a community of singaporeans

Silence is not always golden

Posted by theonlinecitizen on June 30, 2007

The Straits Times has reported the case of a 20 year old offender who was given 8 strokes of the cane instead of 5 strokes as ordered by the courts. (Link)

As far as the authorities are concerned, all that the report would say so far, is:

“It is understood the Attorney-General Chambers is aware of the case and is looking into the matter.”

While it may be too early to demand explanations from the AG Chambers, I hope that we won’t be given the standard bureaucratic non-replies we have been seeing of late.

The ministries have basically ignored calls for explanations or given vague and non-enlightening answers to issues such as:

  1. The termination of playwright Alfian Sa’at’s position as a relief teacher in a secondary school.
  2. The losses incurred in the UNSW debacle
  3. The losses incurred in the Shin Corp saga
  4. How ex-NKF chairman Richard Yong managed to give the authorities the slip and abscond
  5. Investments of the GIC
  6. The 5 day work week issue, particularly for teachers
  7. Why the EDB was never audited by the Auditor General for 46 years before this year

The PAP government’s favorite and oft-repeated counter-argument when faced with accusations of non-acountability or transparency is to say that the PAP government is accountable to the people through the ballot box, once every 5 years.

They would also add that if the PAP has not done a good job, the people are free to vote them out.

While a once-in-5 years ballot may indeed result in the PAP being thrown out as government, to use this as a standard or counter-argument when simple answers to questions raised would suffice, gives the public the impression that the government has something to hide.

The local media

The local media should also take some of the blame for such practices of non-accountability.

The local media hardly questions or probe the government on such issues, preferring to play along by ignoring questions raised by the public.

If one has taken a look recently at the coverage in the Chinese press on the Christopher Lee drunk-driving case, one would see an almost over-the-top focus on it.

Yet, more important issues of national interest are woefully ignored.

Our television programmes

A simple survey of the local television programmes schedules also shows a hopeless lack of insightful programmes. Take a look one of these days and you will see that our television programmes are made up of mindless local sitcoms, tiresome 3-way-love-triangle local dramas, stale “reality shows”, singing contests, game shows, etc etc.

One would have hoped that our standard in television programming would have improved over the years.

But sadly, it seems that the powers-that-be would rather our programmes stay scrapping the bottom of the barrel – with programmes which does nothing to stimulate the mind.

There is a complete lack of critical political or social programmes which are insightful or incisive.

When was the last time you saw any meaningful debate on television about Shin Corp, or UNSW or the GST hike, or the upcoming transport fare hike? Or how about the death penalty? The CPF? GIC? The struggles of the poor?

I mean, when was the last time you saw a local politician on television – other than a PAP politician?

Almost never. And even if there were, it was only for a very very brief moment, almost always with a voice-over.

Serving whom?

When even the media abandons its duty of serving the public interest, it is no wonder then that the people becomes numb and feels completely helpless about issues which they feel strongly about.

And when a people feels helpless, how do we engage them or foster a sense of belonging to the country?

When the media becomes a complete tool of the ruling party, or what David Marshall once famously terms them, “poor prostitutes and running dogs”, the government of the day then can selectively choose to be “accountable” – or not.

It has become a situation where the elites in government have a monopoly over everything – even on which issue/s get adequate airing.

And the people essentially becoming silent lambs.

One can only hope that the attorney general, in the abovementioned case, will give a clear and precise explanation to the mother of the 20 year old why her son was given an extra 3 strokes of the cane.

Singapore cannot, in the 21st Century, carry on as if it were still in the Dark Ages.

**The Straits Times Saturday edition (30 June 2007) also reported:

“This is not the first such incident.

In 1988, a 23-year-old offender convicted of armed robbery was given 48 strokes of the cane – twice the legal maximum allowed for an adult at a single trial.

He sued the Government but the matter was subsequently settled out of court, said senior lawyer Peter Fernando who acted for him.

The cause of the mix-up was not disclosed, but it is believed prison officials sought clearance from outside the Prisons Department before they went ahead.

‘The terms of the settlement are confidential,’ said Mr Fernando yesterday.”


*Update – 16 July 2007 from Channelnewsasia:

“The error occurred at the stage of transcribing the sentence from the case file onto the warrant of commitment. The warrant of commitment notifies the Prisons Department the sentence that was passed to the offender.

