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Investments, town councils, change and SDP.

Letter to TOC (Dec 1)

The following letters were either rejected or are still not published by the Straits Times, except the third one which is to TOC. Just a note: In future, blog postings or blog articles will no longer be considered as a letter to TOC. Also, letters to TOC is subject to a limit of 500 words.

Here are this week's letters from our readers.

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Dear Sir,

I refer to the report headlined: Minister assures MPs: Mis-selling probe is independent [ST Nov 18, 2008], and would like Mr Tharman to respond, specifically, to these questions:

Question 1: Would you please explain, what are the criteria for judging that an investor [1] has been mis-sold and/or [2] has not been mis-sold?

Question 2: Would you agree that any distributor found to have been making misleading or misrepresenting advertising materials, or selling through reprehensible procedures can be deemed to have mis-sold to every investor who invested through them?

Question 3: The so-called independent parties - individuals appointed to perform the review under the first of the three-step process – by whom are they remunerated?

Question 4: How would you define an investor as being "vulnerable"?

Question 5: How would define an investor as being "non-vulnerable"?

Question 6: Would it be unreasonable to say that if a distributor had mis-sold to Ms A or Ms B it had in all probability also mis-sold to Mr X or Mr Y?

Question 7: Would you agree that all these so-called structured products [Minibonds, High Notes, Pinnacle, Jubilee etc] were all highly toxic products that should not have been "registered/approved" for sale to the public?

Question 8: Would you agree that the risk-analysis exercise completed for each investor by the distributor's representative [RM] was, probably in every case, never used to determine whether the investor was suitable for the product concerned? For this you would of course need to see for yourself these risk-analysis forms completed for investors and be aware of the modus operandi of the distributors in the conduct of this part of the sales process.

Question 9: Can you tell us something about the standards or criteria being used by Fidrec for making judgment on cases referred to them?

Question 10: Would you consider it appropriate for MAS to publish in the newspapers statistics [maybe once every two months], in table form, linking information as follows:

Type or name of structured product, Name of Distributor, Total amount invested, Total number of investors, Number of "vulnerable" investors, Number of vulnerable investors if any who have been compensated and Number of non-vulnerable investors if any who have been compensated?

Sincerely,

Richard Woo

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I refer to the article "Town councils to explain" (Sunday Times, 23 Nov).

As the public is still coming to terms with the news that town councils have invested our hard-earned service and conservancy fees into the toxic minibond instruments, I was disappointed with Mr Mah Bow Tan's statement that the residents should go to their respective town councils to ask for a fuller disclosure and explanation if they want to know more.

More importantly. it also raised grave doubts on the reporting channel of our town councils who are seen as aligned closely with the government. Who do they report to actually and if there is a serious breach of regulation in future, who will get the rap? Surely, the town council will not want each resident to go to their office and ask for a detailed disclosure of it's investment whenever it has made a bad call. Moreover, it has failed to be transparent enough in it's annual reporting as most town councils failed to provide full disclosure of it's investments. This has to change.

As each town council has a team of advising MPs and minister if it is a GRC ward, surely the team ought to be more accountable here unless it's existence is merely symbolic. So far, they are very silent. The role and function of our elected MPs in town councils ought to be properly explained to the residents who are so far kept in the dark from any decision making process of our town councils.

The way Mr Mah has explained away the accountability issue of town councils raised the probability that all along our town councils are very independent units. They also answer to no one and we just happened to know recently that they have only to answer to the residents who pay their fees every month.

If that is the case, town councils should operate like the residents' committee of most private estates here. Funds are collected monthly and the committee appointed by popular votes within the estate employed a estate manager to run the maintenance of our respective estate. The residents can then have a choice on how our funds are operated and utilised.

As Singapore is in the midst of a full blown recession and graves times certainly will test the mantle of our governance, our elected leaders ought to show more leadership on how it handled hiccups which inevitably will creep up now and then. I am sure that the population is matured enough to accept some wrong steps along the way. However, failure to accept responsibility and pushing accountability away are something that the most gracious Singaporean will not be able to stomach.

Gilbert Goh

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This is my response to the TOC article entitled “SDP: Misunderstood, misguided or misaligned?” written by Mr Kelvin Lim and published on TOC’s website on 25 Nov.

