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Lee Kuan Yew, no stranger to controversy

While he may have developed Singapore from economic backwaters to a First World Country, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew still had his fair share of controversies. A man of his status might have been revered by many, there are also many dissidents who want to bring him down.

We delve into 13 controversies he was embroiled in:
1. Operation Coldstore

Operation Cold Store might not have made it to our history textbooks, but its controversy is still much debated till today.

On 2 February 1963, a security operation named Operation Cold Store was launched, resulting in the arrest and detainment of over 111 left-wing activists, including key figures in opposition party Barisan Socialis. While government records noted that Operation Cold Store was to safeguard against communist attempts to create chaos nearing the Singapore-Malaysia merger, others hold different views. Former journalist Said Zahari, and one of the detainees arrested in the operation, felt that it was a political play by Mr. Lee and his team to rid PAP’s opposition.

Last December, former Barisan Socialis leader Dr. Poh Soo Kai, a detainee in the operation, posted a commentary on Australian website New Mandala, alleging that “Operation Coldstore was a set-up against Lee’s political opponents”. PM Lee Hsien Loong responded by saying that there was “no doubt” Barisan Sosialis was formed under the instigation of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders, and its leader Lim Chin Siong was a communist.
2. Media should be the government’s mouthpiece

“Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.”

– Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said at the General Assembly Of The International Press Institute At Helsinki on 9 June 1971.

Mass media in Singapore is carefully monitored and regulated, with two monopolies in the scene – Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) dominates all the dailies while the Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp) controls the broadcasting media locally.

In 1998, Cherian George, then a journalist at The Straits Times, stated in a conference paper that “Singapore’s newspapers are, at least in part, willing partners of the state … In the end it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, as much as one may want to, that Singapore’s political and press culture is sustained not just by coercion, but also by consent.”

Guess this explains why we’re ranked 153 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.
3. Stop at Two

In the late 1960s, Mr. Lee implemented a stringent Stop at Two family planning campaign as he was worried that Singapore’s growing population would have an adverse effect on Singapore’s then-developing economy.

In 1970, sterilisation and abortion were legalised. The campaign also advocated for women to be sterilised after having their second child. To entice women into undergoing the sterilisation procedure voluntarily, the government offered those without an O-level certificate seven days of paid medical leave and $10,000 in cash incentives. Strong disincentives were also implemented to deter couples from having more than two children, such as the lack of education priorities for the third or fourth child, fewer economic rebates, a higher delivery fee with every additional child, and penalty in housing assignments.
4. Land Acquisition Act

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After independence, land-scarce Singapore needed adequate land supply for developmental projects. The Land Acquisition Act was enacted in 1967, which gives the government the power of compulsory land acquisition to acquire private coastal and inland properties for public developmental purposes. The act also regulated the compensation to landowners with properties acquired by the government. In a nutshell, this Act facilitated the government’s acquisition of private land for public benefit, minus the extra financial cost.

Needless to say, landowners felt that their rights were infringed on, to which Mr. Lee retorted that it was a necessary move for greater public good:

It would have been uneconomic and impossible to develop if we have had to acquire the property under the ordinary machinery of the Land Acquisition Ordinance with a right of appeal in the case of every award contested, to the High Court, with two assessors who are both trained and accept, as part of their ethos, the right and sanctity of private property. This becomes all the more compelling when vast sums of public revenue are being spent on developing huge areas like Jurong, Toa Payoh, Bedok. The whole of the Bedok reclamation scheme, from Bedok right up to Tanjong Rhu, would not have been possible if the concept of private property and all the rules and regulations that have been elaborated over hundreds of years were complied with …

5. Graduate Mother’s Scheme
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In 1983, the ‘Great Marriage Debate’ was sparked off when Mr. Lee urged Singaporean men to pick highly educated women as their wives, as he was disturbed that a substantial number of graduate women remained unmarried. He perceived the phenomenon as “a serious social problem”. His views triggered unhappiness amongst the certain groups of people in the population, including graduate women.

The subsequent year, the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme (GMS) was announced to arrest the growing trend of the well-educated having fewer children. Matchmaking agency Social Development Unit (SDU) was established for graduate men and women to socialise, while a Social Development Service (SDS) was set up for non-graduates. Under GMS, graduate mothers were given priority school admission for their children. Other incentives include tax rebates and housing priorities for graduate mothers with three or four children, an attempt to reverse the consequences of the Stop at Two campaign. The scheme was eventually abolished in 1985, after public outcry in the 1984 general elections.
6. Eugenics

So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he’s a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you’re going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You’ll be tearing your hair out. you can’t miss. It’s like two dice. One is Jack, Queen, King, Ace, other also Jack, Queen, King, Ace. You throw a Jack, Queen, King, Ace against dice two, three, four, five, six, what do you get? You can’t get high pairs, let alone a full flush.

