared to be flexible on the payout age for the longevity insurance. I personally think 80 years will be a good alternative.'

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was at another event on Sunday, responding to SM Goh's suggestion, said he thought it was a good one, and noted that the committee set up by his ministry would be asked to consider payouts at different ages because people had different needs - some wanted payouts earlier, and some, later.

The idea of a compulsory longevity insurance - an annuity scheme that will make payouts to Singaporeans from age 85 till their death - was mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally speech this year.

Under the scheme, all Central Provident Fund (CPF) members must buy an annuity at age 55 with a small portion of their CPF Minimum Sum. They will then get a monthly payout of between $250 and $300 once their Minimum Sum runs out at age 85. These payouts would help cover their needs if they outlive their CPF savings. Many people - unconvinced that they will live past 85 - have not been persuaded on the need for it. The committee set up to address these concerns and look at proposals will put out a report in about five months.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Homosexuality Issues: To repeal S377A of the Penal Code or not?

It is interesting to note there are so many governments and individuals around the world who are still reluctant to acknowledge that gays and lesbians are “equal in dignity and rights”. Being gay or lesbian is not seen as a right but as a wrong. Homosexuality is considered a sin, or an illness, an deviation in ideology or a betrayal of one’s culture.

Governments and individuals defended their stand against the repeal in the name of religion, culture, morality or public health. Homosexuals are branded “perverts” and “paedophiles”, and AIDS is labelled a “gay disease”. Homosexual relations are “anti - Christian”, anti - Islamic”etc. Wouldn’t such discrimination make this group of people “less than human”?

Campaigning for lesbian and gay human rights might be seen by some as a controversial arena of human rights activism. We have NMP Mr Siew Kum Hong who, on behalf of gay media company and lawyer George Hwang, submitted a parliamentary petition requesting the government to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Over the past week, I have been following the news and the numerous opinions, both online and offline. It appeared to me Singaporeans are split on this issue. But in my opinion, the decision lies ultimately with the government which itself is dominated by PAP MPs. Being more or less a centrist political party, I think PAP will not be in favour of the repeal as the group involved is after all a minority. It would not want to enrage the majority: the religious who feel homosexuality is a sin and the conservatives who feel homosexuality is not for this Asian country. Even if it decides to surprise everyone by lifting the party whip to allow all PAP MPs to vote on matters of conscience and issues such as this, the final verdict would still be the same – the government would stick with the status quo. The reason: according to gay activist Mr Alex Au’s Yawning Bread website, almost half of their MPs are christians and christians are known to be generally homophobic because of their religious teachings.

Nevertheless, even though I expect the petition to be unsuccessful, I hope the government would be “magnanimous” enough to explore more ways to recognise this minority group by:

  • Enacting a Non-Discrimination of Homosexuals Act to protect them from discrimination at work.
  • Allowing them same rights and benefits as that of a married person, such as the ability to purchase newly built HDB flats.
  • Allowing talks on mainstream media to ‘educate’ the general public that most homosexuals are as normal as straights.
  • Allowing them to form legal civil unions to address homosexual rights issues.
  • More funding for this minority group on AIDs/HIV education and prevention.

This is a period of changing times with changing demands. Our government should really do something to eventually seek an end to this social injustice.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Is it time to scrap the United Nations Security Council?

Burma is truly a human rights disaster. The violence and brutality meted out routinely to dissidents show the military leaders do not treat their people with any decent respect. Now even children and pregnant women are chained up and heavily guarded by soldiers. No reconciliation talks with the junta will work.

So what’s the point of sending Gambari for the second time in November, when the United Nations and Gambari know more Burmese people are still going to be tortured and killed during the meantime. Is it not time to scrap the United Nations Security Council for its inability to resolve the situation with a harder stance?

The following article was obtained from The Age:

AN AMERICAN tourist has told of seeing children and pregnant women among the families of pro-democracy supporters, chained together and under heavy guard on a river ferry deep inside Burma.

