FICA Makes Singapore a Laughing Stock and Firmly Puts Us in the North Korea and Belarus Camp
In 2008 when he founded the Reform Party, JBJ famously asked the question whether the citizens of Singapore enjoyed any more freedom than the people of Belarus and North Korea. Although that might have seemed a bit of a stretch then, certainly in the case of North Korea, the recently passed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) certainly puts Singapore firmly on that path and reinforces the totalitarian nature of LHL’s regime.
FICA is all-encompassing in its scope and deliberately vague, giving the Minister enormous discretionary power to remove any content the Government does not like from the internet or social media and to force social media companies and internet providers to take down accounts or restrict access to anyone so designated. The Minister is also able to issue anticipatory directions, where he suspects that an individual in Singapore is going “to engage in online communications activity in Singapore.” The only reason the Minister has to give is that it is “in the public interest” which is drawn so widely that it is basically whatever the Government says it is or any “foreign interference directed towards a political end.”
Very conveniently a political end is any effort directed at changing a law or influencing Parliament or even public opinion so LHL’s Government now has another tool in its formidable armoury of repressive legislation to shut down civil society activism on the grounds that they are influenced by NGOs or civil society in other countries.
It is clear how this will work in practice. Attempts to drag Singapore out of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth can now be made illegal because they are influenced by foreign input. For example campaigns to abolish capital and corporal punishment and to bring Singapore’s laws into line with those in advanced countries can be shut down by the Minister because they benefit from contacts with foreign NGOs and activists. The same goes for campaigns to reduce carbon emissions in the cause of stopping climate change. Any contact between Greta Thunberg and local activists will become illegal.
Some critics have already said that it will harm academic ties with institutions in other countries, a process of cutting Singapore off from free academic institutions that has already started with the closure of Yale-NUS. But its implications go way beyond this. The law as it stands is anti-innovation, anti-science and anti-business. Imagine foreign research which undermines the PAP’s rationale for a particular policy. Attempts to partner with foreign academics to bring it the attention of Singaporeans would become illegal.
The intention behind this totalitarian piece of legislation seems to be to cut SIngapore off from the world and put it behind high walls. like the former Communist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the Chinese and Russian Empire, which forbade contact between their peoples and foreigners without the permission of their rulers. Their empires extended over millions of square kilometers but LHL’s little empire only extends over some 740 square kilometers. This legislation makes a laughing stock of the Government’s oft reiterated insistence that SIngapore must remain a global city open and connected to the world.
However to put in its historical context it is just the logical extension of previous pieces of legislation designed to ensure that Singaporeans did not receive access to alternative views and even access to basic information. This started when LKY closed the last independent media outlets, The Singapore Herald and The Eastern Sun, and brought in the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (NPPA). This effectively made all print media in Singapore state media.This was followed by the Broadcasting Act in 1994 which made it illegal for Singaporeans to own satellite dishes giving them access to foreign TV stations unfiltered by the state monopoly broadcaster (which has morphed into Temasek subsidiary MediaCorp). However the control of the PAP state over its citizens was eroded to a small degree by the arrival of the internet and social media though the Government quickly established its own army of trolls, probably outsourced to cheap labour countries. But a nascent free online media that was timidly starting to ask a few mild questions and raise a few concerns about Government accountable has clearly been upsetting LHL for some time.
The new FICA has to be seen as part of the Government’s attempt to reassert its mind control and brainwashing over Singaporeans after the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (POFMA) was judged to be insufficient (and held the PAP Government up to ridicule as when Heng Swee Keat tried to shut Singaporeans up on the subject of Ho China’s salary by issuing ridiculous POFMA notices in rapid succession, a farce I made fun of here. While the new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act might look on the surface as an overdue attempt to end discrimination, its real intent and purpose will be to actually reinforce and legitimize discrimination against minority Singaporeans in all spheres of life by saying that the publication of statistics undermines racial harmony because it points out institutionalized racism which abounds in Singapore.
FICA also serves the objective of a totalitarian state that there should be no possible independent economic base of opposition to the regime. What LHL hates and fears above all is that there should be no other potential power bases and that no one should be able to make a living without his approval. When The Real Singapore was shut down and its principals prosecuted and jailed, what really upset the Government was that they were able to monetise their views and were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This is probably less than 25% of a Minister’s salary but still LHL and the PAP do not want anyone who is not a Minister, spouse, relative or crony (many of whom are foreigners working for Temasek, like Stephen Forshaw who libelled me on Twitter) to make that kind of money if they live in Singapore unless they are constantly singing the praises of LHL and citing fake statistics. Certainly any opposition to the regime can be very bad for your business. LHL has things better than China’s Xi Jinping, who has belatedly decided that too much wealth is escaping the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party and that this might in time lead to opposition to his rule. In response Xi is energetically crushing the tech tycoons and bringing them to heel in the name of curbing monopoly and redistributing wealth.
Some of you might be taken in by the examples given by the Government of foreign interference in domestic politics, like Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election and their attempt to influence the election in Trump’s favour. However there is no evidence that such interference actually changed the result of either that election or the 2020 election. But Trump’s lawyers advanced wild conspiracy theories about state actors from Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba hacking into US voting machines in swing states as proof that the 2020 election was fixed and that Trump actually won and should therefore refuse to step down. However no evidence was produced and his lawyers were laughed out of court and eventually censured. LHL, like Trump, would try and play the foreign interference card if he was voted out and might even mount a coup to stay in office. After all he has enough ex-military men in his Cabinet. The Government has produced no evidence of foreign interference in Singapore’s elections yet it has always sought to play the foreign bogeyman card, going back to the 1972 election when a PAP MP slandered JBJ and the Workers Party by saying they had received $600,000 from abroad. FICA will allow the PAP to fine or imprison its opponents on the grounds of shadowy foreign actors without any independent means of appeal. One has to appeal to the Minister in the first instance and then to a review tribunal whose members are appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet, which means by LHL.
There have been some commentators, notably P J Thum, who have said that FICA will give the Home Affairs Minister, Shanmugam, enormous power. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the power relationship in SIngapore. LHL has absolute power and Shanmugam is merely his puppet, a Renfield, so to speak. He can be removed at any time.
FICA will of course only be applied against critics of the PAP and LHL. Foreigners who sing the praises of the Government, such as Dominic Cummings (no doubt looking for lucrative employment after being sacked by Boris Johnson) will be rewarded lavishly. Nobel Prize winners like Stiglitz, who write nonsense about how poor Singaporeans receive more help from their Government than poor Americans do from theirs, will continue to receive first class junkets to speak in Singapore. Barrack and Michelle Obama will continue to be paid enormous fees for giving short speeches, funded in a way that cannot be traced back to LHL. Singaporeans’ money will continue to be used to buy sycophants and toadies abroad who will lavish praise on LHL and the supposed quality of his Government.
With this piece of legislation, rushed through SIngapore’s rubber stamp Parliament with minimal debate, LHL’s Government have put Singapore firmly in the same camp of China, Russia, North Korean and Belarus. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have rightly called FICA “a legal monstrosity with totalitarian leanings”. It is not only totalitarian but has the potential to damage local science, innovation and business. Singaporeans will come to regret that they have given LKY and then his son such absolute power which he will never relinquish willingly.
In response to such a chilling piece of Orwellian legislation it is appropriate to end with this quote from 1984:
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”