18 March 2006

Bear Arrested in Singapore

I found this on Bobafett81's blog, via Tomorrow. The bear was campaigning for ethical treatment of animals. It was questioned by Singapore police officers, and then arrested and escorted into a police van and taken away.

God save the bears, indeed. Especially the nice, kindly ones with a sense of humour, which are just trying to speak up to make the world a slightly better place for all animals.

Possible criminal charges faced by the bear - being a nuisance in a public place; providing public entertainment without a licence; and attempted criminal intimidation of the President (the bear was standing outside the gates of the Istana; the President was nowhere around, but hey this is Singapore, so the charge might work anyway).


Mr Jherek said...

Hmmmm, a beary bad busines.

darrnot said...

Freedom of speech is Singapore's bugbear.

Anonymous said...

"hey this is Singapore, so the charge might work anyway"

Mr Wang, why do you say that? What is unique about Singapore's judicial system, insofar as unreasonable criminal charges commenced by the Attorney General may suceed? Are you insinuating that our judiciary is submissive to the dictates of the executive government?


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I don't think that the executive government cares very much about bears. A bit too trivial for them.

I say that the charge may succeed, because section 511 under Singapore's Penal Code (relating to attempts) has been quite flexibly (and successfully) applied in the past, in situations where the offender looked way off from ever having a realistic chance of really committing the full offence ...

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, since the AG is the state's lawyer and you say the executive government finds this too trivial, I think that it is unlikely the bear will be charged with any criminal offence.

If indeed that happens, can the bear sue the police or anyone for infriging on her rights?

why was the bear forced to leave if she was not committing a crime? Can the police force a person to do anything against their wish if the person is acting lawfully?


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, we'll wait and see and maybe we'll hear more about what happens to the bear in the future.

On your other point, u might be interested to read this.

Heavenly Sword said...

They shouldn't arrest the bear...Poor bear.

Anonymous said...

singapore is very funny country.


Anonymous said...

..except no ones laughing...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

By the way, Z, the AG wears two hats. As AG he's the executive government's lawyer. As PP, he's answerable to no one except himself - his power stems from the constitution and he is the ultimate decision-maker on questions like whether to prosecute or not prosecute.

Elia Diodati said...

Some people really need a PR department. Like seriously, how good does it look arresting a person in a bear suit and having photos splashed all over the international news?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that in practice, the AG wears 2 hats; as PP the AG is NOT answerable to the Cabinet.

What kind of institutional protection from executive interference is given to the office of AG? The PM nominates the AG, decides the AG's tenure, decides the AG's financial remuneration, and initiates the removal of the AG.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Surprise, surprise. The institutional protection lies in the Elected President who can block all these moves. Also, EP can block these moves in relation to a range of other positions, eg Chief of Defence Force; Commissioner of Police; Auditor-General etc.

Check out my old post on these powers of the EP.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

It is na├»ve to think that the EP in the foreseeable future can “block” the PM’s choice of AG. Admittedly, it is more difficult for the PM to remove a non-compliant AG because there is a need to convene a judicial tribunal, in addition to the EP’s concurrence.

As for the appointment of AG, the EP is a lame duck in SG's political context. The EP is required to consult the Council of President Advisors if he disagrees with the PM on the appointment of any senior civil servant. If the Council agrees with the PM, parliament can override the EP's disagreement by a 2/3 majority; the PM of a strong parliamentary majority will always command the 2/3 majority through the use of party whip, which is why the PAP fights for every vote at the election and rejects a fairer system of Proportional Representation.

As for the members of the Council, unlike the EP, they are susceptible to executive interference due to the lack of institutional protection. Yet, the powers of the EP are curtailed by the decision of the Council (which unlike the EP is an unelected body and not accountable to the people).

Above all, this scenario presupposes that we have an EP who does not favour the government and will oppose the PM. What are the chances of any one unaffiliated to the government qualifying for the EP and satisfying the all-powerful Presidential Election Committee (which like the Council also suffers from the lack of institutional protection from executive interference)? Are you beginning to see how the EP fits into the grand scheme of things as intended by our founding father? To my mind, having a crippled EP will only lull Singaporeans into a false sense of security by casting an illusion of sufficient checks and balances within our political system. Don’t you agree with the Workers’ Party proposal to abolish the EP?

