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Facebook Post: Some thoughts on the Reserved Presidential Elections 2017

During the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill debate that took place in Parliament in February this year, I spoke specifically on the prospect of Reserved Presidential elections, zeroing in on the issues that the the Community Committee would have to grapple with, particularly issues relating to race and language, amongst others. Many of these matters were part of the public discourse and had already acquired some traction on the ground since changes to the Constitution to effect the Government’s amendments to the Elected Presidency were debated late last year.

Shortly after the debate, the Straits Times’ Political Editor wrote (7 February 2017: Taking a broader view of race) to say it was important that Singaporeans take a broader view of race, lamenting the issues I raised in Parliament as “less than inclusive sentiments”. Later, the same piece also predicted, “(q)uestions like those Mr Singh raised may surface again among a vocal few. But it would be a pity if they did.”

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also chimed in on the Straits Times piece, posting the following on his Facebook page, “Excellent article! The heart warming broad mindedness of Mr Thomas Chua stands in stark contrast to the cynical narrow mindedness of WP’s Pritam Singh. Sorry to be so forthright but this is an issue I feel very strongly about. Given the current state of the world, this is a time to be more inclusive, more open and more tolerant.”

I don’t think any reasonable Singaporean would disagree with the Minister that inclusivity, openness and tolerance would be values that represent the direction Singapore should head towards – a position, which taken to its logical end – would ironically question the necessity of reserved Presidential elections in the first place.

But the fact of the matter is that Singaporeans have always been socially conditioned along racial lines. In fact, this has been central to how the state has defined our individual identities – Chinese, Malay Indian and Others. Of greater significance is the point that the Elected Presidency has now been defined through racial lenses, with the Government’s latest constitutional tinkering resulting in the legislation of Reserved Presidential Elections for specific minority races.

Fast forward some six-odd months after the publication of the aforesaid piece in the Straits Times, misgivings continue to abound about the upcoming Reserved Presidential Elections. More tellingly, even the Straits Times has appeared to take a more circumspect position.

In a new opinion piece on the subject published over the weekend (30 July 2017: Mixed marriages should debunk idea of pure race), far from identifying the matters I raised in my parliamentary speech in February as being the remit of “a vocal few”, a more reflective and grounded perspective has been pursued, one which acknowledges that “a sizeable number of people” assume that Singaporeans can be neatly divided into pure Chinese, Malays or Indians and that “people may have inadvertently been viewed more in terms of their race than by their individual merits”. It added separately that “racial classifications have governed how many Singaporeans see themselves, and continue to affect how our neighbours see us.”

Even so, this return to reality is timely one.

It is timely because there is a real prospect of serious damage being wrought to Singapore’s multiracialism should the upcoming Reserved Presidential Elections go awry. Some Singaporeans have privately suggested that they would spoil their votes in the event of a Reserved Presidential election, while some netizens have encouraged their fellow citizens to do likewise with a view to teach the PAP a lesson.

However, while a sizeable number of spoilt votes would have serious short-term consequences for the PAP, it would have unthinkable long-term consequences for Singapore. Regardless of one’s political persuasions, the group of Singaporeans who would be taught the cruelest lesson in the event of a large percentage of spoilt votes is our Malay community. Beyond general damage to our multiracialism, such an outcome could most worryingly be interpreted by some of our Malay friends and compatriots as a lack of faith or trust in them by their fellow Singaporeans of other races.

In my mind, the political system in Singapore hardly represents a desirable state of affairs. But the upcoming Reserved Presidential Elections or any Reserved Presidential Election for that matter should not be mistaken for a platform where the political differences of rational and reasonable Singaporeans are contested. Nor should it serve as the arena where political lessons are dished out. Whether it is a vocal few or a sizeable number of Singaporeans who share this view, the price of such a lesson would be much too high for Singapore’s future as a multiracial society.

Useful Links
————

7 Feb 2017: Taking a broader view of race – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/taking-a-broader-view-of-race

30 July 2017: Mixed marriages should debunk idea of ‘pure’ race – http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/mixed-marriages-should-debunk-idea-of-pure-race

Written by singapore 2025

01/08/2017 at 7:24 am

Parliament: Singapore’s Political Culture & allegations of Abuse of Power by the Prime Minister in the matter of 38 Oxley Road – Motion (Pritam Singh) – 4 Jul 2017

Introduction: Back up your allegations or be sued

Madam Speaker, Singapore has been a one-party dominant state since independence. The ruling party has thus single-handedly shaped the political culture in Singapore. Our political culture is one that does not condone any allegations of wrongdoing or impropriety against the Government of the day.

Accusers are expected to back to up their claims with evidence, and if they cannot, they are sued. Millions of dollars in damages have been awarded when unsubstantiated allegations amounting to defamation and slander have been made against politicians, so as to preserve their moral authority. Many families have been besmirched by this. In fact, opposition politicians have been challenged to sue PAP MPs if they feel wronged.

