Wednesday, January 23, 2013

We need Guard Dog not Watchdog Politics

Chi Huahua as Watch Dog?

It pains me to write this article and it is not an Asian tradition to rebut your mentor even if the mentorship has ceased long ago. I will only publish this article on the eve of the cooling off day, just to make sure that PAP will not be able to use my points in their attacks.

In an earlier answer to the press during the press conference, Mr Low has also explained why WP didn't work on Punggol East after last GE as WP is a small party and all resources were drawn back to focus on Aljunied and Hougang.

I have written on why WP should give this by-elections a pass just before it was called. It is exactly the reasons given by Mr Low himself, as it is quite obvious to us that WP is really over stretched and it needs to put its own house in order first, after so many boo boos happened. The mediocre performance, not only on the parliamentary front but also on the Town Council management front, must be addressed. WP should have stopped and re-consolidate themselves first before trying to fight another by-elections.

Imagine that if WP was already so stretched before this PE BE, what would happen if it was to win another seat in PE? Won't such victory put further strains on WP's resources? Is it wise for Mr Low to admit that WP is far too stretch to work the ground in PE but in the end, still insisted to get into this by-election to try and win this ward which they have already admitted that they are having resource constraints to work on? It is a glaring contradictions that PAP failed to pick but voters in Punggol East should seriously consider.

I was told that prior to Palmergate, some residents who voted WP in last GE have emailed WP about the stoppage of work at the Rivervale Plaza upgrading but WP has ignored about it. In the end, it was Kenneth Jeyaratnam who took the trouble to make a visit to Rivervale Plaza and made noise about the work stoppage there. I believe these former WP supporters have decided not to vote for WP in this PE and they are right in not doing so! If this is true, then it is rather ironic that WP members has reiterated that they will be the voice of Punggol East Residents now on their rally stage when they have chosen to ignore their pleas just a few months ago!

How much time and effort would it take WP to make a visit to the site to find out exactly what happen and make an appropriate statement about the stoppage? But WP didn't bother to do anything about it. It only came to their mind when the by-election was called!

All these boil down to the kind of political strategy WP has adopted in the past 18 months. WP Chief, Mr Low Thia Khiang was reportedly said that WP 'will keep close watch of over Govt'. In this news report, it says that WP has sent a flyer message to residents of Punggol East during this by-election to explain about WP's strategic positioning in parliament, most probably in an attempt to defend criticisms of WP's mediocre performance in parliament.

His message to the Punggol East voters has somehow reiterated his "Watchdog Politics" which he has so famously coined in the past that WP wants to be a Watchdog, not a "Mad Dog".

He reiterated WP's commitment to seeing Singapore progress and PAP improve. But WP must also "be ready one day to be an alternative choice for the people, especially if the ruling party should become incompetent or corrupt".

My question is, is "Watchdog Politics" enough to safe guard our interests in and out of parliament? If WP is only committed to see PAP improve, is it serious about being the alternative to PAP at all? Is it serious in wanting to set its own political agenda and direction for Singapore? Keeping a close watch on PAP alone isn't going to make parliament First World in any sense. First World Parliament isn't gonna to evolve just by having opposition parties sitting down there and watch and hope the ruling party will become better. First World Parliament can only evolve when all political parties, including both ruling and opposition parties, to debate rigorously on various policies based on their own political belief that their policies best serve the Nation.

Our interests as a Nation can only be safeguarded if and only if the opposition parties in parliament can perform the role as GUARD DOG that could well bark and bite whenever it is necessary, not just a Chi Huahua Watchdog that will only give a symbolic bark but run away when challenged. A Guard Dog must prove its worth by its performance in responding to threats to any compromise on our interests. The recent AIM saga is a prime example of such impotency of Watch Dog politics. Why the issue of AIM wasn't raised immediately when WP found out about it instead of dragging for 18 months, after WP's competency in Town Council management has been put in doubt?

