Succession planning, cyber-security lapses, new NMPs, and the latest developments on 377A and deliberate online falsehoods

Section 377A continues to dominate the public sphere, while the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods finally delivered its findings and recommendations to the government. Meanwhile the Committee of Inquiry convened for the SingHealth cyber-attack has revealed some alarming lapses with regards to cybersecurity. We summarise these issues and more in this week’s newsletter, and give you some food for thought.
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Image credit: Michael Coghlan

70 people attend parliament in support of MP’s proposal to tax single-use carrier bags

MP Louis Ng delivered a motion in parliament for a “plastic-lite” Singapore, calling for a charge for single-use carrier bags, and for the public sector to take the lead in reducing plastic use. Singaporeans on average consume 1.6 plastic bags per day, twice as many in Malaysia and thrice in Australia. Ng implored that if left unchecked, we will have more plastic bags in the ocean than fish by 2050. Worldwide, plastic waste is killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. Ng cited the entrenched “throwaway culture” that Singaporeans have over disposable plastics, and how Miniso, a Singapore brand, saw a 75 percent drop in plastic bag usage since charging a price for it.
In response, Khor pushed back against Ng’s proposals, referencing studies showing that reusable bags cause similar environmental problems, and how enforcement of the policy has been tricky in countries like Hong Kong. She also pointed out that anti-littering laws and litter traps help to reduce plastic pollution. When pushed to enforce a reduction in plastic use in the public sector, however, Khor stated that MEWR would only “encourage” a set of best practices for plastic use. She added that MEWR was working on reducing plastic at source by bringing forward a mandate for businesses to report their packaging use by one year, to 2020, and was studying the feasibility of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for plastic. It should be noted that civil society has been advocating for imposing a price on plastic bags for years. About 70 people from environmental groups, universities and interested members of the public made themselves “heard” by attending the parliament session during Ng’s motion.

The debate on 377A rages on…

The ongoing debate on section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, continues, with prominent establishment figures chiming in. Former Attorney-General (AG) Professor Walter Woon and former Permanent Representative to the UN Professor Tommy Koh, joined the Ready4Repeal petition as lead signatories – the latter penned an article in the Straits Times on why it should be repealed. Former Judge of Appeal and AG V.K. Rajah also wrote an article arguing that s 377A is unconstitutional, criticising the 2014 Court of Appeal decision in Lim Meng Suang v Attorney-General, which upheld the constitutionality of s 377A. Current AG Lucien Wong issued a response to the criticism of the former AGs (Walter Woon and V.K. Rajah) that the government’s non-enforcement policy fettered the Public Prosecutor’s discretion; he stated that the government’s position is that the Police would not proactively investigate the provision, and that this does not affect the Public Prosecutor’s discretion to prosecute offenses under s 377A.
Several religious organisations and figures asked for 377A to remain, including PERGAS and Archbishop William Goh. On the other hand, the president of the Buddhist Fellowship supported repealing 377A. MARUAH, a human rights NGO, advocated the repeal of 377A; in response to some of the statements in their article, former NMP Professor Thio Li-ann argued, among other things, that 377A does not violate international law.
The Ready4Repeal town hall took place in SMU and drew 818 participants, after their booking in Suntec Singapore Convention Centre was cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances”. After the repeal petition was submitted, the government stated that it has ‘no plans’ to repeal 377A.
Also worth reading:

Nine new NMPs appointed

Nine new Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) have been appointed for a new 2 ½ year term. Among them are three-time Paralympic gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu (who becomes the youngest person to take up the post), Sakae Holdings chairman Douglas Foo, and associate professor Walter Theseira. Theseira had previously proposed curbing the use of CPF savings for housing, drawing criticism online.
Click here for a more detailed profile of each of the nine new NMPs.

