CPF-Why We Must Keep Up the Pressure
Today the Roy vs PM defamation saga continues as the PM turns down Roy’s offer of $5,000 in damages as derisory. Roy has now joined a small circle of bloggers who have received that letter from one of Singapore’s busy defamation lawyers. Like his fellow bloggers before him, Alex and Vincent, he apologised and retracted his article. Which is a pity – and I’ll come on to that later.
For myself, I know only too well the terrible impact of defamation suits and the associated stress. I grew up with the effects of it and it is safe to say it coloured the rest of my life. My father was almost destroyed by it, my mother was.
I have never received any letter for any blog article I’ve written (not least because they are true and without malice) But I’ve had three related incidents, which I will briefly recount.
- I wrote a letter about the PAP’s use of defamation suits as a tool to silence critics, which was published in the WSJ. A civil servant, paid by you the taxpayer, wrote a letter to WSJ refuting me on behalf of the PAP but unfortunately got his facts wrong. That I was correct and MICA wrong was pointed out by bloggers here and by Subra a lecturer in law. Despite the letter from our government, WSJ didn’t remove or edit my letter and left it up online and I also left it up here on my blog where it can still be seen.
- TRE asked my permission to remove the word ‘cronies’ from an article of mine they wanted to publish. It wasn’t even cronyism just cronies which can simply mean group of friends but I didn’t have any strong feelings about it either way. For me it’s always been the economic truth that matters not the emotional content of the language and removing or changing the odd word is fine if it doesn’t change my meaning.
- Both TRE and TOC through individual editors had a waiver from me, which gave them permission to publish my articles in whole anytime they wanted. TOC published an article of mine called, “Where Have Our Reserves Gone?” The subject of that article is obvious and it can be found on the blog . A few days later I was surprised to see that the story had disappeared. I phoned the editor who gave me an incredible tale that involved a lawyer form Temasek calling an editor from TOC and advising him that they would be taking action for defamation against me so TOC had pulled it.I was angry that I hadn’t been consulted and that the story had been removed without giving me a chance to defend myself. Mostly I was angry at the suggestion that I could be sued for defamation as everything I had written in that article was true. I would have welcomed that letter alleging defamation from Temasek’s lawyer. If order to sue me Temasek would need to prove in Court that they had been defamed. In order to do that they would need to produce the missing figures and yes, even the full amount of the reserves. What a fantastic opportunity that would be! TOC couldn’t substantiate their story such as with the the name of the editor or the lawyer. Later those tales of Remy dining with Shanmugam who asked him to remove a defamatory article by a foreign journalist emerged and so it became plausible that a voice in an ear had got my non-defamatory article removed.
These examples show how actual defamation suits, the fear of defamation and even the mere whisper of defamation control bloggers and alternative news sources without requiring the letter from the lawyer.
I cannot blame Roy for his decision to retract and apologise and offer damages. However (probably selfishly) I feel it is extremely unfortunate that he apologised so quickly. I felt he had at least an arguable case that he was not accusing the PM of personally misappropriating funds but arguing that the way CPF funds are invested is opaque.
He could have offered to replace the term ‘syphoning off ‘with ‘invested in’ or ‘re-invested’. CHC haven’t been found guilty of misappropriating funds and claim to have invested them, however bizarrely, for the church’s good so until that jury is out (and they are presumed innocent meanwhile) I don’t see why that is a damaging comparison.
I for one would have liked to see this in Court. I had been thinking of launching a Court action myself but unfortunately the Locus Standii ruling on the IMF case has successfully halted that kind of action. But a defamation Suit against Roy in open court would have finally given us Singaporeans some clarification on the following.
- How the government is actually investing our CPF funds
- Where it is going.
- What the real returns are.
- Why there are discrepancies between the Statements of Assets and Liabilities and the government’s claimed returns.
By forcing Roy to take down related posts, which made no personal allegations, the PM is scaring off other bloggers and activists from asking legitimate questions about the transparency or lack thereof of the government’s management and about the real returns of Temasek and GIC.
If the temperature of debate was already below freezing, the PM’s actions have reduced it to absolute zero. Yesterday we had Bertha Henson saying that we must not disrespect our leaders when they engage in debate. She is wrong. In any case there’s no debate with our leaders who only understand the monologue. But democracy needs more than a Dialogue.
