Mr President, Please clarify. Who straightens out the wheel breaking the butterfly?
On June 13th, The Economist published an opinion piece on Singapore, about blogger Roy Ngern and LHL which they entitled Butterfly on a Wheel, adding more controversy to the PR fiasco otherwise known as LHL’s defamation suit.
Butterfly on a wheel carries a similar meaning to the phrase, “using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut”. That phrase accurately sums up the PAP’s system of knuckleduster politics and rule through control and fear and non accountability. More crucially it sums up a view that the PAP sees dissent to their policies or differences of opinion on the normally self levelling and democratising cyber-sphere as a nut that needs smashing.
Originally they attempted to tip the balance by forming an Internet Brigade but then law suits and defamation came into play. The law suits as tools of control are why we talk about Rule BY Law to emphasis that it is not the Rule OF Law which is the one necessary for democracy to function.
In Singapore we have already established that public bodies cannot sue individuals through such cases as that of Han Hui Hui. No doubt this is why LHL sued Roy in his personal capacity as a private citizen but whatever the reason, it is an incontrovertible fact that the law suit is private and personal.
It is therefore follows that any PR fiasco or disrepute attaching to the PAP or the office of the PM because of LHL’s law suit is as a result of that individual’s private actions. With all due respect I suggest that LHL should have given more serious consideration to his high public profile, position as a public servant and more respect for the office he represents before commencing personal litigation.
To be fair to LHL, The Economist did make some blunders in their article. In this paragraph they say,
“He is now jobless, sacked for engaging in conduct “incompatible with the values and standards” the hospital expects of its employees. This is but one of Mr Ngerng’s travails. He is being sued for defamation by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. He might face financial ruin.”
Later in the piece they say, “Even many Singaporeans who think Mr Ngerng is wrong have some sympathy for him and feel the prime minister is bullying him.”
The emphasis in bold is mine. To be correct the Economist should have said, he is being sued for defamation by LHL and they could have added, who is also Singapore’s PM and as such a very wealthy individual and Roy might face financial ruin. Further references in the article should have been to LHL not The PM.
You can read the economist’s article here to judge for yourself how much LHL’s suit is negatively affecting global opinions of Singapore. Link. http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/06/opinion-singapore
What happened after that article was published is extraordinary. LHL in his official capacity as the PM directed a civil servant, his Official Press Secretary no less, and caused that person to use State resources and time and tax payer money to write a letter regarding the personal business of LHL as a private individual.
Of course there is always a danger of the private bleeding into the public. People will see overlaps that don’t exist and this will create confusion in everyone from the Singaporean on the street to writers for the Economist. You can understand that confusion. LHL is suing Roy but because he is also the PM and the son of ex PM LKY known for his lawsuits, it is seen as bullying. The responsibility for that lies wholly with the man wearing both hats.
I presume it is precisely because this kind of situation is a minefield that The Ministerial Code was drawn up, to provide guidance for ministers including the Prime Minister. The code aims to hold Ministers up to certain standards and sets out rules of obligation that Ministers must abide by. Judge for yourself.
“This Code of Conduct for Ministers sets out the “rules of obligation” that all Ministers are to abide by in order to uphold these standards.”
I have produced section 4.3 of the code here so that again, you can judge for yourself, whether the Prime Minster has failed to abide by his rules of obligation.
“4.3 A Minister must not direct or request a civil servant to do anything or perform any function that may conflict with the Singapore Civil Service’s core values of incorruptibility, impartiality, integrity and honesty.
He should respect the duty of civil servants to remain neutral in all political matters and matters of public controversy.”
Now let us look at the letter that the PM directed his civil servant to write.
“SIR – I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). You referred to an “alleged ‘serious libel’” by Roy Ngerng. This is not an allegation. Mr Ngerng has publicly admitted accusing Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation. After promising to apologise and to remove the post, Mr Ngerng did the opposite; he actively disseminated the libel further. This was a grave and deliberate defamation, whether it occurred online or in the traditional media being immaterial.
What is at stake is not any short-term positive or negative impact on the government, but the sort of public debate Singapore should have. When someone makes false and malicious personal allegations that impugn a person’s character or integrity, the victim has the right to vindicate his reputation, whether he is an ordinary citizen or the prime minister. The internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation. It is perfectly possible to have a free and vigorous debate without defaming anyone, as occurs often in Singapore.
Chang Li Lin
Press secretary to the Prime Minister
I want you to note in particular that the Press Secretary signs as, “Chang Li Lin, Press secretary to the Prime Minister,
Singapore”. She is not defending LHL as an individual whom she feels has been wronged in the Economist and is maybe coincidentally a friend of hers. If that were the case she would sign it “Ms Chang Li Lin.”
So what could or should have been done to correct the Economist’s confusion? The only appropriate and correct action would have been for LHL’s lawyers to defend his case to that media if they felt their client had been misrepresented as a bully.
Let’s look at the money flow. LHL has instructed the lawyer Napier and Drew and is paying them from his own (albeit considerable) pocket. Any money they win for him will go back to his pocket. He may give it to charity but he sure as heck won’t be giving it back to the taxpayer by reimbursing his Press secretary or his office for the use of those resources.
If the PM’s office feels it has been draggged into this and its reputation damaged then they possibly could have written a very short request for clarification thus:
I write on behalf of the office of the PM and I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). The law suit you refer to is not connected to the office of the PM. The defamation action in question is being taken out by LHL in his personal capacity. If you wish to know more about his reasons please ask him directly or speak to his lawyer…. Press secretary etc etc. ”
Now I am NOT a lawyer but I do think the PM’s office or any individual public or private should have included the following in any letter.
“As the allegations have not yet been found in a Court of law that whole matter is sub-judice”
As you can plainly see, our Press secretary refers to what Roy’s defence still calls alleged defamation, as “malicious”. The whole letter is sub-judice and IMHO that part more than the rest.
The consequences for a minister of a breach are clear. Again the code tells us that” Breach of any of these “rules of obligation” may expose the Minister to removal from office”.
By now you are getting tired but stay with me a little longer.
How do we determine if there has been a breach? Who would investigate? Is this a breach of mis-use of State resources which is corruption or is it a breach of impartiality?
The code says, ” This Code does not have the force of law and therefore any issue concerning the compliance or non-compliance with it is not subject to review by any court or tribunal.
The Code is silent on how it is to be enforced. Does enforcement rest with the Prime Minister and if so, it is not clear from the Constitution how breaches by the Prime Minister would be dealt with. The onus for investigating breaches would appear to lie with the President though this needs clarification. In matters involving corruption the President has the power under the Constitution to concur with the Director of CPIB’s decision to authorise an investigation even if the Prime Minister refuses to give his consent. However the CPIB comes under the PMO so it is not independent.
The following action needs to be taken.
- Roy’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist pointing out that the Press secretary’s letter is sub judice and asking them to take it down. (If they do not do this then they should not complain later.)
- I and everyone else would then need to erase any copies of that letter in order not to prejudice Roy’s chances of a fair hearing.
- LHL’s lawyer needs to write to the Economist either defending their client or alternatively explaining that the previous letter was a mistake and possibly sub judice.
- A letter needs to written to the President asking him to clarify jurisdiction
- A letter needs to be written to the Director of the CPIB asking the same
- A letter needs to be written to the PM asking him to clarify the Ministerial Code
- For the sake of our Nation we need a fully independent CPIB distanced from the PM.
Finally as for that drivel propaganda in the letter about” free and vigorous debate” we have all seen the video of the grassroots man attempting to physically manhandle the 76 yr old retired teacher away from the microphone.
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