The Public Prosecutor, Politics and the Rule of Law

September 30, 2017

The Public Prosecutor, Politics and the Rule of Law

by Walter Woon For The Straits Times

Image result for Walter Woon For The Straits Times

Former Attorney-General of Singapore Walter Woon and the brilliant Ambassador at Large Tommy Koh

The Attorney-General occupies the hottest legal seat in Singapore. This is because the Attorney-General is the public prosecutor. Under Article 35(8) of the Constitution, the Attorney-General “shall have power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence”.

In recent times, we have seen the President of a country, which is not shy about wagging its finger at others while lecturing about the rule of law, threatening to remove prosecutors and special counsel when investigations cut too close to the bone for comfort.

Closer to home, there has also been loose chatter online and off that question the Attorney-General’s decisions to prosecute. This is based on a misunderstanding of the Attorney-General’s function as public prosecutor. Ignorant criticism is unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers. Misinformation, deliberate or otherwise, erodes confidence in the system of justice.

It is necessary first to understand the nature of prosecutorial discretion. As a preliminary matter, a distinction must be made between a prosecution and a civil suit. When a person defames someone else, for instance, the “injured” party (the plaintiff) may seek compensation by means of a civil suit.

The public prosecutor is not involved in this. The commencement of civil litigation is a matter solely for the plaintiff. No one can stop him from suing. If he wins, he gets compensation (which does not have to be a substantial sum). If he loses, he pays the defendant’s costs.

Criminal defamation is an offence under the Penal Code. It is up to the Attorney-General to decide whether or not to lay charges. This is termed a prosecution, in contrast to civil proceedings. The object is not to obtain compensation for an injured party but rather to protect society’s interests by imposing some sort of punishment, often as a deterrent to others.

As provided in the Constitution, the Attorney-General has discretion over this. The accused person (defendant) and the injured party (complainant) are not involved in the decision. The defendant might tender an apology and offer to pay damages to the complainant, but the public prosecutor may decide to press on regardless if he thinks that there is a public-interest issue involved. The complainant cannot “drop the charges”, contrary to popular misconception.

Not every offence is prosecuted in court. If it were mandatory to prosecute every time an offence is committed, the courts would be jam-packed with jaywalkers and litterbugs. This is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. The public prosecutor can decide whether or not to prosecute. The question is, on what grounds?

It is obviously not possible for the Attorney-General to look at every individual file to decide whether to prosecute.

In practice, that is left to deputy public prosecutors (DPPs). There are currently two prosecution divisions in the Attorney-General’s Chambers: the Criminal Justice Division, and the Financial and Technology Crime Division. The legal officers posted to these two divisions are designated DPPs.

Generally, investigatory agencies (for example, the Central Narcotics Bureau, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, the police, to name a few) send investigation papers to one of the prosecution divisions. A junior DPP will then make recommendations as to whether charges should be laid, and, if so, what charges. The recommendations are considered by more senior DPPs -the heads of the various directorates, the chief prosecutor of the division, the Solicitor-General, the Deputy Attorney-General. The most serious cases end up on the desk of the Attorney-General, where the buck stops. In most cases, however, the buck stops far down the line from the Attorney-General.

Steps towards prosecution

In deciding whether or not to prosecute, there are, in general, four steps:

•Step 1: Find out what happened. This is the job of the investigatory agencies. It is the stuff of novels, TV and films. The DPP can ask for clarifications or further investigation.

•Step 2: Ascertain if an offence has been committed and, if so, what offence. This is a legal question – it is the reason DPPs have to go through four years or more of law school. Laypersons are seldom, if ever, qualified to appreciate the intricacies of Singapore criminal law.

•Step 3: Can the elements of the offence be proven in court? The prosecution must prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. It is not for the accused to prove his innocence.

At Step 3, the DPP has to decide whether there is enough evidence that will stand up in court. It is often possible to piece together what happened with a fair degree of certainty. However, there are cases where witnesses will refuse to testify in open court. In other cases, a witness may implicate others when questioned, but when it comes to actually testifying, he will have an attack of selective amnesia.

If the DPP thinks that the witnesses cannot be relied on, the prosecution will probably be dropped. If he decides to carry on, there is a chance that the judge may not be convinced beyond reasonable doubt. In that case, the defendant is acquitted.

