Reform agenda can backslide unless free speech and human rights entrenched

There is nothing guaranteed about the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) reform agenda, or that of the government it controls. While ministers have been reshuffled, motherhood statements made about listening more closely to people and a committee set up to review ministerial salaries, a cursory look at reform attempts elsewhere in the world will indicate that more often than not, they don’t go very far. Many eventually vanish without a trace like a puddle on hot tarmac.

Reform is never an easy thing to do. There are winners and losers and the losers will make every effort to stymie it. Especially when big budgets are involved, e.g. public housing and transport infrastructure, for every argument in favour of change, there are as many arguments against it, or to go more slowly, or in a different direction. You could almost expect that reform petering out would be the default outcome. From the examples of history, reform succeeding to general satisfaction is the outcome one bets against.

No prime minister alone can fully manage the process. He has to depend on ministers (of varying competency) delving into the details of the controversies affecting respective portfolios, measuring public opinion for each alternative, working out cost/benefits, and squaring a multitude of circles. Each minister brings in his own bias. Some ministers would rather not see any reform at all, though they might be politick to keep quiet about their true feelings. Other ministers are plain incompetent.

This is the moment when prime-ministership is to be the exact opposite of a technocrat. Impossible as it will be to master the intricacies of every policy and sifting through every reform idea and its pros and cons, his job should be to look at the environment in which this attempt at reform operates. How can I make the environment as conducive to reform as possible? is the question he should ask. And here there are many things he can do to prevent backsliding, or at least to make it painfully difficult NOT to reform.

Essentially, he has to empower the forces for reform and disempower those most likely to resist. He has to take away the tools that were so favoured by the old guard in setting a course that led to the present situation, for these tools may be used again when the anti-reformists want to reassert themselves.

Interestingly, what the prime minister can do, and quickly, don’t cost money. Here are some ideas:

1.  Enact a Freedom of Information Act. Anti-reformists would like to manipulate information available in the public square so as to protect their agenda. Any reform that seeks to advance a wider, popular interest therefore must empower the people to obtain the necessary information to see for themselves what is needed to be done, what resources are available and therefore what can realistically be done.  Information however is useless unless it can be disseminated and discussed. Hence. . .

2. Free up the media:

(a) Repeal the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act that gives the government golden shares in media companies, thus exercising a veto over their editorial direction;

(b) Repeal Section 33 of the Films Act that seeks to control political films;

(c) Repeal relevant provisions of the Broadcasting Act and the Films Act that empower the government to exercise censorship in any of three ways: (i) banning films and other media, (ii) refusing to classify or rate a film, thus effectively banning it, (iii) imposing such stringent distribution conditions on media content that it severely limits its circulation. In essence, the government should have no powers to censor or prohibit any information; its power should be limited only to classification and reasonable controls over the distribution of certain categories of media content for universally agreed objectives (e.g. exposure to children).

3.  Raise contestibility in politics. Reform the electoral system. Re-establish the Elections Commission as an independent body answerable only to its charter and the President. In other words, raise the stakes for those ministers who resist reform or who make a hash of it.

4. Entrench human rights. Much of the climate of fear that pervades Singapore is a result of a history of human rights abuses with little recourse offered through our judicial system. This climate of fear serves as a useful tool for officials to intimidate people from speaking out against policies. As a tool it can be used both ways — to silence those for reform and those against reform. But the greater likelihood is that since non-reform serves narrower interests, it will be used by those who wish to gag any pressure for reform. Therefore, we need to institutionalise respect for human rights:

(a) Repeal the Internal Security Act;

(b) Repeal the Sedition Act;

(c) Sign and ratify the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UNCCPR);

(c) Set up a Human Rights Commission empowered to investigate complaints of human rights abuses (where human rights are as defined in accordance with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UNCCPR), and initiate prosecution against anyone infringing these rights, including ministers.

5. Step back from the present tendency to ban all public assemblies, by issuing permits for public processions and assemblies for political purposes on Saturdays and Sundays in downtown areas; thus allowing citizens to voice their feelings about politics in a demonstrative way — like in any normal country.

* * * * *

On the matter of ministerial salaries, one red herring is being brandished. It is that sky-high salaries serve to ensure the non-corruptibility of political office-holders.  We see it even in the Terms of Reference given to the committee set up to review ministerial salaries and over the last two days I’ve seen several comments online repeating this scriptural chant.  We also have a letter leading the Straits Times Forum Page by a certain Alice Koh arguing against any lowering of ministerial salaries at all:

I urge the committee reviewing ministerial salaries to consider the negative consequences of not pegging ministers’ pay to top incomes.

