04 August 2007

Bark and crumble

The government banned the lecture I was organising for Prof Douglas Sanders on the topic of "Sexual orientation in international law: the case of Asia". But the real story is nothing at all like what their press release says. Full essay.

26 comments:

Teck Soon said...

Did you get back the $20 license fee?

Rani said...

This confirms my suspicions about the ISEAS event cancellation. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Alex,

It seems that Singapore is apparently no different from Malaysia either, when it comes to dealing with panaroid Political Masters.

That is, if what is being reported in the online news portal "Malaysia Today" is true about Malaysia's political masters.

That is the reality of dirty politics.

Anonymous said...

I wrote this last night on my blog

http://blog.360.yahoo.com/sgpsociety:

Singapore gays: hope and disappointment
In 2003 PM Goh Chok Tong made an unexpected pronouncement about homosexuals: that because in the current social environment there is no longer any risk of closet gays being subjected to blackmail, they can be appointed to even "sensitive" positions in the pubic service. The gay community was much encouraged by this development and believed it to be part of a general processing of opening up. Since then, however, they received a series of disappointments, as a number of applications to the authorities for permits to hold gay-based functions were turned down, the most recent being a proposed photo exhibition by Mr Alex Au, a prominent gay activist (see his blog at ybsampler1.blogspot.com), of photos of gay kissing. Was this a case of lower levels of the government defying higher level policy decisions? or a hesitant government responding to pressure against change? I dont think so. I believe the community misread GCT's pronouncement on a very specific issue into something much broader.

Public service job application forms do not ask the applicant to specify his/her sexual orientation, nor are questions on the subject asked as part of a standard job interview; hence, most homosexuals who get appointments would not have to reveal their homosexuality. I do not know whether, when someone applies for a "sensitive" position, he/she gets asked "are you homosexual", but in the densely networked Singapore system, people who make such appointments would already know a lot about a proposed appointee's background and a specific question on this is probably quite unnecessary. So the scenario is not really "now this person is gay, but now we have the more open policy, so we appoint him nevertheless", but "we appointed this person a little while ago, but recently someone told me he/she is gay; you think this is a problem?" This question would have to be ultimately answered at the highest level, requiring the PM himself to take a position on the issue.

(I happen to know a foreigner appointed to a senior position in NUS for a short period, and later heard from a mutual acquaintance that he is a homosexual. Similar cases may have existed in other organizations.)
-------------
your new entry confirms my thought: the PAP upper echelon did not change its view about homosexuals, though it said some apparently conciliatory things when particular circumstances require it, so that even their own servants thought there was a significant change; this explains both the hope and the disappointment

sgsociety.com

Anonymous said...

The former heavyweight should stay heavy and not move around so much. He should enjoy his tea in the afternoon.

And all the government officials involved are like subjects in a king's court.

Andrew said...

Alex,

Affter reading your account of what happened, I am really disgusted - with the authorities. It's downright shameful.

The following quotes by our PM has never sounded more hollow after recent events:

"Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions and open up new spaces."

"You can get anything you want in Singapore. You can travel, you can bring it in. You can - you can organize what you want. You can say anything you want, and all sorts of things are said and debated in Singapore."

"Sometimes as parents we have to let go a little. Take some risks as parents so that the child can also learn. Let them take knocks and scrapes as they grow up."

"We've got to support Singaporeans being spontaneous, being unconventional. We should not put obstacles in their way."

"Don't ask what the Government is going to do. I read that some people are asking, now that you want young people to get engaged, what is the Government going to do to get young people engaged? Actually, we are going to wait. No, get up, do it. Nike says, "Just Do It". Engage your ideals, your ideas, your energies, build a new generation, build tomorrow's Singapore . Don't wait or depend on the Government. Find your own leaders, organise your own solutions, move."

"We don't mind if you have different views, but you must have some views. If you have no views, I have a problem. If you have different views, we can talk about it and let's do something about it together."

"There is no policy too sensitive to question, and no subject so taboo that you cannot even mention it."

"I encourage you to step forward, to engage in the issues facing our country, and to take more responsibility for moving Singapore forward. The more you do this, the more assured Singapore's future will be."

"That's the right spirit we want. We want people to participate, we want people to get engaged, do it within the law, you can do a lot within the law and if your motives are good and you want to do good for your people, for the community, for Singapore, you can do it and you ought to do it,"

And my favourite:

"Some people are afraid to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing, or being taken to task. But for debate to be fruitful, it has to be rigorous and not held back out of concern for egos and sensitivities."

Anonymous said...

You want to believe that kind of dictation written by script writers? Beliefs and words are two different things.

GoodLuck said...

"ISEAS did not need anybody's permission to organise their lecture, not PELU, not ICA/PVP. As an academic institution, they had exemption".

Wow, is that only for ISEAS or all academic institutions in Singpore? If it is applicable to all, maybe similar lectures/forums can be held at NUS (law, medicine, nursing), Ngee Ann Poly (nursing) and Nanyang Poly (nursing). The students heading into the legal and healthcare industries will benefit from increased awareness of alternative sexuality, its legal and psychosocial issues.

Anonymous said...

>MDA still adopt such narrow mindsets when they should be at the forefront of the latest media trends

junior officials dont have that freedom; only top leaders can lead to change

recruit ong said...

