Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Archive for the ‘Workers’ Party’ Category

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
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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

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: Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 8 Nov 2016

Madam Speaker, the changes proposed by the Government to the provisions that deal with the Elected Presidency in the Constitution by way of this Bill are uniquely significant. A key significance lies in the fact that a Constitutional Commission was formed to review the Elected Presidency – only the second time such a Constitutional Commission was formed in the history of post-independence Singapore. However, the deepest significance of the Commission’s findings I would argue Madam Speaker, lie in Chapter seven of the report which rest firmly outside the Commission’s Terms of Reference.

After reading 107 written submissions and receiving oral representations from selected contributors, the Menon Constitutional Commission was compelled to ask a critical question, which in the opinion of the Workers’ Party, all Singaporeans ought to ponder over seriously – and that is – Should the Presidency remain an elected office?

Having had many months to immerse itself in the genesis of the Presidency, its historical role, and the function and operation of the Elected Presidency, the Commission found it a critical enough responsibility and duty to pen its thoughts about a Singapore without an elected President and for the Government to consider undertaking a more fundamental change to the office. With this background to the Commission’s work in mind, my speech will cover four main points.

Firstly, as guiding principles, the Workers’ Party agrees that the President should not become an alternative centre of political power and an elected entity should safeguard the nation’s reserves.

In January this year, when the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a Constitutional Commission to study changes to the Elected Presidency, PM Lee said that the President cannot be an alternative centre of power. In September, when the Law Minister rebutted the Constitutional Commission’s alternative proposal to replace the Elected Presidency with an appointed council of experts, he said that the president must himself be elected to have the popular mandate to veto an elected government.

The Workers’ Party agrees with the Government on these two fundamental principles. First, the President should not become an alternative centre of power with the potential to undermine the sovereign authority of Parliament. Second, our national reserves need to be safeguarded and the body safeguarding the reserves would need to be elected to say the ‘no’ and to force a debate in Parliament.

This has been the Workers’ Party’s position when the Elected Presidency was first introduced in 1991. We believe that an Elected President should not fetter the supreme power of Parliament as the people’s representative. The Presidency should be a dignified ceremonial office and a President from any race should focus on performing his or her role in fostering national unity and representing Singapore to the world. We also believe that the past reserves should be safeguarded, but this custodial function should lie with elected representatives of the Legislature.

Secondly, the Workers’ Party believes that reviewing the Elected Presidency by strengthening the Council of Presidential Advisers to check the Elected President complicates the Elected Presidency further.

To that end, we disagree with the Government that the solution to the current problem is to tighten the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency and to strengthen the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) hereinafter referred to as “Council”.

In tightening the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency, the Government seeks to lessen the potential for the Elected Presidency to become an alternative centre of power by severely reducing the number of qualifying candidates and restricting the pool to the super-elite executives in the private and public sectors. This is based on the mistaken premise that a candidate from such a pool is immune to politicization and will not become an activist President.

The Government has refused to recognize that the problem is inherent to the Elected Presidency by virtue of a popular mandate. Unlike the typical Member of Parliament, the Elected President is elected by the whole nation to represent the country without any party affiliation. The competitive election process pitting individuals against each other compels candidates to offer platforms to attract votes. The outcome of such a popular election tempts candidates to use the percentage of votes garnered as an indication of popular endorsement and the elected candidate to claim a mandate beyond his or her constitutional powers.

The Government had recognized that even with existing discretionary powers, we run the risk in the Elected Presidency of placing too much power in one person to properly check a popularly elected Parliament. The Council was set up to moderate this risk, by endowing the Elected Presidency with a team of advisers so that his or her decisions would always have the benefit of a group of experts and/or experienced persons.

Again, in order to further moderate the risk of the Elected Presidency having too much power to clip the Government’s wings, the Government is turning to the unelected Council. By expanding the Council from six to eight members and obliging the President to consult the Council on all monetary matters related to the reserves and all key public service appointments, the Government is not merely strengthening the Council’s advisory capacity, but is changing the very nature of the Council beyond its advisory function.

In attempting to create another check, namely, the strengthened Council on the original check, namely the Elected Presidency, the Government’s approach will in effect create a third key for safeguarding the reserves. When the President disagrees with the Government, the strengthened Council will be empowered to settle the decision on the side of either party. This makes the Council another alternative centre of power. This approach risks politicizing the office of the Presidency further, by placing the Elected President in a situation where he will be caught in a three-way faceoff in making crucial custodial decisions. This approach also risks producing complicated three-way situations that could end in gridlock and the erosion of the legitimacy of the elected Government. An unelected Council should not have the power to create such outcomes.

The Government’s proposal to reserve an election for an ethnic community if the past five Elected Presidents did not come from that ethnic community does not solve the problem. Over a long period, our Presidents should come from the main ethnic communities to symbolize and express the multiracial fabric of our nation. However, to tie this important symbolic role with the electoral process risks politicization of the role. As the ethnicity of the candidates will be pushed into the glare of competitive elections in the case of reserved elections, this will inadvertently lead to the politicization of multiracialism and may even introduce communal interests into the contest.