Having mediocre ministerial salaries will blunt our aim of attracting top talent into government. No matter how much is said that politics is about serving Singapore, attractive wages remain a motivational factor for high-fliers in different sectors to enter public service.

— Letter by Alice Koh, Straits Times print forum, 24 May 2011

When someone is greedy, there is never enough. Dishonest politicians have been known to accumulate hundreds of millions of dollars. Even our current way-out-of-line high salaries don’t come close to satisfying the stratospheric heights of greed.

This is not to say that political office holders shouldn’t be adequately rewarded. Of course they should; it is only fair. But a distinction has to be made between (a) paying them enough to lead comfortable lives so that there is no reason to worry about supporting their families nor need to resort to improper receipts, and (b) paying them beyond reason on the premise that doing so would keep them incorruptible. The latter does not withstand scrutiny. Corruptibility is never satiated.

The only proven way to keep politicians honest is freedom of speech. A strong anti-corruption agency helps too. Even if one looks at our own history, how did we create a largely corruption-free government in the 1960s and 1970s? Not by high salaries — these didn’t come into effect until the 1990s.  The key factors then were political will (on Lee Kuan Yew’s part), a free media (at least until the 1970s) and a powerful anti-corruption agency.

Consequently I consider it a little dishonest intellectually for the government to keep repeating this mantra about high salaries being needed to prevent corruption. Decent salaries do, but marginal utility falls off rapidly beyond a certain point. Worse yet, that same dishonesty holds us back from developing the truly useful tools that DO prevent corruption: citizens’ right to access information, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. In other words: Human rights.

If the prime minister is serious about reform, he should stop behaving like a technocrat looking at what levers to pull, and start thinking like a statesman.

47 Responses to “Reform agenda can backslide unless free speech and human rights entrenched”


  1. 1 stanley fong 25 May 2011 at 14:56

    Alex,

    you still don’t get it, do you? Everything that PM Lee has been doing for the past 2 weeks has been towards wining more votes for GE 2016.

    The PAP is all about staying in DOMINANT power, nothing more nothing less. Let’s say we had a charismatic opposition leader, with better academic credentials than even PM Lee, who’s able to convince Singapore that Singapore should be a welfare state and in the process win 1/3 of the seats for his party. What do you think would happen?

    Well, I’d tell you what’s going to happen. PM Lee would immediately transform Singapore into a welfare state with unemployment benefits, free healthcare and minimun wages.

    See, pple think that the PAP has an ideology but the hard truth is about winning votes and staying in power—because at the end of the day, if you can’t win the vote, you can’t stay in power and there is nothing that you can do.

    • 2 Anonymous 25 May 2011 at 17:08

      Isn’t this the whole point about having a strong opposition and keep the ruling party in check?

      If what Alex has asked for are granted, especially the freedom of speech and press part, a well educated and informed population will have a better chance in making wiser decisions on what government they want to have, what society they want to have and what kind of future for this country they want to have.

    • 3 Caculon 25 May 2011 at 17:11

      heh, since you are entitled to an opnion…

      Ans: The hard truth seems to be rather, the ideology is so important to the PAP, it does what-ever it can to prevent its erosion.

      PA, RC Grassroots, civil services, GLCs all co-opted, this ideology is hence passed on with its selection process for new candidates for elections.

      Same character traits does perpertuate within the PAP ranks, don’t you think? Alex has highlighted these traits, namely the indoctrination of a ruling priesthood. Not to mention, on record in handsard, freudian slip like “lesser mortal” double heh!

      Renewal? Reform? I don’t buy it.

    • 4 yuenchungkwong 25 May 2011 at 18:53

      > welfare state with unemployment benefits, free healthcare and minimum wages

      I believe these rank lower than old age pension – the CPF minimum sum/annuity scheme has so far met a cool reception and additional safety net is needed

  2. 5 Anonymous 25 May 2011 at 15:07

    You are asking for a revolution rather than a reform. It will never happen. No ruling party will voluntarily give up its power.

    • 6 R 27 May 2011 at 14:29

      they aren’t giving up power you see? if they can really act on reforming the policies, I don’t see why they can’t keep the votes. People vote for opposition when they are unhappy, not when they are. By reforming, you could even say they are securing their future in power.