As recently as 2008, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Minister Mentor himself said, “I know the mentality of and the attitudes of the people in Singapore – and they know me by now, that if anybody impugns the integrity of the Government, of which I was the Prime Minister, I must sue….And I must demand that either the court finds that those defamatory words (are) true, in which case I am demolished, or there’s a penalty.”

The anomaly in this matter before the House today surrounds the decision taken by the Prime Minister – ironically it must be said – not to sue in spite of serious allegations of abuse of power, much to the surprise of many Singaporeans.

Singaporeans have been sued for defamation for much less, one of the most famed example being former Member of Parliament Mr J B Jeyaratnam’s utterance of the following at an election rally in 1997 where he said and I quote, “Mr Tang Liang Hong has just placed before me two reports he has made to the police against, you know, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his team.” When it was suggested to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew by a reporter that it was tenuous to base a defamation suit on Mr Jeyaratnam showing copies of Mr Tang’s police reports to a rally crowd, Mr Lee said this was a matter for the courts to decide, and that his lawyers had advised him to sue. As for Mr Jeyaratnam’s offer to apologise without paying damages, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was quoted as saying, “I’ll leave things to the lawyers. I have other things to do.”

In the normal course of events, the Government would do precisely that – leave the matter to be settled by lawyers in court. Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lee Wei Ling would expect to face multiple defamation lawsuits for alleging that the Prime Minister has either lied or been corrupt in its dealings. As this has not happened and in view of the political culture that I have spoken of, there are Singaporeans who believe that the allegations made against the Prime Minister may have more than a grain of truth to them. Many allegations have been made, and one need only peruse the document made public by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, released on 14 June 2017 titled, ‘What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values?” to remind themselves of them.

The 1996 Hotel Properties Limited saga a reference point 

I would expect the Prime Minister to make a compelling case today and when this debate closes, but until Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lee Wei Ling are fully heard, doubts will continue to linger and this matter will not be put to rest unless a resolution is sought through the courts. Until that is done, who would dare bet against a new Facebook post from Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lee Wei Ling emerging tomorrow? The Prime Minister has to go to the courts to rebut these allegations of abuse of power in order to decisively settle this issue.

In 1996, allegations were made against the Prime Minister as a result of the Hotel Properties Limited (or HPL) saga. This episode erupted as a result of a public perception that both Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister (SM) and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, then Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) had unfairly received discounts in their purchase of properties from the developer HPL.

In that case, a Parliamentary session, procedurally similiar to the one we are having in the house today was held to clear to air over the matter. However, the circumstances and facts of that episode and how it came to be debated in Parliament were diametrically different in a number of important ways.

Firstly, a senior civil servant, the deputy Managing Director of MAS reported to the Finance Minister about HPL obtaining a waiver from the Stock Exchange of Singapore from seeking shareholder’s approval for the purchase of property by SM. There was also market talk that Mr Lee had been offered units in all the properties developed by the HPL group.

The Finance Minister reported this to the then Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong who ordered an investigation and to get the Stock Exchange to provide a list of purchasers of two HPL developments including questioning both SM and the DPM who had also purchased two HPL apartments each. In view of his investigation, Prime Minister Goh was convinced that there was no wrongdoing.

Secondly, caveats were openly lodged giving the name of the SM at the transacted prices after discount. This fact was crucial as a transparent caveat lodgment did not suggest wrongdoing by any stretch.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Mr Lee Kuan Yew instructed Mr Ong Beng Seng, the Managing Director of HPL and a key player in clearing the air, to confront the media about the propriety of the purchases by himself and the DPM. Mr Lee stressed to Mr Ong that it was not enough for HPL to release a press statement but that a press conference was in order. Contrast this important detail with the absence of any sense of closure on the allegations made by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lee Wei Ling in the matter we are debating before the House today.

Finally during the HPL debate, sitting MPs, some of whom worked for developers were able to clarify the nature of how developers used complicated pricing strategies to market and sell their properties.

The extent of probity and the affirmative conclusions notwithstanding, by the time the HPL matter came to an end in this House, MPs were in a position to triangulate various facts, which in totality made it absolutely clear that no improprieties could be alleged by any reasonable person in the purchase of apartments by the Senior Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

In the matter before us today, can we honestly say that we are aware of all the evidence and facts relevant to the allegations of the Prime Minister abusing his power so as to come to the same conclusion? Frankly, by the end of today’s debate, like the MPs in this House in 1996, we can say yes, then there should no lingering suspicions or doubts that the Prime Minister abused his powers in the matter of 38 Oxley Road. And that would be a welcome outcome for Singapore.

Is a Parliamentary Session an appropriate forum? What is the alternative? 