Thirdly, the Workers’ Party proposes to revert to the Ceremonial Presidency and to establish an Elected Senate to fulfill the custodial role as the solution.

We studied and deliberated the Constitutional Commission’s report and agreed that the most elegant solution to the problem is the Commission’s alternative proposal to revert to an appointed ceremonial Presidency and to set up a group of experts to exercise the Elected President’s custodial role. However, as the body performing a check on Parliament should have a popular mandate, we believe this group of experts ought to be popularly elected.

With your permission Madam Speaker, I would like to distribute a two-page handout which presents two flowcharts – the first is titled Checks and Balances under Option A, which fleshes out the key details of how the Elected Presidency system with a strengthened Council of Presidential Advisers as conceived by the Government would operate. The second is titled Checks and Balances under Option B presents a streamlined system of checks and balances with an elected Senate as put forth by the Workers’ Party.

We propose that a Senate be established within our Legislature as an Upper House to exercise the custodial functions that are now exercised by the Elected President. Eight Senators shall be elected from a list in periodic elections where non-partisan candidates will have to fit the qualifying criteria. A Senate Elections Committee will select the most suitable sixteen candidates to stand for the Senate election. Properly mandated by popular elections, the Senate will take over the custodial powers of the Elected Presidency. A Senate veto will return relevant bills to Parliament for debate which Parliament can veto with a ¾ majority. As part of the legislative arm of the State and not the executive arm, and mandated to fulfill a limited custodial role, Senators would be under no illusion of having any executive or policymaking powers. It is the Workers’ Party belief that such a two-chamber legislative system will minimize gridlock and enhance constructive politics.

With the establishment of a Senate, the Presidency shall revert to an office appointed by Parliament with no custodial role to perform. By focusing on unifying Singaporeans and representing Singapore to the world, the dignity of the office will be preserved and protected from the risk of politicization inherent in electoral competition and in checking Parliament and being checked by an appointed Council. Parliament shall consider the multiracial character of society and factor in multiracial representation when making the appointment. This way, the symbolic role of representing our coveted multiracialism will also be preserved and protected from politicization.

Fourthly, the Workers’ Party is of the view that the proposed constitutional amendments are major changes that should not be made with indecent haste and should be put to a referendum.

The amendments to the Constitution that the Government has proposed are far-reaching and wide-ranging, and deserve much more airtime where the changes can be subjected to proper and thorough public debate. Any changes made with indecent haste will expose the Government to suspicions and accusations that it is seeking to shape the terms and outcome of the election, when the country is on the verge of the next Presidential Election.

In the amendments proposed by way of the new Articles 5A, 5B and 5C, the Government has affirmed the utility, desirability and legitimacy of a national referendum in introducing controversial changes to presidential candidate eligibility. Given that the Prime Minister has acknowledged the proposed fundamental changes to the Presidency are controversial and potentially unpalatable to many members of the public,[3] we believe that a national referendum on these proposed amendments should be held after an appropriate period of public debate.

The public should be presented with a simple choice between the Government’s proposed amendments and the Workers’ Party’s proposal as outlined in this paper. The two options represent the main ideas mooted by the Constitutional Commission with minor modifications. As such, we believe the referendum questions should be marked in non-partisan manner as simply Option A and Option B, as explained by Ms Sylvia Lim earlier. A simple majority should suffice to decide the referendum.

In conclusion Madam Speaker, should this Bill be passed in its current form, the Elected Presidency, we will soon host a triple-weak situation. A weak institution that is structurally flawed in hosting different and contradictory objectives, weak public knowledge about the powers of the Elected President and finally an Elected President whose electoral mandate will be weakened as a result of the strengthening of the unelected Council of Presidential Advisers.

This House needs to focus its energies on the path that the Commission has laid for the future of the Elected Presidency. Instead of rushing this Bill through parliament in time for the next Presidential Elections, the Workers’ Party calls for the Government to delay any changes to Elected Presidency. The Government should do this not because it is has been suggested by Workers’ Party or the Constitutional Commission in varying forms but to protect the institution of the Presidency and to create a more accountable and robust system than the one we host today for the next 50 years.

Thank you.

Written by singapore 2025

12/11/2016 at 7:17 am

Parliament: Preventing the Scourge of Online Gambling in Singapore (Pritam Singh) – Adjournment Motion – 7 Nov 2016

Preventing the Scourge of Online Gambling in Singapore

Madam Speaker, I am speaking on this adjournment motion as a result of the debate that took place during the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014. I noted in my speech then that terrestrial and online gambling are two very different realms that would require different approaches to address the problems associated with gambling.

To this end I would like to refer to a section of the speech made by the then Minister of Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing on online gambling and I quote: This is an evolving challenge. It is a difficult challenge. We need to stay vigilant to stay ahead of the threat and the challenges. We need to stay ahead and be prepared to strengthen our safeguards as necessary proactively and creatively. And we need concerted efforts by all – individuals, family and society – to keep our eyes on this issue. And we need to make sure that our measures are multi-pronged – upstream, midstream and downstream (unquote).

