~ by Cheong Yaoming ~
TOC was present at Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s press conference with lawyer M Ravi this morning. Below is a transcript of a statement Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam delivered and his answers to some of the questions by members of the press and TOC.
Good morning. I’d like to thank you all for coming today. As you know on 6 July 2012, I filed in the High Court to request a judicial review of the government’s loan of US$4 billion dollars to the IMF.
Before I answer your questions I would like to take a minute or two to clarify some points.
As you know we have been trying to get an answer from our Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and President Tony Tan Keng Yam about our Republic's loan commitment to the IMF.
So far, there has been no request for approval, no debate and only one question tabled in Parliament and this was clearly a stage managed exercise rather than a genuine backbencher protest.
It is an appalling situation that it seems to take a court filing nowadays for a citizen to get an answer.
· I have brought this action in my personal capacity as an ordinary Singaporean. That is because I believe this issue is too important to be restricted to a narrow partisan political view. I know that the majority of Singaporeans, if not all of them, have concerns over their CPF savings and our reserves.
· Many Singaporeans are similarly concerned about government accountability and transparency. They would like Singapore to be a better place and they recognise that, a government fully accountable to its citizens, is a necessary condition for improvement.
· Let’s be clear, the amount of the loan is not inconsequential. To put it in context, US$4 billion (S$5 billion) is:
o Over twice the amount the government allocated in Budget 2012 for healthcare subsidies.
o More than the total budget allocated to Health in 2012.
o More than forty times the amount MCYS has allocated to help needy families.
o On a per capita basis it is more than three times the amount provided by the UK and 2.4 times what Australia, a much wealthier country, has provided.
· The US and China, as of this moment, have offered nothing. Ditto Hong Kong whose economy is of a similar size to ours.
· These other countries, which have pledged, have universally done so after proper robust debate, up against sometime severe opposition even public protests. In the UK, government backbenchers referred to it as “Bailout Bull”; one of the government MPs said “You might as well take the money and throw it into the nearest rubbish bin”.
· Nations which pledged also seem to have used the promise of a loan as a bargaining tool, demanding something for their own citizens in return before giving away their money. Japan and Brazil being prime examples.
What has our government got to show for the speed with which it agreed? The loan commitments involve the potential use of our reserves or government savings that come from taxes on the people of Singapore.
This matter is now sub judice, so I am not going to comment on the merits of the case other than to say that the government's arguments do not seem to have advanced beyond 1997.
I am sad to say that some sections of the state media headlined their reports of this High court filing with the statement that the MAS had said that the loan commitment was not unconstitutional.
This flagrantly disregarded the fact that the matter is now sub judice and could be interpreted as contempt of court. I will be taking legal advice on this separately.
· I will add that questioning the IMF loan commitment, given with a complete disregard for the right of Singaporeans to know what is done with their precious money, is only one step towards transparency.
· I have also written to the Finance Minister and to the IMF asking questions about discrepancies in the Budget and in the government’s finances. I believe we have a right to know – indeed we need to know – what has happened to the huge surpluses extracted from our people through years of fiscal austerity. Fiscal austerity, which really amounts to neglect of our people’s welfare.
· We will continue to try and force the government through every means at our disposal to provide hard figures on the returns on the people’s money and why they appear to be so low.
In a robust democracy, a government does not hide behind technicalities and dispense with the need to make itself accountable to its people for the use of their money.
Question & Answer Session
Q: What do you hope to get out of this? Do you just want an answer from the government?
A: Not only do we want an answer, we want the government to follow the due constitutional process.
Q: Why bring this case up only now, when there were other occasions of the government using funds in a similar manner? For example the Indonesian loan in 1997?
A: I was not in Singapore during that period and was not engaged in this effort on behalf of the citizens, to try to find out what was done with our money. The arguments made by MAS have not advanced beyond 1997 and it is a completely different world now.
Q: What about GIC and other uses of State funds?
A: I don’t want to get into semantics over different assets, but the main point of my High Court application is to call for transparency and accountability on what is done with our reserves.
Q: You mentioned that there is a different mood now compared to 1997, so how confident are you that your action will succeed now?
A: I’m not familiar about what happened in 1997 but the then that argument that Parliamentary approval was needed got rebuffed with Latin phrases. These are issues that still need addressing now, we need an answer. The public mood is certainly different as people more aware of their rights.