Thursday, August 24, 2006

Judicial System

Many Singaporeans may have the perception that Malaysia is not a terribly progressive country. Thus we may be surprised to hear that before its judicial crisis in 1988 it had the best judiciary east of India as the article below claims.

I wonder how our judicial system ranks.

Q&A: Disillusioned but not bitter
Aug 22, 06 8:24pm

The following is an abstract of the press conference called by former Lord President Salleh Abas at the National Heart Institute.

Why are you calling this press conference?

On the 17th of this month, the newspapers asked me for comments on the proposal by the Bar Council chairperson (Yeo Yang Poh) to reopen (investigation into) the judicial crisis that took place in 1988.

At that time, I was absolutely not aware (of it) because I have not read the papers. I can tell you, I haven’t read the papers in a long time - it’s difficult to get papers there (Bukit Payung, Terengganu). I don’t read the Malay papers because I cannot read fast enough so I struggle. It’s not easy to get English papers. I only read them when I get to town.

Anyhow, the newspapers have been pressing for a statement when I wasn’t even aware that such a statement was made by Yeo Yang Poh. Somebody showed me The Sun so I read it, but I still don’t want to make a statement.

So I’m making a statement now to put a rest to it and hoping that no more questions would be asked about my attitude or my comments. It’s all there in this three-page statement. I am prepared to answer questions only on this subject and not on any other subject. Don’t ask me questions beyond this subject.

On judicial review and ministerial power

The court at one time had power which we called judicial review dealing with the complaints by the rakyat against the wrongdoing of the executive. In England, and also in India, this particular provision is very well done, very healthy. More people go to court to contest the validity of government actions but in this country, no, you can’t do it. You can’t do it simply because the government doesn’t want to be tested as to the right and the wrong that the government is doing.

The Courts of Judicature Act was also amended to take away the power of the judiciary to have a judicial review, and also a number of legislations, there is always a provision to the effect that the decision of any minister with certain things shall be final and shall not be questioned in court. Finish. Where are you going to go?

The clear example is, of course, press freedom. If something happens, and the government doesn’t like it, legislation is passed and it’s there. You then want to appeal to the minister but the minister will make a decision which will be covered by that law and cannot be questioned in court.

Even in the Police Act, for example, if the people want to have, or hold, a meeting or a rally ... you have to apply for a permit. If the permit isn’t given - the OCPD would usually keep it to the last minute, or refuse altogether - there is a provision in the Police Act where you can appeal to the chief police officer but the officer can make a decision that it is final and cannot be questioned in court. Where is the freedom of expression?

In this country, we say we rule by law. There are three types of law that I was taught at my university - law of altruism, law of reciprocity and law of power. But today, I think the world is moving towards the law of power. Law of reciprocity - the benefit is mutual, the liability is also mutual. But when it comes to law of power, it is one-sided.

What is the best way to correct the 1988 judicial crisis?

The laws must be amended. We are not talking about how to reopen (investigation into) the judicial crisis yet. To me, if you really want to make this country to be governed democratically in accordance to the law, the laws must be looked into and be amended. Then we would be in line with all other democratic countries.

Do you have hope that the crisis will be reviewed?

After I got dismissed on August 8, 1988, I became absolutely disillusioned with the law. So much so that I never even encouraged my children or grandchildren to study law. I took my solace in being a simple gardener. But I keep praying to God that a day will arrive that the truth will come.

The truth is that my dismissal, and the suspension of my five colleagues, was a great fraud on the judiciary and you cannot recover the truth to something fraudulent. Somehow, things will emerge when you refer (to what happened) in my time, it will strain the record in the future. It will come out eventually. That is natural.

Would you like the investigation to the judicial crisis to be reopened?

I would like it reopened, of course. The law we had was twisted. This has cost the life of one judge, Eusoffe Abdoolcadeer, who was so disillusioned with the law.

If I’m called to give evidence, I would love to do it. But as it is, it is up to the government. It is a political decision. No matter how much the public wants this matter to be reopened, finally it’s the decision of the government; in what form and what manner.

Today, we still have a number of people involved in this crisis that are still alive ... George Seah who is very sick at the moment, Wan Hamzah (Wan Mohamed Salleh), (Mohamed) Azmi Kamaruddin, Abdul Talib (Othman), (Abdul) Hamid Omar - all these players are still here.

However, there is a statute of limitations (where legal proceedings are barred after a number of years). That if you were to go to court, it is too big for the court to decide. I think it’s two years against the government or public authority.

What was the catalyst of this judicial crisis?

