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Of $1000 fines and incomplete forms

Jeanette Sylvia Peter

By Ariffin Sha

It’s just a $1000 fine, why don’t AHPETC just pay it and get it over and done with? It’s just two blanks on the form, why don’t NSP’s CEC Members just fill it and continue selling North Star?
“Isn’t it easier to just comply instead of making a mountain out of a molehill?” This is a common question which has been raised over two different incidents which had happened recently – AHPETC’s Court Case and NSP’s appeal to the President.

Of course it is. It has almost always been easier to comply than to resist.

All the more so over something which may seem ‘petty’ in the eyes of many, like a fine of $1000 or the disclosure of one’s financial capacity.

But upon closer inspection, there may be more to what meets the eye. In the case of the AHPETC case, the circumstance in which the words ‘town council’ were removed from the form was unclear. Also, the need for CCC’s support letter was questionable too. Especially in relation to the powers bestowed upon the CCCs when they are comprised of unelected members. Terry Xu has written a good piece which explores this in detail.

Many may not be acquainted with the facts of the case and the relevant issues, but they sure are quick to comment when it comes to AHPETC being represented by Peter Low and Terence Tan and how the possible costs of hiring their legal services (assuming they aren't doing it pro-bono) might be even more than the fine of $1000.

But $1000 pales in comparison to the arbitrary and discretionary powers conferred upon unelected members to restrict the actions of Town Councils.

newspaper permit political associationMore recently, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) appealed to President Tony Tan persuant Section 21(8) of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, Cap. 206 (“the NPPA”), which states: “Any person dissatisfied with any decision of the Minister or with any condition imposed by the Minister under this section may appeal to the President whose decision shall be final.”

As this appeal is less than 12 hours old and there isn’t much information out there besides NSP’s Press Release and Andrew Loh’s piece, I would like to shed some light on this appeal.

The contentious issue the rationale here are the need for all members of the Governing Body of a Political Association to disclose their monthly income and disposable capital, as seen in the form above, to renew their newspaper permit. In this case, the members of NSP’s CEC did not disclose their monthly income and disposable capital as not only felt that it was irrelevant but it was also an intrusion of privacy.

When NSP asked RON why was there a need for them to disclose their monthly income and disposable capital, they took no less than a whooping 39 days to reply. Yes, you read that right, 39 days.

ron reply

Here is the context of what Mr Ong Pang Boon said -

nsp letter

When viewed in it’s context, RON’s justification is flawed on at least three grounds.

1) Mr Ong was talking about the Printing Presses Ordinance, which was passed in 1919 and not the Newspapers and not Printing Presses Act (NPPA) which was enacted in 1975. Mr Ong was commenting on the policy for an obsolete statue in the now defunct Legislative Assembly. Hence, his statement was irrelevant.

2) Even if it can be argued that his statement was relevant, Mr Ong referred to the “financial position” of the applicant as being one of the several factors to be “taken into consideration.” However, he certainly did not elevate the factor of “financial position” to that of a condition precedent.

3) Finally and fundamentally, Ministerial Policies have to bow to Constitutional Rights. In Singapore, the Constitution is supreme. No ministerial policy can infringe a a constitutional right. In other words, Mr Ong’s words, if it could amount to authority for Ministerial Policy, cannot infringe the rights guaranteed by Article 14 of our Constitution which only may be restricted by Parliament under the conditions set out in 14(2)(a).

This is just a fraction of NSP’s argument. The full appeal letter lists out many other good points and incoherency in RON’s justifications. You can read the appeal letter in full here.

There is a lot more to it than just two blank spaces on a form.

I saw a comment on NSP’s thread which read, “This is politics. When you are in power you make the rules.”

To that I replied, “And when your rules go unopposed, you make even more such rules. But if people ‘make noise’ about those rules and more people become aware, you might think twice before making such rules. That is politics too”

“The devil is in the details” may be an overused cliché but it certainly has some truth to it. When people in power find that the people are not resisting to small forms of repression, it gives them confidence to continue and even expand that repressive state. The NLB Saga and "To Singapore, With Love" are two good recent examples.

People tend to forget that the nationwide Civil Rights Movement all started because Rosa Parks, a black lady, refused to give up her seat on the bus. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling for a Civil Rights Movement. But rather, I’m illustrating two things. Firstly, this shows that just because ‘that’s the way things are done around here’ and everyone else is willingly oppressed or giving in, it doesn’t bind you. Secondly, even the smallest of actions can help raise awareness.

If it wasn’t for the Worker’s Party going to Court, most of us wouldn’t have known about the forms and the powers conferred on the CCCs. If it wasn’t for NSP appealing to the President, we wouldn’t know that they are being forced to disclose private information for arbitrary reasons. It has certainly raised awareness about how the state exercises repression and possibly abuses its power, even in the smallest ways.

And I thank NSP and AHPETC for that. They might have sacrificed some things in the process, but we as members of the public did learn quite a bit because of the light they shed.  I certainly do not agree that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Rather, I believe that they  have shown us the dangers of leaving powers unchecked and blind obedience.

This article was first published on Ariffin's blog.