What if the President refuses to sign the death warrant?

In August 2010, High Court judge, Steven Chong, made the following pronouncement:

“I therefore hold that the President has no discretion under the Constitution, and specifically under Article 22P, to grant pardons. The power to do so rests solely with the Cabinet.”

He was passing his ruling on Yong Vui Kong’s challenge on the authority of granting clemencies in capital cases.

As the presidential elections draw nearer, the focus seems to be on the financial “watchdog” role of the elected President. That seems to be the overarching duty which everyone is focused on. So, the urging from the government is to vote for the person who can best fulfill that role.

In short, it’s all about the money.

But here’s a question: Why is so much emphasis placed on the financial “watchdog” role of the president, while at the same time he is not given any power at all over the fate of human life? It would seem that – to the government – money is more important than human life. Right?

Continue reading “What if the President refuses to sign the death warrant?”

The danger of anger turning into hate

“On the one hand, Chiang Nee’s piece is superficially positive, specifically with regard to integration of the races. But the reality remains that 36% of all residents in Singapore are foreigners. Even post-elections, the government has stated that a 2-Singaporean, 1-Foreigner workforce ratio is ideal, in view of business/economic necessity. What impact will this have on our social compact? Considered views please.” – Pritam Singh, MP for Aljunied GRC, on his Facebook wall.

Pritam was referring to this article by Seah Chiang Née: http://www.littlespeck.com/content/lifestyle/CTrendsLifestyle-110625.htm

I share his concerns about the impact on Singapore’s social compact by the government’s immigration policy.

In recent times especially, there have been several instances of foreigners in Singapore behaving in condescending fashion towards the locals. This has given rise to an increasing sense of anger among Singaporeans towards foreigners.

In the last few weeks alone, a number of foreigners too have been linked to violent crimes, the most notable of which is the suspected murder of a women in Woodsland who was found in a water tank. Just last week, the half-body of a Chinese national was found at Bedok reservoir.

The government seems to have kept silent on these incidents and this is a matter of concern. Keeping silent breeds contempt among Singaporeans who are worried about jobs (which the locals say is being taken from them by foreigners) and safety and security (from the seemingly increasing number of crimes committed by foreigners).

I urge the government to take these seriously and look into these.

Having said that, it is also important for Singaporeans not to lump all foreigners together and paint them all with the same broad brush. Sure, there are foreigners who aren’t civic minded, just as there are Singaporeans who are the same. We should not think that all foreigners are bad. And truth be told, we should not hate these foreigners for anyone would go where there are opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

What we want to see changed, and what we and the government should be focused on, is the immigration policy.

As many have said so many times, the policy is faulty. It has resulted in one-third of our population being made up of foreigners.

This has led to consequences in all areas – housing, healthcare, education, public transport, cost of living, and so on.

But even if you are vehemently against the foreigners themselves, I urge you to distinguish those who left their home country, gave up their kin-ties to their homeland, and have settled here; and those who are here short term for economic purposes.

They are entirely two different groups of people.

The former are Singaporeans. They made a choice to stick it out with Singapore and we should welcome them. Yet, even the second group is not to blame, really. As I said, anyone in the world would go where better prospects take them – and this include the more than 200,000 Singaporeans working overseas at the moment.

We must guard against our anger turning into hate – and worse, acting on that sense of hatred.

We are not powerless. Instead of turning our anger on the foreigners themselves, we should engage – and even confront – our MPs and ministers and let them know that something needs to be done about the government’s immigration policy – and that this needs to be done sooner rather than later.

If not, I fear that the anger among Singaporeans will soon boil over into deep-seated resentment which will surely then lead to something more serious.

Government ministers and MPs must stop repeating its mantra of praising the presence of foreigners and acknowledge the concerns of Singaporeans.

And once this takes place, the government must address these concerns. And do so effectively.

Take courage – don’t let Gilbert stand alone

There wasn’t a big crowd of people. The late afternoon was hot. 200 or so turned up to support the event titled, “Employ Singaporeans First”, at the Speakers’ Corner on Saturday.

The speakers – eight in all – were well-known personalities. The top of the list was Mr Tan Kin Lian, ex-Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Income and a candidate for the upcoming presidential election, which is to take place before the end of August. The other speakers included candidates from the recent General Election: Ms Jeanette Chong Aruldoss, who spoke passionately about the number of abortions in Singapore (some 12,000 per year) and how some of the women who aborted their pregnancies did so because of financial and economic reasons (read her speech here); Mr Tony Tan (not the Tony Tan from the PAP who is standing for the presidential elections but the one from the National Solidarity Party); and Mr Alex Tan who stood against the Prime Minister’s team in Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Present at the event were also Ms Nicole Seah, Mr Tan Jee Say andMr Jarrod Luo, all candidates in the May elections too.

The topics raised ranged from public housing to employment discrimination and the number of foreign workers in Singapore. Mr Tan Kin Lian also spoke at length about his bid for the presidency. He decided to throw his hat in the ring after Mr Tan Cheng Bock had announced his candidacy and collected the application forms. Mr Tan said he felt that there should be a contest this time round since the last two presidential elections were walkover affairs for the incumbent, President Nathan. Continue reading “Take courage – don’t let Gilbert stand alone”

The ministry at the frontline

Chan Chun Sing. Yea, sure, we all criticised and made fun of him for his seeming arrogance and for his “kee chiu” remarks. Now that he’s made MCYS minister, some may say he is starting off with an insignificant or light-weight ministry. “WHat? A chief of Army being given a kuching kurak ministry?” some have said to me.