The encounter indicates for the first time that a crackdown on dissidents now probably extends to their relatives and is being carried out in a thorough and ruthless fashion by the ruling military junta, even in remote parts of the country.

Tourist Scott Herbstman, 41, from New York, said: "These were the families of people who had been arrested during the protests in Yangon. They were in fear for their lives. From the look on their faces and their frequent tears, it was clear that they believed they were travelling to almost certain death."

One of the shackled women was nine months pregnant, he said. Another prisoner indicated through hand signals that she, too, was pregnant. Four children were among those chained, he added. A two-year-old child and the wife of one young prisoner, whom he believed to be a democracy activist, accompanied the group, free of handcuffs.

Mr Herbstman, who travels extensively in Asia, Africa and South America for six months each year, said: "It was a nightmarish encounter. We couldn't help but feel sorry for these people." He and his Thai girlfriend, Jitnah Jintanaporn, were making a journey down the Irrawaddy, having begun their trip in the remote north, close to the river's source. Over three days and nights, sitting on a slow, crowded ferry, Mr Herbstman managed to ascertain details from the prisoners, in spite of the constant presence of guards armed with machine guns.

"There were 10 men, 10 women and four boys in chains," he said. "The youngest was about eight. Because there was no room on the boat, they were placed next to us and we had to walk through the group whenever we went to the toilet. The prisoners were kept in pairs, handcuffed together. "They would be taken to the toilet in pairs, escorted each time by three guys carrying machine guns. There were about 15 armed guards all told."

Mr Herbstman said that because the Irrawaddy ferries are so slow and unreliable, tourists seldom used them. The encounter took place on a stretch of the river between Pyay and Yangon. The prisoners boarded at Magwe and Mr Herbstman learned that the prisoners were bound for a detention centre in Tayet.

In Rangoon, the military-run Government freed the country's top comedian, Zaganar, and an actor who had been arrested for supporting Buddhist monks in anti-Government protests. Zaganar, actor Kyaw Thu and his wife were freed on Wednesday, one of their colleagues said.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bush: Threat of World War III if Iran goes nuclear

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush warned on Wednesday a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War III as he tried to shore up international opposition to Tehran amid Russian skepticism over its nuclear ambitions.

Bush was speaking a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western pressure to toughen his stance over Iran's nuclear program, made clear on a visit to Tehran that Russia would not accept any military action against Iran. At a White House news conference, Bush expressed hope Putin would brief him on his talks in Tehran and said he would ask him to clarify recent remarks on Iran's nuclear activities.

Putin said last week that Russia, which is building Iran's first atomic power plant, would "proceed from the position" that Tehran had no plans to develop nuclear weapons but he shared international concerns that its nuclear programs "should be as transparent as possible."

"The thing I'm interested in is whether or not he continues to harbor the same concerns that I do," Bush said. "When we were in Australia (in September), he reconfirmed to me that he recognizes it's not in the world's interest for Iran to have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon." Bush, who has insisted he wants a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, is pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, backed two sets of limited U.N. sanctions against Iran but has resisted any tough new measures.

Stepping up his rhetoric, Bush said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a "dangerous threat to world peace." "We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel," he said. "So I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."


Iran rejects accusations it is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation, and has refused to heed U.N. Security Council demands to halt sensitive uranium enrichment.

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency on Wednesday as saying that Putin had delivered a "special message" on its atomic program and other issues. No other details were given.

Putin's visit on Tuesday was watched closely because of Moscow's possible leverage in the Islamic Republic's nuclear standoff with the West. It was the first time a Kremlin chief went to Iran since Josef Stalin in 1943. Asked about Putin's "special message," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he was not aware of any deal or offer put forward by Moscow to Tehran over the nuclear program.

On Russian opposition to Caspian Sea states being used to launch attacks against Iran, Casey reiterated that Bush kept all his options on the table but that the United States was committed to the diplomatic path with Tehran.