LKY’s firm belief in eugenics is so strong, that they eventually led to the creation of the SDU and GMS.
7. Francis Seow
Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 10.29.06 amSource

In 1956, Francis Seow joined the Singapore Legal Service and was promoted to Solicitor-General in 1969 and held office until 1971. He served directly under then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and rose to the rank of a senior counsel to a Commission of Inquiry during the Secondary 4 examination boycott in 1964 before the merger with Malaysia. In recognition, Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal but eventually left to join private law practice in 1972. In 1976, he was elected a member of the Council of the Law Society and became his firm’s president in 1986. His new role led to his falling out with Mr. Lee as Seow got involved in politics of the Law Society, using it as a platform to attack the government.

Mr. Lee passed an amendment to the Legal Profession Act under Section 38 (1) depriving the Law Society to comment on any legislation unless asked by the government. In the 1988 general election, Seow contested the Eunos Group Representation Constituency under Worker’s Party and lost marginally to PAP. However, just before the election, Seow was accused of receiving political campaign finance from the US to promote democracy in Singapore and was thus detained without trial for 72 days under the Internal Security Act. In his semi-autobiographical To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison, Seow wrote about his experience of being detained. He accused the Singapore government of “authoritarianism” and “abusing human rights under then-PM Mr. Lee”. He also claimed that he was tortured, sleep deprived and subjected to intense cold conditioning.

On the flip side, late criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan wrote about his experience with Francis Seow in his autobiography, describing him as “someone who is fuelled by deep-seated motives but did not have what it took to be a leader”. He also said that Mr. Lee must have been astonished that someone “could lie so glibly like Francis Seow”. He added:

It is very difficult to confront a man who is lying when only he and the other person know the truth. I don’t think Lee was in a position to go into details because some of his conversations they had must have been quite serious and he was not prepared to discuss the circumstances. Francis Seow took full advantage of Lee’s difficulty, lied through his teeth and came out victorious. But his victory was short lived because in the end the statute was amended. He was statutorily terminated and had to cease being the president because he had been suspended before and the new amendment will not allow him to hold office in the Law Society.

8. The Hotel Properties Limited Saga

After stepping down as Prime Minister in 1990, Mr. Lee found himself in some controversy shortly after. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported that Mr. Lee and his eldest son bought condominiums in land-scarce Singapore at discount prices – an allegation Mr. Lee strongly denied.

It all started when Mr. Lee’s younger brother, Dr. Lee Suan Yew, a non-executive director, purchased a unit called Nassim Jade in a Hotel Property Ltd (HPL) condominium project. HPL issued a price list on the respective prices of each Nassim Jade apartment and was slated to be put on sale for the open market on 17 April 1995. In HPL’s “soft launch” on 14 or 15 April, a group of potential customers were given first-hand opportunity to purchase apartments.

At the soft launch, Mr. Lee’s wife, Mdm Kwa Geok Choo picked an apartment to buy and was quoted a seven percent discount – two percent more than the usual discount offered. Mdm Kwa told Lee Hsien Loong about this. The younger Lee was interested and was offered a 12 percent discount of $437,412. It was also alleged that Mr. Lee and son later bought two units at HPL’s project Scotts 28 condominiums in October 1995, bagging a five percent discount each. Mr. Lee got $416,252 while the younger Lee received $643,185 in discounts, which they later donated to charity. It was also said that Mr. Lee’s entire family was in on the deal, with her daughter, brothers, sister, sister-in-law and his wife’s niece having purchased apartments in the two condominium projects in 1995.

This matter was brought up by Workers’ Party’s J.B. Jeyaretnam. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong instructed the Ministry for Finance to investigate, since there was a public perception of impropriety. A statement issued by the Lees said that “neither the SM nor the DPM sought any preferential treatment from HPL in these purchases. HPL and its associates have not sought any favors from the SM or the DPM.”