Committee of Inquiry for the SingHealth cyber-attack reveals lapses

The ongoing Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the cyber-attack which breached Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), the agency which runs the IT systems of all public healthcare institutions in Singapore, has revealed several manpowerand system lapses allowing hackers to steal the data of 1.5 million people and prescription records of 160,000 people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loongand several ministers.
Though servers are typically patched several times a month, the server exploited by hackers to reach SingHealth’s critical system had not been updated for several months. The COI revealed that IHiS had placed several unqualified people in key positions. This included the ‘custodian’ of the breached server, who was not officially supposed to manage the server, but had done so since 2014 for reasons of convenience.
Solicitor General Kwek Mean Luck revealed that the cyberattacker had gained an initial presence in SingHealth’s network as early as August 2017. They used a publicly available hacking tool to infect a workstation which ran a version of Microsoft Outlook that was vulnerable to the tool. From December 2017 to May 2018, the attacker used remote access to the initially infected workstations to distribute malware to other computers.
The COI did not appear to discuss whether the identities of the attacker would be pursued or to confirm whether the attackers were state-linked.
Also worth reading:
Ex-Straits Times editor Bertha Henson gives her take on the SingHealth COI, and concludes that a ‘bo-chup’ culture in the organisation was to blame.

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods makes 22 recommendations to tackle the problem of fake news, and the PJ Thum saga continues

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods submitted its report to Parliament. It made 22 recommendations that included legislation, public education efforts, and measures by both media organisations and technology companies.
In its legislative recommendations, the Select Committee did not go into the specifics of what form the new laws would take, instead setting out principles for the legislation. For instance, the measures would need to be effective in a matter of hours to stop the falsehoods from going viral, and should take into account the context and circumstances of each case to address free speech concerns. The measures could include take-down powers, blocking access to content, tagging corrections and notifications, cutting off advertising revenue, and in serious cases, criminal sanctions. Outside of legislative measures, it recommended, among other things, general efforts to improve media literacy such as teaching about disinformation in schools, measures for increased transparency and accountability by tech companies, and for the media to set up a fact-checking coalition to quickly debunk fake news.
The Select Committee also stated that historian Thum Pingtjin lied about his credentials and that he gave “misleading evidence” – they accordingly did not give his views any weight. The decision was unanimous within the Committee, which included Workers’ Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh. In response to criticism, Pritam Singh stated that while Thum was singled out, it was Thum’s own prerogative to single out the PAP, “consequences included”. Thum issued a brief response to the Select Committee on Facebook. In related news, the Ministry of Finance rejected Thum’s appeal to register a company with ACRA, on the ground that it took foreign funding and was politically motivated.
Also worth reading:

Who’s the next PM?

In a speech, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, said that Singaporeans will have a clearer idea of the who will become the next prime minister in 2019. Shanmugam mentioned that the next generation of leaders has been selected, and that they are currently being put through their places. He also hinted that the PAP’s CEC elections in 2018 was another source of information about the next generation of leaders, and added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong would lead the PAP into the next General Election, with the next slate of leaders clearly delineated.
Several political analysts anticipate that at least one new assistant Secretary-General would likely be appointed to the PAP CEC, and that the next Prime Minister is likely to be be one of the appointees. The analysts note that there are three frontrunners: Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Ong Ye Kung. At each PAP party conference, cadre members vote on the candidates for the CEC, after which CEC members will co-opt others into the committee, and office members are selected. One analyst pointed out that Shanmugam’s comments highlight that PAP cadre members likely have a significant say in the selection of the next PM.

Food for thought…

In this op-ed, writer Theophilus Kwek gives some suggestions for how to make civil society dialogues more inclusive, and close the gap between participants and policymakers. Do you agree?
In this interview with Channel NewsAsia, Banyan Tree Holdings founder and chairman Ho Kwon Ping expresses his view on issues such as social inequality, his detention under the Internal Security Act, opposition politics and civil society, and his views on Section 377A. Do you agree with his opinions?
Finally, Steven Oliver, assistant professor at Yale-NUS College, and Kai Ostwald from the University of British Columbia ruminate about what the victory of Pakatan Harapan means for the PAP, and conclude that the PAP’s focus on ‘valence politics’ – party trustworthiness, competence, and qualifications – instead of ideology sets it apart from Malaysia, and should be safe from a similar shock result. Do you agree?
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