<< junior officials dont have that freedom; only top leaders can lead to change >>

That hardly resolves the juniors from their personal responsibilities. Classic passing the the buck right there. LOL

Anonymous said...

come come; dont tell me this is not how you operate yourself; this is singapore; junior officials who dare to initiate change on their own? that would be too brave

sgsociety.com

Anonymous said...

More brave men are needed to effect a change. When it is time, my fellow Singaporeans whose rights are constantly being chipped away, you must recalim what is yours.

Anonymous said...

i'm disgusted after learning this. i feel ashame to have a fellow singaporean such as the heavyweight.

it is to me, a downright abuse of power.

Anonymous said...

first, he is out of power (at least political power - he presumably has a high post in a GLC), so you can really say he misused it

second, he has democratic rights to speak his mind

the issue is how the "system" operates; why some people's speaking out is more influential than others, and why so few people want to speak or even just to use their own minds

sgsociety.com

Anonymous said...

every individual is entitiled to their own belief and opinion.

however having an opinion and forcefully impose that opinion onto others using whatever power they had or are having is simply disgusting.

it IS abusing of power, whether past or present power.

Anonymous said...

so in what way did he "abuse" his "past power"? did he threaten the police officials, ISEAS administrators, ICA, etc with sacking if they allowed the event to take place? cut their budget?

I could even say a blogger that makes an unsubstantiated criticism like this is "abusing" his freedom

maybe using strong words makes the person saying it feel better, given that the "system" makes it hard to have any substantive actions

Anonymous said...

i guess i know where you are coming from. it appears to me that your opinion is towards the dept. that cancel the permit, so paranoid that just one call of concern from the heavyweight that make he or she think the permit should be cancelled.

but on the other hand, since he has relinguished his job as a heavyweight in the executive, why and how can he call the high ranking decision maker of the whatever dept. and force his opinion to the decision maker that made him or her to override the decision that was made by the point of public contact?

and we are discussing about the issue brought up herein this blog. hence we are focusing the discussion as to the incident did happen as what appears in this blog.

even though if you feel it is not an abuse of power, well i have my "democratic right to feel" that it was an abuse of power.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I think the issue isn't really one of "abuse of power". In any society, even a democratic one, there will be people with high profile, guanxi/connections, loud voice or a generally bullying demeanour.

The difference between a well-run government and a shambles of one is how public officers do their jobs in the face of such pressures.

This story, which I think is instructive, shows how our public officers were quick to abandon duty, succumbing to bullying pressure. In their quieter moments, they made one decision, but when a bully comes onto the scene, there is a general dereliction of duty to stick by the facts and stand up for the principle of fair consideration.

Worse, they then attempted to whitewash their guilt by trying to paint me and Douglas Sanders as sly agents in a press release when it was they who were spineless.

No country can claim a rule of law when public officers bow and scrape at the feet of "big men".

Anonymous said...

since in Singapore power is centralized in the hands of a small leadership group, with direct or indirect control over a large part of the economy including SPH/mediacorp, it is pretty hard for officials to act in an independent manner; where are you going to find a new career if you upset someone important?

law is an abstract concept; to respect law more than you fear a bigshot requires a higher level of political culture, and developing such a culture requires recognition for its need from top downwards

sgsociety.com

Anonymous said...

I got to know about your site when I read reports of your predicament in The Guardian on line.

It seemed that the licensing agency have broken the law by cancelling your permit.

As I am not familiar with Singapore and have heard that it is a democratic and law abiding country, why don't you try to sue the agency?

George Lee, London.

Anonymous said...

I guess we should look at George Lee's comment positively: there are well meaning foreigners who take an interest in Singapore affairs. However, it is hard for an outsider to understand the "system". We all know that there is virtually no chance of winning such a lawsuit. There may be occasions when special circumstances causes a surprise verdict to be handed down, but one simply would not want to devote effort and money (and legal expenses can be very high here) on such a slim hope.

sgsociety.com

Anonymous said...

the screws are tightening. I better remember NOT to wear a pink shirt at the Botanic Gardens anytime soon. I guess Red + White is fine tho. I don't feel very National Day mood now.

recruit ong said...

Worse, they then attempted to whitewash their guilt by trying to paint me and Douglas Sanders as sly agents in a press release when it was they who were spineless.

No country can claim a rule of law when public officers bow and scrape at the feet of "big men".


Correct. That is my point too. In the end it is not the heavyweight who is responsible, it is the public officers who bowed to the "invisible pressure" who are responsible. They are cowards.

With a system like this in place, no wonder there is zero accountability and transparency.

Anonymous said...

>public officers who bowed to the "invisible pressure" who are responsible. They are cowards.

oh my; so easy to pick on the little guys

how courageous would you be if you were in their situation?

recruit ong said...

oh my; so easy to pick on the little guys

end of the day who's name is on the piece of black and white? The little guy or the big guy? You do the bidding for the big guy ultimately it is still YOU who do the bidding. Maybe that's why little guys working for the PAP gahmen gets paid well.

how courageous would you be if you were in their situation?

It takes courage to do the right thing and not perpetuate sycophancy. Dun try explaining away cowardice.

Anonymous said...

>how courageous would you be if you were in their situation?

>It takes courage to do the right thing and not perpetuate sycophancy. Dun try explaining away cowardice.

ha..evaded answering my question; that's cowardice already