Mr Lim begins his article by describing SDP as a party which is “arguably Singapore’s most controversial political party, boasting a colourful history involving ideological clashes with the government, inter and intra-party disunity and facing an inundating surge of legal lawsuits and charges.

I have no qualms with SDP being described as colourful or controversial, since throughout history many initiators of great social and political change have invariably been described thus by their fellow men, but I take issue with Mr Lim’s inclusion of the phrase “inter and intra-party disunity”.

Perhaps by “intra-party disunity”, Mr Lim was referring to Mr Chiam See Tong’s disagreements with Dr Chee Soon Juan’s over the latter’s hunger strike as a means of protesting against his high-handed and unjust sacking from the National University of Singapore as a lecturer. In 1993, Mr Chiam had called for the Party to censure Dr Chee, who had been elected to the post of assistant secretary-general earlier in February that year. However, none of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) members supported Mr Chiam’s motion, whereupon the former Party leader tended his resignation, citing that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues.

A few weeks later, Mr Chiam gave a speech at the Singapore Press Club making unprovoked and highly insensitive attacks on the Party’s leadership. The CEC had little choice but to vote to expel him. Mr Chiam sued the CEC for wrongful dismissal and won. Clearly in this instance, the source of whatever “intra-party disunity” originated from but one man, and was not a widespread phenomenon with many parties taking different or opposing sides, as the term “intra-party disunity” would normally suggest. (More information on this can be found here and here.)

Or perhaps by “intra-party disunity”, Mr Lim was referring to Mr Ling Hoong Doong’s and some other CEC member’s disagreements with Dr Chee over whether they should apologize for allegedly defamatory remarks made against PM Lee Hsien Loong and MM Lee Kuan Yew in 2006 during the run-up to the General Elections over the NKF saga in the face of a pending lawsuit. In this case, the other CEC and Party members did not put any pressure on anyone not to apologize. Apologies by Mr Ling and few others appeared in the mainstream press just before polling day. Any perceived conflicts within the CEC or the Party were entirely drummed up by the mainstream media who took full advantage of the situation.

As for “inter-party disunity”, I would like Mr Lim to clarify exactly what he means by that, because to the best of my knowledge, there has never been any “inter-party disunity” between SDP and the rest. From my vantage point, any so-called “inter-party disunity” is between clones and supposed supporters of Opposition parties in internet forums hiding behind anonymous nicks. That should hardly count as “inter-party disunity”, but merely mindless entertainment initiated by brickbats who might have no connection with Opposition parties to begin with.

If Mr Lim was by any chance referring to SDP’s disagreement with Ms Sylvia Lim’s comments at the IBA Conference in 2007 that Singapore’s laws are fair and just and are a good benchmark for international standards, may I point out that free and fair criticism of one another does not in any way amount to “inter-party disunity”. As Opposition parties, we should be willing and in fact eager to accept fair and objective criticism from each other. If not, wouldn’t we be exactly like the PAP, intolerant of criticism and quick on the hatchet?

Mr Kelvin Lim also listed a series of Straits Times headlines illustrating how the media has portrayed SDP negatively over the years. However, his list of headlines is slightly misleading as not all persons mentioned in the headlines are SDP members (although they were participating in activities initiated by either SDP members or SDP supporters). For example, the headline “Illegal assembly: Woman fined $650″ dated 02 Sept 08 referred to an SDP supporter (not a member) who helped distribute flyers in 2006 in conjunction with the WB/IMF meeting. For the headline “A-G takes trio to court for ’scandalising judiciary’” dated 15 Oct 08, two of the three people involved, namely Muhammad Shafi’ie Syahmi Sariman and Isrizal Mohamed Isa, are not SDP members. For the headline “Two fined for taking part in illegal assembly” dated 24 Oct 08, one of the two fined was me, and I’m not an SDP member.

Mr Kelvin Lim goes on to explain why SDP practices civil disobedience and non-violent action, and I found his explanation to be very good. The jist of the reason given is that in the absence of free and fair elections that allow Opposition politicians to compete for Parliamentary seats on an equal footing with those from the ruling party, the only way for alternative voices to be heard and for political pressure to be put on the ruling party to enact reforms to better the system is through civil disobedience and the deliberate breaking of unjust laws, such as those that unconstitutionally deny citizens their basic civil and political rights, such as the freedom of speech and assembly.

