24 January 2006

Open Society. Ha.

ST Forum Jan 24, 2006
S'pore is an open society despite what Soros says

AMERICAN billionaire George Soros came to Singapore and commented that we are not an open society. Mr Koh Buck Song echoed his views and said that 'if Singapore is to mature as a democracy, then it is time for every thinking citizen to take up his responsibility to play his part in shaping the kind of open society we all need to believe we deserve to have' ('Think spectrum, not open or closed'; ST, Jan 17) .

Both Mr Soros and Mr Koh are entitled to their views. Singapore has evolved into an open society where anybody can do anything and say anything he or she wishes. There is the media for them to express their views, Speakers' Corner for them to say it in person, the Internet to publish them for the world, and blogs to share them with friends. The only requirement this open society asks is that the messenger be responsible for the message.

Some say we cannot hold rallies or demonstrations without police permits. But do we want our society to be like, say, Taiwan or the Philippines where demonstrations are the order of the day, and politicians and celebrities throw mud liberally at each other and anybody else, with some of the media merrily playing the role of cheer leaders?

The Singapore I know is an open society. It may not be the kind of society Mr Soros envisaged, nor the shape which Mr Koh wished, but it is a fair society where rules are applied fairly and equally to all without fear or favour.

Assoc Prof Koo Tsai Kee

Sigh. Tsai Kee, I know you're a PAP MP and all that, but what is the point of letters like that? Facts are facts, the rest are just opinions. Here, Mr Wang will provide you the facts, and you go and rethink your opinion:

      May 2005: Police investigate Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See for making a political film. The Straits Times suggests that Martyn See should stick to making comedies, not serious films.

      June 2005: The police deny the gay group Fridae permission for organising a public event, saying that this would be contrary to public interests. Fridae has to move the event to Phuket, Thailand.

      July 2005: The National Kidney Foundation launches yet another defamation suit to silence a critic who had tried to point out its financial improprieties. This time, the NKF loses, but it's the first time they've lost. Subsequently, the NKF's massive wrongdoings are exposed and the rest is history.

      July 2005 The Singapore Government denies Mr Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan entry into Singapore and deports him. Mr Yeshua, a democracy activist and a member of NGO Nonviolence International, had been travelling here to conduct a non-violence workshop for Singaporean activists.

      August 2005: 12 anti-riot police officers armed with shields and batons put an end to a tiny demonstration held by 4 peaceful people standing quietly in a row wearing T-shirts asking for more transparency from, amongst other institutions, the NKF.

      August 2005: Police allow an anti-death penalty group to hold a memorial concert for the deceased Shanmugam Murugesu, but ban the group from showing Shanmugam's face on any "publicity platform/material such as internet website, displays, banners, posters, T-shirts and any other paraphernalia".

      September 2005: Buangkok residents put up cardboard cutouts of white elephants in front of the Buangkok MRT station to protest against its non-opening. The authorities immediately launch police investigations to find out who did it.

      October 2005: Blogger-academic Cherian George writes an article about the government's use of "calibrated coercion" to stifle the expression of dissenting opinions. The Prime Minister's Office immediately slams Cherian for his dissenting opinion.

      October 2005: Senior lecturers at Warwick University in the UK vote against setting up a branch campus in Singapore due to worries about limits on academic freedom.

      October 2005: Singapore is ranked 140th in the world for press freedom.

      November 2005: International NGO, Reporters without Borders, writes an open letter to PM Lee Hsien Loong offering 10 suggestions to improve press freedom in Singapore. The organisation offers to meet PM Lee to give him a personal presentation of what can be done to ensure press freedom in Singapore.

      December 2005: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses alarm over the recent ruling by a Singaporean High Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit which charged the country's public institutions with trampling the rights of their citizens to free assembly and free speech.

      December 2005: Benny Lim, a theatre director, is ordered by the Media Development Authority to remove all references to the death penalty in his new play.

Tell me again, Tsai Kee, with a straight face, that we are an open society. I'll try not to laugh.


bariumoxide said...

"July 2005: The National Kidney Foundation launch yet another defamation suit to silence a critic who's trying to point out its financial improprieties. This time, the NKF loses, but it's the first time they've lost."