Furthermore, as Calvin Cheng has rightly put in his comment to Yahoo News, the parliament is the place whereby key issues should be brought up by MPs to be debated. This should be done by filing a motion or adjournment motion whereby WP is well capable of since it has already had 8 MPs in parliament. But WP has failed to do that. Even when Sylvia Lim has filed an adjournment motion on the AIM saga, she has subsequently withdrawn it for some incoherent reasons. 

Such Watchdog mentality has set into WP quite deeply when we start to hear WP MPs and members talking about voters must vote them into parliament to make PAP works harder. On the other hand, they make claims that whatever policies made good by PAP is just because they were elected into parliament, sitting down there and watch.

It is just like saying that "Vote us in because PAP is not working" and on the other hand, saying "if PAP is working hard, it is because we are there, thus vote us in". This is the Bao Chiat and Bao Yah (Sure Win) Watchdog strategy whereby, head WP wins, tail PAP loses. It disregards totally of whether WP MPs are performing effective or not and what is needed is basically a presence of WP MPs sitting in parliament.

I do not think it is healthy for Singapore's democratic process if we were to cultivate such mediocre mentally.

I would urge voters of Punggol East to consider very carefully what they want for Singapore, not just what they want for themselves. As an opposition activist, I would not encourage them to vote PAP but at the same time, I would also urge them not to vote blindly in support of opposition.

It is especially so when your votes could either encourage or enhance unwanted political behavior or directions. A strong signal must be sent to all parties that supporters should not be taken for granted and parties should not expect blind support if they could only put up mediocre performance. Each and every vote counts in choosing the right direction for our political development for our future generations.

Allow me to quote Calvin Cheng to end this post:

The Worker’s Party thus has far bigger questions to answer than the PAP. When the Prime Minister asked where its policy alternatives were, the answer is obvious: they lay hidden in the depths of its Manifesto. The more crucial question is why a party which campaigned forcefully for more debate and a ‘First World Parliament’ has allowed these alternative policies to remain there, rather than forcing a fundamental rethink from the government by requiring them to stoutly defend its policies in the House.

At the end of the day, the Worker’s Party did not promise to run Singapore’s town councils better. The Worker’s Party did not even promise to solve bread-and-butter issues that Singaporeans face . Instead, the Worker’s Party promised that it would be a check-and-balance, that it would be a co-driver, and that more debate would lead Singapore to a ‘First World Parliament’. It is this, this that the voters of Punggol East, and perhaps Singaporeans at large, must ultimately judge them.

Goh Meng Seng

WP's Path away From Opposition Unity

This may sound surprising to many opposition supporters but it is from the horse mouth. Mr Low Thia Khiang has said it in the Punggol East rally that WP has chosen to walk its own path when he tried to explained why WP didn't go into talk with other opposition parties with regard to candidacy for this by-election.

This basically means that from WP's perspective, opposition unity doesn't exist at all or they will not work towards opposition unity. That explains why WP was too eager to go into 3 corner fights in Moulmein Kallang and Punggol East back in GE2011 instead of consolidating its forces to contest in Marine Parade which is right in its backyard.

Many people have attacked me during the hustling back in GE2011 right up till now for criticising WP, putting up fantasies and imaginary Sour Grape and Bitter Gourd theories but I don't really blame them because they are ignorant of the finer details of opposition politics. They accused me of destroying opposition unity when I reasoned that WP was the one that is unreasonable in its insistence to create potential 3 corner fights. They even accused me as "PAP mole" when I suggested that other opposition parties would have to test out the relative strength to WP by contesting in Hougang By-election. It is an important strategic move to prepare themselves because make no mistakes about it, WP will definitely go into massive 3 corner fights in the next GE.

I have been a member of Workers Party from 2001 till 2006 and I have quit after the GE2006. The main reason that triggered my resignation has been explained in this blog before. We have a good contest in GE2006 and logically, any aspiring politicians like me, Chia Tilik, James Gomez etc, won't want to quit for no good reasons. There are various factors affecting our individual decisions but mine was pretty straight forward.

However, I must said that I felt disillusioned after GE2006. Right after GE2006, Mr Low has wanted to draw a clear line between SDP and WP. He wanted to denounce Non-Violence Action movement that was carried out by SDP as well. I believe the trigger of such thought came from SDP's contest in Sembawang GRC which WP has claimed but did not plan to contest anyway. There are of course other issues as well. I have opposed vigorously against such propositions at that time.