On the issue of integrity, Mr. Lee said

At no stage did my wife or I think or feel we were doing anything irregular or improper. They were open and above board transactions. Caveats were openly lodged by our solicitors in our names in the Land Registry to give notice to everyone, unlike some buyers who have not lodged caveats and so their identities are no known. These caveats gave my name as purchaser of the Nassim Jade unit at the price of $3,578,260 and our two names as purchasers of the Scotts 28 unit at the price of $2,791,500. If my wife or I thought that there was anything improper in buying the properties because my brother was a non-executive director of HPL she would not have proceeded with the purchases. She expected all legal procedures and permissions to be obtained.

His full speech made in parliament can be found here.

On 26 April 1996, Goh vindicated their names with no findings of improprieties involved. He said:

They had agreed with the purchase prices and did not know what prices were quoted to or paid by other purchasers. There is nothing wrong with cabinet ministers purchasing properties to live in or for investment, or selling their own properties.

9. International Herald Tribune

In 1994, Mr. Lee, together with his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Goh Chok Tong sued International Herald Tribune (IHT) and journalist Philip Bowring for defamation. Bowring implied that the younger Mr. Lee achieved his position through nepotism.

In 2010, Bowring wrote an Op-Ed piece named ‘All in the family’ on 15 February. This resulted in the three Singaporean leaders’ threat to take legal action against The New York Times Company, the parent company of IHT. IHT eventually apologised for misleading readers into thinking that the younger Mr. Lee did not attain his position through merit. A total of US$114,000 in damages were awarded, on top of legal costs.

In response, watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has asked Mr. Lee and other senior officials to stop suing journalists for libel.
10. Islam

In Mr. Lee’s controversial book titled Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he wrote that Singapore was “progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came” and that Singapore can “integrate all religions and races except Islam”. He also persuaded Singaporean Muslims to “be less strict on Islamic observances”, as a result of their difficulties in integrating due to religion.

In 2011, a WikiLeaks cable claimed that Mr. Lee “characterised Islam as a ‘venomous religion'”, to which he refuted. Instead, Mr. Lee said he discussed about “extremist terrorists like the Jemaah Islamiyah group and the jihadist preachers” who had perverted Islam, a version which “the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Singapore do not subscribe to”.

Nevertheless, the anonymity of WikiLeaks sources undermines the credibility of what was said.

Back in the early days of Singapore with her newfound independence, Mr. Lee was the one who advocated building a Singaporean identity under the umbrella of multiculturalism. Later, Housing Development Board (HDB) allocation schemes also included Ethnic Integration Policy to promote racial integration and harmony. According to national ratio, every precinct would have inhabitants from all ethnic groups.
11. Suing opponents into bankruptcy


Chee Soon Juan:

Chee Soon Juan was sued for defamation by Mr. Lee and then-PM Goh Chok Tong after the 2001 general elections, as a result of his allegation during the campaign about a loan to Indonesian President Suharto. Chee was ordered to pay Goh S$300,000 and S$200,000 to Lee after being found guilty. He was unable to pay the amount and was declared bankrupt in 10 February 2006. In 2005, following the National Kidney Foundation saga, Chee published an article in the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) newspaper, questioning the Singapore government’s role in the scandal. He was ordered to pay damages to Mr. Lee and PM Lee Hsien Loong. In 2012, Mr. Lee and Goh accepted Chee’s offer of paying a reduced sum of S$30,000 to annul his bankruptcy, making Chee an eligible candidate in the 2016 general elections.

J.B. Jeyaretnam:

In 1988, J.B. Jeyaretnam, leader of Worker’s Party, was sued for slander for alleging that Mr. Lee had abetted Teh Cheang Wan’s (a HDB architect) suicide and covered up Teh’s corruption. Jeyaretnam lost the lawsuit and was ordered to pay Mr. Lee S$260,000 in damages plus costs.

In 1995, Jeyaretnam was sued twice for libel by Indian PAP leaders after publishing an article in WP’s newsletter alleging that a number of those involved in the event Tamil Language Week were government “stooges”. Damages of S$465,000 and S$250,000 were awarded.

In 2001, J.B. Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt as a result of overdue damages he owed PAP ministers.
12. Certificate Of Entitlement (COE)

Mr. Lee once wisely said:

I knew that once people in Singapore could have a car, they’d never give it up. So, before it got out of control, I said you need a Certificate Of Entitlement before a car is yours; and the permitted up-tick in number of cars depends on what the road capacity is. That was the first move. So, you bid for it. If you issue more entitlement certificates than is prudent, roads are jammed. Then a younger generation took over and says, well, why not have more cars and we charge them by usage on the roads instead of just purchase? I told them, okay, okay, have a car, have more cars! But once you’ve got a car, you will never give it up.