Again, contrary to popular misconception, a verdict of “not guilty” is not synonymous with “innocent”. In some cases, it just means that there is a reasonable doubt. Thus, for instance, in a rape case the man may contend that the “victim” consented. The woman may be equally vehement in denying that she did consent. If the judge cannot be sure, then the accused is found “not guilty”, even though it may, in fact, have been rape.

Assuming that we have got past Steps 1, 2 and 3, the final step is: Should there be a prosecution at all?

Image result for Walter Woon For The Straits Times

The writer notes that the Attorney-General of Singapore has two roles: first, that of the Government’s legal adviser and, second, public prosecutor. ST FILE PHOTO

Prosecute or not prosecute

The public prosecutor must decide whether it is in the public interest that the matter should be laid before a judge in open court. He has discretion over this.

This is where the biggest problems arise. For good or ill, the public prosecutor must make a judgment call. There are many reasons why a decision may be taken not to prosecute.

The offence may be a trivial one, not worth tying up prosecutorial and judicial resources over. A person who drops torn-off tabs from parking coupons on the ground may be guilty beyond reasonable doubt of an offence but, in most cases, this will not end up in court. Composition fines may be imposed instead.

Sometimes, the prosecutor may decide that the accused should be given a second chance. For example, if two teenagers are caught having consensual sex, this is an offence if the girl is under 16 years of age. But would it be in the public interest to prosecute a 17-year-old boy for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend?

The prosecutor may (note, “may”, not “will”) decide that, under the circumstances, a conditional warning is better. If the boy does not heed the warning and repeats the offence, he will be prosecuted for the previous offence as well as the new one. But if he mends his ways, then there is no prosecution.

When Politics may cloud the picture

Politically charged cases are often a source of controversy.

Suppose that an opposition politician is charged with deliberate incitement of racial unrest. It is a given that his supporters will scream that the prosecution is politically motivated.

When one analyses the issue dispassionately, if the accused is indeed guilty of deliberately inflaming racial feelings, it does not matter whether the decision to prosecute is politically motivated. But the fact that it is perceived to be so undermines the credibility of the public prosecutor, especially if ruling party politicians are not similarly treated.

The public is not stupid. People have a sense of justice. That sense is outraged if double standards are practised – a lenient one for the rich and politically influential, a stricter one for ordinary persons and the strictest one for oppositionists. The public prosecutor has to maintain a scrupulous neutrality so as to avoid being accused of partiality.

Take a purely hypothetical example: Say that a powerful minister is accused of embezzling a substantial sum of money from a government-linked company. How does he avoid retribution? Bribing judges is risky – this can backfire spectacularly. Interfering with investigations is more promising, but in the age of social media, this may not stop the process. The best bet is to nobble the prosecutor.

There are many ways to pressure the public prosecutor. In some places, the threats are physical. I attended a conference of prosecutors in Canada some years ago. Several of my colleagues said that they carried guns for protection. One colleague from a Caribbean country did not even live there – his life would have been worth nothing in his home country.

But physical threats are crude. There are better ways.

The favoured way, as seen in some countries elsewhere, is to appoint as Attorney-General someone who can be counted on to bend when pressure is applied. If the Attorney-General decides that charges will not be laid, no one can challenge that decision. Not even the Chief Justice can compel him to prosecute, legally and practically.

So the question is: What can be done to strengthen the system? We accept it as a given that judges should be politically neutral and not take instructions from politicians.

I would argue that the same must hold true for the public prosecutor. Indeed, one should remember that if the public prosecutor declines to prosecute, the case will never reach a judge, even if there has been a blatant breach of the law.

Two Roles of the A-G

Many people mistakenly think that the Attorney-General is part of the political executive. This may have been so in colonial days, but under our present Constitution, it is not so.

Unlike in many other countries, the Attorney-General of Singapore is not a party politician or a member of the Cabinet. This mistake arises because the Attorney-General has two roles: first, that of the Government’s legal adviser and, second, public prosecutor.

When giving advice on civil cases by or against the Government, on legislation, on matters of international law, the Attorney-General is the Government’s Attorney-General. He is obliged to defer to the Cabinet when it comes to issues pertaining to civil litigation, international law and the drafting of legislation. If he is instructed to fight a case, he must follow his client’s instructions just like any other lawyer, even if he thinks the case cannot be won or that it is ill-advised.

But when it comes to his role as public prosecutor, the Attorney-General is not the Government’s Attorney-General. He is given discretion over prosecutions by the Constitution. It cannot be the case that he should just prosecute if a senior minister wants that to be done.