I reasoned that if WP was to do that back then, we may agitate hardcore SDP supporters. It will just take 2% or 3% off WP and that may just make a decisive difference between a win or lose in any contest in future elections. I also reasoned that Non-Violence Action should not be denounced totally by any political party like WP. This is basically because there will always be a great possibility that PAP may enact or use whatever administrative rules to curb opposition party's activities. I have put up the example of NEA using the illegal hawking rule to curb our selling of party newspaper Hammer. From time to time, we have met NEA officers giving warnings to opposition party activists for selling our newspapers on the streets. What happens if NEA is to come down hard and apply this rule harshly? Are we going to just obey and stop all political activity? NVA may be the only option left if such situation arises.

Indeed, such situation did arise prior to GE2011 when I took over the SG post of NSP. While NSP continued to sell its newspaper North Star in defiance of NEA summons, WP stopped for the whole month. If it is not for NSP's continuous pressure and refusal to pay up for the summon, all opposition parties like WP won't be carrying out their weekly newspaper sales until now! If NSP was to pay up the fines and admitted we were in the wrong, we would expect NEA to apply the rules and summons all across the board on all political parties! Unfortunately, during the tough deadlock with NEA, WP CEC member has openly accused and blamed NSP of "dragging them into the mud". It seems that WP does not realize that it is on the same boat with all other opposition parties instead of on the same boat with PAP, which it has suggested lately.

On the other hand, as I understand WP as a key member, WP has always blown the trumpet of two party system, especially after a good GE2006, which I always have reservations with. To work towards the two party system, it would mean that WP will have to thumb down all other opposition parties as well... or even destroy them with 3 or multi-corner fights and such. This is an undesirable direction and detrimental to democratic movement and development for Singapore.

The progressive aims for freedom activists is first to breach the obstacle of winning the first GRC, then to slice down PAP's monopoly of power by winning at least one third of the parliamentary seats so to deprive PAP the absolute power to amend the Constitution as the way it likes. Whether the system evolves into two party system should be of the last concerns.  But apparently, WP doesn't see it this way.

Thus when WP insisted on contesting in Moulmein Kallang back in GE2011, I knew it wasn't just the simple reason of training their new young candidates. The reasoning of geographical proximity was even more outright ridiculous and unconvincing because Marine Parade would be the best choice for WP as it is sitting right next to Aljunied and East Coast GRCs! It is obvious to me that it is a ploy to trigger a 3 corner fight, with the aim to undermine NSP's growth or even destroy NSP totally.

It was very difficult to explain to many people but I took pain to persuade the scholars, Tony and Hazel, to pull out of Moulmein Kallang at the very last minute for self-preservation. I told them that it was their first election contest and they should not risk destroying their future political career by taking this unnecessary risk. The rest is history.

I cannot agree with WP and Low's strategic perspective in choosing this path of disunity. This is absolutely nothing personal but rather, a very technical difference in opinion on how to bring democratic development to Singapore. Different parties may have different problems but to even suggest that only WP is successful while other parties will only disappoint Singaporeans is much too arrogant to begin with.

For the better or the worse, people and parties change over time. I am proud to say that NSP has evolved stronger after GE2011 and so did SDP, thanks to the participation of new generation of professionals. WP is not the only party that has evolved stronger and it is obvious that other parties have enjoyed the same vote swing in constituencies where their new promising blood has contested.

I believe all these good people who are non-WP members, have great potentials to play an important role in Singapore's democratic development. Mr Low should not write them off that easily. Contrary to his assertions, these new blood have brought promise and hope, not shame or disappointment, to opposition movement as a whole.

Mr Low should leave his political historical baggage down and start to look at the whole environment and situation in a more positive way. If you want to talk about disappointing voters in the past, WP was also guilty of it in the past as well, with mass resignations, lawsuits, scandals (Yawgate is just a year ago) and such. WP's new image only comes about with the injection of new blood right after 2001. Thus, I do not think it is right for Mr Low to imply that others have brought disappointment to voters but not WP. Nevertheless, what had happened in the past, has passed. All parties now are having a fresh start with new generation of politicians joining them.

