http://cape.commons.yale-nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/108/2019/01/CAPE-white-invert.png 0 0 e0198972 http://cape.commons.yale-nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/108/2019/01/CAPE-white-invert.png e01989722018-10-20 13:25:552018-12-20 13:28:27Inequality, Hawkers under Fire, that Workers’ Party Trial and More
This week we bring a curation of information regarding ongoing court proceedings. An activist and opposition politician are the first to be convicted under the revised laws regarding contempt of court. In another legal proceeding, members of the Worker’s Party face a drawn out battle to figure out if there was financial malpractice in a town council. Hawker woes continue this week as the public rallies to support beleaguered stall owners. We offer some food for thought of course, and point our attention to the previous changing of the guard in Singapore’s top office.
If you like what you see, forward this to your friends, and if you’ve received this email for the first time, click here to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter!
Aljunied-Hougang Town Council trial at Supreme Court continues with auditors weighing in
Sylvia Lim, along with fellow MPs Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh of the Workers’ Party (WP), are being sued for breaching their fiduciary duties in managing the money and assets entrusted to them, in their capacity as town councillors. The multimillion dollar suit was brought by an independent panel acting on behalf of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, and by the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council.
The town councils’ lawyers Davinder Singh and David Chan argued that the MPs “egregiously” misused public funds, and that the systems in place were “so pervaded by conflicts of interest and so irrational that no sensible town councillor with full knowledge of the facts could have approved this lawfully” The defence lawyer Chelva Rajah argued that the MPs did not owe any fiduciary duties to the town councils, that they acted in good faith and in the best interests of the residents, and that there was nothing improper about the payments. He said that the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) put procedures in place to ensure there was oversight of payments made to vendors, contrary to allegations of a lack of financial control.
Auditors produced 56 instances in which there was no proper endorsement of invoices, to which Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah produced alternate documents of the Voucher Journal Report, which showed the appropriate signatures of heads of department. Key witness from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), partner Goh Thien Phong led a team to review the past payments of AHTC. He said last week that this report would not fulfil the requirement under the law, and that a consistent policy was necessary, not according “to each individual’s whims and fancies”.
The former members of the AHTC between 2013-2015 are continuing to face the court. Former WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang took the stand on Tuesday afternoon.
Activist and Opposition Politician first to be convicted under new contempt of court law
Activist Jolovan Wham and SDP politician John Tan have been found guilty of scandalizing the judiciary, making them the first to be convicted under the recently amended contempt of court law. The scandalizing comment refers to a post made by Wham on his personal Facebook account earlier this year. Wham wrote, “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications”. In a separate Facebook post, Tan wrote, “by charging Jolovan for scandalising the judiciary, the [Attorney-General’s Chambers] only confirms what he said was true”.
After the guilty verdict, the AGC said that Wham and Tan’s post impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore judicial system and posed a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined. Wham and Tan face a maximum fine of $100,000 and a jail term of up to 3 years.
The effect of the amended contempt of court law is to broaden the definition of what constitutes scandalizing the judiciary, from a “real risk” of undermining public confidence to a mere “risk”. Penalties have been made more severe and rules have expanded to include social media posts too. Their conviction therefore sets a precedent as to what constitutes a “risk” of undermining confidence in the judiciary. Do stay tuned as CAPE is in the midst of preparing a handout on what you can and not say under the amended contempt of court law.
In a related case, activist and artist Seelan Palay was fined $2500 under the Public Order Act for one charge of taking part in a public procession without a permit. As he refused to pay the fine, he will serve two weeks in jail. This charge was in relation to an event Seelan organised on 1 October last year, titled “32 Years”, to commemorate the detention of Dr Chia Thye Poh. Seelan had given a speech at Speaker’s Corner before walking towards the National Gallery and using a marker to draw on a mirror in front of him. Following that, Seelan walked to Parliament House where he was warned that he was committing an offence under the Public Order Act and asked to leave. In mitigation, Seelan said he “did not threaten Singapore’s public order, national security, relations with other countries or commit an immoral act.” A video of the procession can be found here (FB video).