The rule of law is not the natural state of human society. For most of history, in most societies, the system has been rule by the powerful. The rule of law cannot be imposed by force or governmental decree. Citizens must accept it and actively cooperate in upholding it. Prosecutions are a tangible manifestation of the rule of law.

When the prosecutorial machinery is abused for political ends, ordinary citizens’ faith in the rule of law is shaken. If people do not believe that the system is fair, they will subvert it. Building a society based on the rule of law takes a generation and more – tearing it down can be the work of a single electoral term.

A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.

It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.

If one accepts the premise that the public prosecutor should be independent, the first step is to separate the two functions of the Attorney-General. As the Government’s legal adviser, he must take instructions from the Cabinet, whatever his own judgment may be. Take this function away from the Attorney-General. Give it to the Solicitor-General, for example. The three non-prosecution divisions of the Attorney-General’s Chambers – civil, legislation and international affairs – can come under the Solicitor-General or whoever is designated as the Government’s legal adviser.

The prosecutorial function should be left with the Attorney-General, who would have the two prosecution divisions in his charge. It is necessary for the Attorney-General to be the public prosecutor. A certain stature is required to resist politicians, foreign diplomats, domestic pressure groups and non-governmental organisations, not to mention the assorted people who try to influence prosecutions. In the legal hierarchy, the Attorney-General ranks immediately after the Chief Justice.

The next question is: Who should appoint the Attorney-General? At present, the Constitution provides that the Attorney-General is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The President does not have to accept the Prime Minister’s advice, which is the major safeguard against blatant abuse by appointing a political hack to the post.

Since the President has an independent mandate from the people and constitutional discretion, he (or she) should be the one to make the decision, ideally in consultation with the Chief Justice and the incumbent Attorney-General. This will ensure that, optically, the Attorney-General is not seen to be a political creature of the ruling party.

This is a vital consideration. All too often, when someone who opposes government policy is prosecuted, accusations will be made of political motivations.

Even where it is clear that the accused has broken the law (for example, by making a nuisance of himself in public), there will always be those who will say that the Government is trying to silence the opposition.

People posing as human rights activists will attract the knee-jerk support of foreign human rightists. Prosecute a journalist or blogger for insulting religions and you can be sure that there will be howls at home and from abroad about political persecution and restriction of freedom of speech.

These criticisms will be flung even if the Attorney-General has acted in good faith and the politicians have scrupulously avoided trying to influence him. This is grossly unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers, not to mention the politicians themselves. If the public prosecutor is truly independent and seen to be so, it will go a long way towards refuting such criticisms.

Finally, the Attorney-General’s term of office should be long enough to be useful. The Constitution originally envisaged that the Attorney-General would serve until the age of 60.

This provision was amended to allow the appointment of an Attorney-General for a fixed term. The norm in recent years has been two to three years.

Frequent changes of the Attorney-General are disruptive and not good for the morale of the DPPs. Different attorneys-general have different views about how prosecutorial discretion should be exercised. For the sake of stability, I would suggest a five-year term, renewable by the President at his or her discretion.

Some may ask, why change the system at all? If one believes that all is well and that the system will not buckle in future under the pressure of an unscrupulous powerful executive , then fine, don’t change anything.

But if the system can be abused, then the right thing to do is to address the weakness before it does become a problem. A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.

It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.

  • The writer, a Senior Counsel, is a former Nominated MP who was also attorney-general and public prosecutor of Singapore from 2008 to 2010.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline ‘The public prosecutor, politics and the rule of law’. Print Edition


ASEAN: Dealing with China is a difficult and challenging balancing act

ASEAN: Dealing with China is a difficult and challenging balancing act

by Dr. Munir Majid*

Image result for China and ASEAN

WHILE they should not be negative about China, ASEAN member states should not however surrender their sovereign rights or abdicate from their commitment to greater regional integration in South-East Asia.

Alas, one or two ASEAN states have completely sold out. Others are measuring cost and benefit of deeper involvement with China, trying to balance and hedge. Another one or two try to show they have options without particularly wanting to antagonise the rising global power.

The need to protect what is yours, usually hard-earned, is not just about abstract sovereignty or about the protection of international law, extremely important though they may be. The rule of law is without fail the most significant foundation of human society, domestic or international. There are nonetheless real interests and rights also involved.

Next month the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies (Yusof Ishak Institute) in Singapore will be holding a seminar on how over the past decade Chinese banana industry practice of “shifting plantations” has transformed and depleted Mekong borderlands, mainly in Laos.