I just hope that WP will not stray away from the unity of opposition aim in bringing democratic development to Singapore by focusing in cutting down PAP's monopoly of power and enforcing democratic reforms to our political system. Obviously, the advocate of two party system is definitely tainted with self interests. We should focus on winning one third of the seats first an it doesn't necessarily mean that only WP could do it alone.

But I believe, all these are wishful thinking of mine. Premature 3 corner fights will become the norm in next and future GEs. So be it.

However, it would be total hypocrisy for WP people to criticise or scold and whine about other parties of being "spoilers" if WP itself doesn't believe in opposition unity in the first place. Let fair contest takes place but voters must be even more discerning in making their choice in such contests. Opposition supporters should not be confused from now on. They should not vote blindly but instead, should spend more time in assessing the performance, strength and weaknesses of each candidates instead of just vote according to party loyalty.

Opposition politics will never be the same again after Mr Low Thia Khiang's rally speech tonight. I believe that it is basically a public confirmation of distinct departure of WP from the rest of the opposition parties. Maybe Mr. Low feels that with 8 MPs in parliament, it is an opportune time for WP to take flight and establish itself as in the same league as PAP....on the same boat as PAP.  But one thing Mr Low must realize, the only thing could stay constant, is impermanence and this knife will cut both ways.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, January 11, 2013

AIM, mis-AIM & Punggol By-Election

I have refrained from writing about AIM saga here on my blog officially because of a few reasons. First of all, I feel that both parties, are guilty of politicking without really account to what is the REAL COST to the residents of Aljunied GRC. PAP didn't come clean on how much it has cost for all the PAP TCs back in 2003 in developing the estate management software in the first place. WP didn't come clean on why they initiated the development of the new software and how much they have spent in doing so.

PAP has used AIM as a political vehicle to do politicking in the event of a loss of any constituency controlled by them. Although it is not clear whether they have actually did it explicitly right after losing Aljunied TC (we will never know if a conversation transpired between both parties might have hinted anything of this sort) but apparently there is absolutely no reason for TCs to sell the software to PAP owned AIM and it is obvious that AIM bought the software out of political considerations rather than commercial value. Of course, this is obviously a serious breach of conflict of interest and residents' interest was compromised in very sense. PAP's explanation is totally unconvincing at all and this has been dealt with many bloggers and writers already. I shall not repeat here.

As for WP, it didn't raise the red flag of such blatant conflict of interests until its competency of running the Town Council was put into question and doubt by the Town Council report. In fact, WP has gone on the record to say that the handover was smoothly done. I cannot see how AIM saga, which has been resolved back in Sept 2011 could have affected WP's performance in the whole year of 2012 or how it could delay the auditor's report until now. Apparently, this is just smokescreen of excuse for the below par performance.

Sylvia Lim has filed a motion in parliament to debate about "Safe Guarding Public the Interests in Town Council Management" and PM Lee immediately called for an inquiry by HDB into this matter.

Thereafter, PM Lee called for snap By-election in Punggol East and immediately, Sylvia Lim withdrew her motion, giving the excuse of wanting to wait for the Inquiry to be completed.

Such adverse politicking between the two parties is rather sickening to me. Many of you may not really understand the whole process here, thus I will dissect what the whole matter is all about.

The whole issue of this AIM saga has developed from the small little bickering between the two parties, PAP and WP, into something more important. If such things happen in Hong Kong, there would be an uproar of public opinion over it, on both parties. The issue is MORE THAN AIM itself. It is about REAL Potential Conflict of Interests in management of public entities and the government.

It has happened in places like Taiwan before, whereby the ruling party, has sold public enterprises or assets at dirt cheap prices to companies owned by people related to the party or directly to the party itself. The potential threat of corrupt practices is REAL if such things are not kept in check with transparency and accountability.