However, in view of the highly unusual decision by the Prime Minister not to clear his name in the courts, the key question before this House is how do we move forward from here? Parliament can be a platform to look into and address the matter, but the choice of the appropriate Parliamentary forum is crucial.  In fact, allegations of abuse of power by the Prime Minister may conceivably gain even more traction if the wrong Parliamentary forum is chosen.

In the event the Prime Minister eschews going to the courts to address these allegations of abuse of power even as more allegations are made and left to people’s imagination to ruminate over, I am of the view that the next best option would be for Parliament to prepare to organise a special Select Committee to look into the allegations made against the Prime Minister.

Its remit would simply be to look into the truthfulness of the allegations and get to the bottom of the matter. In light of evidence being made available to it, the Committee can be expected to summon if it so chooses, the Prime Minister, Mdm Ho Ching, Mrs Lee Suet Fern and anyone else to shed light on the allegations.

I make this proposal for a Select Committee of Parliament in the public interest as I believe it is an avenue to put a stop to these allegations which have now moved beyond damaging just the Government, but have damaged Singapore’s reputation and the trust people outside Singapore have in its institutions.

Many Singaporeans are unaware that the consequence of ignoring a summons from Parliament are severe and a defaulter can be arrested and brought before the Select Committee to set the record straight. Should any witness be contemptuous before the Committee, beyond hefty fines, Parliament is even empowered to commit that individual to prison for the rest of this Parliamentary term.

Conclusion 

Mdm Speaker, the longer this sad episode drags on, Singapore’s reputation as a country where the rule of law is a strict guiding principle of our society, and the credibility of the Government will be cast in very serious doubt. Like many Singaporeans, the matters surrounding the will and the disagreements are fundamentally family issues and should be privately resolved forthwith either through the courts or through mediation. But it is the allegations of abuse of power that have to be decisively addressed, otherwise an odour will always linger, one that will have severe and significant repercussions for Singapore’s reputation. I do not believe a Parliamentary debate like the one we are having today will put the matter to rest, even as I hope I am wrong.

Thank you.

_____________

Mdm Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh, please make it short and quick.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Speaker, the subject of the Hotel Properties Ltd saga came up during this debate more than once. It is helpful for us to think about the mood of the day in 1996. There was an editorial in the Straits Times which summed it up quite perfectly actually. Just one line: “More important from the standpoint of a people’s faith in their elected leaders and a nation, and its fair system of governance was that the conclusion was reached after an exhaustive process of investigation followed by a full ventilation in the House.” The issue here is the accuser − and I am just referring to Mr Lee Hsien Yang here − yes, the Minister for Finance is correct, these are accusations, aspersions. But who is he? He is not just the brother of the Prime Minister; he is a senior member of the establishment, whether we like it or not. President Scholar, Singapore Armed Forces Scholar, Brigadier-General in the Army, CEO of SingTel, Chairman of the Stock Exchange at one point, Chairman of Republic Polytechnic and a member of the International Advisory Board of Rolls Royce even.

While I agree with the Prime Minister that these are just allegations, I am not sure that closure is something that has been achieved in this House. So, my question to the Prime Minister, if these allegations continue, does he not agree that damage would still be done to the Government in some way or another?

Mr Lee Hsien Loong: Mdm Speaker, I have already stated my position and what I consider the best way to deal with this, which is that we have stated our piece. I think Singaporeans have had a surfeit of news on this subject and I do not think they want more. If more statements are made, we will have to consider the position. And I have already explained the circumstances under which we will consider options, whether a Select Committee, a Commission of Inquiry or legal action.

Written by singapore 2025

04/07/2017 at 4:04 am

Posted in Parliament

Facebook Post: Select Committees – 22 Jun 2017

Some Singaporeans have asked about Parliamentary Select Committees in light of the allegations that the Prime Minister abused his powers the regard to 38 Oxley Road. What are Parliamentary Select Committees?

Parliament hosts powers to appoint Select Committees of MPs to look at issues in depth, including calling for evidence and summoning witnesses if necessary. My WP colleagues and I have filed a number of parliamentary questions that relate to allegations of the Prime Minister abusing his powers in the matter of 38, Oxley Road. The Prime Minister has announced he will make a statement in Parliament and welcomes vigourous debate. There is one problem though. Unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and those who support him will have no opportunity to clear the air on 3 July 2017.

In the interests of fairness, Mr Lee should be allowed to tell his story to Parliament too. A Select Committee would allow MPs the opportunity to call up any witness, including the Prime Minister or anyone else to get to the truth of the matter behind the allegations of abuse of power.

By way of a parliamentary question, I have asked the Prime Minister to support the setting up of a Select Committee to look into the serious allegations made against him. The use of Select Committees for such a purpose is nothing new. The PAP have used Select Committees to look into allegations made against the Government in the past.