Mr. Lee knew that having too many cars would ruin our efficient road network and hinder traffic flow for a true urban utopia should consist of an interlinkage of mass transit.

Of course, many Singaporeans did not concur with this scheme, complaining about the several thousands of Singapore dollars required to obtain a COE.

However, given that Singapore is an affluent city-state with the highest concentration of millionaires per capita, the implementation of COE serves as a deterrent to more people being car owners. With more cars on the road, this means that we could potentially face even more traffic jams.
13. High ministerial pay

Since 1994, the high salaries of our ministers have been a controversial issue.

Mr. Lee had emphasised time and again about “the need for a competitive ministerial pay to attract committed and capable people who will serve the country”, because he “always held to the belief that public servants need to be paid well, or they will succumb to corruption”.

In 2012, despite PM Lee accepting a 36 percent pay cut to S$2.2 million, he is still the world’s most well paid head of government – four times Barack Obama’s yearly salary.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is still The Man

While detractors have been quick to criticise Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, it is imperative to bear in mind that he is, after all, only human. Whether we perceive them as bad decisions or not, several have far-reaching repercussions that affect us to this day. One of the most controversial topics of all-time would be the Stop at Two policy, which many still believe to have led to today’s low birth rate. Nonetheless, most of the policies he implemented benefited Singapore more than the harm a minority of his policies did.

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that this man is intertwined to metropolis Singapore and the peace and stability we enjoy today.

Featured image via edmw img
With reference to Wikipedia, Under The Willow Tree, Wikipedia, Asia One, Singapore’s Politics Under The People’s Action Party, Wikipedia, Your Dictionary, NewspaperSG, Wikipedia, sgforums, The Real Singapore, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Channel NewsAsia, East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia, journalism.sg, atimes, National Library Board, Giants of Asia: Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: Citizen Singapore, Urban Systems Studies, historySG, Tang Talk, The Best I Could: From the Case Files of Subhas Anandan, Asiaweek, National Archives of Singapore


Lee Kuan Yew eulogized at funeral as architect of Singapore

Pallbearers adjust the national flag of Singapore covering the coffin of the late Lee Kuan Yew during a state funeral held at the University Cultural Center, Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Singapore. During a week of national mourning that began Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of Lee’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centers across the island and leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries attended the state funeral. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

y Stephen Wright and Jeanette Tan | AP March 29 at 10:29 AM

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans bid farewell to longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew on Sunday with an elaborate procession and a three-hour state funeral at which his son, the current prime minister, eulogized the statesman and declared that the wealthy city-state he helped build is his monument.

Undeterred by heavy rain, about 100,000 people lined a 15-kilometer (9-mile) route through the city to catch a glimpse of the funeral cortege. Lee’s coffin, draped in Singapore’s red and white flag and protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay atop a ceremonial gun carriage that was solemnly led past city landmarks from Parliament to a cultural center where the state funeral was held.

Along the way, crowds of people chanted “Lee Kuan Yew,” snapped photos with smartphones and waved Singapore’s flag. Four howitzers were fired in a nearby field, air force fighter jets streaked over the island, with one peeling off in a “missing man” formation, and navy patrol ships blasted horns.

“To those who seek Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: Look around you,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in the first of 10 eulogies at the funeral, which was attended by more than 2,000 people, including schoolchildren, Singapore’s elite, world leaders and royalty.

Occasionally drawing tears and laughter, Lee said an important part of his father’s legacy is that “Singapore’s voice is heard and we enjoy far more influence on the international stage than we have any reason to expect.”

As the service neared its conclusion, civil defense sirens blared across the island to signal a minute’s silence. The government had asked trains and buses to stand still. People flocked to a crematorium where a private cremation will be held for a final glimpse of the cortege.

During a week of national mourning that began last Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 450,000 people lined up for hours to briefly view the statesman’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centers around the city.

The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore and its 5.5 million people. The island nation, about four times the size of Washington, D.C., is known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance center with a strict social order that includes a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes.

Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990. He is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious relations among ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian populations. But his authoritarian rule and crushing of dissent has also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy.

“He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion,” said Jennie Yeo, a teacher who arrived at 7 a.m. to stake out front row positions with two friends. “Education, housing, everything you can think of, he’s taken care of for us.”

