26 February 2009

A new world after this economic crisis

The present economic crisis represents another lurch to a less US-centric world. Where previously, the US market had been preeminent in the export development strategies of many countries, its relative weight will fall post-crisis. Full essay.

24 February 2009

Beautiful, wonderful creatures make disappearing act

The film "Milk", telling the story of assassinated gay politician Harvey Milk, won two Oscars on 22 February 2009. Mediacorp censors got to work. Full essay.

The great hunt: One year on

One year ago, alleged Jemaah Islamiyah mastermind Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from detention without trial. He has not been recaptured. The Home Minister says the government has "no credible information" as to his whereabouts. Full essay.

Reply from Catholic Youth Apostolate's ghost writer

Selwyn Lee felt that my brief quote from the Catholic Youth Apostolate's letter to Ngee Ann Polytechnic student newspaper was "irresponsible and self-serving". His case can be seen here in his complete response, together with the original unedited letter (which I had not seen before this). Responding email.

23 February 2009

Preachers, pests and usurpers

Two students of Ngee Ann Polytechnic were annoyed when people came to preach to them as they were busy with their project work. But that is only the "soft" end of evangelism in Singapore and Hong Kong. Full essay.

22 February 2009

On community moderation of internet content

The discussion about community moderation has tended to be about what kind of superstructure is needed on top of the digital platform. This is totally misguided. Full essay.

21 February 2009

The hermitage is no solution

Gay, lesbian and transgender people cannot retreat into their private lives completely and think that they can live happy lives distanced from government and the law. I said so in answer to a question posed by a junior college student last week. This week, two news stories strike the same note. Full essay.

20 February 2009

Sec-gen issues open invitation to participate in Asean community building

Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-general of Asean, hosted a pan-Asean pre-summit briefing for a number of civil society groups. Representing the Singapore human rights group Maruah, I registered our concerns for human rights and other issues. Here is a report of the session.

19 February 2009

Is a general election this year now confirmed?

In what appears to be a slip-up, we can see Mediacorp at work preparing its election website. Full essay.

Nathan fluffs his reserves explanation

President Nathan gave a press conference to "explain" how and why he agreed to unlock the reserves for the government's 2009 budget, but even with polite, unchallenging reporters on hand, it was a poor job. Full essay.

18 February 2009

Naked straitjackets

Malaysian politician quits because she sleeps in the nude. Singapore triathletes banned because they shared a room. Society is poorer for such nonsense. Not safe for work. Full essay.

13 February 2009

366 detained without trial in last 5 years

Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng revealed to Parliament that there has been active use of a temporary law - temporary since 1955 - to detain 366 persons without trial between 2004 and 2008. None of them had anything to do with terrorism. Full essay.

12 February 2009

Like Singapore, Dubai is crashing

This article in the International Herald Tribune makes interesting reading: Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down. Dubai, unlike neighbouring emirates, does not have oil, and has instead built an economy on finance, entrepot trade and glitzy tourism. In the last few years, as the bubble ballooned, it's been billed as a star performer, attracting loads of foreigners, building the world's tallest tower, and so on.

Now, parts of Dubai are "looking like a ghost town" as jobless foreigners are forced to leave. Property prices in some neighbourhoods have crashed more than 30 percent in the last 2 - 3 months, the airport parking lot is full of abandoned cars, and Dubai officials have dropped hints that they'd be willing to accept a bailout from oil-rich neighbours.

And there's no light at the end of the tunnel. People can't foresee how the good ol' days will return. Is there a lesson here for Singapore?

10 February 2009

Female teacher admits to sex with boy aged 15

Here is an interesting mirror case to that of six men charged with sex with another boy, also aged 15. These cases are worth monitoring in case there is a pattern of bias. Full essay.

09 February 2009

Re: suggested career path for Madam Ho Ching

Temasek Holdings announced a few days ago that CEO Ho Ching will be leaving at the end of September. Speculation is rife that she will be moving into politics to take up a ministerial position. Alex Au and Choo Zheng Xi have a better idea which should interest the prime minister. Guest entry.

08 February 2009

Ho Ching had 10-year term at Temasek; leaves early

The Financial Times reported on 6 February that Ho Ching, who earlier this week announced her imminent departure from Temasek Holdings, had been expected to serve 10 years when appointed CEO in 2002. The newspaper said, "[Ho Ching] added that her appointment in 2002 was made on the condition that she would remain for at least 10 years to carry out necessary reforms to the once-sleepy state holding company." (Financial Times, 6 Feb 2009, Goodyear to head Temasek)

Stepping down at the end of September 2009 would therefore mean a premature departure.

There seems to be no explanation yet for this apparent change in plans.

Ho Ching is the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Her presence at the head of one of two Singapore government investment vehicles had complicated Temasek's investment forays abroad, giving reason to nationalists from India to Indonesia to argue against allowing Temasek to take up stakes in strategic industries like banking and telecoms.

Another possible reason for change was hinted at in the Financial Times' story. It pointed out that her successor, Charles Goodyear, came from natural resources giant BHP: "Mr Goodyear’s appointment heralds a possible change of investment emphasis for the S$185bn (US$124bn) fund towards natural resources rather than financial services, a sector in which Temasek has recently made massive paper losses in banks, such as Merrill Lynch."

According to Temasek’s most recent annual report, said the Financial Times, two-thirds of its portfolio is in the financial and telecoms sectors – with just 5 per cent in natural resources.

This overweighting of the financial sector in Temasek's portfolio characterised Ho's tenure. Is it now being seen as a serious mistake?

No need to know how the President uses his second key, says the government

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam rebuffed calls by members of parliament for more transparency concerning how the President came to agree to release the reserves as requested by the government for the 2009 budget. What can explain the withdrawal into opacity? Full essay.

Opposition unity still illusory

Nine panellists at the forum "Opposition - where to ", organised by the Singapore Democratic Party, spoke about unity among opposition parties, joint activities and working together with civil society. But are these realistic? Full essay.

07 February 2009

Behind Today's Lui story

I was briefly quoted by 'Today' newspaper in their second story about Lui Tuck Yew's remarks in Parliament concerning self-regulation in the internet community. Let me share with you what happened behind the scenes between the reporter and me. A peek into how "news" is made. Full essay.

06 February 2009

Six men charged for sex with boy aged 15

The Attorney-General's Chambers appears to be aware that prosecutions for homosex can be politically sensitive. In this case, it went out of its way to explain that the alleged "victim" was a minor and that regardless of gender, there would be the "same protection of the law". Yes, but which law? Full essay.

A political tourist in Kuala Lumpur

In the Malaysian capital over Chinese New Year, my friends and I visited various places of worship, but the politics of race and religion were never far away. Full essay.

05 February 2009

Shield us good, mock us bad, says Lui

Community moderation of online content has failed its test, said Lui Tuck Yew, the junior minister for information. What appalled him was that people were allowed to say unkind things about Seng Han Thong, a PAP MP who was set on fire by a constituent in January. Full essay.

Time for the Ox to heed the lute

Guest writer Abun Hentag examines the applicability of measures being tried by other governments to the economic downturn to Singapore and finds that we have limited scope for doing likewise. Longer term issues too remain unaddressed. Guest essay.

Half-million is the new benchmark

US President Obama has capped executive pay at US$500,000, in any company being bailed out with taxpayer money. Aren't Singapore ministers too being paid with taxpayer money? Does the recently announced 20 percent pay cut in 2009 bring it within the new half-million benchmark? Full essay.