  3. 7 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 15:55

    For the PM the reforms are a means to an end – for the PAP to stay in power. While the 5 suggestions strengthen the reformists against the anti-reformist, they also strengthen the opposition against the PAP.

  4. 8 Lanslord 25 May 2011 at 15:58

    I very much agree with the statement that political office holders should be paid enough for a relatively comfortable life (given that their definition is not having a private jet/yacht).
    When the pay is stratospheric, then this excesses can actually have the opposite effect. People with too much money may become risk-insensitive, and splurge on luxuries/invest on bad products.
    The consequence is that they become debt-ridden, unable to repay loans even with their high salaries. This has already likely happened with at least a couple of ex-Ministers.
    As the saying goes: “Too much of anything is not good”, and this applies to money whether you believe it or not.

    • 9 yawningbread 25 May 2011 at 16:35

      This putative statement of fact needs citation: “This has already likely happened with at least a couple of ex-Ministers.”

      • 10 Former Civil Servant 25 May 2011 at 17:22

        One of the reasons why Yeo Cheow Tong has to step down was because he was burnt playing the property market, and ran up big debts. The PAP decided to cut him loose and let him “retire”.

      • 11 Lanslord 26 May 2011 at 00:41

        Citations are highly unlikely to be found given how closely guarded the ‘cabinet community’ is. All we can rely on is a biased website and the slivers of information passed on by word of mouth. However, as the saying goes “there’s no smoke without fire”.

        To access the biased website, just google ‘Singapore ministers in debt’. You should be able to spot immediately the ex-minister in question.

  5. 12 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 16:06

    “If the prime minister is serious about reform, he should stop behaving like a technocrat looking at what levers to pull, and start thinking like a statesman.”

    I don’t think it is “reform”. More “reaction”.

    Reform has to be motivated by conscience or a sense of justice or principles – the welfare state, gender racial equality, balanced budget.

  6. 13 Richard Tan 25 May 2011 at 16:54

    Dear Alex,

    Sorry to digress from your issue at hand, but I thought you might one day also wish to write about the possible scenario below.

    Regarding the upcoming Presidential election, there is a strong possibility that it might be a walkover election. Even if there is a PAP candidate (e.g. George Yeo), PM Lee, at this particular juncture, would rather not have a separate power centre apart from himself. After all, an elected President would have a more popular and direct mandate (arising from the huge number of voters in the whole of Singapore) than the PM (who was merely directly elected by the people of Ang Mo Kio GRC). Given the current insecurities of PM Lee, he might prefer not to have a Presidential election instead.

    It’s something worth considering. Thanks.

  7. 14 TWOG 25 May 2011 at 17:16

    /// He has to take away the tools that were so favoured by the old guard in setting a course that led to the present situation, for these tools may be used again when the anti-reformists want to reassert themselves. ///

    Other than the “tool” of freedom of information, press, etc., the other favoured tool is money.

    Producing too few children – baby bonus.
    Too many cars – ARF, PARF, COE, ERP, etc.
    Too many maids and foreign workers – higher levies.
    Too few people voting PAP – grow and share dividends, estate upgrading, economic restructuring shares.

  8. 15 patrick 25 May 2011 at 18:54

    all those complaining that the PAP isn’t “sincere” about reform and is doing it only for votes: my god, isn’t this democracy at work? isn’t this what you people have always wanted?! don’t you want leaders who respond to people’s wishes over and above what the leaders themselves may sincerely think? find me a nation where elected leaders are the sincere demigods that you speak of. seriously people, get your act together and be clear about what you want.

    • 16 ape 26 May 2011 at 02:09

      Looking and treating symptoms or determining the underlying cause and find the cure? Headache? Take panadol. Why is there a headache in the first place?

    • 17 Colin 26 May 2011 at 04:22

      We want reform, not just lip service paid to it. Our worries about the PAP’s “sincerity” stem from whether all this talk about reform will ultimately lead to substantive policy changes.

    • 18 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 09:17

      @patrick

      In this article and associated comments, the word “sincere” with or without scare quotes, first appears in your comment. Thrice.

      Some people hear voices that are not there. Your version of the ailment substitutes written words.

    • 19 stanley fong 26 May 2011 at 09:58

      Agreed, the PAP is simply giving what the electorate wants. Singaporeans are so naive, I dun know what to say.