Earlier this week, lawmakers paid a teary tribute to Lee in a special sitting of Parliament. Low Thia Khiang, the leader of Singapore’s tiny political opposition, acknowledged Lee’s role in nation-building in a brief speech, but said he did not believe one-party rule was the key to the country’s economic development.

“Many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation-building and policymaking, and our society has paid a price for it,” he said. “This is why Mr. Lee is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes.”

Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries attended the funeral. The U.S. delegation was led by former President Bill Clinton. Others included the prime ministers of India, Japan and Australia.

Abroad, India declared a national day of mourning and New Zealand government flags were at half-staff.

Lee’s achievements and legacy are likely to be argued for years.

Though his widely read memoirs are titled “From Third World to First,” Singapore never knew grim poverty. Before independence in the first half of the 20th century, it was by the standards of the region a prosperous commercial hub of the British Empire.

But after its split in 1965 from a short-lived and acrimonious federation with Malaysia, Singapore’s future was highly uncertain. It lacked natural resources, having to import even water, and was surrounded by hostile neighbors.

In control of all policy levers, Lee and his government obliterated independent trade unions, imprisoned political opponents, reconfigured the education system to produce workers who met the needs of foreign investors and pushed through other changes to make the island competitive.

Today, Singapore’s GDP is among the highest in the world at $54,000 per head, according to the World Bank, and it consistently ranks at the top of surveys of competiveness, while other Southeast Asian nations lag far behind.

Lee gained “disproportionate influence” in international politics because of his record in shaping Singapore into the kind of nation that would be useful to the international political and economic order, said London-based author Salil Tripathi, who was a foreign correspondent in Singapore in the 1990s.

“His sharp intellect gave him the aura of an elder statesman, allowing his admirers at home and abroad to overlook more complicated facts about him, including how political opponents were treated,” he said, and “how there was little space for imagination on that crowded island.”



In Budget 2015 the Finance Minister allocated $3 billion towards the construction of the new Terminal 5 at Changi Airport. He stated that he would be setting up a new fund, the Changi Airport Development Fund (CADF). The Transport Minister subsequently explained in a debate in Parliament on 11 March 2015 that this was just a downpayment and that the eventual cost would be many times more.

I have written more about the Finance Minister’s fondness for padding the Budget with allocations to new funds. These keep springing up like weeds. I have argued in “Smoke and Mirrors in the Government’s Accounts” and “How to Make A Surplus Disappear Without Anyone Noticing” that their purpose is to make current spending look higher than it is and prevent Temasek, GIC or MAS having to actually pay out the Net Investment Returns Contributions (NIRC). They are part of a circular closed system that prevents Singaporeans knowing the true state of the reserves. Once money is allocated to a fund Parliamentary accountability disappears since only the Finance Minister scrutinises the Fund’s spending. The Finance Minister is supposed to lay the fund’s accounts before Parliament but there is no evidence that any time is allocated in Parliament to discuss the performance of the funds.

My concern with the Changi Airport Development Fund is more specific. In 2009 the Government corporatized Changi Airport Group (CAG) through an Act of Parliament transferring it from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in return for a capital injection valuing the CAG at $3.2 billion.

Looking at Changi Airport Group’s latest accounts for the year ending 31 March 2014 (see below) Earnings Before Interest Tax Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) was $1.34 billion. Putting that on an Enterprise Value to EBITDA multiple of 20 times (not unreasonable in the current low interest environment) would value CAG at $27 billion. Not a bad return considering that when MOF transferred CAG it also included $1.09 billion cash on the balance sheet so the true cost was around $2.1 billion.

CAG Accounts

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) currently still owns CAG. Such a valuable asset should be included in the Net Investment Returns Framework and also be accounted for in the Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SAL) of Singapore, which the Finance Minister is obliged to publish every year with the Budget. There are no notes to the SAL so it is not clear whether it includes CAG just as it is not clear whether it includes Temasek’s assets. However legally all assets owned by the Government should be included. That should include Temasek, GIC, MAS, CAG, CAAS, land sales receipts as well as the freehold interest in 80% of Singapore’s land owned by the Government. The taxpayer is also losing out because it is not included in the NIRC, which is defined under Article 144 of the Constitution to be the returns from GIC, Temasek and MAS even though the Government is funding the development of CAG out of taxpayer monies.