Oxfam puts Singapore in firing line in Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index report
Global developmental charity agency Oxfam released its latest Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index on October 9th, and most notably ranked Singapore 149 out of 157 countries on their efforts to ameliorate inequality. They cited Singapore’s “harmful tax practices” such as tax incentives for certain industries and low personal income tax for high earners, as well as a low level of public social spending, as a reason for this low score.
This drew a swift response from Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who claimed that Singapore had achieved “real outcomes” despite low public social spending. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat echoed Lee, saying that Oxfam had erroneously measured inputs and treated it as indicative of outcomes. Oxfam rebuffed Lee, stating that the impact of Singapore’s tax policies extended beyond its borders, and that Singapore’s tax policies created a tax haven for rich corporations, eroding the revenue of other countries in the region that could be invested in healthcare and education in those countries.
Regular Singaporeans also chimed in, with political commentator Calvin Cheng questioning Oxfam’s link to political bogeyman George Soros and poet Joshua Ip pointing out Oxfam’s dubious research methodology. The topic of inequality has dominated public discourse in recent weeks, as a recent survey by OnePeople.sg and Channel NewsAsia revealing that the class divide is potentially Singapore’s most divisive fault line. Any ranking-related stress was relieved soon after, however, as Singapore topped the World Bank’s Human Capital Index soon after.
Social Enterprise-run Hawker Centres experience cost and operational woes
Food critic K F Seetoh, has written on Makansutra that hawkers in social enterprise-run hawker centres (SEHCs) have to pay rental fees even higher than that of popular centres like Maxwell Food Centre. SEHCs were introduced with the aim of keeping food prices low for consumers, however, hawkers have experienced difficulties due to expenses from the tray return system, along with ‘penalty’ fees incurred from contract termination. Stallowners have complained of long operating hours, rental costs despite low footfall, and lack of transparency about the services they were paying for.
Moreover, business has deteriorated in recent months for some hawkers, leading to lower profits and many tenants relocating to other centres. With early termination of the contract to relocate, they had to continue paying the basic monthly rent until the contract was up or until a replacement tenant could be found.
12 hawkers from Jurong West Hawker Centre have petitioned the National Environment Agency (NEA) for the operator to remove the fee of 20 cents for each returned tray. Hawkers have been paying hundreds out of this scheme since customers do not pay anything to take a tray, but receive 20 cents when they return their tray. Hawker Management claimed the tray return system was a joint effort by stallholders and the management, and the NEA responded claiming stallholders were aware of the charges involved before signing the tenancy agreement with Hawker Management. In response to Seetoh’s letter and feedback from hawkers, Senior Minister of State Amy Khor said NEA will continue to evaluate these alternative business management models to make refinements and adjustments.
Food for Thought
Signs of an election and honing in on a fourth generation leader for Singapore
Faris Mokhtar, Senior Journalist at TODAY, writes ‘For Singapore’s next PM, the journey starts with the men and women in white’, a run-up article in anticipation of a possible election within the next year.
Political Singapore Before: How were the previous Prime Ministers of Singapore Chosen?
To learn more about previous transitions to the political helm of Singapore, the Curator directs our attention to a ST (2016) article detailing how former-PM Goh Chok Tong was chosen: ‘Mr Goh was not his predecessor’s first choice’.
Bertha Harian: trust and transparency among ST and CNA’s internal episodes
Commentator Bertha Henson writes on the different ways ST and CNA have handled internal difficulties regarding conduct of their staff.
Generation Y speaks from a university student: a letter in TODAY
Student Qi Siang Ng of Yale-NUS College says ‘only by adopting a spirit of humility and openness can Singapore hope to enjoy another half century of progress and prosperity in an increasingly uncertain future’ in an article for TODAY Online.
Thum Ping Tjin: “Elections may be free, but not necessarily fair”
Speaking at a panel discussion titled “The Appeal of the Southeast Asian Strongman” on the second day of the sixth annual Cooler Lumpur Festival in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (6 Oct), academic Thum Ping Tjin expressed his opinion regarding government engagement with citizens: ‘We have become very fixated on elections as the sole mechanism of determining legitimacy.’