Leaders in a democracy are required to be open and transparent and fully accountable. As public figures they must expect to be held up to scrutiny and their actions questioned. They must also expect to be lampooned and called names and to be victims of hyperbole.
Of course they should not be accused of misappropriating money from CPF when there is no evidence of this and it is a very serious charge, which raises questions about the integrity of the individuals concerned. But if they’re not transparent what do they expect?
It is very unfortunate indeed that this has turned into a media circus. We started with defamation and freedom of expression, moved on to strong arm tactics and bullying and now we’re at, Roy is poor the PM is rich , what damage has the PM suffered and what exactly does derisory mean? (I work every week with homeless stateless, physically and mentally challenged Singaporeans. $5,000 will buy 4 mobility scooters!)
In all this circus I hope we won’t allow the trapeze artists to distract us from the elephant on the ground. I am afraid to say there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about the lack of information provided on the performance of Temasek and GIC.
As citizens we are entitled to receive answers to one simple question. Why, if the government’s annual Statement of Assets and Liabilities is correct, are the returns from GIC so low? I repeat what I’ve stated before, that there are three options:
- The Statement of Assets and Liabilities is incorrect and that there are hidden assets which are not show on the balance sheet
- The funds invested in GIC have been mismanaged and returns have been extremely low.
- There has been fraud.
In so doing I was making no allegations and pointing no fingers, merely listing different possibilities. Of course even if it was a question of 2 above, and returns had been low due to poor management , then this would call into question the competency of those who had been appointed to run GIC. As the PM is the chairman of GIC he would ultimately be responsible for those returns.
In addition his wife is CEO of Temasek, which I have called a glaring conflict of interest. I have questioned implicit government subsidies to Temasek including the transfer of assets at way below their real value, including SingTel, Singapore Airlines, DBS Bank, and Changi Airport Group, which was transferred at $3 billion. The PAP government refuses to disclose what the remuneration of the top management of Temasek is. However if it is linked to Temasek’s returns, and those returns have been artificially boosted through government subsidies or dubious accounting practices, then that would be serious cause for concern.
I have asked these questions in a number of articles on my blog but so far have not been sued for defamation. Again, If I was sued I would not apologise but would defend my position in court. As part of my defence I would ask the government to produce evidence to disprove what I had said.
All of us who manage money whether for a Charity, a Political party, client monies or the citizens who elected us, have a duty not just to protect the money but to protect our own integrity by following best financial procedures. The best defence against allegations of impropriety or even being asked questions about the money is to keep very clear records and to be completely open and transparent. The PM has an easy solution to questions over his government’s management of our money and that is to provide us with the figures and to answer the questions that have been put to him. Let him silence Roy with facts and figures if he can, rather than with a Lawyer’s letter.
It is disingenuous of Shanmugam to claim that criticism of the government needs to be backed up with facts. The PAP government does not want to reveal the information we are seeking. How are we supposed to know the facts when we have no freedom of information rights and have a government that makes every effort to hide the facts from the citizens or to deliberately misrepresent or distort them so as to present a deceptively flattering picture?
Meanwhile we must not stop asking questions. Back in 2009 I added the strap line to the RP website, “Transparency + Accountability = Democracy.” Nowadays I might say, “ Transparency + Accountability proves Integrity.” It is high time that we all had the courage to stand up to the PM and demand that he throw open the books for inspection.
This brand of opposition or counter check is what we should be pursuing. Not name smearing campaign with unsubstantiated evidence or half baked understanding masquerading as facts. Many think I m pro PAP in my comments in Roy’s page. It may surprise many I m not. There are many questions left unanswered and I think they did really poorly on transparency, transport, healthcare, immigration and housing in recent decades. Many of these issues should be apparent way before given their access to so much information and experts. Many change of Minister first task is to undo the predecessor ‘errors.’ No doubt it’s tough but certain things like migrants numbers vs available housing supply and discrepancy of COE vs deregistration for years could be caught so much earlier. Tearing down renovation in polyclinics then re installing them thereafter due to change of same minister mindset is another prime example of waste of resources at the highest level.