On 21 Mar 1996, Parliament resolved to appoint a select committee to verify the Government’s healthcare expenditure, amongst other reasons, to verify statements made in the Singapore Democratic Party publication, The New Democrat and in a speech made by SDP MP Ling How Doong in Parliament where he said, “healthcare costs are not subsidised at all.”

One submission to this Select Committee defined the role of Select Committees perfectly:

“The public has every right to know the facts and to receive from the Government the fullest possible information….The Select Committee serves a useful and informative field of public education and members of the Select Committee would seek to produce agreed reports in the best interest of the public.”

In a voluminous report (hyperlinked below), the Select Committee on Healthcare Subsidies published all the questions MPs put to various witnesses who were asked to give evidence to the committee. But things did not stop there. In view of the replies given to the Select Committee by Mr Chee Soon Juan and other witnesses, then Minister of Health George Yeo filed a complaint of contempt of Parliament to the Committee of Privileges against several witnesses arising out of the Select Committee hearings. I remember watching clips of the Select Committee hearing on TV, with PAP MPs relentlessly questioning Chee Soon Juan.

Like many Singaporeans, no one knows how long the current episode is going to drag on for with new information and allegations coming out almost on a daily basis, and perhaps even after 3 July 2017.

The allegations of abuse of power by the Prime Minister need to be looked into. A Parliamentary session as a forum to hear only one side of the story will just not do. After all, it was the late Lee Kuan Yew who said:

“No government in this part of the world will open willingly when it need not open a problem like this and take it out, whether a Commission of Inquiry, debate in Parliament, Select Committee, or even a prosecution if a case could be made out.”

Useful links:

30 Sep 1996 – Report of the Select Committee on Verification of Healthcare Subsidy of Government Polyclinics and Public Hospitals: goo.gl/zgk6ie

22 Nov 1996 – Report of the Committee of Privileges: Complaint against Representors from the Singapore Democratic Party: goo.gl/xG6ER3

Written by singapore 2025

22/06/2017 at 4:45 am

Parliament: Fake News (Pritam Singh) – 19 Jun 2017

I asked some questions about fake news in Parliament last month (see below). I sought a definition for fake news because the focus of the Government appears to be squarely directed at falsehoods and fabrications. As the article below alludes, the fundamental objective of “fake news” is to shape or alter perceptions.

But a more sophisticated form of “fake news” has been carried out in the media, especially the print media, since time immemorial and more recently, even on apparently trustworthy online sites too. On the “fake news” spectrum, some of the most successful examples are those which are done subtly. This is achieved through selective omissions, framing a story from a particular perspective, taking on a “nation-building” role (whatever that means), selective usage of quotes and pictures at certain angles etc.

I have no objection to clamping down hard on fake news. But what are we going to do about good old-fashioned propaganda? At least in the West, the editorial line of a paper is openly known – right leaning, left leaning etc. – so you know where these mainstream sources are coming from. But what happens when your mainstream news outlets are ultimately controlled by the Government or one entity?

———
Parliamentary Questions (May 2017)

32 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Law (a) how does the Government identify and define what is fake news; and (b) what role does the Government envisage social media platforms and Internet service providers to play in addressing fake news.

Reply: goo.gl/5SWF3V

39 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Education (Schools) (a) whether there are programmes to teach students how to discern fake news; (b) if so, how are the programmes designed and rolled out; and (c) if not, whether there are plans to develop and roll out such programmes in a specific timeline.

Reply: goo.gl/JXaQkf

Useful Links:

NPR / 5 Feb 2017: Long before there was ‘Fake News’, there were ‘Fake Photos’: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/02/05/513252650/long-before-there-was-fake-news-there-were-fake-photos

Written by singapore 2025

19/06/2017 at 4:55 am

Parliament: Strengthening Singapore’s fight against Drugs – Motion (Pritam Singh) – 4 Apr 2017

Introduction

Mr Deputy Speaker, like most Singaporeans of my generation, having been born here and socialized to uncompromising anti-drug messages throughout my growing years, I have not experienced the reality commonplace in other countries where drugs are available to teenagers in schools or in bars and university campuses without too much difficulty. Singapore’s small size, tough laws and the dedication of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to their mission have made this possible. But Singapore is an outlier.

The reality of governments in other parts of the world is very different. At best, this has to do with being a larger polity and the difficulty in ensuring that the writ of the state extends across hundreds and thousands of kilometres, different political cultures, different social circumstances and different norms that govern individual freedoms and liberties. At worst, it is a self-evident reality that the worldwide war against drugs has failed. Whichever perspective one takes, these realities have precipitated a new and different approach now taken globally to deal with the drug problem. A major plank of the new approach calls for the legalization of drug use, particularly medical marijuana on health grounds and in some jurisdictions, the legalization of recreational drug use per se.