(Additional reporting by Frederick Dahl in Tehran and Sue Pleming in Washington)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Can You Survive On $1 A Day? Support The World Food Day. Make Poverty History

It is unimaginable in Singapore that anyone can possibly survive on $1 for a day as a meal at the foodcourt does not come cheaper than $3 and a bus ride from home to work place would have cost more than $1. But according to statistics, it is a fact that almost 1 billion live in poverty, with a daily income of less than $1. Even in a country where the living standards are low, I think it is still not possible to maintain basic needs such as adequate daily nutritional intake, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, a livelihood that can support survival, that can give a chance for a child to make his or her way through school, access to essential health services in a health emergency or a disease spell.

When those conditions are not met, I think that is considered as extreme poverty. We always talk about education being one of the most effective keys to overcome poverty but for the poorest, education is more like a luxury. Parents cannot afford books, uniforms, stationery etc for their children whose ability to succeed at studies might be hindered by poor living conditions and extreme hunger.

In one of the documentaries I have watched, it reported that 1 in 5 people in the world cannot read or write at all. They do not even know anything outside their hometown or the name of their country’s president. All their efforts are focused on the daily struggle to find food to survive. No overseas holiday trips. No entertainment like movies and clubbings. No McDonald’s(Their children probably do not even know the restaurant exisited). No TV. No tuition, no toys, no computer games for the children like what we have here in Singapore.

In my opinion, poverty and the lack of education together forms a vicious cycle where the poor cannot afford education, and the illiterate cannot hope to earn enough to overcome poverty. Those caught in the cycle tend to remain poor throughout their life.

But do we even need to bother about how others are suffering outside the cosy homes of ours? Our religions have taught us a lot about empathy for fellow human beings and it is time to put our learnings in humanitarianism in practice. Support The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as it celebrates World Food Day on 16 Oct 2007. Themed “The Right to Food”, the organisation aims to bring awareness of the importance of human rights in eradicating hunger and poverty and hastening and deepening the sustainable development process. Back at home, Singapore is also having an event "Stand Up and Speak Out" to demand world leaders to keep their promises to end extreme poverty.

Any little amount of donation can make a difference. I have made my donation to the World Food Programme. Have you?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lee Kuan Yew Dismisses Low Press-Freedom Ranking for Singapore

Singaporeans are free to read whatever they want, the influential founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said of his country, which ranks near the bottom on a watchdog's index of press freedom. Lee was referring to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) annual ranking for 2006, which placed the city-state at 146 out of 168 nations, and lower than Zimbabwe at 140.

RSF cited "new legal action by the government against foreign media" for Singapore's slipping six places in the rankings. "There's nothing that you'd want to read which you cannot read in Singapore," said Lee, who holds the influential title of minister mentor in the cabinet of his son.

"You can buy our newspapers and see whether we read like Zimbabwe..." he said Sunday night in a keynote address to the International Bar Association annual conference, which has attracted thousands of lawyers and jurists from around the world.

Lee said Singaporeans have wide access to information. "Everybody's on the Internet. Everybody's got broadband. They've got cable television, access to all the information. You can blog. You can do anything you like," he said in the speech which drew frequent applause.

"But we do not allow certain subjects to be made bones of contention." Lee said issues of race, language and religion had to be handled sensitively. Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese but with significant Malay and Indian minorities. "A multi-racial, multi-religious society is always prone to conflicts," Lee said. The city-state has bitter memories of past racial incidents in its early years and clamps down hard on anyone inciting communal tensions.

RSF has said Singapore's low ranking stems from "the complete absence" of independent print and broadcast media, the opposition's lack of access to those media, and other factors. Last year Singapore banned distribution of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine, saying it had failed to comply with media regulations.

Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, are suing the magazine's editor and Hong Kong-based Review Publishing, its owners, alleging defamation in an article last year based on an interview with pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan. "We are often accused of suing people for defamation," Lee told his audience.