During the last session of Parliament, I directed some supplementary questions at the current Minister of Social and Family Development about these multi-pronged measures that the Government had sought to introduce to check online gambling. The answers did not suggest any specific initiatives introduced by the Government since the debate on the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014 to tackle the online gambling realm any differently from terrestrial gambling, even though the Government has acknowledged that its methods of outreach between terrestrial and online gambling have to be different. So I would like to ask the Minister again, what new upstream, midstream and downstream measures has the Government instituted to prevent the scourge of online gambling since the passage of this Bill in 2014? One would have thought that it ought to have been imperative for the Government to go public with these new initiatives well before granting exemptions to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club to offer online gambling services starting from October 2016.

Madam Speaker, the choice of the usage of the word scourge in my speech fulfils a specific purpose. Why do I call online gambling a scourge?

Impact of Online Gambling on the Young and Low Income

The American Psychiatric Association places pathological gambling in the same category as drug dependency and alcoholism in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It says that gambling “activate(s) the brain reward system with effects similar to those of drugs of abuse” and that “gambling disorder symptoms resemble substance use disorders to a certain extent.”

Numerous academic studies have found that online gambling is more addictive than other types of gambling, and that online gamblers have higher rates of gambling addiction than traditional gamblers. The Internet has greatly increased the accessibility of gambling. A 2015 study in Spain found a significant increase in pathological gamblers two years after the legalisation of online gambling in that country. The problem was found to be especially serious among young people – online gambling has become the main form of pathological gambling among people below 26 years old in Spain.

These results are unsurprising, since millennials are more comfortable using Internet technologies than their older compatriots.

Online gambling has another dark side. Problem and pathological gamblers can place bets using their smart phones without their friends and family members even noticing, unlike when they visit the casinos or go to the Turf Club. This removes a very important informal safeguard against problem gambling.

An important part of addiction treatment is for the problem gambler to avoid putting himself in situations which could tempt him to lapse back to his bad habit, for example, by avoiding casinos, jackpot rooms or other physical locations where gambling is available. However, it would be impractical to expect a problem gambler to refrain from using his mobile phone or computer as these are needed for modern day work and personal communication.

A longitudinal study of gambling and problem gambling in the U.S. between 1999 and 2013 found that problem gambling affects the poor more than the rich. The prevalence of frequent gambling is highest in the poorest one third of respondents and those in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and it declines dramatically as socio-economic status increases. This could be because some in the lower income group are motivated to gamble in an attempt to improve their financial status.

Raising Revenue from Gambling

The most common reaction I have heard from Singaporeans to the news of the issuing of exempt operator licenses is that the Government just wants to “make more money”. While am sure the Minister will refute this accusation vigorously, the fact remains that a large part of legalised gambling revenue goes into the state’s coffers. Is providing for exempt operators a way to redirect gambling spending away from illegal overseas operators to local operators, which are owned by the Tote Board? If so, this only fuels public speculation that the Government simply wants a piece of the huge global internet gambling pie, and that this is a revenue-raising exercise done at the expense of Singaporeans’ welfare.

Some have argued that the Tote Board gives money to many charities, which help the vulnerable in our society. This is a morally questionable argument that is akin to saying that it is okay to harm some people in order to help others. Since problem gambling disproportionately affects the poor, collecting revenues from online gambling is in effect a regressive tax on the most vulnerable in our society.

Prohibition is the Best Way Forward

The Minister said that the Government looked at a similar exempt operator regime in Hong Kong and Norway and found that the problem gambling situation did not worsen. I am not sure what these studies were or what the exact findings were. I hope the Minister will be able to share the details of these studies for Singaporeans to examine.

Did these studies prove that having an exempt operator regime reduces gambling harm more than a complete prohibition of online gambling? If not, was the Government too eager to rush to exempt operators before more conclusive results are found?

Madam Speaker, we should not be gambling with the lives of Singaporean families.

In the aftermath of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) dialogue with the Government, it was reported the carve out created for exempt operators to legally provide online gambling facilities were based on studies relating to the social impact of gambling that the Government had documented, and its assessment of possible scenarios with and without the ‘valve’ of controlled exempt operator. The NCCS noted that the research on this area is still new. To this extent at the very least, the Government should publish its research in this area especially since the Government will reportedly be meeting up with NCCS leaders in three to six months time.

The Minister has argued that exempt operators provide an “outlet” for gamblers and allow the government to manage crime associated with gambling. The assumption behind this argument is that gamblers who were gambling on illegal overseas gambling websites will switch over to the exempt operators’ websites or apps.

