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Posts Tagged ‘K Shanmugam’

Fire crackers and poppers in Parliament

In News Reports, Politics on February 12, 2015 at 3:40 pm

When I was growing up in a kampong, every household would have a long bamboo pole or galah with a string of gigantic fire crackers which we would let off at midnight on CNY. They would go BANG! BANG! BANG!!!!! BANG!!!!!!!!!

That was the sound that Law Minister K Shanmugam made in Parliament earlier today. Workers Party Low Thia Kiang, on his part, did what the little girl who was me did. He lit a cracker, threw it on the floor and it went POP!

Yep, there were fireworks today in Parliament. Plenty of noise and smoke. But was there light?

I think the G ministers who spoke managed to cut through the Auditor-General’s report on the finances on the Workers’ Party town council to get to some key points. Of course, as politicians, they used some pretty choice words in layman’s language rather than the bean counting bureaucratese of an auditor.

So the WP was incompetent – yes, that can’t be denied. The town council was in a shambles as Mr Shanmugam described it. Even the WP did not deny that it wasn’t up to scratch managing one of Singapore’s biggest town councils. Of course, it was left to the PAP to point out that it had made big promises during the general election, of being able to run an operation as well as any team of People’s Action Party MPs. Those promises have now turned out empty.

The Big Question: Would those who had voted the party believing in its competence ask themselves if they had been deceived? Or would they be willing to give the party a second shot?

Then again, Mr Low’s reasons (or excuses) for the incompetence were beguiling. Nobody, at least no professional body of estate managers, wanted to work for the opposition, he lamented. He cited the times the WP put out tenders but got no bidders. It is an argument which would be met with some nods. Why would a business want to associate itself with an opposition party with one town council when the other side had more business to give? At the back of the minds would be this fear that the all-powerful PAP G would seek some kind of retribution…

You would have expected Mr Low to reject the motion which calls for stiffer penalties in a tighter framework. But he didn’t. He said that the framework review should protect residents’ interests even when town management changes hands from one party to another. Implicit in Mr Low’s statement is that there is deliberate hobbling by the State or previous town council and obstacles put in the way of a smooth handover. “If an opposition aspires to be the next government, perhaps, it may need to build an army of civil servants first. This is a strange political situation for any democracy,” he added.

Mr Shanmugam described the argument as playing the “victim card’’.

The thing is, Singaporeans, by and large, quite like victims. They are small, powerless and easily bullied. Turning victims into villains would take some doing. It would take, errm, falling resale prices, uncleaned corridors and extremely high service and conservancy charges.

The Big Question: Would people want to wait for that to happen or is there enough evidence to show that the WP is capable of digging itself out of the hole it is in? Or would they agree that the WP was unnecessarily hobbled by a thicket of rules and bureaucratic inertia?

Plenty of big figures were bandied around today, of overpayment and cosy relationships between WP partisans who worked in the town council. Mr Shanmugam went to great lengths to show that money “lost’’ isn’t money lost in the normal sense of the word. Here are two ways he cited:

FIRST, the lost money could be found, in the pockets of the managing agent who approved, verified, certified payments – to itself. There were 84 cheques in just the period of audit for FY2012/13, amounting to $6.6million. Yes, there was a counter-signing party, who is Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of the council. She was aware of the double-hats the managing agent was wearing but did she do more to ensure no conflict of interest? There was no transparency, no clear processes in place, Mr Shanmugam fired. The point, of course, is whether the managing agent was making more money than it should…

Ms Lim acknowledged one case of overcharging for lift service and maintenance and claimed it was not intentional as             the agent had used  the wrong unit multiplier” to compute prices. “There was absolutely no intention on the part of the committee nor the contractor to approve higher payment rates,” she said, adding that some of the money had been clawed back.

Said Ms Lim: “The town council has no issue with disclosing the value of related party transactions. Moving forward, we have suggested that the Ministry make it clear which parties are considered related in the town council context.”