But he said Singapore was built on the rule of law and did not tolerate corruption, in contrast to the surrounding region where "money politics" was a way of life. This means defamation action may be taken against those who impute dishonesty to government officials, in order to clear any doubts, he said. "As a result, people in Singapore do not equate their political leaders with second-hand car salesmen," Lee said.

The article was reproduced from Agence France-Presse.

Update: A more comprehensive article "Why are we still led by one man's philosophy?" written by Andrew Loh from discussed how our MM is using selective data and reports to suit his argument to explain Singapore's progress in the globalized market, and how Singapore has ignored 'softer indicators' like Happiness, Libido, Courtesy, Income Equality, Press Freedom, Asia Democracy and Prisoners Per Capita Indexes which are equally important indicators for a society which needs a dynamic, inspiring human spirit afforded by freedom of expression and human rights.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bank Secrecy Law, Money Laundering and Tax Evasions

One of the greatest advantages of having an offshore bank account in Singapore is its bank secrecy law because the chance of anyone knowing you have got a huge sum of money which you really want to hide for any reason is pretty low. And I am not saying Singapore is definitely a money laundering centre but who is to say that Singapore will not become one in the future?

According to the Bloomberg article on the rapid growth of Asia’s millionaires, it was reported that Asia had 2.3 million millionaires last year, an increase of 8.2%. Singapore millionaires rose 22.4% to 48,500 while in US, a 10% increase to 2.5 million.

Naturally, it is not difficult to assume that some of these world’s riches might be dealing in money laundering activities to amass their wealth while some would attempt to avoid massive taxes levied on their assets and earnings. In the case of the latter, if you were a millionaire who does not want to pay extra taxes on your income, what would you do? I would certainly hide my money in places with low levels of transparency to avoid scrutiny by government authorities in my home country. Illegal activities like these are not something new to this world:

“Historically, bank secrecy laws have served an important political function. Germany, because of its past dealings with dictatorships, traditionally resisted relaxation of bank secrecy laws, contending those laws were essential to its citizens as a safeguard against political dictatorship. Germany recently embraced banking information exchange, noting that secrecy laws are no longer protecting citizens against dictatorships but are being used by international drug dealers and money launderers to hide criminal enterprises.” – Tax Prophet

So since Singapore will not be changing its tough banking secrecy laws despite calls from the European Union for more transparency as reported in Reuters, how prepared are our monetary authorities, MAS and tax authorities, IRAS to curb any form of organised crime like money laundering and tax evasion activities as a result of the secrecy laws? Now that we are building casinos in Singapore, it is even more critical that we look into the degree of casino compliance with the reporting requirements. From what I know, there has yet been any auditing standards on casinos, for example.

More information on Bank Secrecy Laws of Singapore can be found here.
More information on how money laundering works can be found here.

Protesting Dogs In Burma

The Burmese authorities have a new enemy to hunt down—dogs which are roaming Rangoon with pictures of Than Shwe and other regime leaders around their necks.

A resident of Shwegondine, Bahan Township, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that she saw a group of four dogs with pictures of the regime’s top generals around their necks.

Sightings were also reported in four other Rangoon townships—Tharkayta, Dawbon, Hlaing Tharyar and South Okkalapa. Some sources said the canine protest had started at least a week ago, and was keeping the authorities busy trying to catch the offending dogs. “They seem quite good at avoiding arrest,” laughed one resident. Associating anybody with a dog is a very serious insult in Burma. Spray-painters are also at work, daubing trains with the words “Killer Than Shwe” and other slogans.

The above article was reproduced from The Irrawaddy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transparency and Good Governance to Satisfy Singaporeans and Retain Talents

Singapore is already a financial hub in Asia alongside with Hong Kong and Tokyo, but it needs to retain high-valued talents to fill important positions in the private sectors, government-linked companies (GLCs) such as Singapore Technologies and Singapore Airlines (SIA), or even statutory boards such as CPF, HDB and LTA.