However, conflict of interests may not just stop at the party level. What does conflict of interests mean? A political party selling a software developed using by public money to a company it owns? A public entity giving contracts to companies owned by immediate family members or relatives of those running or managing that public that considered as conflict of interests ? Or even worse, these public entities giving business contracts to companies owned by the very people who manage or running that public entity.... is that considered as conflict of interests ?

Conflict of interests MAY NOT be illegal or criminal in nature as long as bidding processes are done with proper documentation. However the question is, is it politically ethical or correct?

In my view, Sylvia Lim was just too bold to file that motion to be debated on Monday. This is because ultimately, the debate will be focused on how to define Conflict of interests. She has forgotten that WP has been involved in running HGTC for all this while. When you are in charge of a TC for over 20 years, it is difficult to guarantee that you will have no issues of Conflict of Interests at all, regardless of whether or not there are conscious effort in avoiding it. Thus, PAP may just pull out some examples of conflict of interests that happened in WP controlled TC in the past and that would make WP look extremely and extraordinarily bad politically. Unless Sylvia Lim is 100% sure that there isn't any visible or underlying conflict of interests in EACH AND EVERY DEALINGS, CONTRACTS ISSUED etc, she is basically opening up a dangerous front for her own party!

People assume opposition like WP would be angels and above board of everything but is that really the case? For eg, since they attacked on vote buying in HDB upgrading pork barrel politicking but ended up they have done similar act of vote buying when they have that little power in hand, i.e. Lucky Draw for Voting for HDB upgrading. Such thing won't be made known to us if there is no whistle blower.

In the case of town council management, conflict of interests may not be "illegal" though politically not right. PAP has all sorts of conflict of interests and we now know that AIM is one of them but we expect opposition parties not to do such things. If one day, you found out such conflict of interests also happen in opposition parties, how would you think? It would be a total disaster on the political front, not only for WP but for the whole opposition movement.

Apparently, PM Lee took that golden opportunity to immediately draw a clear line from AIM and call for an independent inquiry. It would be unimaginable to call for a By Election immediately if he felt that the parliamentary debate on Monday on the proposed Motion by Sylvia is going to hurt PAP badly. That would be disastrous for PAP's campaign in Punggol but why did he call for the BE? I don't think the PM is that stupid after all and we should not underestimate our Prime Minister. There is no coincidence that he did the both things almost at the same once Sylvia filed that motion. It shows that he is prepared to go for scorched earth, to spill it all!

I believe that the PAP is prepared to go all out to debate on Sylvia Lim's motion and they must have something up their sleeves, they are so confident that they are willing to put Punggol By Election at stake. I guess they should have sensed the unusual courage and boldness of the predictable conservative PAP, thus finally realized that it is not a good idea after all to file that motion. Thus, just like playing the poker game, they blink and withdrew the motion. This is the whole politicking process all about.

This may not be the end of the issue if PAP decide to carry on and ask their own MPs to file the same motion on Monday.

I have long proposed not to have TC managed by MPs. You can read about the rationale here at New Asia Republic and the original write up.  A MP should focus on parliamentary and law making. This should be their core business that voters voted them while taxpayers pay them to do. They should not be expected to run the TC. Else, we will end up with these messy situation of AIM saga and all sorts of politicking that would undermine the effectiveness of the MPs in doing their core business.

As for my views about the impending By-Election in Punggol East, I shall talk about it in my next few postings, if I have the time to write.

Goh Meng Seng

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Snap Punggol East By-Elections?

There are several news report going on with regards to the possibility of a snap by-elections (BE) at Punggol East. Singapolitics has reported about it just before noon today, anticipation of the writ to be issued this afternoon.

I have said before that it is best for PAP to call a snap poll because this is their turf and opposition parties would be caught off guard. The best window of opportunity is supposedly to be last month (December 2012) whereby WP was still busy with their performance rehearsals and no other opposition parties are ready.

I thought the BE would have to be postponed till May or June after the window closed and the fact that AIM saga is burning hotter than ever. It would not be advisable to hold any elections when there are controversial issues like AIM saga that could well, become the hottest attack topic for the BE. AIM saga pointed directly to the potential conflict of interests in PAP's dealings and it may extend to other areas. PAP has not come clean on how many companies of such nature it has in its control,

I have not written anything about the AIM saga because I think this saga is more than what it is supposed to be about.