The vast quantities of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used to maintain monoculture production pose serious health risks to workers and the surrounding environment.

And “…. after 6 to 10 years of producing fruit on cleared farmland, the (Chinese) company usually abandons it for another plot once factors such as soil depletion and pest infestation begin to lower yields.”

Laos has since last year issued a ban on new banana plantations, but the shifting plantation practices have spread to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. When will they learn their lesson?

In Malaysia there is a big debate on the East Coast Rail Line which in itself is no bad thing. The China-funded project however has to be watched closely to ensure there is no financial stress to Malaysia’s national finances, that there is Malaysian involvement in the sub-contracts, and that what is delivered is of high quality and suitably maintained.

The RM55bil project is huge. The government of Malaysia has to be transparent on how the financing is going to be managed on its balance sheet.

An official statement said 30% of the project will be contracted out to Malaysian companies. My business friends tell me only 15%. Which is which?

Malaysian engineers say there continues to be great difficulty in getting ASEAN engineers admitted to practise in the country, despite the fact there is the Mutual Recognition Agreement on Qualified ASEAN Engineers. Engineers from China however get their work permits handed out en bloc.

This kind of favouritism – at the expense of loudly proclaimed ASEAN integration no less – should not be practised just because the Malaysian government may want to run up contracts with China.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s official visit to Washington earlier this month is a good signal that Malaysia has not just bought into China. There will be a balance to promote the national interest.

While it may appear Malaysia had given away more than it had gained from the visit, the invisible hand is protection of the trading relationship with America, much too valuable for the country to be left to the caprice of Donald Trump’s blinkered view on international trade.

This kind of balance however has to be continuously worked at. American businesses will have to up their game in countries such as Malaysia in ASEAN, and not ride on Trump’s attack on trade to open sales and investment opportunities. In that game, China with its financial resources, institutional arrangements and government which can deliver what it commits to without domestic complication, will win hands down otherwise.

Even in India – with which China does not have the best of relations – China is working hard to get two high speed rail (HSR) projects, from Mumbai and Chennai to Delhi respectively. This is despite the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR project (which cuts the 316 mile journey from eight hours to about three) going to Japan, as confirmed during the Japanese prime minister’s visit earlier this month.

Balancing act

Singapore’s travails in its relations with China in the past year is a good example. The island republic took a principled stand on the efficacy of international law when the law of the sea tribunal dismissed Beijing’s South China Sea claims in July last year. China took this as an affront.

The spew of vituperation followed. Singapore was the little red dot. Its armoured personnel carriers were detained in Hong Kong on their way back from Taiwan. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was not invited to the Belt and Road Forum last May.

In sum, Singapore was perceived as veering towards the US in its desire to ensure Washington’s continued commitment to the region.

Balance is not easy, especially when one pole is distracted and the other is totally focused. There was even a first time public debate in Singapore pitting former senior foreign ministry officials on two sides of the argument whether a small state should behave as a small state and not take a position on matters that do not directly involve it, such as the South China Sea territorial claims. A university professor was even expelled from the country.

Anyway, the Singapore Prime Minister was in China this week to mend fences. Balancing is difficult. It is a continuous effort. It takes at least three to clap and be focused. When the US is out of it, the conduct of the diplomacy becomes more tricky. It is no wonder a number of ASEAN states have tipped China’s way, and some others are looking like they may go that way too.

The balancing act is not an easy one. It can come out as playing both ends against the middle if not actively and skillfully managed.

Indonesia, however, has shown it can stand up for its rights in relation to China and not wait on America to give it succour.

Image result for The Natuna Sea

The Indonesian Navy Ships

Indonesia’s renaming in July of its portion of the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea has displeased China, but this leading ASEAN country has been quite cool, calm and collected in playing its hand.

It contends Indonesia has every right to rename its territorial waters, the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. China has demanded that Indonesia revoke its position.

The Chinese Foreign Minister stated on August 25: “The China-Indonesia relationship is developing in a healthy and stable way, the South China Sea dispute is progressing well… Indonesia’s unilateral name changing actions are not conducive to maintaining this excellent situation… (it is) a complication and expansion of the dispute, and affects peace and stability in the region.”

Indonesia has never accepted China’s concept of its “traditional fishing grounds” and therefore of its extended rights over almost all of the South China Sea. It clearly does not accede to the fait accompli which has been the outcome of Beijing’s South China Sea strategy.