    • 20 Jon 27 May 2011 at 14:28

      Agree with you Patrick. I read with interest the comments here and just feel that whatever PAP does, there will be always criticism, and that’s only natural as it’s human nature. If PM is a statesman, he will be criticize for lip service, not moving fast enough, equally not sincere. It’s also very easy to suggest solutions that looks good on writing but lousy in implementation, as well as unknown consequences. Whatever said, I think its important that we as a nation remains cohesive and not comes to a situation of dividing up the society, as appear elsewhere. Given the last elections, it possibly marks the beginning of >2 parties, where it naturally divide people into groups. Whether good or bad, you guys can judge. Realist vs ideals…

  9. 21 Vapex88 25 May 2011 at 22:50

    I do not see any reform. Every minister and MP is reacting. The ministers’ salary review is one, MP doing spot check on the bus frequency, a minister taking bus and reading newspaper ( I guessed so that he does not have to greet the public), ministers starting to use the Facebook to engage the public and in the process thinking that they are connecting with the people, MP envy over the media providing coverage for the WP MPS. All these are ra ra ra. It will die down very soon and the people will forget about what was promised or said during the GE husting.

    Hope the public will continue with the momentum from the GE.

    Another key event to watch is the Presidential election. Will it be a PAP candidate or a well known, strong and independent candidate. A strong independent person will be good to look after our reserve and open the books on how our reserves are invested.

  10. 22 Syle 26 May 2011 at 00:52

    Here’s the thing, positions of power (especially politics) should never be set out to attract so called ‘talents’. The reason being that the most corruptible of people, are usually the ones attracted first; true sincerity and passion to serve the interest of the public would not require said attractive incentives.

    Also, the same incentives given by the monumental salaries, are too offered by corrupted practices. Therefore I am calling bullshit in the argument of safe guarding against corruption with the “sky-high salaries”.

  11. 23 reservist_cpl 26 May 2011 at 01:34

    Good try, Alex. But this isn’t likely to be taken up by the PM.

    • 24 yawningbread 26 May 2011 at 13:32

      Too many people have this idea if one spoke up a little, things will change. No it will not. Lots of people have to speak up a lot to have an effect. I’m just trying to catalyse it.

      Also, there is no clear boundary between failure and success of reform. I said in the article that reform is more likely to fail than to succeed, given examples from elsewhere, though muddling through with partial reform that is neither here nor there is perhaps the most likely outcome. Reform is never going to be a one-time thing. It’s going to take a series of iterative steps, each building upon the previous to eventually get somewhere far. The problem then is that the next step may be a step forward or a step back. And as the going gets harder (after the simple, cost-free solutions are exhausted) there will always be a huge temptation to step back.

      If Lee Hsien Loong really wants reform, he will burn his bridges, so that there’s no going back, and the one way to do that is to completely change the political environment entrenching human rights, so that never again can the anti-reformists impose their will or silence/ignore their critics. If he won’t or doesn’t burn the bridges, can we not read into it that he is half-hearted about it? Can’t we say: He is not trying hard enough?

  12. 25 wikigam 26 May 2011 at 02:05

    To : stanley fong

    1)Everything is unknow in a govt enforce silent citizens. Are you able to tell me what agenda will be happen in between this 5 years before GE2016 ?

    2)Now, PAP is on the Boat with only 60% voter and they are lost the direction. Oppesition are closely following behind the Boat !

    3)So many SAFs are into Parliament. i wish singapore will not fall into militanry country if PAP receive total % votes less that 50%.

  13. 26 YH@2 26 May 2011 at 03:05

    Hi Alex, nice article. I was wondering initially how the first half about human rights would be linked with ministerial salaries.
    you said “The only proven way to keep politicians honest is freedom of speech.”

    LKY is stepping down, and (contrary to some rumours) is not immortal. A powerful anti-corruption agency is only effective if itself is not corrupt nor a puppet of any agency. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    So indeed, the freedom of speech and freedom of media is the only confirmed chop way to keep politician’s honest, or kick out the corrupt politicians. I would add that because of this great responsibility, the media should strive to remain credible and objective.

    For the other two – political will and anti-corruption agency – citizens are too much at the mercy of the government being benign. Right now, the govt is benign and CPIB is not a puppet agency (no reason to think otherwise) and that’s all that keeps us from being an exploited and oppressed people. What would happen if a malevolent government comes into power? The constitution of Singapore should protect her citizens.