Anyway, situation has changed and if PAP really decided to go into a snap BE now, it would mean a few things.

1) The economic outlook for Singapore is going to take a dip very soon.
2) They are afraid that the AIM saga will deepen and may blow up into their face if there are netizens who managed to dig up more companies controlled by PAP that are involved in business with public entities.
3) They want to catch opposition parties off guard.
4) PAP may have something important on WP's AHTC management issues to attack them.

Well, whether there will be a snap poll at Punggol East, we will know very soon. The first rumored date is Writ issued today, 16 Jan is the nomination day, 26 Jan polling day.

The second possible date before Chinese New Year and Budget is next week writ, 23 Nomination and 2 Feb polling day.

There are leads that say that PAP has procured materials for their posters and civil servants have been mobilized. Stay tuned!

Goh Meng Seng

Afternote: The Writ for By-elections at Punggol East has been issued at 4 pm today. As predicted, nomination day is 16 Jan, polling day is 26 Jan 2012.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Dummy guide to avoiding AimED fire in Singapore’s DMZ (Defamation Means Lawsuit Zone)

It has now become apparent to all and sundry that hazards, booby traps and land mines abound in the DMZ for well known bloggers , commentators and keyboard warriors great and small. The rules governing defamation in Singapore and what defines defamation are to put it mildly a lot stricter and the politicians more hypersensitive over both allegations and innuendo of actual or perceived wrongdoing. The art of getting one’s points across, whilst avoiding AIMed fire or a threat of lawsuit and or a demand for apology will involve an understanding of word play, ground rules and creativity.

Having getting used to Hong Kong’s high level of freedom, both in speech and expression, the recent legal actions against various bloggers and politicians alike, really sound ridiculous to me. Well, if you were to tell any Hong Kongers that these people could well get into legal troubles by such circumstances, they would have WOW in disbelief. It is rather strange that both Hong Kong and Singapore have adopted the Commonwealth law system but ended up with very different level of tolerance of free expressions on politics, issues and matters of public interests. While I hope that we as citizens should push for a reform in the Defamation Law in Singapore to include Comments on issues of public interests to be included as a legitimate defence against defamation suit, I would also want to share with bloggers at large on how not to step on these bombs for the time being.

Historically from Tang Liang Hong onwards, the mere innuendo or allegation of individual criminal wrong doing has been enough to warrant an actual law suit. On a lesser note, JBJ was sent to the Parliamentary Special Privilege Committee to be censured when he suggested in parliament that CPIB should investigate the HPL saga of giving the Lee family hefty discounts. The defence since then has been to shift from allegations of individual criminal conduct to suggestions to some degree of improper behaviour on the part of the organization to which the individual heads. It has been interesting to note that the PM specifically referred to himself as one of the “individuals” and thus aggrieved and within his right to suffer damage from defamation. The rule of thumb is that allegations of any form should be directed primarily at the Party, and or the PAP.

“The PAP likes to cast itself as the party of scrupulous integrity. On this matter they have a lot to answer for or they will be seen as the opposite foul and dirty, this is not a case which can be dismissed as the mistake of one lone PAP person. The moves they made involve nearly all the PAP MPs in the town council across the board. “

At this juncture one should be aware that the substance of the allegation is a matter of care just as much as to whom the allegation to which it is directed. The substance of the legal letter of demand from Drew and Naiper has made clear that senior political figures in Singapore are sensitive even to allegations of the “possibility” of criminal conduct. The roots of this can be seen in the case against TLH where the mere appearance of an allegation of criminal conduct was enough to constitute defamation in a court of law.

The danger for commentators is that allegations about the possibility of criminal conduct are treated similarly by politicians as allegations about the innuendo of criminal conduct. Unless any one particular commentator has the where withal to withstand extended court cases, what is fair comment or not and whether allegations about “possible” criminal conduct represents defamation before the law can never be decided because it has never been brought before the courts.

