Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Don’t hunt for pearls of wisdom

In Money, News Reports, Writing on August 30, 2012 at 1:14 am

I really really don’t like reading repeated stuff. But I had to endure this in ST:

Headline: Surprise for Pearls Centre tenants.

Deck: Most unaware of acquisition of complex for new Thomson line

Intro: News of the Government’s impending acquisition of Pearls Centre yesterday took tenants and residents by surprise. Neither shopowners, residents nor the building management saw the move coming, with most of them saying they have no choice but to accept it.

Enough already!

And frankly I doubt that the journalists spoke to MOST of the complex’s people. But I got through the article anyway because the Chinatown complex is a landmark. And didn’t get much satisfaction. So it’s strata-titled so I guess no one owns the whole building. But landlords, shopowners, tenants and residents seem to be used interchangeably. Story says that the 243 TENANTS have two years to move out. So the people who OWN the shops can stay? And are all the residents on the 11 floors of the complex tenants? How many shop units and residential units. How many owner-occupied and how many tenanted?

Is there a major landlord? Or plenty of small landlords who rent it out? If so, what sort of rents do they command? That would give an indication of the worth of the shops. And what about the residents? Very good location. So how much rent do they pay? Or what was the last sale price?

Eh, how to find pearls of wisdom when don’t even have nuggets of basic information leh? How to analyze or comment on the issue like dat?

The most interesting bit of information was actually towards the end of the story – that the un-named building management had actually started the process going for an enbloc sale. So it must have SOME idea of the value of the place and what it can fetch. Seems to me a lot of people are going to be unhappy about losing not just the shop but the potential windfall they can reap if the sale goes through. In fact, BT had someone referring to this in its story – whether the enbloc potential will be factored into the Govt’s compensation.

The ST story ends with AT LEAST one tenant being happy that there is a “closure” and how it’s a “good thing” that the Government has given an end date. So it ends uncontroversially….Really!

AFTERNOTE: I just read Today’s version. It was better-angled. Referred to the enbloc process in intro. Also, it gave breakdown of commercial and residential units. Tone? Less rah rah.

Brain training

In News Reports, Society on August 30, 2012 at 12:40 am

I wrote this yesterday. But somehow couldn’t get into wordpress

I wish someone pinned Lawrence Wong down further on his assurance that there will not be a glut of unemployed graduates post-2020. So he based it on growth in the manager, executive, professional category from 27 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent last year. And how this is likely to go up further. It’s an educated guess, I suppose, that this sector will provide at least 3,000 new jobs every year? Or is there some kind of scenario modelling we should look at?

I mean Mr Wong must have examined the issue carefully before he reported to the Prime Minister on what sort of university structure we should have – and what sort of degree courses should be taught. Apparently, it’s engineering and allied health – they belong to the “professional’’ category I suppose?  Or is it technical?

Anyway, I have been reading reports about people welcoming the move, even as they worry about future employment. It’s always good to have a shot (I don’t mean the bullet-kind) at higher education, provided that higher education means brain-training rather than just fulfilling a need to fill a space on the assembly line. And having more universities at home means parents don’t have to spend money to get their child a space in an overseas university. Already one in two people in the 26 -29 age group are grads, according to statistics Mr Wong produced, which goes to show that plenty of people have gone abroad or got private degrees over the past few years. So yes, seems we should be educating our people at home.

But there’s also the worry that expanding number of places would mean lowering entry requirements and devaluing the worth of a degree. That would be the case if we think of a degree as the pinnacle of achievement entitling one to the best-paying jobs. But 40 per cent of a cohort thinking that they deserve the best-paying jobs? Seems some norms would have to change. People would have to prepared for the day when not one in two, but maybe three in four  adults are graduates and realise that they all can’t be earning the same kind of big money…

I see a university degree as just a way of saying that the person has been brain-trained. A foot in the door perhaps. Then the rest is up to the individual to prove himself or herself. It might even knock out the “elite’’ aspects of being a university graduate. (Okay, maybe employers might start to distinguish between plain vanilla grads and those from fancy universities abroad… Sigh. And while I am at it, I wish our top scholars would study at home, instead of heading abroad for their basic degree. Our unis not good nor glamorous enough I suppose…)

In any case, whether you come from a fancy or kampong uni,  out in the workforce, it’s not what grades you obtained in school that counts, it’s the extent of your contribution to the company, the economy. A private sector boss might pay you well at first, but not if you rest on your GPA scores year after year. There WILL be more competition for better pay, better jobs. But then again, at the end of the day, you got yourself a better-trained brain to cope with life.