Lui Tuck Yew said that Terminal 5 would have an initial capacity of 50 million passengers a year and an eventual capacity of more than all the current terminals put together. That means it could easily double CAG’s EBITDA and raise its potential value to greater than $50 billion.

If the taxpayer is paying for the construction of Terminal 5 but the asset is owned by CAG or subsequently transferred to them for a nominal sum then whoever owns CAG will reap a huge gain perhaps even exceeding what it has made on the original transfer of Changi Airport. The Transport Minister failed to disclose the terms under which Changi Airport Development Fund will operate and how the taxpayer will be paid back. Under the Constitution, there must also be an Act of Parliament setting up CADF and its existence must be disclosed in the SAL.

At some point in the future the PAP Government clearly intends to sell or transfer CAG to another company. Article 35 of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore Act states that as soon as practicable after the transfer date the successor company (CAG) may be sold in accordance with Article 35 (see below). Presumably the likeliest buyer is Temasek.

Screenshot 2015-03-20 12.56.47

If CAG, which also manages foreign airports, is sold, whether to Temasek or to a foreign company or private equity firm, then the Finance Minister must ensure that this is an open auction in which the taxpayer receives full value for money. This would be true in any event and particularly the Government is getting the taxpayer to fund the new terminal. The Government must also disclose any bonuses paid to the management of CAG and to any subsequent role for the former management with a new company because of the potential conflict of interest.

The Chairman of CAG, Liew Mun Leong, a former civil servant, was formerly the head of CapitaLand Group, formerly wholly owned by Temasek and still 39% owned, was paid a $20 million bonus in just one year by his boss, Ho Ching, It was shocking to many Singaporeans at the time that a former civil servant could be paid so much when before joining CapitaLand he had been a loyal apparatchik of the Government. The CEO was formerly with the RSAF and apart from that his principal qualification seems to have been as Principal Private Secretary to Lee Kuan Yew. Many of the board members also have a role with Temasek so the connection with Temasek is pretty close, incestuous even.

Temasek’s management, and in particular Ho Ching, the PM’s wife, are paid bonuses depending on Temasek achieving more than a hurdle rate of return, which is pegged to the cost of 10-year debt according to the Temasek annual report. The report discloses that staff may get co-investment grants in which they share directly in Temasek’s returns. If Temasek succeeded in acquiring CAG this could then result in a massive bonus for Ho Ching and her management team. If she was to get even 1% of the value accretion from floating CAG this could potentially be worth up to $500 million at some point in the future.

This is all pure speculation since Singaporeans are not told how much Ho Ching is paid or how her remuneration is calculated. No one in Parliament has asked about her or her team’s remuneration. When questions were asked in Parliament about Chip Goodyear’s resignation and his leaving package Tharman was evasive and rebuffed questions with “People do want to know. There’s curiosity. But that is not sufficient reason to disclose information.” and “It will not be advisable, nor in the interest of Temasek or Mr. Goodyear, for us to comment further. It serves no strategic purpose.” It is incredible that the PAP Government were able to get away with this reply and with not disclosing Ho Ching’s remuneration given that Singaporeans own the assets and the managers who run them are public servants.

Even if CAG is not sold to Temasek at a knock-down price, we need to be vigilant against any other attempts to transfer value from the taxpayer to the management of CAG or a new purchaser. At some future point the Government may decide to put in place a poison pill triggering its sale on a change of government, rather like the PAP did with AIM. The management could decide to form their own company and acquire the assets themselves, or in partnership with a private equity firm, at a significant undervaluation, particularly if no one in Parliament is aware of or prepared to question their true value. This is not just a theoretical possibility. It actually happened with state assets that were sold off after the collapse of the Soviet regime. Similarly Nomura’s private equity group in the UK were able to purchase the Ministry of Defence’s surplus housing stock at a fraction of its true worth in the 1990s and make reported profits of US$1.9 billion.

We need full disclosure from the PAP Government on how it accounts for enormously valuable but apparently unrecognised assets like CAG and the value it assigns to them. We need to ensure that the taxpayer reaps the full financial vale of these assets particularly if she is asked to add value by paying for investments. Finally safeguards need to be put in place that the civil servants running these businesses do not enrich themselves at the public’s expense in the event of a sale and in particular that any sale, even to Temasek, takes place at full open market value. This is particularly important given the inside information possessed by the management and the PAP’s preference for secrecy. Given the close connection between Temasek and CAG and the dual roles played by many of the directors of CAG, Temasek will have insider information and an edge even if there is an auction. We have to ensure that the management of Temasek, including Ho Ching, do not reap a windfall profit because of this insider knowledge.


