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.