Meritocracy’s demerits

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 28, 2012 at 7:19 am

This is the one big value I would fight to keep: Meritocracy. It is the one big reason this kampong girl is now a well-educated, financially-independent woman. No matter what the background, you study hard, work hard, live honestly – and you will be recognised and rewarded. You will get somewhere. Now meritocracy is getting a bad name.

Mr Heng Swee Keat put it this way: Extreme meritocracy and competition can lead to a winner-take-all society, with the winners thinking little of others. We need to restore a balance to hard-nosed material pragmatism. As Gandhi put it, we must not have commerce without morality, science without humanity and knowledge without character.

Last week, I was at the Inter-JC Current Affairs Quiz hoping against hope that Raffles Institution would NOT win the competition. It did. Sheesh. The only consolation is that the team won by one point. Hwa Chong was second. I was rooting instead for River Valley High, for no other reason than I did not want the usual suspects to sweep the podium. Why can’t we have an “underdog wins’’ story? Why the usual story of an already good school taking the prize? Why oh why couldn’t the competition be fixed?????!

Yup. Not very meritocratic of me.

But I am not alone in feeling this way. Call it envy but I bet a lot of students and parents want a different story to emerge, a story that will give hope to not-so-smart.  I have seen teams from good schools being shunned by other teams. I have watched as other schools gang up or have an informal pact not to let “that one’’ win. Is this competition? Is this about setting the bar high? Or is it resentment?

I have also watched how supposed ‘’scholars’’ group together, speaking a different language about the foreign schools they’ve been too. How others get pissed off at what they perceive as attempts to keep them on the outside. Not enough sensitivity? Or being too sensitive? I have heard the usual talk about how scholars have it easier ; career path laid out. I have the heard the talk from the smart ones too: that they SHOULD be given the breaks.

I don’t think anyone would deny that our smartest students have the brains. But it is no longer the case that we admire them because they  do well by dint of their own hard work. We grumble that they are exam-smart, not street-smart. From the sides of our mouth, we mutter about family connections, father is a doctor, mother is a lawyer, got into a good school, money for tuition etc. And because they somehow seem to congregate in some places, whether by choice or design, the word “elite’’ is used to describe the tribe. Bad word, that.

That is why no matter how hard the PM pleads with parents not to “over-teach’’ their young ones, they are not going to listen. No matter how much they resent the elite, they want their children to belong in those circles. I believe that this pressure on parents to make sure their kids lead a better life than they do is probably a factor in their calculations on whether to have one or two more. They do not want the Singapore story to end with them. They want their children to continue the story. But how?

Because we are such pragmatic people, we do the stuff that would be good for ourselves, sometimes stepping on people along the way. Pragmatism trumps principle. We calculate our worth by the cars we drive, the house we live in, the holidays we take. And smart people talk to smart people, smug in the notion that because they are smart, it is society which owes them and not the other way around.

Maybe we should start thinking about teaching humility. Disband the smart ones and put them among the rest. Break the systems that have been designed to supposedly make sure they can push each other to their limits. I don’t doubt that we will still continue to win prizes at the international level. And even if we don’t, it might not be too bad a price to pay if we build smart people with character and with empathy.

Yes, I know there is this CIP programme where students go visit the old, the sick etc. And while it’s good experience, it’s too programmed. So, you are young and healthy and these are the old, sick, infirm. We’re boxing people. Might be better simply to have students from different schools mix around with each other. . The bright ones must realise they have peers who lead different lives from them and have different needs.    Meritocracy should remain the avenue for social mobility. But people with “merit’’ should not be blind to their own de-merits and the merits of others who are less favoured.