Legalization around the world and in Southeast Asia

As many Americans went to polls in 2016 to decide between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton as their next President, a parallel vote took place on the legalization of marijuana. This resulted in 9 states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts passing laws that allowed for either regulated medical or recreational marijuana use. Today, 44 states in the US have legalised some form of drug use.

In 2001, an Economist article titled ‘The Case for Legalization’ argued that a legal market for drugs would be the best guarantee that drug taking would be no more dangerous than smoking and drinking, even as it acknowledged that legalization would not easy. Fast forward just about 15 years and the first sentence of a piece on the legalization of drugs in the same publication went like this – “The argument for the legalization of cannabis has been won.” Insofar as global trends are concerned, the movement to legalize drugs is now effectively mainstream.

Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a belief that the movement towards legalization is a Western phenomenon. But such an assumption would be a wrong.

Closer to home, attitudes are shifting too, mainly with a view to get a better handle on the drug problem and to undermine organized crime. The Senior Vice Chairman of the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye in a piece titled ‘Consider less Severe Punishment’ in the New Straits Times last year, noted that despite punitive laws against illicit drugs, capital punishment and spending millions to address the problem, the number of addicts in Malaysia was growing. He called on the Malaysian authorities to consider the road less travelled and to decriminalize drug use and possession, and to treat drug addiction as a medical problem. The writer also reflected on countries like Portugal which adopted less punitive policies towards drug possession more than a decade earlier, and in doing so had not experienced any significant increase in drug use, drug related harm or crime compared to countries with punitive laws.

Separately, late last year, the Thai cabinet approved a proposal to allow hemp, a plant which is part of the cannabis family, but with lesser amounts of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, to be grown as a cash crop as part of a project to use narcotic plants for medical purposes. Prior to the Cabinet decision, Thailand’s then Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya was quoted in the Thai media as saying that he was firm in his aim to remove marijuana from the narcotic drugs list and to treat it as a medicinal herb.

The Arrival of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

The movement towards the gradual acceptance of some drugs, chiefly cannabis for medical purposes is a powerful catalyst in the case for the legalization of drugs, even if medical authorities have not ruled definitively in this area and medical practitioners argue that there are realistic alternatives to medical marijuana. Nevertheless, an international industry has already taken form and a stronger lobby is likely to follow. Late last year, the International New York Times reported that Israel has been a leading player in medical marijuana research as early as the 1960s and that 25,000 of its citizens today hold permits to use medical marijuana to ease symptoms of cancer, epilepsy and other diseases with the number expected to grow rapidly. In fact, the Guardian has also reported research in Israel will transform the medical marijuana industry into and I quote, “a serious endeavour of pharmaceutical research, producing new strains and drugs able to alleviate the symptoms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, insomnia and other conditions.” (unquote) With advances in technology, many Israeli companies are working to develop medicine that can deliver precise doses of THC so as to regulate its psychoactive effects with a view to bringing relief to those in chronic pain.

What is being repeated around the world where fierce debates about legalisation are taking place and have taken place, is the emotionally powerful argument that medical marijuana has eased the suffering of those in pain.

It is also fathomable that the research into medical marijuana will have a direct bearing on the use of recreational marijuana for which precise doses could also correspondingly be marketed as a safer means of drug consumption. To that end, a recent Business Monitor Online article notes that with the growing legalization of marijuana for recreational use, entirely new industries for consumer-related companies will be created, including transport and through social media. It assessed that while medical marijuana will be an important part of the market, recreational use of marijuana will create new opportunities for consumer industries especially food and beverage with derivatives of marijuana potentially added to beer, chocolates and candy.

What is also likely to accelerate the legalisation of drugs worldwide is the potential of regulation and taxation with recreational usage potentially killing off the profits earned by drug cartels and moving them into state and corporate coffers – the challenge being setting the appropriate tax rate. I would hazard that the attraction of taxation may prove irresistible for those governments that have not been able to successfully keep drugs out of mainstream society in the same way Singapore has been able to.

Singapore – Preparing for the Future

What the global trends suggest, and I turn to the language in the motion, is that Singapore will find it even more difficult to keep drugs out of the country and in the consciousness of our children and people in view of the seismic cultural shifts in attitudes towards drug use for medicinal and recreational purposes in many jurisdictions around the world. Our tough laws will continue to serve as a deterrent for some drug traffickers but I am concerned we will find it increasingly difficult to persuade younger Singaporeans particularly those who venture overseas for studies or business about the dangers of drug abuse. The somewhat emotionally persuasive argument about medical marijuana, in spite of currently more established medical opinion, will make this even harder.

At this point, Singapore can and should stick to its time-honoured position of a strong ant-drug policy, in view of the still evolving global environment, of our unique circumstances, and because we have been able to get a handle on the drug problem and successfully kept drugs out of our schools. However, with a large population of foreigners, many of whom are transient residents living and working in Singapore and a significant number of overseas Singaporeans who may have a very different cultural attitude towards drugs, the argument for a drug-free Singapore may increasingly come under strain.