Has the Government found any studies to show that people will actually switch over to exempt operators? More likely, local gambling apps that have a stamp of approval by the government will attract people who have previously never gambled online. It may include many young people who may not relish queuing up at Toto outlets or going to the races at the Turf Club, but may experiment with gambling for the first time from the privacy of their phones. The legalisation of online gambling will thus expand the gambling market, rather than provide a safe outlet for existing gamblers. Once started, online gambling, like soft drugs, could be a gateway to more serious gambling addictions.

A Fait Accompli?

In its meeting with the NCCS, it was reported that the Government told the NCCS that it was not sending conflicting signals with the partial lifting of the ban on online gambling because the exemptions had already been written into the Bill back in 2014.

It would appear these exemptions were written specifically with Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club in mind. A quick review the timeline of events is as follows:

October 2014: Remote Gambling Bill passed.

July 2015: Singapore Pools and STC apply for exemptions.

July 2015: Straits Times reports that Singapore Pools had hired OpenBet to replace its website with one that can offer sports betting, and the contract is estimated to be worth $10 million.

15 September 2016: Singapore Pools and STC were reported to be running final tests on their new online betting websites.

29 September 2016: The Government grants exemptions to Singapore Pools and STC.

25 October 2016: Singapore Pools launches new online betting website, although this was not widely reported in the mainstream media.

$10 million is no small sum. It would be a huge gamble to sink $10 million into a contract without knowing it would pay off. Yet more than one year before the exemptions were granted, Singapore Pools appeared to have done exactly that. In the eyes of the public, it would seem that the yearlong evaluation of the applications was conducted with one outcome in mind – to find a way for Singapore Pools and the Turf Club to carry out online gambling operations. Was the process meant to determine whether or not the applications should be approved, or to determine how they could be approved? To this end, will the Minister inform this house under what circumstances the Government will review the exemptions granted currently to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club and how it plans to review them in an on-going manner?

During the 2014 debate, I asked the Minister to put the Bill before a Select Committee so as to scrutinise the exemption clauses. This request was turned down as the House was told that the Government had already engaged in consultations. However, in its recent meeting with the NCCS, the government cited its consultations with social service leaders and religious representatives as justification for the exemptions. Was the NCCS part of the “religious representatives” consulted in drafting the Bill? Did they agree to the exemptions? If so, why have they changed their position and if not, why weren’t they consulted before?

While feedback through the government channels should not be discouraged, we should remember that they are not subject to the same degree of parliamentary scrutiny in terms of the range of opinions consulted and the extent of public scrutiny. On Bills that provoke as much controversy as this one, should we not take the extra step to establish relevant Select Committees to go over the implementation and provisions with a fine-tooth comb? In exchange for a bit more time, we gain the opportunity to deepen public engagement and generate greater support for our laws.

Insufficient Safeguards

The Government says that there are safeguards in place to prevent gambling addicts from harming themselves and their families. These include self-exclusion and third party exclusion. However, self-exclusion is only practical for those who recognise that they have a problem. As for third party exclusion, a family member has to cross several difficult hurdles to get his or her loved one placed on the exclusion list. This includes being interviewed by a panel and having to show proof of the family member’s gambling addiction. The surreptitious nature of online gambling addiction means that such proof will be hard to obtain.

International studies have found that each problem gambler negatively impacts an average eight to 10 family members, colleagues and friends. Also, most problem gamblers do not seek help until they hit rock bottom – for example if they have wiped out all their family savings. These suggest that the numbers affected by problem gambling are much higher than official statistics show.

Unlike other vices like alcoholism and drug abuse, the costs associated with problem gambling are borne almost entirely by family members, who often end up paying off the debts of the gambler. The embarrassment associated with problem gambling means that the gamblers and their families rarely talk about their problems in public. Because of this, there is a tendency for policymakers to overlook the real social impact of problem gambling. As part of its on-going review of the exemptions, the Government should look into the implementing more stringent ‘circuit breakers’ – for example, tying expenditure and daily funding limits to an individual’s salary scale, deliberately set as a low percentage of one’s salary or removing the user-defined funding and expenditure limits. Separately, Singapore Pools and the Turf Club should be required to collect detailed statistics so that the Government and the public can better study the trends of problem gambling online. Anecdotally, many cases of loan sparking “runners” are linked to problem gambling. There should be better statistics gathered on such tragedies to better establish the extent of their links to problem gambling. This will enable a proper assessment of the impact of the exemptions on the rates of gambling and problem gambling.

We need to look further downstream to prevent gambling habits from taking root. Particular focus should be on young people. It would appear that many young men are introduced to the habit during their National Service days through army mates, or at their workplaces. More targeted public education is needed, especially among young people, if we are to prevent the scourge of gambling from spreading in our society.

The best safeguard is to lessen the avenues for Singaporeans to get introduced to gambling. Legalising online gambling is a step in the wrong direction.

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, there has been a glaring lack of clarity as to how the Government is making preparations to address the scourge of online gambling downstream, midstream and upstream in a directed and committed way. This is in spite of the Government open admission that the online gambling is, I quote, a “difficult challenge”. It would logically follow that the issue would demand significant attention from the authorities. However, one cannot help but to get the feeling that it is business as usual, and that online gambling is just another game to gamble on, or just another sport for the public to take a bet on. I am concerned that it is much more ominous than that.