“When preparing the warrant, the court clerk erroneously entered the sentence for the second charge as six months imprisonment and six strokes of caning instead of three strokes, thereby giving rise to eight strokes of the cane instead of a total of five strokes. Unfortunately, the sentencing District Judge also did not spot the error when he signed off on the warrant.”

– Law Minister Prof Jayakumar in Parliament



13 Responses to “Silence is not always golden”

  1. Kikilala said

    LOL! The first part definitely fits, the second I am sure doesnt, but it hardly matters, no one remembers the lambs after they have cooked and served. So sad.

    **Comments have been edited by the editor

  2. lesile said

    Those who choose to remain silent will remain silent again. Silence is golden because one can’t be blame for saying wrong thing or unpopular response and neither will he be blame because he yet to take action.

    PAP has been practising this and now we know how much liability it has caused in the society.

  3. kelly said

    The “heavyweight” generals in this red dot country dont go to war.So they cannot win any battle and neither do they lose any battle. Zipped the mouth and it is a sure win situation .Generals like the opposition go to battles and may win some and lose some and in some case may lose the job as well .

  4. lamp said

    it is strange to listen to propagandists talk about building a cohesive society and at the same time brag of incorruptibility when often, they hide behind the convenient shelter of legal ambiguity and abuse an entrusted duty from an elevated position.

    to resist scrutiny by offering scan or brief replies borders on insulting the intelligence of the discerning public. if this persist despite our outrage, they will eventually alienate the people they purportedly serve.

    the wise thing for them to do is to come clean with their practices. a leader who can’t be held accountable to the commonest of men is a quack leader.

    it is time for true leadership to rise and be counted among those who dare walk NAKED before men and the almighty.

    reject the covering of the leaves of hypocrisy; curb the silent injustices inflicted on the weak and disadvantaged and return to eden!

  5. lesile said

    So what even if cronies will to admit they could have done better ? They just have shred off responsibility by merely saying it is an honest mistake, then the newspaper will stop publishing the event suddenly, move on and put more focus on mundane stuff and highlight other countries’s terrible woes. We see that time to time, and sure now ppl forget about ShinCorpse woes, soo ppl will forget about GST hike, and about so many honest mistake by cronies because ppl can’t do anything about it. This is exactly what PAP want to publicise that what you gonnna do when largest cronies on earth play you out and yet you are helpless to do anything !

    Even if you choose to agree or disagree, cronies will still proceed with their unpopular decision and personal agenda.

    you don’t call them cronies for nothing.

  6. Khawie said

    The papers reported that a clerk had keyed in wrongly and had since resigned. That just begs the question of why there weren’t further checks after the data entry. What about the numerous ocassions when the convict and his mother brought up the discrepancy to the authorities?

    I think this is a very clear case that we need better talents in managing the prison system. I say, start recruiting prison officers at $xxx million today!!!

    Shame on you, the minister-in-charge wcs!

  7. aygee said

    here’s an idea.

    for all those who ignored the convict and his mother, and everyone involved in the cockup from the courts to the prison officials, each of them should receive the 3 strokes they erroneously gave the convict.

    Reminds me so much of the SARS situation where they jailed a man for breaking curfew. When you’re poor and from the working class or have a previous record, you’re deemed as anti-social.

    and when one cant defend oneself, well…

  8. Numb Already said

    pay ministers and senior civil servants million dollars to make standard bureaucratic non-replies…. and singaporeans have only 1 chance every 5 years to make them accountable….. go figure….

  9. scb said

    I am unable to help much but do wish to remind those who think that the people(citizens) have a choice(an opportunity to vote out the Ruling Party) are badly mistaken. The Chance ( to vote out the Ruling Party) is simply not there, think about it! The Netizens by and large are doing much of the talkings the Main Medias are not doing and hopefully the Net Informations could diseminate wider so there be more lambs but less mutton.

  10. This article raises two points. First, is the non-replies and silences of various government departments regarding numerous affairs. To this, I believe it is something on which the government has to seriously change its attitude. Such attitudes, more than just make people lose faith in the government and the civil service, can propel others to believe in alternative (and not necessarily true) explanations. Second, this article criticises the media for not playing the role of the watchdog. This, I disagree with the author. Allow me to elaborate.