In other words, you never said what was needed to be disclosed. So how would anyone know? Hmm. I wonder how what she said squares with fiduciary duties and compliance with Financial Reporting Standards…

SECOND, the money was lost through “inflation’’ of the managing agent’s fees. The total fees paid by the town council to the managing was nearly $22 million over four years, way more than what other managing agents charged. Tampines town council, for example, paid its agent $16.85 million, for over five (not four) years.

This meant that every residential and commercial unit under the WP’s charge was paying way more than what those in other town councils were. Like, how a shop in Aljunied would be paying $14.92  compared with between $4.80 and $6.65 elsewhere. In July last year, even as noises were made about its finances, this sum was raised to $15.82.

Mr Shanmugam had an interesting way of putting it: “Maybe there was no one taking money, through the backdoor in the dark of the night. Because the money was going out in broad day light, through the front door.’’

I can’t help but think that if a PAP MP had been on the receiving end of the firing squad, there would be plenty of calls for heads to roll. In fact, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan talked of how CEOs in Japanese companies would have committed hara kiri. (Methinks he’s put a step wrong.  Surely, he realized that this is not something that should have been said by the Bigger player? )

The pity is that attention would be diverted to his choice of words rather than the painstaking attempt made by Mr Shanmugam to show that there was some deliberate mischief (or pattern of non-disclosure) going on. Like, why should the managing agent set up FM Solutions & Services when they could have been employees of the town council? Why wasn’t it made clear to all town councilors and in documents that the managing agents who doubled as key officers of the town council actually owned the company? Why doesn’t the town council ask the agents to produce bank accounts so that it’s clear what sort of money they had made from the TC? (I wonder if there is any law which can compel the managing agent to disclose its bank accounts. ..)

The Big Question: Mr Shanmugam dropped plenty of ominous words such “unacceptable’’ and “unlawful’’ which seemed to presage some kind of legal action although I’m not sure undertaken by whom? He also kept on about how the town council seemed reluctant to answer questions on the managing agent’s work and finances, and how the AGO was only auditing a segment of the TC’s work and not a “forensic audit’’ of everything. What is this all leading up to?

Obviously, the G and the PAP wants the WP to eat humble pie and prove it is not beyond taking action even against its own partisans. Mr Khaw even asked if it would sue the managing agent for return of money lost. (This was in reference to how the agent was being paid 20 per cent more than the previous managing agent that ran Aljunied)

He added this: “MND is studying what other legal recourse the aggrieved parties may have.” Intriguing. Who are the aggrieved parties? The residents? The G will sue on its behalf? Or will some resident take up the cause?

Then comes the threat: Until the town council “cleans up its mess”, the Government will also withhold from it an annual service and conservancy charges grant of several million that MND gives to every town council. ST reports that for the WP, it amounts to about $7 million each year.

You know what? I keep wondering what the various grassroots bodies in Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East are up to. Where are the citizens’ consultative committtees? The residents’ committees? The hawker associations? They purport to represent the residents. Why hide behind the G? They can’t be happy about the grants being withheld. Why not come out to attack or defend your elected representatives?

Anyway, the fireworks continue tomorrow. Maybe instead of fire crackers, some dynamite will be exploded…

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How to act on the Protection from Harassment Act

In News Reports on March 13, 2014 at 11:18 pm

I thought the opposition MPs would come out hammer and tongs against the Protection from Harassment Bill, but only WP’s Pritam Singh spoke up, at least according to news reports. And he’s more concerned about whether journalists staking out funeral wakes would be viewed as stalkers!

The only one that I can tell from reading MSM who referred to online unease was PAP’s Zaqy Mohammad who said: “I support this as long as it’s not a tool to be used in any manner to censor information and responsible views, alternative as they may be, on the Internet.’’

What’s the reassurance? Well, anyone can go apply for a protection order but the courts will have to decide on the “reasonableness’’ of the application…So I guess I can continue poking fun at people in the cause of wit! Yay!