I know the call has always been that the brightest must give back, and how they have an obligation to the society and the system. I am not comfortable with this approach, reducing the need to be nice/kind/charitable to an obligation or duty.

At the end of the day, it’s just about being a decent human being.

Making bad news look good

In News Reports on August 27, 2012 at 9:37 am

Ways to spin bad news:

When crime rate goes up, say  it’s because of good enforcement.

When crime rate goes down, say it’s because of good enforcement

When rape cases go up, say women more willing to come forward now

When drug cases go up, say more people want to be rehabilitated

When divorces go up, say better to split up than be stuck in unhappy marriages

When MRT breaks down, say it’s once in only how many months and  it’s better than train systems in other countries. Confuse by referring to charts.

When more people are caught entering casinos illegally, say Singapore’s anti-gambling addiction measures are working. Defuse by listing all measures.

When losses are made, say signs are there will be an uptick later. Or use words like prognosis, indications and confidence. Enthuse to distract .

When wages are low, say it’s because a) higher wages will make you re-relocate, if you are an employer  b) productivity is low, if you are NTUC c) it is still enough to live on, if you are Government.

When productivity is stagnant, blame a) foreign workers, if you are local b) expensive to buy machines, if you are an employer c) not enough Singaporeans, if you are Government.

When inflation goes up, say it can’t be helped because inflation is imported. Blame the oil producing countries.

When you have to raise prices, blame inflation – and oil producing countries

When people cannot get flat of their choice, say they are too fussy about location. Also good location more expensive

When property prices are high, say it means home owners’ assets now worth more. And there are more of them.

When you make too much profit, say it’s because you give good quality stuff. Like always.

When more civil servants are caught for corruption, say it’s because anti-corruption cops on the ball. As usual.

When anything goes wrong, say you regret it happened.

When anything goes right, say it is because of long-range planning

Thought I should mention that I have started a media consultancy. Called it Newsmakers. Interested parties can reach me through this blog. So yes, this is a shameless plug. Sorry. I hope though that you enjoyed the above which are REAL answers I’ve heard by the way. And which only the most gullible and naive will swallow without question…  




Post-Rally Ramblings

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Dear Prime Minister,

You looked old. Sorry, but that was the first thing that came to my mind when I watched you on TV last night. I guess we’ve all grown old, just like Singapore. Now 47. We live better, yet are dis-contented. We should be happy, but we grumble all the time. We’re rich, but we feel poor. We’re going through a mid-life crisis.

Your speech wasn’t of the hard-charging sort that I’m used to. The tone was that of an elderly relative, telling younger kin that we’re too hard on ourselves, that there’s hope, that they should have a bigger heart and to try and feel at home in Singapore. You were appealing to our emotions, our better nature.

I liked that.

It’s true we are hard on ourselves. I suppose it’s a result of us always trying to be Number One and our expectations of a Government which is so all-pervasive and which always seems – and says it does – have answers to our problems. We always aim to have perfect scores, so we complain when we don’t. It’s only when we are abroad that we see for ourselves what a good life we have compared to other people. Then we become pretty horrible people, complaining about how things are so much better at home.

So foreigners applaud what we do, the Singapore system. Yet we ourselves? Abroad, we are so arrogant. At home , we are so crotchety. We are not a perfect people, no matter how many prizes our students win abroad.The Government is not perfect, and it’s time even the Government acknowledges this. Maybe then, we will cut the Government some slack. And we, the people, are not perfect too. We are grand grumblers who need nannying. You are right that we should stop self-flagellating when things go wrong. Fix stuff, as you say, along the way. Government or people, we are ALL not perfect.

I’m glad you confined your speech to a few broad themes and didn’t inundate us with charts and figures. Your focus was on people. Those who epitomised the Singapore story. I liked especially the anecdotes about the older generation who brought up a younger generation to live better lives that they did. A lot of us recognise that sort of story. And while we might not have the car we want, we forget that our parents didn’t even have one. That while we complain about how tough being in university is, that our parents never had that chance. That while we grumble about not being able to afford private housing, we forget that we grew up quite well in public housing. Of course, it doesn’t mean we should be happy with our lot. But we should be happy enough – not so terribly unhappy.