While standing by its right to rename its internationally-recognised EEZ, Indonesia stated it would adhere to International Hydrographic Organization procedures by submitting its proposal wherein all member states, including China, will be consulted.

Image result for The Natuna Sea

This of course is precisely what China does not want. Its whole diplomacy on the South China Sea is premised on primacy and exclusivity – the rest of the international community out, only China and ASEAN and its claimant member states. The emphasis shifted from ASEAN as a whole to the member states separately as China’s rise picked up.

Now Indonesia has set the cat among the pigeons by proposing to take its renaming of the southern reaches of the South China Sea to a formal international audience in line with international practice.

What Indonesia has shown is that adept and subtle diplomatic initiatives can make options available to states in situations which may appear to be hopeless.

Of course it can be argued Indonesia is a middle power which is better able to stand up for its rights. But even Singapore has shown the importance of taking a stand. It may have gone through a small baptism of fire, but there is a respect in the end even if the future relationship has to be continuously worked at.

The main argument about ASEANs that the whole is greater than the parts or, if it does not hang together, it will hang separately. A couple of its member states have shown even alone – and ASEAN states will have to act alone as well – they can make a difference.

When states start out to ingratiate, they will end up grovelling, with their nose rubbed in the sand, and their shirt taken off their back.

*Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid is Visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Malaysia’s 2017 SEA Games Cock Up–Getting the Indonesian Flag Wrong

August 21, 2017

Malaysia’s 2017 SEA Games Cockup–Getting the Indonesian Flag

by FA Abdul

Image result for The Indonesian Flag at Independence Day--August 17, 2017

COMMENT| A young journalist working for a local media company, Wai Wai Hnin Pwint Phyu walked into the training room in the Pazundaung district of Yangon the other morning, feeling somewhat upset.

Image result for Getting the Indonesian Flag wrong in 2017 SEA Games

The Cock Up. But the Magnanimous H.E. President Jokowi Widodo said we should not make a mountain out of a molehill. But we in Malaysia should not make this kind of mistake. Actually, this oversight is inexcusable.

“Fa, what you think of SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur?” she asked in her limited English.

“I think we struggled to make it happen. Why do you ask?” I said.

“I am not happy. I am very angry,” said Wai, her face sour.

Since we had a good half-hour before beginning the training session, I pulled out two chairs next to her – one for me and one for our translator – and prepared myself for a story.

Before I could ask her what made her upset, Wai showed me a picture on her handphone. It was of a big group of Malaysian supporters clad in Jalur Gemilang.

“What picture is this?” I asked, curious.

“This is a picture of Malaysian fans, taken during the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar during the Malaysia-Singapore football match. See how happy they are supporting their country inside the stadium.”

I looked at her, confused.

“Do you know where the Myanmar fans were when our Myanmar football team fought Laos?” she asked, her eyes turning red.

“Where?” I asked worriedly.

“Outside the stadium,” she answered shortly as she showed me a picture of hundreds of fans with Myanmar flags outside the stadium.


Image result for Malaysian Hooligans at 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysian crowd unfriendly towards our Singapore neighbours

According to Wai and allegations on social media, only 500 tickets were made available by Malaysia for the Myanmar fans during the Myanmar-Laos match at the UiTM Stadium, which has a capacity of 6,000 seats. Although there were a lot of empty seats during the match, no additional tickets were made available for the remaining fans. As a result, they had to camp outside – some climbed fences and some on trees, to catch glimpses of the match.

From time to time, someone from inside the stadium would ring someone waiting outside, to give updates on the match – that was how their fans outside the stadium celebrated all of Myanmar’s three goals.

Myanmar fans who were stranded outside were purportedly only allowed to enter the stadium 10 minutes before the match ended.

“This picture is going viral in Myanmar. It is making many people angry at Malaysia. Myanmar treated Malaysia so well during the 2013 SEA Games but Malaysia is treating Myanmar so bad in 2017 SEA Games. Why?” Wai asked an honest question.

I was lost for a reply.

“There are thousands of Myanmar people working in Malaysia. This is not fair for them,” she added.

“I agree, Wai. This is not fair….if it is true.”

“You always support your Malaysia,” Wai said. She did not sound too happy. “Look at this report in your own media.”

The news report was about the bus driver of the Myanmar women’s football team who apparently was arrested for theft during a match.