Nonetheless, we should and must begin preparing for a much tougher environment in the immediate term, and this not only if the research on medical marijuana turns decidedly positive. As drug syndicates are put out of business because of legalization, some drugs traffickers or abusers may paradoxically choose to target Singapore from the safe confines of other countries if there is money to be made here. Those who will fall foul of our tough drug laws will not be the kingpins, but the couriers, many of whom seek to make a quick buck.

We also may expect to see a rise in the number of marijuana abusers. In fact, a Facebook page titled Singapore Cannabis Awareness has already generated close to 4000 likes and it makes a point to track changing norms about the legalization of cannabis around the world, recently posting a story about the state of New South Wales in Australia funding the world’s first clinical trial for the use of cannabis in alleviating chemotherapy induced vomiting and nausea. This is not fake news, for such trials are indeed ongoing, but the practical effect of such developments around the world I fear will likely result in a more relaxed attitude towards the usage of cannabis.

The rise in the arrest of cannabis abusers as reported in the CNB’s drug situation report of 2016 may portend such a trend. For those who believe a more permissive environment for recreational consumption of drugs in Singapore would not necessarily be hazardous, I would say, be careful about what you wish for. The research-based evidence is sobering. According to Lancet Psychiatry, in a 2015 article which reviewed annual and repeated cross-sectional surveys on medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the US from 1991 to 2014, almost a 25-year period, it found territories which decriminalised illicit drugs or where the laws were generally permissive saw an increase in drug abuse amongst teenagers and young adults. And that prospect – should there be arguments made about a drug-tolerant regime in Singapore – is scary and wholly unwelcome. As it stands, the argument for the legalisation of drugs in Singapore in particular, is not compelling or persuasive at all.

Conclusion

To conclude Mr Deputy Speaker, strict laws can only do so much, even if they host a deterrent effect. Stepping up rehabilitation is the right thing to do. However, in view of the new global approach towards drugs, the Government would have to significantly step up education about the slippery slope of drug abuse. In my ward of Eunos in Aljunied GRC in years past, I have worked with the Central Narcotics Bureau and conducted preventive education talks at our local mosque with the permission of the mosque committee and I thank them for their support. At schools and tertiary institutions in particular, we will have to significantly step up preventive education to prepare our children and young adults for the world of tomorrow where access to drugs will become more commonplace than ever before and firmly in our mindshare. The Government would also have to focus more squarely on the permissive attitudes that are hardening in favour of supposedly softer drugs like cannabis. There is nothing soft about cannabis. It is harmful to one’s health and not every citizen will have ready access or support from family members to rehabilitative resources. As is usually the case with illegal drugs, the poor and low-income will be the hardest hit.

We must all say no to drugs.

Thank you.

Written by singapore 2025

04/04/2017 at 7:18 am

Parliament: Town Councils (Amendment) Bill – Scrutinizing the Opposition (Pritam Singh) – 10 March 2017

Introduction

Madam Speaker, this amendment Bill does not seek to review the original objective of the Town Councils Act. That is not on the Government’s agenda. We are debating this Bill with a view to improve the existing Act. I do not oppose that objective per se, but as an opposition MP, my experience is that Town Councils operate very differently by design in PAP and opposition wards and as such, are inevitably judged by different yardsticks.

The Workers’ Party does not oppose raising governance standards for Town Councils. But we have a specific concern on the new Part VIA of the Bill gives intrusive oversight powers to the Ministry of National Development, directed by political office holders of any incumbent Government, not only the PAP. We believe an independent entity or inspectors not appointed by the Government should resolve disputes if and when they occur between MND and the affected Town Council, a point Ms Sylvia Lim will build upon. Let me reiterate, the additional scrutiny on Town Councils is not objectionable. It is the identity of the scrutiniser that warrants scrutiny.

Objectives of Town Councils

According to then DPM Goh Chok Tong, there were two philosophical objectives behind the original Town Councils Bill. Firstly, it purported to transfer some power from the HDB to the MPs and grassroots leaders. It gives the MPs and the residents, greater power and responsibility to manage their own affairs and to participate in their estate’s development. Secondly, because MPs will have increased authority and responsibility, voters will be more likely to vote carefully and sincerely to choose honest and effective MPs.

However, the transfer of power from the HDB to the MPs and (I stress) grassroots leaders is only partial in an opposition Town Council as the grassroots are by design, not part of an opposition Town Council’s firmament. This is because the Government cannot reconcile that an opposition MP and by extension an opposition Town Council would support the Government’s plans. It is also instructive that nowhere does the word grassroots, Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) or People’s Association appear in the Town Councils Act, yet, the grassroots were acknowledged as a conspicuous and central part of the Town Council system when the Bill was debated in 1988. This is because the Town Council Act was legislated to serve a dominant one-party state, and to that end, government sanctioned grassroots organisations do not work with the elected MPs in opposition Town Councils. This remains a fundamental omission viz-a-viz the operation of Town Councils in opposition wards.