You noticed that too. The growing intolerance, lack of manners, NIMBY actions. I think it stems from this sense of “entitlement” that we have. We put our individual interest and those of our families first, like the people in the anecdotes that Mr Heng Swee Keat cited. How did it come to be this way? I can’t help but think we are getting irritated with each other because this place is getting too crowded. The irritation is compounded by the unfamiliar faces we see; the unfamiliar accents we hear. I know we should be a kinder people. We’re hitting out, because we want to protect our interest, preserve our private spaces – and foreigners here, like they are everywhere, are an easy target.

I maintain that the Government  did wrong all those years ago in opening the tap so “big” in such a short space of time and disrupting the social fabric. But the deed is done, and the tap is being tightened. Hopefully, over time, newcomers will know the norms here and the old-timers like us won’t be able to note the us-and them differences we now have. But yes, there are too many anti-foreigner rants, especially online. They are a blot  on our reputation. Those websites should be closed down. Or old-timers should take it upon ourselves to shoot down those comments, instead of jumping on the bandwagon. But truth to tell, this is hard to do. Because the vitriol is so thick, you risk drowning in it. But maybe we should pluck up the courage and stand up for some principles. Like this simple one: in a civilised society, you practise civility.

You didn’t knock Singaporeans (although you looked angry when you talk about those websites) you pick a measured tone, advising parents not to over-work their children in pre-school, and laying down the caveats if Singapore wanted to achieve greater heights. Yes, I guess taxes will have to go up sooner or later, hopefully later! We need to cater for the needs of our parents, and very soon, ourselves. Yes, we should have more university places, but only if we can deliver jobs for them. I would add that a university education isn’t just a manpower factory. It should be a place to train the brain, not just a place that will teach a narrow scope which can be applied to a certain job. I get worried when I hear this word “applied” being used. I keep thinking of a small mind who is very good at a small job…Already, just a fortnight into my university life and I have undergrads asking me what is within rules, and against rules. And whether this or that is okay to do or will the authorities be happy or not. I don’t like this. Sure, we don’t want our universities to be hotbeds of protest but neither do we want them to be flocks of sheep.

What I really liked at the education front is that the Government refrained from nationalising pre-schools. Good, I thought. No need for so much Government in every single thing. But that’s just me from the Less Government school.  I cannot speak for the parents of today’s toddlers. Will they also think that more choices are better, or want the Government to do everything – so that if anything goes wrong, we can blame the Government as always..?

As for the baby part, I thought you were masterly in your approach. You didn’t harangue women who didn’t get married, or urge men to do their national service at home. And it was good that you didn’t prescribe the “solutions” but left them as proposals that can still be debated.  At least, I hope they are not cast in stone yet… because part of the national conversation must include this – how to secure our future if we don’t have enough babies. It can’t be done by Government fiat.

You concluded on memories of home, and you can tell from the faces in the audience how much people identified with what you said. But when you start speaking of old places that have been demolished, I think people are wondering why you didn’t say anything about conserving the past. Sure, we can’t keep harking back to the past, but we need more than memories as reminders.

Home is where the family is and anyone here who has ever been offered a job abroad thinks very hard about who he has to leave behind. We are not like the Americans who return home only for Thanksgiving or the Chinese who travel to their hometown once a year for the Chinese New Year period. We are a small country, with relatives’ a stone’s throw away in any direction. In fact, our small size is our big strength when it comes to fostering family ties. On that front, I think we’re okay.

I think of National Rally speeches as a kind of pause button for the nation. You have spoken, and it’s time we sit back and think about what you have said. Whether we agree with you or not. If we don’t, what’s the reason (and not just shoot from the hip) And if we do, what is the part we can play.

Thank you for your speech, Prime Minister.

You gave me hope for this home where my heart is.