“The Myanmar team had already complained on social media that they were feeling scared of the way the bus driver was operating the bus while on the way to the stadium. And then after beating Malaysia 5-0, the Myanmar team who were tired and hungry had to wait almost two more hours because they could not find the bus driver. Nobody knew he was arrested,” Wai explained.

“That’s really bad,” I said, scratching my head.

Driving without a licence

“You know what is really bad, Fa? The report also says that the bus driver had no driving licence at all!”

My jaw dropped.

“How can Malaysia hire someone without driving licence for our athletes? What if something bad had happened while he was driving recklessly?” Wai was really upset.

I scrolled the Facebook page showed by Wai and was displeased to read chains of angry comments.

“If you are not ready for this, you don’t need to be a host. Shame on you Malaysia!

Image result for Malaysian Hooligans at 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur

Tony Fernandes and AirAsia Staff–The Bright Side of Malaysia

Image result for airasia logo


“Everyone is angry at Malaysia. Me, my father, my boyfriend… everyone. We always like Malaysia because Malaysia is beautiful country, many of our relatives work in Malaysia and we have friends like you from Malaysia. But this time, we don’t like Malaysia.” said Wai, unhappily.

I apologised to Wai on behalf of Malaysia. She smiled, assuring me that it was not my fault that her countrymen were treated in such a way. However, deep inside, I know she is still very much upset.

With hundreds of millions of ringgit spent to ensure the 29th SEA Games unfolds perfectly, I wonder what went wrong.

Do the stories going viral in Myanmar hold any truth? Perhaps Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should look into it.

As I was writing this, I received a text message forwarded by my son. It was an invitation for all Malaysian football fans to support the Malaysian team in the Malaysia-Myanmar match on August 21 in Shah Alam – the tickets all sponsored.

And I begin to wonder if Myanmar football fans in Malaysia will be able to purchase tickets for this match today – or whether they will be left allegedly stranded outside the stadium once again.


So much for the spirit of sport…

Singapore Thinks Ahead

August 20, 2017

Singapore Thinks Ahead–Former Prime Minister Goh calls Stronger and More Inclusive G4 Leadership


Image result for singapore skyline panorama hd


With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stating that he will step down by 70, the new generation of leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team, the Emeritus Senior Minister says.

 Singapore’s new generation of leaders will have to build a “stronger and more inclusive millennial generation team”, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).

Speaking at a National Day Dinner for his constituency, Marine Parade, Mr Goh said the robustness of the country’s leadership pipeline is one of the determinants of how a “small boat like Singapore” will fare in a turbulent climate of internal and external challenges. Other factors, he said, include the resilience of its politics as well as the cohesiveness of its multi-racialism and social equity.

Mr Goh noted that 65-year-old Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will step down by the age of 70.

Image result for Singapore Cabinet 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet Colleagues

“The fourth generation (4G) leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify the captain amongst them,” he said in the speech.

“They must try their utmost to bring in potential office-holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve,” he said.

Beyond technical competence, Mr Goh also said Singaporeans will want to know what “the leaders stand for, what kind of Singapore they want to build and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later”.

Singapore Politics must be “Bold, Resilient, Forward Looking and Inclusive”

At the dinner, Mr Goh also said Singapore politics must be “bold, forward looking and inclusive of all races and different political opinions”. It also has to be resilient, he added.

Mr Goh credited the country’s stability to Singaporeans having successively elected a strong government. “This enables the government to plan for the long term and prepare for contingencies … a strength which most other elected governments lack,” he said.

Elaborating on how Singapore has adapted the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy to local conditions, he said that Singapore’s provision of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) prevents a dominant party from shutting down opposition as at least one in five Members of Parliament (MPs) is not a member of the ruling People’s Action Party.

Furthermore, the Group Representation Constituency system “guarantees” a fair number of minority MPs in Parliament, he said, adding that this “prevents the ‘tyranny of the majority’ in free elections and gives every community a stake in our shared destiny”.

The Elected Presidency is likewise “a check against a populist and profligate government”, Mr Goh said. He called the recent decision to set aside reserved presidential elections for minorities a “stabiliser to ensure our multi-racial society stays afloat”.

“If these stabilisers are not introduced to our political system, our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms,” he added.

Meritocracy safeguards Singapore against Nepotism and Cronyism

Image result for Goh Chok Tong

Mr Goh Chok Tong and his political mentor the Late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Goh stressed that meritocracy must remain a key pillar of Singapore’s “fair and equal society”, as it protects the country from the “greater dangers of nepotism and cronyism”.