    Anyway, I agree with your suggestions for reform, but I won’t hold my breath for true reform from the PAP. For all their extreme pragmatism, I can’t see them as anything but technocrats. My guess is that they’ll rescind on just enough areas to appease angry swing voters and then probably hard sell it as reform.

  14. 27 deathmule 26 May 2011 at 08:10

    The judiciary needs to be independent and free from interference by the executive. An independent review body should be set up to recommend the appointment and review the performance appraisal of senior judges, and judges should have guaranteed tenure.

  15. 28 Gard 26 May 2011 at 09:48

    I put on my pro-PAP hat today and realized how terribly ungrateful Singaporeans are. Don’t Singaporeans realized that the good lives they are enjoying today is the result of these tools employed at the monarchy’s disposal?

    1) Reformers asking for ‘free-r media’ often forget the history of riots in Singapore. The 1950 Maria Hertogh episode is one case in example where sensational reporting and images fanned anger and irrationality, resulting in needless losses in lives and property.

    2) (Lui Tuck Yew pointed out that) the mainstream media is accurate, timely and balanced in their reporting. And a survey conducted by US-based public relations firm Edelman revealed that 68 per cent of the respondents in Singapore found newspapers to be the most trusted source of information, significantly higher than the international average of only 34 per cent.
    (Source: ChannelNewsAsia, 23 Feb 2010)

    3) Censorship allows families to raise their kids in safe, protected environment. The definition of kids should extend to ‘immature adults’ overdosed on online hallucinogens.

    4) Perceived human rights abuses happen only to people who oppose the monarchy. Beheading is a punishment befitting of high treason. Be thankful that the monarchy has shown exceptional mercy to misguided dissidents.

    I feel that it is important for readers themselves to put on the monarchy’s shoes, see where the monarchy is coming from, work through these issues themselves before asking the monarchy for reform. Without understanding, there can be no true reform in a win-win sense.

    • 29 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 14:06

      “I put on my pro-PAP hat today and realized how terribly ungrateful Singaporeans are.”

      That’s the difference between a great nation and a state with servile citizens. The British put Churchill in power for WW2. He led them. They won. Then they put someone else in power. No matter how pro-PAP you are, I don’t think you want to argue that anyone in Singapore even comes close to Churchill.

      Keeping employees on their toes has nothing to do with gratefulness.

    • 30 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 14:15

      “Reformers asking for ‘free-r media’ often forget the history of riots in Singapore. The 1950 Maria Hertogh episode is one case in example where sensational reporting and images fanned anger and irrationality, resulting in needless losses in lives and property.”

      Read your history. Crowds were waiting in front of the court building. They did not need the press to get angry.

      On the flip side, our press expects us to inhabit an alternate reality. You would think that Yeo Cheow Tong’s internet footprint would merit at least a story – but they act as if the problem doesn’t exist.

      And yes, what riots would a Yeo Cheow Tong story cause?

      • 31 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 14:17

        “(Lui Tuck Yew pointed out that) the mainstream media is accurate, timely and balanced in their reporting. And a survey conducted by US-based public relations firm Edelman revealed that 68 per cent of the respondents in Singapore found newspapers to be the most trusted source of information, significantly higher than the international average of only 34 per cent.
        (Source: ChannelNewsAsia, 23 Feb 2010)”

        Ask the 68% to google “Yeo Cheow Tong”, and recall the “Chee Soon Juan” reports.

      • 32 Gard 26 May 2011 at 15:24

        “Crowds were waiting in front of the court building.”

        Thank you for the gentle reminder. The monarchy shall no more concede toward free-r media than to allow for free-r public assembly.

        Why would any respectable reporter write anything about a non-existent problem? Look at what happened to Ken Kwek after challenging Minister Mentor Lee but could not substantiate his claims? Did Mr Kwek confront Minister Mentor in a state-censored media setting? (Ref: 12 April 2006, ChannelNewsAsia telecast)

    • 33 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 14:21

      “Censorship allows families to raise their kids in safe, protected environment. The definition of kids should extend to ‘immature adults’ overdosed on online hallucinogens.”

      Does that include censorship of political views and the depiction of lives of law abiding people with “alternate life-styles”? When I say law-abiding, I meant the laws of South Korea, India, Taiwan and may other countries of Asia.

      • 34 Gard 26 May 2011 at 16:07

        Of course it must include censorship of political views. Pro-communist, pro-fundamentalist, pro-bizarre whatsoever, etc. views has no place polluting the innocent minds of Singapore youths.