Nursing the doctors in SAF

In News Reports, Society, Writing on August 25, 2012 at 2:00 am

Sometimes I think the men in this country forget that there are women here too. I am referring to ST Page 1 story on SAF to tap expertise of civilian doctors. If I was a mother with a son doing national service, I would be dead worried. Because nothing is said in the story about the “current” situation regarding medical treatment for our boys in green. In fact, I don’t even know how many guys there are in NS. Apparently, 40,000 NSFs, according to Today. But how many doctors or medical officers (what’s the difference)? What’s the ratio? All I have is six to eight doctors sign on each year. And the number is 20 per cent more today than 10 years ago. This has always been my beef with journalists. What in heaven’s name is 20 per cent more?? From 10 doctors to 12? From 100 doctors to 120?

Also, what is the current standard of medical care in the SAF? How many guys see doctors? For what ailments? And what if they need specialist help? What about number of doctors stationed at training exercises? For this, I have to read Today to find more, just a bit more. But at least more. So it seems there’s gonna be a Pilot Physician Partnership thing and the NS doctors are going to be rotated to the hospitals before they become full-time SAF doctors.

Of course, the papers went to town with the announcement of the new medical training facilities. TNP even had a very nice graphic. Well and good. But hey, can get answers to critical questions first before going rah-rah at yet another innovation by the G, which I don’t even know people need….?

PM, before his National Day Rally

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 25, 2012 at 12:44 am

Public engagement must include the coffeeshop crowd. So here is the PM getting feedback from the nation’s heartlanders  surrounded by cups of kopi-see or whatever poison of his choice

Uncle, aunty! Hoh boh? Makan already?

Food expensive ah? Ya, I know. You know lah, how difficult for Singapore, food must buy from outside, everything must buy from outside. How to control price? But my people tell me won’t be so bad from now. Prices not going up so fast. Still high? Okay, I see what I can do. But you got your rebates right? Spend properly lah. Or eat at home. Oh. Got no time to cook…Your daughter leh? What is she doing? Oh. Working. No time to cook. No time to find boyfriend also…

What?! She don’t want to get married?! But she must! Tell her to find boyfriend fast, then she go get HDB flat. Flat cannot afford? Depends lah. Which location? Try three-room first.  Anyway, my people coming up with something for people like her to get married and have babies. You want another grandson or not? Don’t want? Want to sit in coffeeshop all day with your kakis…. Alamak.

Your son how? Got job already? He say pay too low? So what he doing everyday? Oh. He go casino ah. Can afford the $100 to go in meh? You want me to ban him from going in? We can put him on this list so he cannot go in. What that’s the only way to make money? If not, he become ah long? Cannot. Cannot. Tell him to come see me.

What you mean no point? Companies hire only China people? Cannot be. We got quota. You tell me which company, I go get my people to chase. Yes. Yes. We trying to make sure not too many foreigners come. Don’t worry. But your son willing to work or not? Like that Ah Mei at that coffee stall there. I think she come from Guangzhou.  Ah Mei is married to a Singaporean you know. Ah Mei, ni hou.

Wait, wait. Ah pek, your wife last week complain to me you got China girlfriend and your CPFmoney all go to her…Stop! Stop! Don’t go hit your wife! Sit down. Ah Mei, kopi-o kosong lai. (Eh, you, go translate. She doesn’t understand.)

You don’t like Indians also? Don’t be like that. You make that Shanmugam very unhappy. Oh. That’s why you take MRT out, don’t want to stay in the east all the time ah. Good. Good. Use public transport. No point take car. Oh….can’t afford COE ah. Anyway, public transport very good. You have to be patient lah, must wait for train a bit, squeeze a bit. Breakdown not that often. Anyway, these MRT people now very scared. Don’t worry. Next time, not so many breakdowns. Must give chance, trains getting old. Like you. You also cannot move so fast right?

Ah Tee, you have two sons right? In school already? Oh pre-school, good, good. PCF kindergarten? Okay what, why you want to move them to Montessori. You can’t even pronounce the name. Not true la. Facilities the same. Somemore, you kena pay so much more. Oh, you want your sons to play the violin ah. Okay, I see if PCF got violin lessons. Anyway, cheng hu will do something lah. You HDB people very important. Very important. Your sons will get into good primary schools, don’t worry. No. No, don’t have to rent flat next to Rosyth.