Underlining the importance of maintaining social equity, Mr Goh said: “For a new country, the first round of meritocracy has produced the desired results. The brightest, ablest and most hard working have risen to the top. But for subsequent rounds, meritocracy entrenches the successful, widens the income gap and creates a sense of social inequity,” he said.

The Emeritus Senior Minister said children of well-to-do families inherit the gift of good family backgrounds and networks from the day they are born. The state, however, must intervene to ensure the meritocratic process serves it purpose, he argued, so that every citizen has equal opportunities at the starting line and a fair chance to succeed throughout life.

“We must guard against social inequity as a new fault line in our society,” he said.

Some Government policies that have gone some way to narrow the income divide are subsidies in housing, healthcare and education, as well as recent measures which soften the focus on academic grades and re-skill Singaporeans to take on higher value jobs, he said.

“The 4G leaders must find their own robust language, political values and programmes to lift the lives of lower-income Singaporeans,” he added.

These new leaders will have their “work cut out for them” – they will have to build their own social compact with the people and must be able to grow the economy, create jobs, resolve everyday livelihood issues, check divisive trends in society, give hope and improve the lives of all Singaporeans, Mr Goh said.

“But they will inherit a political system in good working order. In time, they will have to bequeath a fair and multi-racial society to the generation after them.”

Malays urged to emulate the success of Singapore Malays

August 19, 2017

 Malays urged to emulate the success of Singapore Malays

by Alyaa Alhadjr
Image result for Singapore Malays


Sdr Salahuddin Ayub (pic above), a senior opposition leader, today cautioned Malays in Malaysia against falling for rhetoric that without an UMNO-led government in power, they may one day end up like their Singaporean brethren. Nothing is further than the truth, that is, Singapore Malays are doing well

Speaking at the Wanita Amanah second annual convention, Amanah Deputy President Salahuddin Ayub pointed out that Malays in Singapore today are able to survive without much assistance from their government.

“The racial rhetoric played up in our country, particularly through government propaganda, they say ‘what will happen tomorrow if the government were to change? Malays here will end up like Malays in Singapore.’

“Hello! Wake up. This is no longer the time. The Malays in Singapore today have enough money (on their own),” he said citing funds collected through a foundation (Mendaki) for the education of Singaporean Malay youths.

Rather than promising a government scholarship for Malay youths, Salahuddin said Singapore’s founding father the late Lee Kuan Yew instead facilitated a system for Malay workers to contribute a part of their salaries to the foundation for their children’s future.

“Lee Kuan Yew had provided all the leeway under the laws for Malay workers to make contributions from their salaries for their children. This is how Singapore teaches its citizen ‘how to fish’ rather than ‘give a fish’ every time we need to cook at home,” he said.

Over the years, Salahuddin said Singapore Malays have also risen through the ranks across various critical sectors and public administration. “They struggled to gain merit and not become a race that thrives on sympathy or a ‘subsidy race’ which is the practice here,” he said.

Image result for Outstanding Singapore Malay

Outstanding Singapore Malays

At the same time, Salahuddin also praised Singapore Speaker Halimah Yacob (pic above) who is set to run for the island republic’s Presidential Election and anticipated to create history by becoming the country’s second Malay President after Yusof Ishak.

He noted that Halimah had risen to her current position on merit, and not her on her gender as a woman.

“Singapore appreciates and uplifts the women of Singapore. Firstly, she (Halimah) is truly qualified and is capable. A woman who has undergone the processes in the political world. A woman who is great and is able to prove her worth anywhere she is,” he added. 

Salahuddin said Amanah as a small and growing party should also learn from the Singapore Malays, dismissed for their size but eventually rising to success above all odds.

The Wanita Amanah second annual convention held at The Mines 2, Seri Kembangan, was also attended by over 200 delegates and leaders from Pakatan Harapan component parties.


Thucydides’ Trap–Singapore Betwixt The US and China

August 16, 2017

Thucydides’ Trap–Singapore Betwixt The US and China

by John Blaxland, ANU

Image result for Singapore Air ForceThe Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) debuted the fighter aircraft (F-15SG) and Gulfstream 550 airborne early warning aircraft (G550-AEW)

Recently the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani, dropped a bombshell. He declared that Qatar’s experience of being embargoed by its neighbouring states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ‘reminds Singapore of the need for small states to behave like small states, and to cherish regional and international institutions’. His answer is for Singapore to ‘exercise discretion’, being ‘very restrained in commenting on matters involving great powers’.

