By Teo Soh Lung
As I watched this video of Minister Ng Eng Hen in parliament on 9 Jan 2017, I cannot help feeling disappointed at how our government handles the detention of our 9 Terrex vehicles and other equipment.
All it knows is throwing the law at Hong Kong and assuring itself that it had received legal advice that the equipment are “protected by sovereign immunity even though they are being shipped by commercial carriers.”
If it is so confident that the advice given by its legal advisers is right, then why involve the prime minister in writing a letter to the Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying to “reiterate the same message”? Why bother to get our Consul General in Hong Kong to press the issue? Why not just sue instead of engaging in half-hearted diplomacy?
The minister said that the Hong Kong authorities “have responded that the investigation is ongoing and will take some time to complete and that the Hong Kong government will handle the matter in accordance with their laws.”
It is best that the Singapore government sit back and wait. Two months is too short a time for the Hong Kong authorities to investigate and decide whether to release, detain or confiscate our property.
I say this because the Singapore authority has still not completed its investigation of Cooling Off Day offences allegedly committed by several activists even after more than 7 months. It is still holding on to several personal computers and mobile phones it seized from them. These are worth several thousand dollars. How then can it expect the Hong Kong authorities to decide whether to release, detain or confiscate S$30 million worth of our property?
The government must be realistic. Be patient. Eat a bit of the medicine it dishes out to the people every day and be humble.
In answer to several questions raised by MPs, the minister assured us that the 9 Terrex vehicles can be purchased in the open market, contain no classified information and are insured. We have no means of testing the accuracy of these statements. But I have questions pertaining to insurance.
Has the government been advised that a seizure resulting in a forfeiture of the property by a hostile or friendly country will also be covered by insurance? Will this exempt the insurer from liability under similar exemptions classified as “act of God” or even specifically exempted in the insurance policy? And how much were the equipment insured for?
There are rumours that the Terrex vehicles and military equipment were not declared in the manifest. Has this been the practice? I am told that no ordinary port would allow such vehicles and equipment to berth if there was such a declaration because they pose a danger. What if these goods contain explosives and an accident occur. Hong Kong harbour will be blown out of existence! If this is true, will the insurance policy be voided.
The minister has declared that it is not unusual for SAF to transport military equipment using commercial carriers. We have been using our own carrier, NOL to transport military equipment until it was sold to APL. So we were very lucky in the past. It is just bad luck that APL has now to face the consequences. But will this fact give APL a defence to the government’s claim? And what if China checks the documentation for the past years for irregularities? Will our troubles be multiplied?