I applaud Singapore’s “leaving no stones unturned” kind of approach in attracting global and regional activities with the introduction of numerous initiatives throughout the years to enhance our competitiveness in the global market. Two important examples were the recent reduction of the corporate tax rate by 2% from 20% to 18% and the increase in the corporate tax exemption threshold from S$100,000 to S$300,000, both taking effect from Year of Assessment (YA) 2008. There was also an earlier initiative under the Unilateral Tax Credit Scheme for service incomes which allows to cover all service incomes remitted from all non-treaty countries such as the USA(Limited Treaty) with effect from YA 2003.

Providing all these benefits would undoubtedly enlarge our scope to attract more foreign investments as we are providing them with lower business startup and maintenance costs which could in turn push up net profits and benefit our economy.

However, Singapore has not done enough to retain talents that it wants. Yes, in terms of individual taxation for non-resident professionals in Singapore, the Inland Revenue of Singapore (IRAS), with immediate effect, has recently made it easier for the income tax filing of these professionals by announcing a final income tax of 15% levied on the gross income of these individuals in order to reduce the compliance cost incurred. The previous arrangement was a withholding tax (WHT) of 24.5% net of expenses. But more is needed to attract more talents to come here and perhaps taking up citizenships eventually as professionals usually do have high demands for transparency and good governance.

Transparency and Good Governance – If the government wants transparency, every institution must develop mechanisms that inform the public of their processes. It encompasses not just government institutions like Ministry of Finance or Ministry of Manpower but also the civil society and the media. The Singapore government ,which fully comprises PAP ministers, does not have any opposition leaders sitting in the cabinet to debate on policies before they are dished out to the public. Future ministers may act selfishly for their benefits or party with the help of a compliant, pro-government media to report only the necessaries. When more new unpopular policies are dished out without much engagement with the population, would they still stay in Singapore or would they pack up and leave for a greener pasture when the going is bad? Years of goodwill towards them would be wasted and we would still be back to square one, facing a shortage of talents.

Our government should really consider having more open and live TV debates for the good of all. Sensitive issues like the Compulsory Annuities and CPF changes, are tabled and debated among members of the government, social organisations, opposition parties, Singaporeans and foreigners. When these happen, there would be a less chance of a failure in policy implementation due to group think and:

a. the government is able to present its detailed studies and analysis yet shed off its ‘top-down’ authoritative approach of governance

b. social organisations like Society of Financial Service Professionals and Law Society could give their inputs and comments on the issues tabled

c. Singaporeans could decide for themselves if the government policies are fair to them

d. Foreign talents could decide for themselves from the discussions on employment and education for their younger generation for example, if Singapore is the right place for them.

I think if our government is able to allow more regular engagements among all sectors, it would make our Singapore society a more cohesive, dynamic and tolerant one and would make it so attractive to both Singaporeans and foreign talents who have intentions to make Singapore their home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Secret Cremations Hide Burma Killings

The following article was reproduced from the website of David Kalgour, former MP of Edmonton-Beaumont, Canada. Several other interesting articles could be found on his website:

The Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.

The secret cremations have been reported by
local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys.

They say they have watched soldiers in steel helmets blocking off roads to the municipal crematorium and threatening people who poke their heads out of windows overlooking the roads after the 10pm curfew.

Their accounts have been volunteered to international officials and aid workers in Rangoon, Burma’s main city. The consensus in the foreign community is that the consistency of the stories makes them credible.

“There has been no attempt to identify the dead, to return the bodies to their families or to give them even the minimum Buddhist religious rites,” said a foreign official who has collated information on the toll of dead and injured from a wide variety of sources.

Horrifying rumours are sweeping the city that some of those cremated were severely injured people thrust into the ovens alive, but these have been treated with extreme caution by independent observers and have not been verified.