But such remarks are quite ill-informed, really. MCYS will be one of the most important ministries – and I might add, with some of the toughest responsibilities to fulfill.

Consider this: By 2030, some 900,000 Singaporeans will be 65-years old and above.

Then consider the issues and problems which this will throw up. Healthcare, housing, welfare policies, employment, cost of living, etc.

Many perhaps will fall through the cracks.

MCYS is the ministry which is at the frontline of administering to these needy cases.

If you also consider that there are currently only 600 social workers in Singapore, you can see the challenge – and the potential problems. In fact, the problems are already here. And one of these is Singaporeans shunning social work. The govt has tried to address this by offering more attractive pay packages, employing more part-timers and foreigners (which throws up more problems of its own) and redesigning the jobs and processes.

In short, if no one wants to do the job, what do you do? Continue reading “The ministry at the frontline”

The other side of politics

The May General Election saw an unprecedented level of support for the opposition parties. In the aftermath of one of the most keenly fought contests, the ruling People’s Action Party – a behemoth of a party – ended up bruised and battered, in more ways than one. But anyone who thinks the giant is down and out would be wrong. The behemoth may have taken a knock but it will soon nurse its wounds and come back fighting again, fangs and all.

For the moment, however, it seems the giant has taken to heart the lessons learnt on the battlefield. Its leader has urged humility among its ranks. And by all accounts, the message has trickled down to the ground.

Some of course are cynical or skeptical about this. No matter – if at the end of the day, residents and citizens are served well. As they say, whatever the color of the cat, as long as it catches mice.

The result and effects of the elections are not consigned to the political. In the past one week alone, non-political activists and organizations have jumped at the opportunity to highlight their causes. From the Cat Welfare Society which has taken Mr Khaw Boon Wan’s promise to stop cat culling, to the Save The Dolphins campaign aimed at Resorts World Sentosa to return 23 dolphins captured from the wild. Then there are the environmentalists, in particular those in support of the Green Corridor, making their voices heard. The proposed erasure of the Bukit Brown Cemetary too is being opposed by those who treasure its preservation for heritage and historical purposes.

In short, we are seeing Singaporeans becoming more open and vocal about non-political issues.

This is a very welcome development and should be encouraged. It is heartening thus to see Foreign Affairs Minister, for example, speaking on the matter of animal welfare at a public forum. Together with Mr Khaw’s and BG Tan Chuan Jin’s remarks about cat culling, it would seem that the government will have to deal with a (perhaps) new segment of Singaporeans who care about less materialistic and political causes.

Is a softer side of Singapore emerging? I would say yes, although the causes mentioned above are not really new. What is new is that, with the help of the Internet, supporters of these causes can and are banding up to lend weight to their voices.

The elections in May have given new impetus to Singaporeans to stand up for what they believe – this is ironically a call that has been made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the years, since he took office in 2004.

One hopes that the government will encourage these movements and even go further by actively promoting and supporting them. The active participation of these Singaporeans add to the vibrancy of our society, and more importantly, empower citizens to do things for themselves and to do so boldly and responsibly.

The government should no longer take a hardline stance on any matter with which it disagrees. Indeed, to do so would further alienate it from the people. This is the most important lesson it can learn from the election results.

Patience, engagement and sincerity are the order of th day from now on. And there is no going back from this.

A government which is able to do these will have won many hearts and many minds.

A week of sadness – and hope

The following was written and published on 6 October 2008, about a week after Mr JB Jeyaretnam had passed away.

It was about 7.30 in the morning of September 30th when my phone rang. “Have you heard?” my friend asked. “Heard about what?” I replied. “JB passed away,” he said, referring to the veteran politician Mr JB Jeyaretnam. My response was, “What? Are you sure?” I asked. “I just heard it on the radio,” he said.”Oh my god,” was all I could manage.

Thus began a week of sadness for me – and many Singaporeans. Over the period, however, that sadness was to turn into even deeper disappointment when later I read the Prime Minister’s “condolence” letter to the two sons of Mr Jeyaretnam. Gerald, my colleague at The Online Citizen, was so upset by the letter that he posted an immediate response on his blog. I too was extremely upset but I told Zheng Xi, the Chief Editor on TOC, Gerald and Leong Sze Hian that I would not dishonour the memory of Mr Jeyaretnam by engaging in and posting a rebuttal on TOC of the PM’s letter. I told them that there will be a time for that later. Continue reading “A week of sadness – and hope”

That makeshift cubicle at the void deck

The following article was written on 3 May, during the period of the General Election in Singapore. I am very glad I wrote this because it resonated with many people and even partly inspired at least one person to join Mr Chiam’s party.

Seeing Mr Chiam See Tong up close is inspiring. Anyone who thinks that age or the two strokes he suffered in recent years have dented his spirit would be highly mistaken. The veteran opposition politician is as stout-hearted as he has always been.

As I waited for him to end his Meet-The-People session on Thursday at Block 108 in Potong Pasir, I was struck by the sight of what must now be legend – that singular table sited at a corner of the void deck, partitioned for privacy by aluminium panels into a makeshift cubicle.

That’s where Mr Chiam has conducted his MPS for 27 years. Continue reading “That makeshift cubicle at the void deck”