Default Re: The Workers' Party


Today newspaper apologises for misrepresenting Low Thia Khiang’s tribute to LKY in Parliament

March 27, 2015

They completely misinterpreted what Low said.

Update, March 27, 2015, 3.30pm: This article has been amended. It was previously written in this piece that The Straits Times did not misinterpret Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang’s Mandarin speech. It turns out ST committed the same error as Today but deleted the misinterpretation of Low’s words without flagging it. Today, however, apologised for the error.

Today newspaper has issued an apology for truncating and misrepepresenting Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang’s Mandarin tribute to Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament.

Workers' Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang spoke in the Special Parliamentary sitting this afternoon.

In our earlier report, we misunderstood Mr Low. He did not say that silencing the opposition has risked disconnecting Singaporeans from their society. We have reproduced his speech in full here. We apologise for the error.

"The founding Prime Minister was an extraordinary political leader born out of (a) turbulent and uncertain era. Singapore at that time was a small i...

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Workers' Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang spoke in the Special Parliamentary sitting this afternoon.

In our earlier report, we misunderstood Mr Low. He did not say that silencing the opposition has risked disconnecting Singaporeans from their society. We have reproduced his speech in full here. We apologise for the error.

"The founding Prime Minister was an extraordinary political leader born out of (a) turbulent and uncertain era. Singapore at that time was a small island and an unnoticeable city. Economically, it relied on entrepreneurial trade. Militarily, it relied on the protection from the British troops.
When Singapore was forced to leave Malaysia, I don’t think many would have believed that Singapore could survive on its own, not to mention to have imagined our achievements today. We all know that during that period the country was to be rebuilt from scratch, and there was high unemployment rate. Our neighbours were not particular friendly either.
To survive we must have a global vision, attract foreign investments and become part of the international market. However this could put Singapore in danger of becoming big countries' vessel and the pawn in the international political arena which can be sacrificed at any time.
These internal and external challenges were a great test for Mr Lee. With outstanding wisdom and courage, he traversed among the big countries and promoted Singapore's values to them and the potential benefits that Singapore can provide. He had won the respect of the leaders of these major powers. Without his efforts, our economy could not have been successful and Singapore could not have achieved its status and a living space today.
For a small country to survive, besides a strong military defence, the political space is the key to maintain national interest and survival. In Singapore, fighting for independence and continuous political struggle awakened Singaporeans' political awareness. In the process of political movements and fighting together, consensus was forged between the people and Mr Lee, as well as a common direction and mutual trust. This is the main reason why Singapore can leap from third world to first world within one generation.
The success arose not just from Mr Lee's extraordinary fighting spirit and tenacity, but also from his sincerity. However, I don’t think that the PAP one party rule is the key to Singapore's fast economic development, strong social cohesion and unitedness. This is because many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation building and policy making and our society has paid a price for it.
This is why Mr Lee is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes. He crafted policies based on the situation then, and made rational judgements out of the interests of the country, however the choice and implementation of policies is not just a rational decision, it should also take into consideration human nature and the sensitivity. Only by doing so, can we avoid hurting people's feelings, and creating resentment. If accumulated over a long time the resentment could become a potential political crisis and affect people’s unity and their identification with the country.
From my dealings with Mr Lee in Parliament, I don’t think he was an autocrat who didn’t listen. If you have strong reasons and tight arguments, and can win him over in a thought through policy debate, I think he will consider your views.
I also know he was someone who hated empty-talking because he thought time was precious and there were too many things to do.
Singapore is a multiracial society and every race has its own language and culture. In the early years of nation building everyone hoped to maintain their advantages in this new country. How to manage the various conflicts of interest, unite people and build a national identity was a tremendous challenge.
Countries with similar situations as we were in the early days are still facing the same social conflict brought about by multiracialism, multiculturalism. Some even face the danger of disintegration. Singapore today is united regardless of race, language and religion. This is an achievement that is not possible without Mr Lee. My deepest respect goes to founding prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew."
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In Today‘s original Facebook post, they took snippets of what Low said out of its original context and misinterpreted him to have said:

The PAP’s one-party rule was not the reason for transformation, he said. “Many Singaporeans were sacrificed.”

“Mr Lee did what was right, but silencing opposition has risked disconnecting Singaporeans from their own society.”