Written by singapore 2025

08/11/2016 at 7:09 am

Parliament: Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 15 August 2016

Introduction

Mdm Speaker, at paragraph 17 of the judgment in Alan Shadrake, the Singapore Court of Appeal notes that the balance between freedom of speech on the one hand and protection of the administration of justice on the other is at the heart of the law relating to contempt. But rather than to merely codify the common law on contempt in Singapore, this Bill threatens to upset this delicate balance by extending extraordinary powers to the Government.

Contempt by Sub-Judice

The Minister publically remarked after the first reading of the Bill that it merely crystallizes the current legal position on contempt and “does not create anything new”. However, the drafting of Clause 3 suggests this far from the case. If it were so, one would have expected specific reference to the “real risk” test as established in the Alan Shadrake judgment to preface the explanatory statement covering Clause 3. In view of the Minister’s second reading speech, it is now clear that clause 3 does indeed envisage a more stringent test that the “real risk” test in cases of scandalising the court.

However, clause 3(1)(b)(i) on sub-judice contempt, on a plain reading, is also open to interpretation and is hardly determinative. A broad reading of the clause with the conjunction “or” suggests that an individual could be guilty of sub-judice contempt by publishing something that prejudges a pending court proceeding by firstly, prejudicing; secondly, interfering with; or thirdly posing a real risk of prejudice or interference with, that proceeding.

Does this not potentially create different thresholds for sub-judice contempt especially since there is a dearth of Singapore case law on this matter? It also leaves room for the courts to potentially introduce a test other than the “real risk” test, such as the “inherent tendency” test, which has been summarily rejected by the Court of Appeal, albeit in cases of scandalizing contempt, but not sub-judice contempt.

Compounding this ambiguity is the introduction of the term “prejudgment”, a term that is curiously not defined in the interpretation section of the Bill. What does prejudgment entail? Should the Minister argue that it would depend on each case, does he not agree that leaving it open-ended would give the Government significant powers to alter the balance between freedom of speech and the administration of justice to its whim and fancy.

Madam Speaker, on sub-judice contempt in particular, this Bill will legislate vagueness. At best, it would only serve to confuse the public, and does nothing to educate the layman about what qualifies as sub-judice contempt. In reality, it will shrink the common space for discussion on matters of public interest as is typical of human behaviour to be safe rather than sorry. That alone already makes this Bill bad law, negating its very purpose.

No place for fair comment of pending cases?

Furthermore, the concerns many Singaporeans have raised over the clause on sub-judice contempt ought to bring members back to fundamental purpose of the sub-judice contempt in the first place – which is to protect the right to a fair trial.

In his remarks to the media shortly after the first reading, the Minister raised a recent case the 2-year old toddler, Daniel who was abused by his caregivers before he passed away. Minister correctly observed many people were angered by the facts of the case, and Minister queried in such circumstances whether a Defendant would get a fair trial. Interestingly, Minister conceded that the judge – the facilitator in chief in ensuring a free trial – may not be influenced, but instead the witnesses, and the whole environment may be prejudiced or influenced. However, has such a doubt ever been raised in the Singapore context where our judiciary was so helpless as to be unable to oversee a fair trial, and to assess the veracity of the evidence of witnesses? Under the current legislation, it can be argued that many Singaporeans would have conceivably been in contempt when the City Harvest trial was on-going. But did their public comments compromise a fair trial?

Coming back to the toddler’s case, what actually happened and how fast did public anger blow over? Was the judge actually influenced? Were witnesses influenced in spite of negative feedback? And most importantly, did the Daniel’s parents not have a fair trial? To quote the Minister, has the situation “gotten out of control”?

Mdm Speaker, as it stands, there is a “real risk” this Bill would have an unnecessarily detrimental effect on public discourse of matters central to the effective functioning of a participative democracy, and that is why it is so objectionable as it stands.

In reality, there are benefits in allowing the public to comment on cases pending before the courts. For example, in the recent Benjamin Lim case, no reasonable person would argue that the Coroner would not have been able to rule fairly, and this is a testament to the standing of the judicial and legal service, which are already held in the highest esteem not just locally, but internationally as well.

In the Benjamin Lim case, it was the very feedback and concerns raised by the public that contributed to a review of police procedures involving young people and minors before the case was concluded. For most lay Singaporeans, the reality is that criticising policies and the facts central to a pending case will inevitably overlap to varying degrees. That is the very nature of public communication and for the common man, it is not easy to always neatly differentiate between the two. Surely there is a place for fair comment and criticism of pending cases and it does not necessarily follow that freedom of speech has to be curtailed as a result.

Relying on the common law to address sub-judice contempt in egregious cases of sub-judice would more than suffice, so as to preserve a healthy balance between freedom of speech and public confidence in the administration of justice. There is simply no overwhelming reason to pass this Bill when Singapore’s experience with sub-judice contempt in particular has not compromised the conduct of fair trials – the near absence of case law on this matter in our legal history provides the strongest evidence of this.