        I don’t understand why you are referring to laws in other countries. Shouldn’t Singaporeans abide by the laws of the ‘Singapore-style democracy’ (I really, really prefer to shorten this to ‘monarchy’)?

        Alex has kindly archived how the monarchy clearly explained to the world that Singapore wsa not a liberal democracy and that Singapore did not have ‘a totally independent’ press.
        (Ref: http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2005/yax-425.htm)

        Alex wrote: “having conceded that we are not a liberal democracy, to still claim to be a democracy is meaningless.”

    • 35 yawningbread 26 May 2011 at 14:31

      You wrote: “And a survey conducted by US-based public relations firm Edelman revealed that 68 per cent of the respondents in Singapore found newspapers to be the most trusted source of information, significantly higher than the international average of only 34 per cent.”

      I an very skeptical about these findings, as you can well imagine. Just a simple thought experiment will suffice. Suppose we asked Christians whether the Christian Bible is trustworthy; I’m pretty sure we’d get a high score. Ask them about the Koran, and I’m pretty sure it’s a much lower score.

      Then ask Muslims the same questions. I’m pretty sure once again the scores will be reversed.

      So what would “trustworthy” mean? The Singapore govt likes us to believe that these scores tell us something objective about the object (i.e. newspapers being assessed). I think not. I think the scores tell us a lot, but mostly about the subjects (Christians/Muslims/Singaporeans as the case may be) doing the assessment.

      • 36 Gard 26 May 2011 at 16:45

        I will take off my pro-PAP hat. This is exhausting.

        The numbers or the studies could be faulted – and the careful reader could be curious about the meaning of ‘most trusted’.

        ‘Most’ implies comparison. Compared to what… coffeeshop talk? Internet posts? Opposition publications? CNN?

      • 37 Robert L 26 May 2011 at 21:36

        Dear YB

        I won’t be surprised if the survey result had been honestly accurate.

        Accurate meaning that the correct methodology had been used, and honest meaning that data had not been fiddled.

        The problem, as I expect, is that the respondents (Singapore population) are largely brainwashed to believe in the media, as opposed to the population in more advanced countries.

        It’s just like you do a survey asking frogs in a well, they will tell you that the sky is a round hole. An entirely predictable result.

    • 38 nitegazer 26 May 2011 at 20:13

      Regarding point 3, I would agree that it is acceptable to control the flow of information to children because it is widely perceived that children are incapable of fully understanding or rationalizing the information presented to them and hence parental (or state) guidance is necessary to protect them from dangerous or destabilizing influences. However that same censorship when applied to adults should be seen in the opposite fashion. Primarily there is the sense that the adult Singaporean is incapable of reasoning about the information presented to him. But more importantly, it inhibits free discussion which is valuable in aiding one in discerning between truth and falsehood. As John Stuart Mill wrote in his work On Liberty, even if an opinion is wrong, it is better to let it be said so that the subsequent discussion can better give others an understanding of _why_ it is wrong.

  16. 39 Chanel 26 May 2011 at 11:30

    The extremely high pay of private sector CEOs did not prevent some fo them from being corrupted. Worldcon and Enron are prime examples. Galleon hedge fund is the latest example.

    These CEOs were caught mainly by whistle blowers and boldly reported by a free media. Therefore, I agree with Alex that a free (fearless) media and strong anti-corruption agency are far far more effective in stamping out corruption than a high pay.

  17. 40 Fredrick Goh 26 May 2011 at 12:35

    whether reform will truely place will.take, it will take time to.manifest. We are barely a month aft election n pple already.cry foul. I dun think PAP will be able(or will not do) to do all that r needed. But hey 5 yrs down the road, we will have a small but core group of experienced parlimentarian. By then I hope this small group will expand further. We r all Singaporeans. Let not hope that one party will fail so another will take over. Rather, let us all chip in to make it better. Otherwise we will all marching on the spot for eternity while the world pass.us by.

    • 41 stanley fong 26 May 2011 at 15:09

      Agreed, if the PAP does not improve by GE 2016, we should vote them out of government and elect WP into power

  18. 42 Poker Player 26 May 2011 at 14:53

    “whether reform will truely place will.take, it will take time to.manifest. We are barely a month aft election n pple already.cry foul. ”

    The difference between Hongkongers and Singaporeans is that Singaporeans are like an elephant with a mahout. The chain that shackles the elephant is actually not strong enough for the elephant. The reason it works is because the chain was used from the elephants infancy – when it *was* strong enough.