Encik, you walk to this kopi-tiam everyday ah? Good exercise. Oh, you also walk to polyclinic and hospital ah. How come? Diabetic. Cataract. High blood pressure….Aiyoh. You use your Medisave or not? You got Medishield or not? Oh. Cannot understand how to use ah. You go to hospital reception and ask. Cannot understand the Filippino nurse ah. Get your children to go with you.

What? Your sons moved to Batam? How come? Cheap house. You moving also???? Alamak.

Hello, Sir, do you come here often? Oh, for breakfast….good, good. And how is your family? Your daughter is an undergraduate…good, good. Son also ..good, good. Both studying overseas….good, good. What?! They want to stay over there? How come? Tell them we will always have good jobs here. Singapore is a vibrant city. Look at Gardens by the Bay! River taxis along Boat Quay, Robertson Quay, Clark Quay! Pandas at the zoo! It will be a good, even better life for them! They needn’t worry that they cannot afford to buy a car or private property. Start small. Start small. Oh, they want to start big, because they think they deserve it, after working so hard at their exams. Oh, your son’s gay…Your daughter? Single mother…Alamak.

Anyway, I have to chabot now. I have to go make my National Day Rally speech. About what? Oh, a national conversation about national identity and the country’s fundamentals. How to work for a better Singapore. What sort of Singapore we want. You know, a new national narrative.

Liak boh kiu?  

Never mind.

The bottomline on bums

In Money, News Reports, Society on August 23, 2012 at 6:24 am

What is your bum worth? The comfort of a Herman Miller chair? Your lumbar protected? Not too hard for those of bony hinds? Ergonomically correct. Aesthetically tasteful. About $600? I don’t know. When I spent that kind of money on my chair for home, my heart pain….But at least, that’s MY money.

I thought only the Manpower ministry bought those sort of expensive chairs.  But seems the Attorney-General’s Chambers and SPRING did so too, according to Today. Not just one chair for the boss or something. But 472 chairs for MOM staff at $570 each (I must see what the guy at the counter sits on!).  AGC – 200 chairs for $597 each (lawyer’s bum worth more) and Spring – 28 chairs for $650 (fewer probably only for just key bums).

Wow. Can buy so many Brompton bikes for other bums which have to be mobile.

Seems like the agencies all went through the right procedures etc to procure those designer chairs, unlike the Brompton bike case. So tenders went out, bids looked at and chair selected. Selected with many criteria in mind. Can’t be the cheapest one, like the plastic ones at wakes of course. Got to be something sturdy and durable. These chairs have a 12-year warranty. Wow! That’s real long. I guess the agencies are going to use these chairs for that whole length of time….Hmmm.

Thing is, I have no idea what a good office chair is – or what it should cost. The whole un-stated charge that the public sector is paying too much for chairs have to be placed in context, methinks. What do other government agencies pay for their chairs, like ah, for the people in the Auditor-General’s office or ministries of equivalent size of MOM, AGC. Do the top 20 head honchos in MOE, Mindef  etc sit on those kinds of chairs? And what does the private sector pay for the chairs – I think they would be extra careful, since they have to watch their bottomline…Now that would be really strange…if the highly profitable companies put bums on cheaper chairs.


A hair-raising tale

In News Reports, Reading, Society on August 23, 2012 at 5:59 am

I don’t know what I am more amazed by – the mother who made a police report against a teacher who cut her kid’s hair or that his hair cut cost $60. (Mine costs less than $30) Must be a dry day for two newspapers to have the story placed so prominently in their pages. Page 1 of TNP (okay, tabloid fodde) Page 3 of ST (hmm…weak news file?)

You have to read both papers to get the full picture. The kid had his hair cut just minutes before his oral exam. Mother says her permission should have been sought. Mother says his hair-style (by Reds salon) ruined. He was too shy to go for wushu class, so hair got to be restyled. He was threatened by teacher who said I cut your hair or else I cut marks from oral exam!

Apparently, the kid have a note from the school to his parents about getting his hair trimmed before the exams. Kid did not tell mother – dyslexics are forgetful, says mother. Two days’ notice – too short, says mother.