However, it is widely accepted that the cremations began on the night of Friday, September 28, more than 24 hours after soldiers opened fire on unarmed Buddhist monks and civilians demonstrating on the streets of Rangoon.

They have continued at intervals right up to the end of last week, according to local people. Taxi drivers refused to take a foreigner to the area, saying they were too frightened and that the army moved bodies after the shoot-on-sight curfew.

The best estimate among foreign diplomats here is that between 100 and 200 people lost their lives in the Rangoon disturbances. The number of Buddhist monks arrested is put at about 1,000, while about 3,000 civilians have also been detained. The regime’s own statement is that 2,093 people are in custody.

The Chinese army carried out a similar practice of anonymous cremations in Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when many unidentified bodies were disposed of at the city’s Babaoshan crematorium. The true number of dead has never been established.

A more disturbing aspect of the Burmese regime’s conduct is the apparently continuous stream of deaths days after the guns fell silent.

“We have first-hand evidence from respected Burmese doctors that hospitals and clinics were ordered not to give any treatment to the wounded,” said a foreign medical expert, “so it’s not possible to assess the victims by those treated in public hospitals.

“We do know that some injured people were treated in hiding in people’s homes. We assume that beaten, injured or wounded people taken into custody have got no treatment and may have died.”

This evidence has given rise to grave concern for the wellbeing of elderly monks and very young novices rounded up, by all accounts, with brutality.

There has been a drumbeat of allegations that soldiers and militiamen unleashed crazed violence against these holy men when they crashed into monasteries in the small hours of the night over the past week. Blood-stained robes, shattered statues and defaced holy pictures have been caught on digital images smuggled out of the country.

Some of the worst violence appears to have occurred at the Mwe Kya Jan monastery in northwest Rangoon. According to graphic testimony published in yesterday’s Thai newspapers, the soldiers lined the monks up against a wall and smashed each of their shaven heads against the wall in succession. The monks were roughed up and thrown into trucks, but the abbot was so severely beaten that he died on the spot, the reports claimed.

It was not possible to corroborate these reports yesterday owing to a heavy security presence at the monastery. But two boy monks asking for alms on a street in a nearby area appealed for help in their limited English.

“We are very frightened,” said the elder, who was about 14, while the younger, about 10, said: “I want to go home to see my mother and father again.”

Foreign observers experienced in monitoring human rights here say the stories of beatings, abuse and starvation in custody are likely to be accurate.

The regime has refused to grant access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect the conditions of those in detention. Humanitarian workers said they hoped the British, French and American governments would take the lead in pressing the case for access at the UN security council and in private talks with the Burmese leaders and with China.

An attempt to observe an alleged detention centre at the Rangoon Institute of Technology was halted by soldiers who waved away a car at gunpoint. Through sheets of monsoon rain, trucks could be seen parked outside what appeared to be an administration block, but there was no sign of activity.

The United Nations special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, said on Friday in New York that he feared “mass relocations” of monks and protesters had taken place.

The systematic arrests have continued at night – a convoy of lorries and other vehicles rumbled past my hotel windows long after midnight – initially puzzling diplomats and activists, who wondered how military intelligence drew up its lists of those to be arrested.

The answer, it seems, was a grimly paradoxical use of the internet, whose liberating role in disseminating images and sound of the protests was prematurely celebrated by many as marking the world’s first globalised on-line revolt, instantly dubbed the Saffron revolution.

It is now clear that the regime was techno-savvy, patient and thorough. It kept the internet open long enough to allow its own cyber-operatives to down-load the images and recordings of street protests to identify the protesters. The internet is now shut down.

“Every Burmese street has a block registration with photographs of each resident on the wall of the local administration office,” said an international aid official, whose agency used the system to help track recipients of aid. Burmese have given accounts of soldiers and plain-clothes men arriving to make arrests with computer-generated photographs of their targets pulled off the internet.

On Friday government security agents raided the offices of Japan’s international aid agency, attempting to seize e-mail records and computers, several foreign sources said. After protests, the agents backed off. The news caused staff at other aid agencies to take steps to secure their own computer records.