In short the answer lies as Alex has done in his articles in raising and critiquing the answers given, calling for investigations and clarifications but resisting all temptation at raising any allegation of criminal wrong doing.

In short the PAP might have made a mistake made disingenuous comments, have not been forthcoming, the town councils might not have followed its own procurement rules, there exists substantive conflicts of interest, Teo Ho Pin has been economical with the truth and less than forth coming on some issues, but that is currently the only way to stay out of the DMZ.

It may not be good to Singapore’s well being in maintaining proper checks and balances politically to have such stringent rules or laws on defamation law but we will have to live with it for the moment. Until the time that we press our MPs in parliament to change the defamation law to include comments which may even suggest impropriety or wrong doings, be it criminal or otherwise, but have legitimate and reasonable deductions on the matters and issues of public interests to become legitimate defence, we will have to live with that. Yes, such defamation law really make us look silly like a dinosaur in the world, especially those practice common laws, but what to do?

My point is that it is only good to have such reform on the Defamation Law, both for citizens, politicians from PAP and opposition likewise. Once this reform is done, there is no need for PAP MPs or ministers to jump up and down with a letter of demand every time a blogger wrote something unwittingly suggesting some criminal wrong doing. They could just politely write to the blogger to clarify and ask that their clarification to be published. There will be no pressure for the politicians to jump into legal action just to show that they are above board. On the other hand, it is quite impossible for anyone to raise the red flag if there is truly wrong doings, be it criminal or otherwise, if such Defamation law is to stay.

One must understand that to lose in a Defamation law is not equating to say that what has been uttered is necessarily falsehood. It is just the case that what has been uttered cannot be proven to be true. TT Durai has successfully sued a couple of individuals for defamation when he was heading NKF, even though, on hindsight, now we know what these individuals have alleged was true! It is only when TT Durai tried to sue SPH but SPH happened to be able to prove what they have published was true, and then TT Durai just fell from the top. But in order to prove anything on such wrong doings will need quite a lot of resources like SPH has. Thus, the investigation should be left to be done by the professional institutions and I believe, this is the best way to clear the names of those people alleged to have done wrong, instead of going through defamation suit that may not be conclusive on whether one is right or wrong at all, as in the case of TT Durai.

On the other note of Dr Vincent Wijeysingha of SDP issuing an apology to Minister Tan Chuan Jin, it is a common mistake people made on asserting someone is dishonest or lying when what he said contradicted the “truth”. This is wrong even when what he has said is contrary to what is known as truth. To assert someone “lying” or “dishonest” means that you have assumed him of KNOWING the TRUTH but chose to say otherwise. That is an attack on his integrity of deliberately telling lies. There could be a case whereby, he is saying is NOT TRUE because he DOESN'T KNOW the TRUTH in the first place. Thus, one could assert what someone has said is NOT true, but NOT jump into conclusion that he is “lying” or “dishonest”.

My simple conclusion is that for the time being, bloggers and politicians alike, should thread very carefully by not suggesting any criminal wrong doing even though there are obvious reasons to come to that conclusions. People with a clear mind would come to that conclusion themselves. At the same time, we should push for a total reform on our Defamation Law to allow comments on issues of public interests immune to defamation law suits. Time has changed and from the recent development, we know that people of high positions could do wrong…. from sex scandals to corruptions. People may know certain information but not enough to prove conclusive on the truth. Such investigation should best be left to professional institution to carry out.

On the side note, Separation of Powers is also an important reform we should push for. The current set up of high concentration of powers is unhealthy for real democracy to prevail. It is only when there is a real Separation of Powers, like what Hong Kong has, whatever findings by the law enforcement unit will be highly respected and not disputed. This is so for Hong Kong whereby the ICAC is highly independent, under the purview of a retired judge or equivalent, instead of the political office. Whatever findings from ICAC will be highly regarded and very few would dispute that.

I may not see all these reforms on Defamation Law and Separation of Powers in my life time but I believe such reforms are necessary if we are to progress democratically.

Goh Meng Seng

Co-writer M.Y.