Mr Lim asks says it is “debatable whether (Dr Chee’s) confrontational approach has yielded tangible results“, and I would agree with him that the jury is still out on this one, although I would not describe Dr Chee as confrontational. It is not confrontational to speak the hard truth about what is wrong with our political system, but intellectually honest.

Mr Lim writes: “… due to the Singapore’s small geographical size and its traditional economic strength, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been able to respond to the multiple acts of civil disobedience with little visible political cost, by limiting legal action to organisers and speakers instead of participatory audience.”

Again, this is a misleading statement. Legal actions have been taken not only against SDP members, but also SDP supporters like myself who were present at events like the Tak Boleh Tahan Protest outside Parliament House on 15 March this year. I neither organized the event nor gave any public speech during the protest itself. I gave my moral support to the cause by wearing the protest T-shirt and taking a group photo with the rest. I also took other photographs of the event for my personal consumption. When the police gave the order to disperse, I complied. Yet I was still charged for assembly and procession without a permit.

Similarly, for the 2006 WB/IMF rally, even those who were merely distributing flyers at Raffles City Shopping Centre a week before the actual event were charged for illegal assembly, despite that fact that they did not gave any speeches at that time. The flyers were intended to publicise the rally and march that was to be held at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park, on Sept 16 that year.

Hence, contrary to Mr Lim’s comments, legal action has been initiated against participants, observers, and even first-time supporters of SDP protests.

Mr Lim opines that “one may never know for sure whether the move towards liberalising public protest at Speakers’ Corner on 1 September was impelled by the SDP’s acts of civil disobedience by, or a deliberately-paced progression towards active citizenship“. To me, the liberalisation of Speaker’s Corner, is as Alex Au has asserted, mere tokenism that gives Singaporeans a space to air their grievances and conduct their campaigns, but which fails to ultimately recognize that they have certain rights granted to them under the Constitution that they are denied to this day.

I would say that SDP is grossly misunderstood, but clearly not misaligned or misguided. I hope Mr Lim realizes the wool that the mainstream media has pooled over everyone’s eyes in tainting the SDP as a rogue or maverick party with little political agenda apart from breaking the law.

Ng E Jay

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I refer to the article on The Straits Times, Change must come to PAP (16 Nov 2008).

While the PAP should be commended for their pro-activeness in implementing and evolving their party to be relevant to the electorate, I would however like to point out several areas of concern.

1) It appears that PM Lee feels only the PAP can bring about change. This is however narrow-minded in political perspective. While the PAP continues to dominate in local politics that does not mean that it is the only agent for change in Singapore's political system. In fact, given its size and dominance their inertia to bring about change could be overwhelming.

2) With the deeply entrenched influence of the PAP in Singapore, should the PAP ever grow weak, corrupt and incapable of governing, where then is the adequate checks and balance on the government if a one-party system were to remain status quo in Singapore. Will the electorate be bereft of an alternative should the incumbent grow corrupt.

3) PM Lee's position seems to be partisan politics in nature with the suggestion that the opposition or non-PAP activists are incapable of bringing about change for the benefit of Singapore. This reflects poorly on Singapore's style of governance where partisanship politics has led to a polarization of the governance. While the opposition may differ on ideology they nevertheless are sincere and are just as concern about Singapore, by PM Lee's sweeping statement, he has totally disregarded any groups that are not aligned with PAP as incapable and unfit to bring about change.

4) I do not think that many Singaporeans desire to have the Taiwan's style of parliament but certainly Singaporeans desire to see more meaningful and thought provoking debate. While the current batch of PAP MPs had spoken out on many issues, our system of governance modeled on the Westminster style does not allow for the PAP MPs to vote outside of their party line unless the Whip is lifted. Can the PAP then provide meaningful debate within their party?

5) Barack Obama's current style of governance seems to indicate that he is keen to work with anyone who has the best interest of the country regardless of their political affiliation. Why then does the PAP seem to regress in the shell of partisanship politics, believing that they own the monopoly of people who care for Singapore?

Lim Chih Yang

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