I do believe Roy has pointed out salient issues that Singaporeans must pursue. If Roy counter-offered to change the blogpost, it would have been considered ‘derisory’ too. This is SIngapore where free speech still remains to be fought for and is dissuaded constantly. I believe this is a way government controls crowd-think but it happens anyway. I agree that the CPF books should be thrown open for inspection.
Why doesn’t our opposition parties form a united front and contest the elections together. Remember the old addage, United you Stand, Divided you Fall.
This is a blog on economics not politics but put in economic terms yours would be a question on choice and competition. Why don’t all car manufacturers merge and only sell one product? Why don’t all food suppliers merge and so on. Why not do away with choice altogether and have all parties merge with the PAP and just have a system like a committee of diverse voices in parliament?
To Wee Teck; May I ask what are those Linaburg-Maduell Transparency indicators and who conducted this measurement? Thanks
I’m Interested. Did you post this comment up to Tan Jee Say and his group? Or to Benjamin Pwee when he revived the DPP? As I am the one calling for Transparency and Accountability and have been at the forefront of that for five years now, I’m certainly not content to be silenced in Parliament and some kind of co-driver with the PAP. Also currently RP is the only Party formed with a representative democracy model of internal government and the other Parties are all based on the Communist Cadre system. I’m happy to consider coalition with any Party and we have suggested joining forces with SDP but we would want them to drop their Cadres system.
Good pointers, Ken.
Am I right in saying, in a nutshell, that you are distrustful of this govt?
And, like you, I am also distrustful of this govt. There are probably huge skeletons waiting to be discovered, and it would be a huge dismay for the people when they are brought to light.
In a nutshell, No. You would be wrong in thinking that I am distrustful of this government. I am distrustful of any system that is not transparent and that does not have external or independent regulators. We should all be distrustful of governments. If I formed a government then you should be distrustful of me. That is why Reform Party would have full transparency so that citizens could see the data for themselves.
Recall the Durai vs SPH case? Durai chose the lawsuit path, the truth prevailed and down the rabbit hole that plaintiff went. Likewise, LHL can also sue all he wants and if Roy has solid facts to back his claims, Roy has nothing to fear and can choose to not take down his posts. In fact we should look forward to a Durai (LHL) vs SPH (Roy) case and the subsequent downfall of LHL and the PAP.
However, if Roy is just yet another joker, then he and other future to-be jokers need to understand the consequences of fooling around!
I agree with ABCD points. As Roy seems to be backing out after crying wolf a few times, Kenneth can step up and apply his observation and strategies to proof that there is something seriously wrong with the CPF system – hint: you can even roped in Roy as your advisor.
Well wrriten KJ,I doubt the PM who himself came to be a PM because of his father will ever have any intergrity at all.How can they pull a woll over people eyes by telling that Danabalan is the one whi forced Ho Ching as Temasik Holding CEO.But you have guven a very insight full details and educate about the right to question any authority regardless of position and power.well done.
Extending your point on Roy’s case, if you really believe that it was an opportunity missed to bring the facts out, may I suggest that you take it upon yourself and present the same article from your blog and challenge the authorities to present the details to refute your allegations? My point being, why mention Roy’s situation as being unfortunate when you are in a position to publish and challenge?
Aren’t there reasons for why the figures are not revealed as well? That it may be detrimental to the returns earned by the investment arms? Also both Temasek Holdings and GIC have AAA credit ratings. Temasek Holdings has also attained perfect quarterly scores on the Linaburg-Maduell Transparency Index, a measure of the openness of government-owned investment funds. From all these i feel that even though some figures are not revealed the government is trustworthy.
Roy’s defamation is serious as not many people would be able to navigate all these figures and issues. Unless you are trained in economics or finance, Roy’s posts could convince people that in fact PM is corrupt, especially with his rather phony statistics(or lack of) and fallacious arguments. Especially since it would look nice and substantiated to the lay person. I think both sides would have valid points to be made, and if the truth is that improvements should be made to the CPF scheme then it should be done and all the better for Singapore Citizens. However when it turns to accusations of corruption something is seriously wrong and he deserves to face the consequences of his actions. I would also like the truth to be out so as to prove the innocence and integrity of the government.