More pertinent to the online community, especially the nasty, terrible trolls out to hurt and think they can continue to do so with anonymous handles like satandevil123….

From ST quoting Law Minister Shanmugam: Where the identity of the publisher cannot be ascertained, such a person may be identified by his username or account, Internet location address, website or email address. It is not necessary for victims to discover the real name of a publisher before seeking a protection order.

And what happens then?

From ST: If the offensive content contravenes certain clauses and a protection order can be made, as part of the protection order, the court can order that no person can publish or continue to publish an offending communication. This would include requiring the removal of the offending content and for there to be no further publication of that content.

And what if it’s already gone viral?

From TODAY: If victims discover more people re-posting the relevant material after a protection order is granted, the same order will require those individuals to remove the posts.

And what if you can’t get an order for some reason or don’t want to go that far…

Supposing the offensive content does not cross the threshold set out in the clauses for a protection order to be made or if, for some reason, the victim… wishes to proceed with a lesser remedy, in either of those situations, the victim can obtain a court order under Clause 15 of the Bill to make sure that the falsehood is set right and the true facts are brought out clearly.

That Indonesian kapal…

In News Reports on February 13, 2014 at 4:58 am

Now, Singapore’s Foreign Minister has said his piece on the naming of the Indonesian frigate. Of course, he did so in high-faluting, high-level English. Here’s how he could have talked to his Indonesian counterpart.

Eh, brudder, what lah this?  Suka-suka go name kapal after dua orang who bombed Singapore. Go name some lorong or some barat lah. How you think kita orang in Singapore going to tahan this? People upset you know.

Okay lah, you say no ill intent, no malice. Okay.. okay. You didn’t say sorry but never mind….still can. But you know right…you cannot do this sort of thing to people, especially neighbours. I tell why we upset.

We upset because we thought everything all over already. Our old mentri besar already settle everything with your Suharto…Case closed. Bungkus business.

You all say the two men war heroes…How can? They are soldiers who wear ordinary baju and then they go bomb our tallest building! Three people. Mati! Thirty-three. Kena injured! Like that how to call them heroes…Apa pardon…? How to face our people’s families? You go to Geneva and call them heroes.. and they will laugh at you.

So we bring them before judge, all the way to Privy Council in London. Remember? Took three years! Even Privy Council say guilty. So we hanged them. But don’t forget that we also let go 45 of your people, people who tried to make trouble here, including two other fellows who exploded one bomb but luckily, no one died.

So we been fair leh. And we thought everybody can now relak. Then you go name that kapal…Alamak. It’s not some cruise ship or sampan, but war ship, war ship! Ya sure, you can name anything you want…whatever longkang, kampong also can. But you just think lah. Your ship go sailing round the world, got guns and all, and you have the names of these bombers on the ship….Very fierce, very garang. What will people think?    

Actually, very bad for you also. People will say you trying to bully your small neighbour. Can be more sensitive or not? We small but don’t come and cho chok us lah. We also got limit.

Now how?

You want to go tukar the name of the kapal or not? 

With apologies to Mr K Shanmugam. 

An ill wind blows this way…

In News Reports on February 12, 2014 at 4:41 am

There’s an ill wind blowing this way but it’s not bearing anyone any ill will…Ooops! Did I just get stuff mixed up? Anyway,  the point of origin is Indonesia.