More Power to the Government

With the passage of this Bill into Law, the Government, and specifically the Attorney-General by virtue of clause 13 now has a potentially overwhelming role in the determining the balance between freedom of speech and the administration of justice. Worse, the Attorney-General only has to prove a prima facie case of contempt, an exceedingly low standard of proof. Even our judges, in whom we have so much respect, are prevented by law from refusing to grant leave should he deem the prima facie standard of proof to be too low and not in correspondence with the public interest in a particular case. In fact, the Government, through the Attorney-General could conceivably abuse the law by virtue of the unclear and highly interpretative words such as prejudge in clause 13(7), and suggestions of a test with a lower burden of proof than the real risk test, which mirrors the identical problematic drafting in clause 3. This vagueness suggests a clear and present danger for civil liberties should the Government decide to interpret the law strictly as drafted, to muzzle alternative voices.

Even worse, making sub-judice contempt arrestable by way of clause 22 and thereby giving the police powers to confiscate personal computers amongst other things appears to be specifically targeted at civil society activists who are not afraid to challenge the Government, and who play their part in serving Singapore by contributing to a diverse public space of voices and views. Proceeding on this course will not only compromise trust between the Government and people in the long run, but between the people and the police as well.

At this stage Madam Speaker, it is useful to review the Government’s record on civil liberties over the last few years in particular.

In 2013 when Parliament passed the Protection against Harassment Bill, the Government canvassed many justifiable reasons for the passage of the Bill. Many were legitimate, such as protecting individuals and public servants from (I quote) “indecent, threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour” (unquote). One would have expected sexual harassment, stalking, bullying in schools to be brought to task under the law, as predicted and in step with the tone of public consultation on the Bill.

But after the Protection of Harassment Bill was passed into law, it was the Government that used the Act to claim harassment from a member of the public in a dispute over a mere patent! It is instructive to recall that during the second reading of the Protection against Harassment Bill, the Minister was silent about the Protection of Harassment Act envisaging the Government as a plaintiff. To then turn around as sue individuals, was a completely unexpected use of the Act by the Government. And if suing an individual was not enough, the Government then proceeded to sue an online news site under the same law!

Earlier this year, the Government proposed and passed amendments to the Government Proceedings Act that allowed the Government to claim costs for more than two legal officers from a plaintiff knowing that the Government has limitless resources to hire the most expensive lawyers and an entire army of civil servants and legal service officers behind it to defend any civil suit.  The Minister-in-charge did not even address why it was amending clause 9 of the Government Proceedings Act, until Ms Sylvia Lim brought it to the attention of the Minister. This seemingly innocuous amendment would inevitably cause an individual to think twice about taking on the Government because of the prohibitive costs involved.

Madam Speaker, even the so-called “sharp edge” of judicial review is blunted when Parliament passes laws that cause ordinary citizens to think twice about mounting a judicial review action, or further strengthens the Government’s hands, as it can conveniently make the case that its actions are within the form and substance of the law as determined by Parliament. This is especially the case for Bills like the Administration of Justice Bill, which is to give the Government maximum scope of action.

In this vein, there are other pieces of legislation over the years that directly impact freedom of speech too, and which have been amended to give the Government greater powers, such as the amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act of 2014, the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notifications of 2013, and of course the Public Order Bill of 2009.

Upon a closer analysis, it is increasingly clear that the Government’s recent record on civil liberties mirror what was known in the heyday of Cold War as “salami tactics” – only that the Singapore version is slightly different and a tad more sophisticated, with the curtailing of civil liberties occurring incrementally, bit by bit or slice by slice, one law at a time which appear justifiable and innocuous when analysed in isolation. Taken together however, they portend a clear and consistent ability to control the public discourse, fair comment and criticism should the Government choose to up the ante to tighten its stranglehold on the public discourse. Viewed in totality, the Government’s approach gives it significant powers to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, how much confidence is one supposed take from a Bill which criminalises contempt by a fine of up to $100,000 at the High Court, and a three-year imprisonment term when the Court of Appeal in Alan Shadrake affirmed a sentence of six weeks imprisonment and a $20,000 fine in what the Court of Appeal called and I quote, “the worst case of scandalizing contempt that has hitherto come before the Singapore courts” unquote. IfAlan Shadrake stands for the worse case of scandalizing contempt in Singapore’s 51-year history, how can the Government justify increasing the prison term and fine by such a wide margin? The Minister commented on a recent civil case where the High Court imposed an imprisonment term of eight months. It would appear that the common law is working fine. Does the Government envisage a higher quantum of fines and imprisonment terms for other contempt scenarios, like sub-judice contempt for example?

Madam Speaker, the Workers’ Party objects to this Bill that overstates the case for the administration of justice to the detriment of freedom of speech.