I might be wrong but is this not merely a dispute between 2 private entities? I would say that a less than open society would more likely involve one where the Govt (as opposed to a private entity) is suing in order silence a critic who's trying to point out its financial improprieties.

Your thoughts?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I think that in a more open society, the laws of defamation would have developed to allow more room for fair comment on matters of public interest (NKF's matters clearly being a matter of public interest).

Of course, the defence of fair comment does exist in the law of defamation in Singapore. But looking at the NKF situation as one example of reality, one cannot help but wonder how many of those people in Singapore who have previously been successfully threatened with defamation suits over whatever matter, might possibly in fact have spoken truths and held valid opinions.

Ac~id~fla^sk's case springs to mind. He is an ex-PSC scholar now pursuing his PhD in Chemistry in the US. I am told that he blogged some extensive arguments about how, despite the large amounts of government funding and the large number of scientific papers published, Singapore's scientists are still not producing results considered very significant by the international scientific community.

Subsequently he was threatened with a defamation lawsuit by the government agency in Singapore responsible for arranging government funding for Singapore's scientists.

P.S: I, Mr Wang, hereby declare that I, by my above two paragraphs, do not imply, impute or mean anything negative about the said government agency or its chairman; and in particular I do not express any opinion on whether it was wrong or right or appropriate and inappropriate for the said agency and/or chairman to threaten to take legal action against the said person; and furthermore I do not know the precise details of exactly what the said agency and/or its agency was threatening to sue the said person about; and furthermore, I do not express any opinion on whether the said person's opinion about scientific funding in Singapore or any other opinion that the said person has ever expressed on any matter is correct or incorrect or well-founded or not well-founded.

Ah, Singapore. Such an open society.

Han said...

nice one Mr Wang, particularly your comments. Maybe you should copy paste that last comment of yours into the main body of your post.

The disclaimer is a nice touch. =)

singaporean said...

Shianux, are you suggesting any singaporean can sleep well or eat properly after posting comments like that without at least including a disclaimer?????

Yoyo said...

Great summary, Mr Wang.

This is one post to copy and paste in rebuttal to similar letters such as Koo's, which I expect will show up aplenty after PAP sweeps the GE again.


Elia Diodati said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elia Diodati said...

As Salman Rushdie once wrote, "Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation."

Oh wait, isn't he a banned author? Oops. I guess we can't trust people banned by the govt.

Elia Diodati said...

Also, one of S. R.'s less-famous quotes from the same essay: "The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted, or in which they have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted, is absurd."

ivan said...

just a minor pt which probably doesn't detract from diodati's pt.

Rushdie isn't a banned author, his book was banned but not all all his works are (in fact satanic verses is the only one banned).

One might actually make (a pretty valid and strong one imho) an argument that it was rightfully banned.

And on Mr Wang's pt on defamation, i suppose it point it highlights is the inherent weakness not of the judiciary or state of law in Sg, but instead of the high cost of litigation and legal access/know-how, that serves as a barrier. The same comment he makes can be true for IP litigation, not only defamation; surely IP is more removed from free expression (connected nonetheless, but relatively less so imho).

once again it doesn't detract from mr wang's pt, but facts must be stated clearly. ;)

lbandit said...

It wasn't just 12 riot police. The officers in helmets and shields number 12. There were around 10 other lady officers and a number of guy officers. But the guy officers didn't fall in in front of the camera so i couldn't count them.


Yuhui said...

If you haven't already done so, please send this to ST Forum (but less snarkier). While your blog may have a large audience, you'll be able to reach non-blog-readers, who I think make up a sizeable number, through the press.

Personally, I'd remove the NKF part. ST doesn't like to publish things that are critical of it. ;)

Register said...

Ivan, the weakness of our judicary is its indivisible nature together with the executive and the legislative in Singapore. They all report to the same bosses who expects nothing less than complete loyalty and compliance.

Just take the case of the ChengSan GRC contest where the PM and the 2 DPMs stood in the electoral tent watching the voters cast their votes.

Our constitution bars people from loitering around 200m of the voting station unless they are candidates/electoral officials for protection of the voters against any intimidation.

