Political Crowdfunding & Debating Inequality

This week we bring a curation of information regarding the ongoing AHTC lawsuit, to which Singaporeans contributed over $1 million in the Worker’s Party leaders’ crowdfunding campaign! Coverage on the hawker issue continues as social enterprises come under more fire, while the debate over meritocracy and inequality has definitely been brought back to the forefront of discussion in light of Channel News Asia’s ‘Regardless of Class’ series. On a more solemn note, four men have been executed under the death penalty in Singapore. Additionally, we offer some food for thought on foreign domestic workers’ rights and key insights gained from the IPS 30th Anniversary Conference and media coverage of the event.
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AHTC Lawsuit against WP: Political targeting and crowdfunding
Someone compared 5 years of audit cases reported by the AGO to the charges brought against the WP leaders. According to the review, several cases of mismanagement in other government agencies, similar in nature and scale to that allegedly perpetrated by WP, occurred during the 5-year period. Yet, only WP’s audit led to a lawsuit. The review can be found here.
Political Crowdfunding?
The three Workers’ Party Members of Parliament sued by two town councils in a civil case have raised more than $1 million within three days of a public appeal for donations. According to their blog, the three received $1,008,802 in donations before the appeal was closed. In a joint statement, they expressed their gratitude for the level of public support they received. The trio claimed to have paid close to $600,000 before the start of the trial out of their own pockets. The total sum claimed against the three is potentially more than $30 million.
Execution of drug traffickers, Malaysia calls for death penalty to be abolished
Four men have been executed within 2 days by the Singaporean authorities:
  1. Selamat Bin Paki,
  2. Ali Bin Mohamad Bahashwan,
  3. Irwan Bin Ali
  4. Prabu N Pathmanathan.
Families of inmates are usually notified up to a week before the execution date. This notice period used to be two weeks but it has since been shortened to one week without an official explanation. Prabu’s family was given just 4 days notice.
News of Prabu’s imminent execution attracted Malaysian attention, whose government recently announced its plans to abolish the death penalty. The de-facto Malaysian Law Minister Liew Vui Keong and the Malaysian Bar appealed to the Singapore Government on to commute Prabu’s death sentence to life imprisonment. 2 clemency petitions, one from Prabu’s family and the other from Singaporean activist and civil society groups, were submitted to the President of Singapore. Subsequently, a Malaysian Human Rights Lawyer announced on behalf of Prabu’s family that the President of Singapore was “unable to accede to their request” as the “clemency process has concluded.”
The United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia also condemned the executions, calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and its abolition. They expressed dismay at the sharp increase in executions in recent years and concern at the lack of publicly available information on scheduled executions. Singapore has yet to ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and its second optional protocol on the abolition of the death penalty. To date, 170 nations have abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium on its use.
Debates over Meritocracy and Inequality
A new OECD report highlighted that nearly half of low-income students in Singapore are concentrated in the same schools. The report also makes uncomfortable comparisons between Singapore’s inequality and that in the rest of the world. Countering Oxfam’s claims that Singapore spends too little on social welfare, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed to a World Health Organization report ranking the country 6th out of 191 in terms of the efficiency of its health care system.
Meritocracy and inequality were also hot topics at the recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) 30th Anniversary Conference. This comes at a time when Education Minister Ong Ye Kung continually reaffirms that ‘We need to double down on meritocracy.’ DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam highlighted the importance of social mobility in ameliorating inequality, and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing talked about defining elitism and the need for graciousness in society.
Considering minimum wage, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo claimed that it would lead to lower levels of unemployment. However, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh pointed out how Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong had implemented minimum wages fairly successfully.
Lastly, RICE Media did some digging into the background of the recent “Regardless of Class” documentary and found that CNA had omitted several soundbites and scenes to create a stereotypical narrative of elitism and how it leads to inequality. The debate over meritocracy and inequality rages on.
Social Enterprises running hawker centres come under further fire
The debates over social enterprise hawkers continue apace. This comes after MP Lim Biow Chuan refuted claims that these hawkers were made to work “super long hours.” His response was criticised for failing to address numerous other issues raised such as rising monthly cleaning costs, mandatory insurance schemes, and complex legal documents that hawkers were made to sign without sufficient explanation.
This has prompted public scrutiny over the viability of the social enterprise hawker model. Economist Donald Low in a Today column argues that it is difficult to balance profitability with affordability. Furthermore, in a Facebook post, Low suggests that the social enterprise hawker model faces a trilemma in trying to do too many things simultaneously- ensuring affordability, industry vibrancy, and low government subsidies. He notes any solution can only achieve any two of these objectives but not all of them.
Man chooses an interesting wedding theme, eyes NMP position.
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Food for Thought
At the IPS 30th Anniversary Conference, Hong Kong Baptist University media professor Cherian George highlighted how the notion of building a democratic society is enshrined in our Pledge, and Singapore’s minimal conception of democracy has not harnessed the full potential of the citizens’ capability to do so. His full speech can be found here.
Is treating foreign domestic workers(FDWs) as human beings simply commonsensical? Yale-NUS associate professor of sociology and public policy Anju Mary Paul says it should be, but that sadly is not our current reality. She highlights cases where employment agencies and employers alike have mistreated FDWs, seeing them as ‘robots’ or ‘commodities’. She exhorts us all to do better.
Unhappy about what he perceived as biased reporting by the Straits Times on the IPS 30th Anniversary Conference, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh took to Facebook to ask ST why it did not feature photos of Janil Puthucheary and Cherian George in print, and why they did not feature his comments on the viability of a minimum wage. ST Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong replied to his post, explaining that she was constrained by “space and time”. Prof Koh then retorted that “biased reporting is a consistent pattern of ST”. Several other prominent figures also jumped into the debate, such as current Chairman of Temasek Holdings Lim Boon Heng. Cherian George himself then clarified that he was not upset, self-deprecatingly saying that a “panel of balding Malayalee men” would not have been a very aesthetic choice of photos.
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