Written by singapore 2025

19/08/2016 at 9:40 pm

Foreign Policy and the Opposition: A Response to Mr Bilahari Kausikan

Former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr Bilahari Kausikan’s remarks at the fifth and final lecture of his IPS-Nathan Lecture Series titled Dealing with an Ambiguous World: Can Singapore Cope? revisited an intractable pessimism and lack of confidence about the approach of the opposition in Singapore – specifically the Workers’ Party – towards foreign policy in Singapore.

Source: Mothership.sg

This opinion was apparently formed on the basis of a parliamentary question I asked the then Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2013, on Singapore’s decision to abstain on the successfully passed United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN to that of a non-member observer.

I say Mr Kausikan’s views on the matter are intractable because this is the second time the very same point he makes has been carried by the Straits Times, although it is the first time he refers to me by name.[1] In fact, Mr Kausikan, has consistently made the identical point, originally found in an endnote of his contribution to a book published by Straits Times Press in 2015 titled The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew.[2]

I will use the rest of this article to address Mr Kausikan’s misgivings, by putting my views on the drivers of my parliamentary question on Palestine in perspective. In doing so, I will identify the shortcomings and partisan nature of Mr Kausikan’s point about the Workers’ Party approach towards foreign policy, which he anchors on the basis of one parliamentary question, albeit recycled three times across three different contributions authored by him.

Before doing so, it would only be appropriate for me to acknowledge Mr Kausikan for his reflections on a broad canvas of topical issues on global affairs as the second speaker of the IPS-Nathan lecture series. They reveal a personality with an acute sense of Singapore’s interests and the trade-offs that determined Singapore’s foreign policies priorities in years past and present. I personally found his reflections on the management of a rising China in the years to come and importance of avoiding invidious choices, insightful.

In making his point that the Workers’ Party plays “fast and loose with foreign policy for partisan purposes”, Mr Kausikan posed three rhetorical questions. Firstly, if the Arab countries did not think Singapore’s relations with Israel and our position on Palestine were problems, why was the Workers’ Party asking questions on Middle East policy? Secondly, and rather sinisterly, was the Workers’ Party trying to stir our Malay-Muslim ground against the government? And finally, would Singapore benefit if Singaporean Muslims become alienated from the government or non-Muslim Singaporeans?

During the question and answer session at the lecture, in a moment of complete serendipity, a member of the audience asked Mr Kausikan, “What was the political reality of being a Malay-Muslim minority in Singapore?”

Mr Kausikan replied, “I have not the slightest idea what they experience and what they feel [as I am] not a Malay-Muslim.”[3]

Politicians in a multiracial and multi-religious country do not have the diplomatic immunity to deflect such questions.

It is apposite to note that nowhere in my parliamentary question did the Arab countries feature. The reason Mr Kausikan saw fit to introduce a red herring, which is not found on the parliamentary record, is best known to him. On the contrary, my parliamentary question sought to query whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would consider voting along with the majority of ASEAN members on Palestine-specific issues at the UN in future, particularly since all the ASEAN countries voted in favour of the resolution, barring Singapore.

The Straits Times published the Ministry’s position on the aforesaid resolution on 1 Dec 2012, in a short 125-word piece, citing the upgrade in Palestine’s status at the UN as a “unilateral move” that should be seen “in the context of its efforts for full UN membership.” This position, which largely mirrored that of the US – which voted against the resolution – was a wholly incongruous one for some of my Malay-Muslim constituents, some of whom follow the Israel-Palestine issue closely. Much more closely than I had cared to assume.

As Singapore supported a two-state solution, why was it abstaining from a vote that brought Palestine closer to that reality, they asked? A handful requested me to raise the issue in Parliament, and I duly did as it was a legitimate query in my view. It did cross my mind why Singapore would take such a position, which made it stick out like a sore thumb among its closest neighbours in a largely Malay-Muslim neighbourhood. Could such a position unnecessarily unsettle the Malay-Muslim mainstream in Southeast Asia? Was it a wise position to take? And how was it in Singapore’s interests? In fact, there was no readily apparent reason why the Singapore government chose to abstain, since it consistently supported a two-state solution with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a position the government takes even today.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs provided a lengthy, largely helpful and more detailed reply – in step with the political process in a parliamentary democracy – to say that Singapore had consistently voted in favour of Palestinian resolutions at the UN General Assembly. My point was that this consistent course of action had been lost on many Malay-Muslim Singaporeans as the diplomatic and political signature of Singapore’s decision to abstain from voting in favour of Palestine’s ascension to the UN as a non-member observer, overshadowed our earlier voting patterns on Palestinian issues at the UN.

Even so, the ground sentiments of the Malay community on Palestine did not start to manifest themself as a result of my parliamentary question. To this end, it is helpful to consider some of the public sentiments on the Israel-Palestine issue that have been published in the Straits Times from Singaporeans of all racial and religious stripes, particularly Malay-Muslims. These go some way to answer the loaded question posed by Mr Kausikan – would Singapore benefit if Singaporean Muslims become alienated from the government or non-Muslim Singaporeans? The answer is an obvious one, but wholly irrelevant and unconnected to the point Mr Kausikan seeks to make.