    I do not deny – in fact, I strongly support – the concept of the media being the watchdog of the government. Being a proper, massive organisation with professional journalist to probe and analyse various aspects on and reports of the government and its actions, hardly any other is better at fulfilling this role. However, at this point I’d like to emphasize the need, if thus is the case, for more media to emerge. It is as pointless as the current situation if the media turns from the government’s lap dog to a mad dog which bites at everything the government has.

    However, I can hardly justify myself blaming the media for taking up the role it took. The rules and regulations governing the media – the Newspaper and Printing Act – effectively gives the government the control of information. The media, in my opinion, can only take a small portion of the blame, if at all. After all, which media would like to see its readership falling? Which journalist would like to work under a heavily scrutinised and censored environment? Blaming the media is like shooting the hapless messenger. Of course, there are always those who are truly sincere in their flattering of the government, but we must caution ourselves against a hasty generalisation just as much as believing everything the media prints.

    Of course, one could argue that the journalists ought to sacrifice themselves for their journalistic pride and freedom of expression. Yet, if these employees of the media can be kicked aside and replaced so easily, can we blame them for being concerned with their jobs and income? Or, can we blame them for bowing down now, so that they can stay longer to push the boundaries of these regulations as far as they could? Let’s not forget that, these people are in the public, their faces known, unlikes the criticising mass of the netizens who are largely anonymous (which, by the way, I am not; with some snooping around you can find my name and photos and stuff).

    Instead of shifting the blame onto the media, I would instead focus my criticisms on these regulations that bind the muzzle of the watchdog. If anything, the media is a forced prostitute of the government.

  11. Hi Pandemonium,

    Thank you for visiting.

    I take your point that we do not want the media to make a full turnaround and become, as you put it, “a mad dog which bites at everything the government has.”

    I do not think that it has to result in such extremities, in fact. But I would think that most people – singaporeans – would agree that the media should do more.

    Viswa Sadasivan, a former current affairs producer with the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) had this to say about the media in singapore:

    “There is so much room to manoeuvre. I don’t think we need to be looking over our shoulders all the time. The media needs to play less safe.” (Link)

    So, while I am not advocating that reporters and journalists adopt a gung ho attitude, or even an antagonistic one, I do find that they self-censor or are playing it too safe.

    Surely, we can spare one or two hours per week and have some serious current affairs discussions/debates on our television, right?

    And I do not think that the government, really, will be against that.

    After all, did we not have programmes like Feedback and Talking Point in the past?

    Have we regressed – or progressed?


  12. My point about the mad dog is that, if we were to push for the freedom of the press, we ought to have more media organisations instead of one or two. After all, all media has an agenda; the ST and CNA will form their own agenda even if the government releases control of them. More organisations will allow a more balanced range of views and opinions, as well as checks and balances on each other.

    As for the discussions on current affairs, I am not sure how much development or regression there has been, since I do not watch the television. Yes, critical programmes like Talking Point is no longer aired, but nowadays, the newspaper has more (supposedly) discussions on current affairs (e.g. the whole section of Insight on Saturday’s ST), if I’m not wrong. The questions I have are, are there more discussions/commentaries/debates yesterday than today? Are they more critical of the government then, or less (or just pretending to be)? Has the regulations on these programmes/articles changed since then? And most importantly, what are their viewership/readership?

    The last question, most difficult to answer for laymen like us since data is hard to come by, is important in my opinion because, if viewership/readership is low as compared to programmes/articles of other nature (like entertainment, for example), then it is natural for the media to axe them, isn’t it? Of course, people’s interests may have changed now, but if falling viewership/readership is the reason for the demise of these programmes/articles, then the fault is on the population as a whole.

    To those above questions, I have no answers, and though I can probably find them with sufficient digging, I am reluctant to do so as the Internet I am using right now is charged at A$0.07 per MB – not exactly good for heavy duty research.

    Lastly, would the government mind these programmes/articles if they were published? I think it really depends on the degree of criticism or probing. I mean, if they were to analyse on the seven issues you have raised in the article, and thereby get people thinking about them and wondering why the government failed in so many aspects, I doubt the government will be very happy. And the media’s survival depends very much on the government’s happiness.

  13. […] Silence is not always golden […]

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