So there Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty blows…when Indonesia named the frigate after the two MacDonald House bombers, there was no ill inent, no malice. That’s what he said at what ST described as a “hastily-called’’ press conference for Singapore media. Seems like the little red dot screamed loud enough for those in charge of diplomacy to hear. Would that we could hear from its armed forces too…

But what does no malice intended mean? I can think of a couple of things. First, the naming was an “oversight’’ by uninformed, clueless bureaucrats who had no idea that it would disappoint and even anger, Singapore. Second, that they thought it was no big deal anyway since it happened 50 years ago, so why not just go ahead? Third, Indonesia really, really had no more “heroes’’ it can name the frigate after…

Maybe there are other reasons. Some faction somewhere wants to re-open old wounds to test the limits of Singapore’s patience, and slipped the naming of the frigate under the radar. Very good radar since they decided on the name in December 2012…  

Maybe they figure that Singapore would roll over and play dead, thereby confirming the little red dot’s impotence in the face of a mighty neighbour. Maybe they didn’t figure that there were so many economic links between the two : Singapore provides the most number of visitors to Indonesia, and it’s second biggest investor after Japan.  Maybe they figured that Singapore needed Indonesia more than Indonesia needed Singapore  – and realised otherwise?  Or maybe they figured that Indonesians needed a nice rallying point ahead of the presidential elections.

After all, what would Singapore do? Burn the Indonesian flag? Tis not in our DNA. Organise a boycott of Indonesian imports? But then again, Indonesia has to remember that its rich elite shop here and receive medical attention here while quite a big number of its own compatriots work here. At the end of the day, it makes no sense to strain economic and people ties, not even for political ends.

Anyway, all is speculation and despite rambunctious noises from some parts of the Indonesian media, we have to take what its foreign minister said as the position of the Indon Government.

What’s good is that the event has given Singaporeans a good history lesson. It flummoxed a lot of people to know that there were at least 42 explosions in Singapore during the Kronfontasi period. The MSM has been assiduous in recounting the past and even getting a family member of one the three dead Singaporeans to talk.

I, for one, do not recall any history lesson on this period and it’s a bet that my generation, which is really not very young, have no deep understanding or even information drummed into us.  

What now? It’s not likely that the Indons will re-name the frigate because it is really still their sovereign right to name anything after anyone. So if no ill will is intended, what about showing some good will?

And here, I’m referring to that unwanted visitor whose invitation we cannot cancel – the haze. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website, 458 hotspots were detected yesterday, with more than half  of these in the Riau province. That’s more than double the 187 detected on Monday. The only thing saving Singapore is that the wind is blowing the dust away, at least for the next two weeks. After that, how?

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan made some very pointed remarks in his Facebook post warning of the impending ill wind: “We will try to encourage them to take action – but we all know the welfare of close neighbours is not their priority.’’

Ouch.

Despite so many meetings and agreements, there’s been “a lack of movement’’ on the Asean Haze Monitoring System, as Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam noted last month.

If Indonesia really wants to show good will, it should get a move on dousing or damping the flames. And you know what? It’ll do their own people some good too.

 

Gag yourselves!

In News Reports, Politics on January 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm

How could I have forgotten about the all-powerful “subjudice’’ ban on speaking about stuff that’s before the court? So the Attorney-General’s Chambers have joined the 377A fray by telling everyone on all sides to shut up and sit down. My question: What took it so long?

Then again, if a court challenge on the criminalisation of homosexual sex had not been mounted, we wouldn’t know the depth and extent of some people’s feelings about calls for its repeal – on both sides of the fence.

So now all eyes will be on the two cases before the court coming up pretty soon. MSM didn’t give exact dates – they should since they will be closely-watched. I suppose the judges (MSM didn’t say who) will be delving into the dusty old books methinks to find out what is the intent of Parliament when this law was put in the books.

Law Minister K Shanmugam has met the church representatives, according to Today. I wonder if this was to deliver the “gag’’ order. How I would love to know what else was said besides his comments that they delivered their position with “considerable conviction’’ in a “frank discussion’’. I’m sure the Law Minister is savvy enough to able to give some insights without getting himself into subjudice trouble. So what about another Facebook posting Mr Shanmugam?

In any case, however the court rules, it seems to me that this isn’t a “legal’’ problem, but a political one. And the discussion will be re-started, free of any subjudice clauses. What will happen then?