In 2005, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts and MINDEF organised an exhibition titled The Changing Face of Terrorism, which featured the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a photo montage as a terrorist. More than one reader questioned this characterisation and whether it was fair or accurate. In 2006, in response to a piece by the deputy chief of the Israeli embassy in Singapore, a Sikh Singaporean and Young PAP member questioned why the Straits Times published an Israeli perspective on Israel’s actions in the region without offering a Palestinian position on the same matter. In 2007, the President of PERGAS (Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association), in response to the Israeli ambassador’s call for a dialogue with PERGAS, politely replied that any meaningful dialogue could only take place when Israel ceases its aggression and use of force in the Gaza strip and Southern Lebanon, urging Israel to take a more reflective stance on its past actions. In 2009, a Malay Muslim wrote in to state that the bombing of civilians in Gaza was unconscionable, with another eloquently arguing why Muslim communities around the world were outraged over the death of innocent Palestinians.  In 2014, in an event organised by From Singapore to Palestine (FS2P), a group set up in 2012 to create awareness about the Palestinian situation gathered at Speakers’ Corner to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Whether Mr Kausikan cares to admit, the Palestine issue is on the minds of a not insignificant number of Singaporeans. He would have to offer a compelling reason why he considers such foreign policy questions off-limits, even more so in the context of our democratic system of government – and especially since Singapore’s position as an outlier in abstaining on Palestine’s elevation was out of the ordinary from its usual approach. That the Malay-Muslim ground did not “turn against the government” or see “the alienation of the community” by non-Muslim Singaporeans as a result of my question, suggests a flaw in Mr Kausikan’s understanding of the Malay-Muslim ground in Singapore on the Palestine issue.

In the same speech, Mr Kausikan, rather oddly, took issue with another question I asked in parliament on Palestine in 2014, which again, in his view, “could” have inflamed our Malay-Muslim ground. In arguing that the Workers’ Party’s views on foreign policy do not inspire confidence in him, a cursory check of the parliamentary record would show that the 2014 question he refers to, was actually filed by a PAP politician, who was later joined by his PAP colleague enquiring if Singapore could take a stronger stance against Israel!

I had asked a supplementary question on the back of the question filed by the PAP MP on the dangers of self-radicalisation amongst Singaporeans as a result of the shocking images coming out of Gaza, and raising the prospect of this possibility to Israel through the Ministry’s public and private channels. In the name of consistency – which Mr Kausikan argued, in reply to separate question after his lecture, was “overrated” – the ambassador would have to concede that the filing of the question on Palestine and subsequent supplementary questions by the PAP MPs could have inflamed the Malay-Muslim ground as well. Why he chose not to make this point is best known to him.

Mr Kausikan concluded his lecture by stating that he was not pessimistic about Singapore’s ability to cope with the complexities ahead. In so far as the Workers’ Party’s approach on foreign policy is concerned, he ought to have no difficulty in opining similarly.

A check of the parliamentary record would show that on defence and foreign policy issues, the Workers’ Party adopts a measured approach, best appreciated by the tone of the Committee of Supply debates between members of the WP MPs and PAP Ministers. We do not hold back from asking questions on defence expenditure and other difficult issues, as seen most recently by the back and forth between the Defence Minister and Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap on the challenging issue of halal kitchens on our warships. But we do so with the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at the centre of our objectives, and in the context of a multi-racial society where every community has a right to have its reasoned voice heard in parliament. That has been the guiding principle of the Workers’ Party and must be so of all Singaporeans, regardless of our political affiliations.

In the final analysis however, it takes two hands to clap on an existential issue for Singapore such as foreign policy or for it “to stop at the water’s edge” as Mr Kausikan puts it. At this year’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Committee of Supply Debates, which included contributions made by PAP and Workers’ Party MPs, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan remarked, “Mdm Chairman, I thank the Members of the House for sharing their perceptive insights yesterday. I am gratified by our unity of purpose. The friends and protagonists that we have on the international stage will not be so much listening to what I have to say, but rather to the congruence of the discussions and the debates in this House. It is important that we demonstrate unity of purpose.”

Achieving such a unity of purpose on foreign policy in parliament is not an alien concept to the Workers’ Party. Nothing is stopping the government and ambassadors like Mr Kausikan from engaging opposition politicians with a view to achieve this unity outside parliament too.

_____________

[1] “Foreign Policy is no laughing matter”, The Straits Times, 8 June 2015.

[2]  In the book, Mr Kausikan also took issue with the Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party, Mr Low Thia Khiang for asking the Minister of Foreign Affairs why Singapore had brought the Indonesian transboundary haze issue to the UN in the past, but not in 2013, on the back of the worse episode of haze to affect Singapore. To Mr Kausikan, this was “politicking”.

[3] See video from 1.31.30 onwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gViA1O9L934

Written by singapore 2025

27/05/2016 at 2:42 pm

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