I have spoken on how the grassroots have a significant say on estate upgrading via CIPC funding in this House previously and will not repeat those points here. The same can be said about the political control of critical Town Council Management Systems and software by politically-influenced entities. One can just compare the amount of state resources extended via the CIPC Committee through the grassroots in PAP Town Councils compared to opposition Town Councils. Certainly, lesser taxpayer funds to opposition Town Councils will inevitably lower the esteem of the opposition-run Town Councils, with attendant political ramifications. While I believe this should change and a fairer system ought to take form, as a political realist, I can see why the ruling party would rather institutionalise the status quo.

What will make for a better Singapore?

In view of some fundamental disparities between opposition and PAP Town Councils in practice, the Workers’ Party will approach this amendment Bill with the words of then DPM Mr S Dhanabalan in his round-up speech on the original Town Councils Bill some 30 years ago. He said and I quote, “The question really is not whether or not there is a political purpose. The question is: is the purpose a good one for Singapore? Will it make for a better Singapore? Will it make for a more stable and secure Singapore? Will it make for a better life for our citizens? That is the question we ought to ask.” I would like to state for the record, that the Workers’ Party is under no illusion that the purpose of the Town Councils Act is undeniably political and since 1988, PAP politicians have come out openly to say so. So that point has been settled. But the former DPM’s subsequent questions remain relevant today.

To that end, the Workers’ Party does not oppose five of the six amendments proposed in the explanatory statement to the Act, namely to promote and strengthen effective and efficient governance and accountability of Town Councils, to foster a culture of personal integrity and accountability for administrative officials of Town Councils, to ensure sound financial management, promote better governance and to clarify the role of Town Councils in emergency planning. However, the introduction of oversight mechanisms and monitoring powers over the Town Councils that are in the hands of the Government has the potential for abuse. This would not necessarily ensure good outcomes for Singapore, but rather politically good outcomes for the ruling party.

Original purpose of the Act

Central to the working of the Town Councils is the powers of the elected MPs in relation to the MND. Critical to the success of the Town Councils is the protection of the MPs’ autonomy, guaranteed as a political space for the MPs to work with local residents so that the same residents voting in the general election can judge the MPs’ performance. If we return to the speech of then DPM Goh Chok Tong during the 1988 debate, he raised three important points. First, it was not the original intention that HDB should become the management corporation for 80% of the population. Such an over-centralisation is undesirable. Second, when our people become too dependent on HDB, they will lose self-reliance and responsibility for their own surroundings. In this sense, they will expect the HDB to fix and do everything. Third, as such, to preserve the political autonomy of the MPs and self-reliance of the people, HDB should only intervene when there are hazards to public health, public safety and public order.

In principle, Clause 24 of the Bill is problematic on these three points by reversing and diminishing the political autonomy of the elected MPs in relation to MND which overseas HDB. If citizens know that MND will intervene when the town is not run effectively, then whether the candidates standing for election are honest and effective enough to run a TC potentially become irrelevant. As envisaged by the Town Councils Act originally, voters are responsible for the MPs they choose to run their towns and represent them in Parliament. If they do not like what they see, they can vote the under-performing MPs out in the next election.

Depoliticised oversight

MND having oversight over TC does not mean just over-centralisation, but it also leads to two political pervasions. First, it risks the politicisation of the public service, where MND risks becoming the tool of the ruling party of the day to fix the opposition. Second, it causes the elected MPs to answer to the unelected bureaucracy, subordinating the elected mandate of MPs to the executive branch.

I would suggest to the House there is a better way to move forward on this point while retaining the proposed oversight powers sought by this Bill that will at the same time preserve the central feature of Town Councils – the political autonomy of MPs. Those oversight powers should be in the hands of independent parties not linked to the Ministry or the Government in general. This is critical to preserving the Town Councils as the ballast to our democracy.

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, as late as 2009, a Straits Times report quoting then Senior Minister Goh noted that in spite of the Town Councils existence, residents did not seem to take a great interest in the estates they lived in. It was noteworthy that one public poll commissioned by the Straits Times in 2013 found that close to 80% of those polled wished to have the HDB replace Town Councils in the provision of services to residents. In fact, the same call was made more recently in the public consultation to this Bill. It would be helpful if the Government looked into why many Singaporeans are not as enthusiastic about Town Councils in spite of its objectives, not all of which are necessarily objectionable. I do think there is much value in getting MPs involved in the local politics and the nitty-gritty of constituency work. In spite of the different realities on the ground in the treatment between opposition and PAP Town Councils particularly as a result of the role of the grassroots and by extension losing PAP political candidates through the People’s Association, the Workers’ Party is determined to make the best of a less than equitable situation, managing it not with the cards we wished we had, but with those that are in our hands.