Image result for kishore mahbubani and Singapore's Future

Kishore Mahbubani and Bilahari Kausikan–In Debate about Singapore’s Security Policy vis-a- The US and China

Prominent Singaporean pundits denounced his declaration but its resonance could be felt around Southeast Asia. ASEAN is not the GCC and the great power dynamics at play in the Middle East differ considerably from those affecting ASEAN and, in particular, Singapore. But the parallels are sufficiently resonant to make Mahbubani’s comments unsettling. After all, like Qatar, Singapore is a small state that has been the base for a considerable regional US military presence. Yet there are limits to the parallels, in part because of the different great power dynamics in Asia.

Image result for destined for war graham allison


Graham Allison’s book Destined for War has brought into vogue the term ‘the Thucydides trap’, which refers to the work of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Writing about the Peloponnesian wars in the middle of the fifth century BCE, Thucydides recorded details of the clash between the rising great regional maritime power, Athens, and the land-locked city-state of Sparta. Worried that leaving Athens’ power to grow unchecked would lead to its own downfall, Sparta embarked on a catastrophic war that saw both states suffer greatly. The implication is that the structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one make war almost inevitable.

Great power dynamics can certainly generate tensions but the jury is out on whether such a war is inevitable in Asia. Smaller states sometimes play disproportionate roles, and other times not. During that war, for instance, Athens subjugated the city-state of Melos, which had sought to stay neutral in the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides observed that in subjugating Melos, Athens demonstrated a truism: ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’.

There is a sense that Mahbubani seems to have tapped into a fear that Singapore may have some Melian-like tendencies and that if not careful, the city state could become a casualty in a great power clash in and around Southeast Asia reminiscent of Thucydides’ war.

The seizure of Singaporean armoured vehicles en route from Taiwan in late 2016 by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong pointed to a growing concern that China was sending a message to Singapore: that China was unhappy with Singapore’s close associations with Taiwan, and by implication with the United States. The implication was that Singapore should heed Mahbubani’s advice to exercise greater discretion.

Mahbubani has been criticised by some eminent contemporary Singaporean pundits including Singaporean Law and Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam and by diplomats Bilahari and Ong Keng Yong, who have declared Mahbubani’s commentary ‘questionable intellectually’. Their view is that, for Singapore at least, size does not matter.

One pointer to that being so comes from the neighbourhood. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has spoken about Indonesia as the maritime fulcrum, poised between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as a gateway between East and South Asia. That arguably applies to all maritime Southeast Asia, but nowhere more so than to the city state of Singapore.

At the mouth of the Malacca Strait, Singapore sees a vast proportion of the world’s maritime trade pass its front door on the way to and from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia. That location means great powers will always be interested in what happens to Singapore. Singapore has understood that very well and worked assiduously to cultivate a range of constructive relations to shield the city-state from the kinds of great power challenges the Melians experienced.

In light of its centrality, the US Navy operates a logistical hub from Singapore. Likewise, due to its location and importance to its engagement with Southeast Asia, Australia has established a comprehensive strategic partnership. In addition, Australia and Singapore, together with Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, form the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). This little-known arrangement has helped Singapore develop its joint (inter-service) and combined (international) military capabilities. The benefits of these ties make the FPDA more relevant than ever to help bolster Singaporean security. Even Indonesia, against which the FPDA was originally intended, now has observer status on FPDA activities, thus helping to renew and revitalise the FPDA as a component of Singapore’s internationalist hedging.

Today, the Singapore Defence Force (SDF) is a robust, high-tech and highly regarded organisation with considerable reach and power. Indeed, the SDF trains extensively in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. The SDF also looks likely to be included in the club of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter recipients.

Most importantly, Singapore is a founding member of ASEAN. Founded fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, ASEAN today has its critics, but it has served Singapore well as a forum for bolstering prosperity and security. It has done so particularly through the establishment of defence and security mechanisms including the ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM Plus, as well as facilitating the quadrilateral Malacca Straits Patrol which has remained operational for more than a decade.

Mahbubani certainly caused a stir with his remarks. But reflections since then and the responses generated indicate that while Thucydides’ work remains eminently readable, due to geography, alliances, regional architecture and other ties, its application to Singapore is of limited utility.

John Blaxland is Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies, Director of the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.