More worryingly, the problem of independence beyond retirement age besets the AG, as well as Supreme Court Judges. The AG is forced to retire at the early age of 60 when he is more than able to continue working (Supreme Court Judges retire at age 65). Beyond 60, the AG has to perform up to the expectations of the PM. Only the PM has the power to advise the EP to extend the service of the AG, on a yearly contractual basis. Assuming the office of AG pays very well (most high offices in SG pay world class wages), it is tempting for an AG who wants to keep his job beyond age 60 to avoid displeasing his boss.

Our current AG, the Honorable Mr Chan Sek Keong, is older than 60 years old and presumably on a contract of service.

I would like to hear your thoughts on the questions I have raised, Mr Wang.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I was really thinking more about the removal of the PP/AG, not his appointment. Which are two different matters.

Eg the issue is whether EP can effectively protect someone like CSK from removal, not so much whether someone like CSK can, in the first place, get appointed as AG or not. EP never chooses the candidates, but when candidates are already chosen and appointed, EP (ostensibly) has the powers to protect them.

Naturally, the executive is never going to appoint anyone in any senior position whom the executive doesn't think the person is suitable for. In fact, the idea would have been to put a stop to any potentially "non-subservient" (for lack of a better term) person's progress, long before they ever came close to those sorts of positions. Of course, once in a while, you might get one of those who somehow sneak through - (eg Francis Seow, ex-Solicitor General - note that he belonged to pre-EP days).

You are correct about the various pre-suppositions, of course. Then again we are also presupposing, for this discussion to come up at all, that an AG could conceivably want to take a line that's sharply different from executive government, so sharply different that executive govt wants to remove him. Which is a drastic situation already. Really if it ever comes to that, who knows how EP would behave?

Of course EP system has its weaknesses. But better than no EP system at all.

Anonymous said...

yes, I doubt it will come to the stage where the AG will differ so sharply from the Executive that a removal is necessary.

But as I pointed out, it is very easy for the PM to appoint a supportive AG and the forced retirement/salary structure is a big incentive for the AG to remain supportive of the PM.

Which brings me back to my original point about the AG being "subservient" to the Executive; The AG does not wear 2 hats as you claim, at least in political cases that affect the standing of the Executive.

In the case of this bear, I would think charging it with any offence would have a political backlash. Same goes for the Buangkok White Elephants. Is the AG supposed to take into account public opinion in deciding whether to prosecute or let off with a warning? My guess is that the Executive instructed the AG on how to proceed.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I think you may be underestimating the influence of very senior civil servants. Or for that matter, the influence of even the less-senior civil servants.

Most likely this bear case will never even reach the AG's desk (much less the desk of the Minister of Home Affairs). Prosecutorial decisions in the bear case would most likely have been been taken by one of the deputies.

Also, AG doesn't exactly go scurrying to the Minister for approval on this and that and this and that. AG really carries a lot of weight on his own.

If you really want to understand where the balance of power lies, look out for an event like PM Goh's National Day Rally. Look at the audience, see who sits where.

The civil service is very obsessive about protocol like this. It's definitely not free seating. Everyone in the first row is more powerful than everyone in the second row, and everyone in the second row is more powerful than everyone in the third row, and so on.

In the first row, the most powerful sits in the middle. The second and 3rd most powerful sit to his left and his right. And so on.

You'll see that AG (and CJ) sit closer to PM/SM/MM than many ministers. That's how it works. The younger ministers definitely take a back seat to AG/CJ. So do some of the senior ministers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I scrutinize the orbit pages for who's who whereas Mr Wang bothers about who sits where on August the ninth? So does Buangkok Recreational Club come under the perview of KBW or WKS? And the bear goes to the zoo or Buangkok chalet?

"You'll see that AG (and CJ) sit closer to PM/SM/MM than many ministers. That's how it works. The younger ministers definitely take a back seat to AG/CJ. So do some of the senior ministers."

Which means Mr Wang formerly worked as devil's advocate in a kangaroo court? And Chee Soon Juan was unfairly jailed for a week?

Anonymous said...

I mean played the devil's advocate.