When the WP protested by reference to the said law, our Attorney General replied that the interior of the station does not fall within the 200m radius, and hence our PMs and DPMs are innocent of any wrongdoing. There was no mention whether the presence of the 3 will constitute an intimidation effect on the voters.

Is our judicary and state of law free of flaw or weakness? I leave that to your judgement....

Molly Meek said...


*Straight face*


loupgarou said...


ivan said...


as i said, my additional pt doesn't detract from what mr wang is trying to present.

"Ivan, the weakness of our judicary is its indivisible nature together with the executive and the legislative in Singapore. They all report to the same bosses who expects nothing less than complete loyalty and compliance. "

it's queer you state this when mr wang is trying to separate fact from opinion. The example you cite does not bolster your case significantly, while it might very well be true (your proposition) that the judiciary is fuse with the executive in Sg; it must be noted in your example, you mentioned the AG reluctance to prosecute, the AG is not part of the (the whole) judiciary (depends once again there are 2 branches to our judiciary) and it would be very scary if it indeed was so.

Thus your assertion A is backed by an example that posits B.

once again i must say i do not refute your claims/comments/point made, just like i did not refute Mr Wang's or Diadati's.

akikonomu said...

Bravo for telling it like it is!

Injenue said...

what is it they say? oh yah, "biting the hand that feeds you". if you don't like it in singapore, you are always free to leave. nobody's stopping you right? if you wanna stay then dun just whine and complain. that's not going to help anything.

Bernard Leong said...

For a typical Singaporean, that's the mentality:

"Open society, close society, a good economy with everyone's three meals and roof covered is a good society."

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Nonsense - you misunderstand me. I love Singapore and I absolutely adore PM Lee Hsien Loong because in August 2004, he vowed to open up Singapore society.

Did he succeed? Or did he fail? Or did he just change his mind along the way? Is Singapore an open society today?

Ahhh, that calls for an opinion. Read my post, and tell me what's yours.

Beach-yi said...

injenue: that's why many people whine when they are not in Singapore, happy?

tuck said...

Bravo to Mr Wang. The ST did not reveal that Mr Koo is a member of the ruling party. Do one expect him to say something else. Well the ST did report that the US ambassador was 'embarrassed'when the police asked if he will press charges against the handful of
'demonstrators'. You don't press charges against demonstrators in an 'open society'

jack milo said...

"For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!"

-Frank Sinatra's My Way

i love Singapore
but i also love democracy
and open society

Merv said...

"what is it they say? oh yah, "biting the hand that feeds you".


If you treat them as masters, then don't blame them if you get treated as a dog.

Sheesh.. talk about having stockholm syndrome.

klimmer said...


Already left ok. Just having a laugh at your expense.

rench00 said...

if you don't like it in singapore, you are always free to leave.

i think injenue misses the point completely. i love Singapore. honestly. and precisely because i love Singapore, all the more i am/will be critical of things that go on here. why? because i love Singapore so much that i will do whatever i can, even to the extent of going against our leaders (and risking any consequences), to make things better, to make sure that we progress and develop, in all the possible ways.

i agree with Mr Wang that Singapore can indeed become more open. though i am still vehemently opposed to demonstrations in the streets, no matter how peaceful they are. but then again, a country where its government that degenerates to the point where the only way the people's voices can be heard are via demonstrations on the streets probably deserves all the disruptions that such demonstrations bring.

but that's not the best way to do things. prevention is better than cure. let's push the boundaries, keep the government on its toes so that we don't have to resort to demonstrations to make our voices heard and our opinions count.

PAPDestroyedSGCulture said...

Singapore is an open society?

Can a country without a basic independent newspaper/media be even considered 'An Open Society'?

Does Singapore even have this to expose their minister and PM's nonsense?:-

Bangkok's Independent Newspaper : http://www.nationmultimedia.com/

It obviously this MP is so full of 'Goo Sai' that is jin TuaKee ...

Because all seemed tranquil in Singapore because PAP has masterminded it this way, it doesn't mean there are no stinking shits happening behind citizen's back.

Our local situation is very unique, in fact the shit is so stinking everywhere, but since nobody knows where it is coming from, citizens who voted for PAP has decided to treat it as a perfume.