Wonder how the police will deal with this. Haul the teacher up for hair-styling without a licence? For making threats against the kid’s hairstyle? Fine the teacher $12, I mean, $120 to compensate for the ruin? Add 10 points to his score to compensate for his stress? I have a suggestion: Get the mother and teacher together for a hair-pulling match.

Anyway, I hope I won’t have to read a followup story on hair length and hair style rules that schools have and the penalties for flouting it. Or the Education ministry weighing in on the hairy issue. So many more important things to focus on, like who would want to a parent…when you can’t control your kid’s hairstyle? Right? And who would want to be a teacher, when you can get frazzled this way?

Don’t hold a sword over our heads

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 22, 2012 at 3:38 am

Today takes the prize today. For its comprehensive reporting of a written judgement that touches on that controversial s377A. It provided an extract of the judgment by the three-judge Court of Appeal which throws light on an issue that’s being plaguing the homosexual community – and beyond – for some time. It has to do with criminalising homosexual acts between men.

Those with long enough memories will remember the debate in Parliament on the retention of this clause in the Penal Code and how it was argued as a way to satisfy the views of the conservative majority . To satisfy the homosexual community, the assurance was that it would not be actively enforced.

I’ve always thought this made a monkey out of the law. So the clause is just there for “display” purposes. And everyone is supposed to believe that it would not be “actively enforced”. What about passively enforced, or enforced as a result of a complaint? And why should anyone depend on the executive to decide when he should or should not enforce the law?

So I am glad the courts have entered the picture, although a bit sideways. About a man who was charged originally under s377a and then got the charge substituted to one which would fit the “crime” so to speak, since the first was not supposed to be “actively enforced”. This, btw, is my layman’s intepretation.

 Here’s what the court said about “no proactive enforcement” which was what was promised in Parliament.

 This, they said. is of “totally different complexion from ―no enforcement”. No Minister has gone so far as to state that there will be no enforcement of s 377A. The phrases ―active‖/―proactive‖/―vigorous‖ enforcement are broad phrases which can comfortably bear a spectrum of meaning. At one end of the spectrum, the lack of active enforcement may suggest that the police will not charge consenting adult males who engage in homosexual activities in private, whatever the circumstances. At the other end, it may simply mean that the police will not purposely seek out adult males who carry out such activities with a view to charging them, but if they happen to come across such activities being committed or if they receive complaints of such activities, they will then arrest and charge the relevant persons under s 377A. One can conceive of a situation where a neighbour of a homosexual couple calls the police to lodge a complaint that offences under s 377A are being committed in the privacy of that couple‘s home. In such a situation, if the police respond to the call and proceed to arrest and charge the couple under s 377A, would this be ―active‖ enforcement, or ―reactive‖ enforcement? If it is the latter, it will not be covered by the statements in Parliament.

I really don’t care about the issue of homosexual sex at all. I am more perturbed that there are laws which the executive can pick and choose to chase after someone. Sure there is prosecutorial discretion – but I never heard anyone say, Don’t worry, go do your own thing. We’ll turn a blind eye, we assure you. It was in my view, the oddest parliamentary debate I have ever heard.

Here’s what the judgement said…

…there is nothing to suggest that the policy of the Government on s 377A will not be subject to change. Just as the AG cannot fetter his discretion on policy matters, the Executive cannot fetter its discretion on the same. Ministerial statements in Parliament on policy matters do not invariably bind a future or even the same government. The Executive‘s discretion to determine policy remains unfettered and it has the right to change its policy with regard to the enforcement of s 377A. Therefore, as long as s 377A remains in the statute books, the threat of prosecution under this section persists, as the facts of this case amply illustrate.”

Nor was this something “fanciful” as the police had issued “stern warnings” in the past on the matter to individuals, the court noted. Unless those stern warnings are masak masak, (me talking this) why issue at all if no threat of prosecution if further “violations” occur?

No point reading ST on this. It’s buried in the Home pages. And is merely a backgrounder. Go read Today. It’s on Page 1 and has a good extract as well.