Thank you.

Written by singapore 2025

11/03/2017 at 7:30 am

Posted in Parliament

Parliament: Active Mobility Bill (Pritam Singh) – 10 Jan 2017

Introduction

This Bill aims to regulate the use of public paths, in response to the popularity of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) and Power-Assisted Bicycles (PABs). While the evolution and use of such devices has been rapid, there is no doubt that a set of easily understandable rules needs to be implemented to govern the use of such devices for the safety of all. While I am supportive of this Bill and its objectives, I seek a few clarifications with regard to some clauses of the Bill and will raise them in chronological order.

Clarifications on Specific Clauses

On clause 2, the intention of using the noun “pedestrian” in the Bill appears to separate faster-moving individuals from those who are slower, so that the ‘pedestrian-only path’ is in some ways protected from bicycles or other vehicles. But in day-to-day life this may cause confusion, especially when skateboards are classified as PMDs while people on inline/roller skates are classified as pedestrians. People on inline/roller skates can move fairly quickly and potentially cause harm to other pedestrians as well. How did the Ministry settle on the definition of who is a pedestrian and who is not?

Under clause 15, a potential jail term for riding on pedestrian-only paths appears excessive, especially if reasonable judgement has been exercised to ensure that the path is clear of pedestrians (e.g. late at night or in places with less human traffic), and the rider is not speeding/riding recklessly. While this may be a matter of judgment and the Ministry wishes to be unambiguous about the seriousness of such violations or facilitate uncomplicated interpretation, would not a more incremental legislative approach starting with fines, represent more communicative and educative policymaking so as to allow people to understand the rules and to allow a passage of time to pass before Parliament determines whether or not to review sentences based on the ground feedback? Such an incremental approach would also help to reinforce a safety culture for PMD and PAB users over time.

Clauses 26 and 27 state that the proprietor or occupier of any land can be required to install and maintain signages at their cost and they will be guilty of an offence if they are not compliant. Would it not be administratively more efficient for the relevant authorities, specifically LTA and NParks for example to bear the costs of erecting and maintaining signages? This would also be administratively convenient as there would be a clear standardisation of such signs? If proprietors or occupiers have to purchase signages from officially approved agents, would it not be better to have the relevant authority take charge instead?

Clause 30 states that any person/business selling non-compliant PMDs “must ensure that no customer or member of the public can see any non-compliant PMD from inside or outside of the premises” or they could be jailed. Would it not be enough for businesses to remind customers about which models are compliant or not before the purchase, which is provided for in the warning notices specified in Clause 30. Anecdotally, the legality of models is a big concern for people looking to buy PMDs. It would appears excessive to potentially jail sellers for failing to keep non-compliant PMDs out of sight of customers. The same concerns are relevant for Clause 31, which call for a fine and jail term for advertising non-compliant PMDs. If this indeed is a serious concern, can the Minister share why it would not be a better idea to just restricting the import of non-compliant PMDs altogether, tackling the problem upstream rather than having to deal with the problem at the retail level.

Clause 33 states that a person shall be guilty of an offence if at the time of sale, “the person knows that or is reckless as to whether or not, the buyer intends to ride the PMD on a public road.” This clause sounds practically unwieldy. This clause would cover sales “at any premises or place”, so it can be assumed that it would cover private individuals selling their used PMDs on Carousell for example. How will the Ministry determine whether or not a seller is “reckless” as to the buyer’s intentions to ride the PMD on a public road? Is failure to ask the buyer specifically if s/he intends to ride it on a public road considered an offence? If the buyer says no but rides on the road anyway, is the seller guilty of an offence because s/he did not question the buyer further?

Clause 33 also states that it is not a defence for the accused to prove that warning notices were displayed in accordance with Clause 31. If so, what would constitute a defence, short of a written agreement or agreement that is captured on video? How many sellers or buyers would do this? Is the implementation realistic or practicable?

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, the Bill seeks to govern the behaviour of individuals who use PMDs and PABs. Members would be aware that not just Singaporeans, but many foreigners, especially those who live and work near industrial estates also use such devices. One key challenge would be to educate a large and transient foreign worker community of these norms. As with any transient group, this effort would have to be a continuous one. The effectiveness of this legislation on the ground will be directly correlated to the amount of effort that is put to educate all users, Singaporeans and foreigners alike of the code or codes of conduct that can be issued by the Minister under clause 24 of this Bill.

Madam Speaker, my request for clarifications notwithstanding, I support the Bill.

Written by singapore 2025

10/01/2017 at 8:06 am

Posted in Parliament

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