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Silence is not always golden

The Straits Times has reported the case of a 20 year old offender who was given 8 strokes of the cane instead of 5 strokes as ordered by the courts. (Link)

As far as the authorities are concerned, all that the report would say so far, is:

“It is understood the Attorney-General Chambers is aware of the case and is looking into the matter.”

While it may be too early to demand explanations from the AG Chambers, I hope that we won’t be given the standard bureaucratic non-replies we have been seeing of late.

The ministries have basically ignored calls for explanations or given vague and non-enlightening answers to issues such as:

  1. The termination of playwright Alfian Sa’at’s position as a relief teacher in a secondary school.
  2. The losses incurred in the UNSW debacle
  3. The losses incurred in the Shin Corp saga
  4. How ex-NKF chairman Richard Yong managed to give the authorities the slip and abscond
  5. Investments of the GIC
  6. The 5 day work week issue, particularly for teachers
  7. Why the EDB was never audited by the Auditor General for 46 years before this year

The PAP government’s favorite and oft-repeated counter-argument when faced with accusations of non-acountability or transparency is to say that the PAP government is accountable to the people through the ballot box, once every 5 years.

They would also add that if the PAP has not done a good job, the people are free to vote them out.

While a once-in-5 years ballot may indeed result in the PAP being thrown out as government, to use this as a standard or counter-argument when simple answers to questions raised would suffice, gives the public the impression that the government has something to hide.

The local media

The local media should also take some of the blame for such practices of non-accountability.

The local media hardly questions or probe the government on such issues, preferring to play along by ignoring questions raised by the public.

If one has taken a look recently at the coverage in the Chinese press on the Christopher Lee drunk-driving case, one would see an almost over-the-top focus on it.

Yet, more important issues of national interest are woefully ignored.

Our television programmes

A simple survey of the local television programmes schedules also shows a hopeless lack of insightful programmes. Take a look one of these days and you will see that our television programmes are made up of mindless local sitcoms, tiresome 3-way-love-triangle local dramas, stale “reality shows”, singing contests, game shows, etc etc.

One would have hoped that our standard in television programming would have improved over the years.

But sadly, it seems that the powers-that-be would rather our programmes stay scrapping the bottom of the barrel – with programmes which does nothing to stimulate the mind.

There is a complete lack of critical political or social programmes which are insightful or incisive.

When was the last time you saw any meaningful debate on television about Shin Corp, or UNSW or the GST hike, or the upcoming transport fare hike? Or how about the death penalty? The CPF? GIC? The struggles of the poor?

I mean, when was the last time you saw a local politician on television – other than a PAP politician?

Almost never. And even if there were, it was only for a very very brief moment, almost always with a voice-over.

Serving whom?

When even the media abandons its duty of serving the public interest, it is no wonder then that the people becomes numb and feels completely helpless about issues which they feel strongly about.

And when a people feels helpless, how do we engage them or foster a sense of belonging to the country?

When the media becomes a complete tool of the ruling party, or what David Marshall once famously terms them, “poor prostitutes and running dogs”, the government of the day then can selectively choose to be “accountable” – or not.

It has become a situation where the elites in government have a monopoly over everything – even on which issue/s get adequate airing.

And the people essentially becoming silent lambs.

One can only hope that the attorney general, in the abovementioned case, will give a clear and precise explanation to the mother of the 20 year old why her son was given an extra 3 strokes of the cane.

Singapore cannot, in the 21st Century, carry on as if it were still in the Dark Ages.

**The Straits Times Saturday edition (30 June 2007) also reported:

“This is not the first such incident.

In 1988, a 23-year-old offender convicted of armed robbery was given 48 strokes of the cane - twice the legal maximum allowed for an adult at a single trial.

He sued the Government but the matter was subsequently settled out of court, said senior lawyer Peter Fernando who acted for him.

The cause of the mix-up was not disclosed, but it is believed prison officials sought clearance from outside the Prisons Department before they went ahead.

'The terms of the settlement are confidential,' said Mr Fernando yesterday.”

 

*Update – 16 July 2007 from Channelnewsasia:

"The error occurred at the stage of transcribing the sentence from the case file onto the warrant of commitment. The warrant of commitment notifies the Prisons Department the sentence that was passed to the offender.

"When preparing the warrant, the court clerk erroneously entered the sentence for the second charge as six months imprisonment and six strokes of caning instead of three strokes, thereby giving rise to eight strokes of the cane instead of a total of five strokes. Unfortunately, the sentencing District Judge also did not spot the error when he signed off on the warrant."

- Law Minister Prof Jayakumar in Parliament