    It took Hongkongers less than 5 months to get their government to drop a GST that they didn’t want.

  19. 43 anon 26 May 2011 at 15:56

    Another splendid piece, Alex.

    I believe the electorate has already given notice to the govt. If it fails or worse refuses to turn over a new leaf then we would see a bolstering of mercenaries in the police in readiness for an outbreak of less peaceful civil disobedience. Now, should this happened it is entirely of the govt’s own making.

    It is my opinion, if there is to be a showdown, many in the SPF would not obey their top bosses. The younger generations of Singaporeans having grown up without the shackles and baggages of the past would be much more rational and liberal minded.

    I saw it in those clips inthe faces of the police officers ordered to make things difficult for peaceful demonstrators like the Chees.

    It’s a question of time. The true tragedy is that even leaders like LKY cannot avoid the decadence associated with a decaying dynasty. People drunk on power invariably create the cause for their own demise.

  20. 44 anon 26 May 2011 at 16:41

    Since GCT’s time, the ST has been upfront about its very pro-govt stance. Cheong Yip Seng, I believe was in charge at that point of time. I got the impression that they had to do that after they had repeatedly painted themselves into a corner, often found defending the indefensible. I believe Cheong is now somewhere in South America representing us in something or another that approaches a free breakfast, lunch and dinner and more by courtesy of the PAP govt in returned for his sycophantic role. Enjoying life, I presume.

    One step we should take is to get another newspaper established in competition with the ST. The ST is so badly tarnished tarred and feathered for absolutely valid reasons that short of shooting every one of the editors, it is impossible to rehab. its image of a pro-PAP lackey. It’s a tall order, I know, that would not see the light of day until someone passes on. But, hope springs eternal!

  21. 45 DT 26 May 2011 at 22:42

    While I do not disagree with what you say, I tend to think that the measures proposed are rather specific and narrow. I believe that we should look at the bigger picture. It is not only the individual Acts that need to be overhauled. It is the system as a whole. Our parliament and executive hold absolute power. While this is fine while the persons in power are benevolent, it will be disastrous if the wrong people take over.

    As we cannot rule out the possibility of the wrong people taking over, we must, I believe, strengthen our Judiciary and the rule of law to provide an effective check and balance. Just like the Elected President is the second key to our reserves, the Judiciary is the second lock to our rights (the first being your votes).

    As such, as a matter of priority, before we look into changing the individual laws, I believe that we, as a society, need to look into strengthening the legal system and the rule of law. By this I mean:-

    (a) Taking steps to ensure that the Judiciary remains and is seen to be completely independent from the executive. The Judiciary and the law should be the rock on which our society is built. Without an independent and strong Judiciary, attempts to effect change by amending the law would be like building a house on sand.

    (b) Amending the Constitution to entrench the judiciary’s right to determine the legality of any executive decision. While the executive should and must have certain powers and discretion, there should be no such thing as unfettered discretion. Every decision made by the executive should be a principled one and should be able to withstand challenge and scrutiny. This can only happen if the Judiciary has oversight.

    (c) Amending the Constitution to entrench certain basic features of our system of government and certain rights. With a supermajority in parliament, our Constitution can be amended without difficulty. If we are serious about protecting our future, we as a nation should prepare for the day when the persons in power no longer have the interests of the nation at heart. This can be done by specifying that certain basic features / rights can only be changed by a referendum.

    (d) Promoting and encouraging an active and engaged Bar. The strength of our Bench is very much related to the strength of our Bar. A strong and vocal Bar will result in greater civic participation and more public space for the expression of ideas.

  22. 46 Dy 27 May 2011 at 01:40

    Another brilliant article YB. I think from the litany of reforms, the most pressing one would be the free-ing up of the media – repealing the NPPA. This would be, in my most optimistic hopes, the ‘enabler’ for the others to fall into place neatly.

    Would it gain more traction to focus on that one significant piece and try to get more people to ‘speak up’ as you mentioned and hopefully get it the due attention it needs?

  23. 47 Thor 27 May 2011 at 11:33

    Dear YB,
    I hope you will give some publicity to the black sunday movement planned for this Sunday in protest against TPL in parliament. I suggest we moderate the idea to just wearing black on Sunday. I am a resident in MP and cannot bear the thought of my hard earned money being used to pay for her internship. We are a fledgling democracy. Let us keep our voices alive.


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