The one ray of optimism in Rangoon this weekend has come on the political front. On Friday night a Burmese crowd in a teashop gasped to see the first pictures for many years of Aung San Suu Kyi on television.

The news programme showed the world’s most famous political prisoner meeting Gambari at her home at 54 University Avenue.

The junta’s leader, Than Shwe, told Gambari he would meet her under certain conditions, an offer that was reported to have been rejected but which, in local political terms, was remarkable.

But among the deeply superstitious Burmese there was a murmuring of hope after another piece of inauspicious news for the generals. There was delight in the teashops at the reported death from cancer of Soe Win, the junta’s “prime minister”.

Unlike his fellow countrymen, Soe Win had benefited from the best therapy that local doctors, aided by specialists in Singa-pore, could provide. The “tea-shop telegraph” also flashed the news that Soe Win’s brother had died in a failed attempt to donate marrow to fight the illness.

In a land where portents, stars and horoscopes are revered, it was a dreadful omen.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Serious Violations Of Human Rights In Burma

There has been enormous pressure on the United Nations from the world for more harsh actions against the Burmese military regime.

The article reported on Agence France-Presse (AFP) mentioned that despite worldwide protests in support of Burma’s pro-democracy movement, any sanction resolution would probably face a veto from China and Russia, the former being the main backer of the junta all these years. The reason given would be the turmoil in Burma is an internal affair that does not represent a threat to regional or international peace and security.

Although theoretically what happened in Burma will not affect the world in terms of peace and security, it is imperative to note that according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it seemed that there have been serious violations of the chapter:

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 20.

(1)Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 21.

(1)Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Didn’t the junta make use of forced labour to build bridges, military camps, irrigation systems, oil and gas pipelines? Hadn’t the junta suppressed the Burmese people who are fighting for democracy which they once enjoyed? Are these people allowed to have a congregation of more than 5 people? Is there Universal Suffrage in the country that allowed these people to elect their representatives in parliament freely and have a say in their country’s developments?

So how then should United Nations not intervene in this event?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Burmese Sanction Unnecessary?

CNN's interview with PM Lee was aired on Friday evening but I was unhappy with PM Lee's answers to the questions on whether Singapore is a money laundering centre for members of Burmese junta and on whether Singapore should have more concrete actions other than just issuing statements. I will quote the interview reported by Reuters and Channelnewsasia.

If you have read through the whole article on both news providers, you might notice quotes by PM Lee like "dirty money and money laundering" were not published in the CNA article. I feel it might be an intentional effort by our news provider to prevent Singaporeans from questioning the government on this aspect probably because recently Singapore has had some hard time with Indonesia and the international media on the allegations of corrupt Indonesians running off to Singapore and parking their illegal money into our banks because of Singapore's strict bank secrecy laws which could make it convenient for money laundering activities to take place.

"Secondly, if you want to have sanctions, it cannot just be Singapore or even ASEAN, but all of the countries in the world have to do that, and that includes the Western countries, investors in Myanmar and its neighbours like China with big stake in Myanmar."

It is, of course, wonderful if all countries with economic ties with the regime could come together and agree on a trade sanction. Although calling for a total trade sanction against Burma may indeed be counter-productive, PM Lee does not seem to understand that, in the current situation, the junta leaders and their cronies seemed to be benefitting themselves more rather than benefitting the general population. Why, then should these countries continue to enrich the Burma dictators and help them to strengthen their grip on power? Cripple the military government by restricting exports of critical supplies (such as arms and telecommunication devices) necessary for the survival of their army and their stranglehold on the Burmese society. So it is wrong for PM Lee to say trade sanctions are useless but he should, instead, initiate talks with China and India for more real actions as suggested.

And I wonder if he would still say the same thing if there were Singaporeans killed during the crackdown? Is he still going to ignore the atrocities by the junta?