I think it all started because of th two (Asian) Wall Street Journal reporters who made comments on certain things and their visa was withdrawn, or something like that. They took this to court. The late Harun Hashim, (who) was the judge at that time, made a very strong comment on the government on the withdrawal of the visa. From then (on), the government started to see that the judiciary was interfering with the executive.

The statement made by the former prime minister (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) against the judiciary all started from there. Some judges felt very unhappy about it. I don’t think I can go further than this because if I were to tell the story, it would take months and years to finish it. I even wrote a book on it, May Day for Justice.

Why have you not said anything before this?

Why should I say anything? Whatever I say, it would not be reported, I know that. That is why I think The Sun described me as media shy. Not without any reason.

I learned a great experience during my suspension that when I make statement, that statement got twisted and truncated that so much so an entirely different version came out. Because of that, I’m ‘very shy’. I have to be very careful. The reporters are very good but the decision-making is with the editors and the editors would cut and put their own version.

But now I think the press seems to be a little bit better. And even then I am very cautious. That’s why I did this statement. I don’t want to talk to the crowd because I know I cannot remember what I say and they would be quarreling (over) what I say or what you say is wrong. But now you cannot quarrel because this is all black and white here.

Do you see any positive changes from the present government compared to Mahathir’s government?

There is a certain amount of liberality in the present government. I think the press is a bit better and liberal now. We can see also there are few articles and incidents where the reports made are adverse to the government. In those days, this was not possible.

What do you think about the judicial system?

The judicial system is there. But they are limited and shackled. We still have the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and magistrates but their powers are limited.

Do you feel bitter about the whole episode?

I am not bitter. The first few months maybe a little disillusioned and unhappy, and then I got over it. After that I went to Australia to become a visiting professor of Monash and Melbourne universities. There, I taught Malaysian constitution and Malaysian law. They wanted me to continue with my work over there but you see, my roots are very strong in Malaysia ... I have children and grandchildren so I didn’t stay long.

How do you describe Tun Mahathir?

I have no comment. You know your own answer, don’t ask me.

How would you describe the judiciary now?

That I have no comment. I think you all know that one.

So Tun, can you tell us what your life is like now?

I go to the kebun (orchard) once a week. I live in Bukit Payung. It is 11 kilometres from the town centre in Kuala Terengganu. I live on a farm about three quarters of an acre where I built my house. Then I plant fruit trees and they are all fruiting now. I also build two cemented pools to rear fish. But I have never eaten the fish. I have plenty of them and I like to feed them. It’s a very soothing experience.

Do you agree with public perception the people have no recourse?

There are some recourse but not full recourse as there ought to be. Before the judicial crisis, we were the best judiciary east of India. India was very good. We were even better than Hong Kong. That’s why I describe that era really as a golden era for the judiciary. (This is) because of its integrity, competency and enjoyment of public confidence. The judges then were very highly respected.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Have the Police Become A Tool of the Executive?

Hitting a controversial patch
They regard some assault cases as civil disputes, raising public furore.
By Seah Chiang Nee,
Aug 8, 2006

Not long ago, a gang of older girls beat up a 12-year-old girl in public, video filming the assault, and the tape was widely posted in the Internet.

The assailants were known, but the police said it would not act because nobody had lodged a report with them. It sparked questions about the responsibility of the police when public violence was committed.

Yesterday, another Singaporean wrote to the press to complain that her brother, a doctor in a Singapore hospital, was eating alone at a Geylang food-stall at night when he was approached by six to eight youths who accused him of staring at them

“When he denied doing so, they assaulted him, beating him in the face and abdomen,” said Ms Liew Sok Kuan.

According to Ms. Liew, he suffered multiple facial fractures and damage to one of his facial nerves. He had to undergo a three-hour operation, which included having two metal plates inserted around one of his eyes, she said.

“He suffered multiple facial fractures and damage to one of his facial nerves. He had to undergo a three-hour operation, which included having two metal plates inserted around one of his eyes,” related Ms. Liew.

They escaped in their motorbikes, but the victim noted two of the bikes’ numbers and rang up 999 and reported to them what had happened.

Despite the serious injury in what was clearly a criminal case, she alleged the police shockingly declined to go after the assailants, and instead asked him to lodge a report with the Magistrates' Court, and left

“They advised that this was a civil case and it was for the magistrate to decide if any action was to be taken.”

Ms Liew added: “It was only when an appeal was made that my brother's case was reclassified under Section 325 (from Section 323), 10 days after the incident, by which time witnesses would have dispersed and memories faded.

“Had the police acted promptly, especially when they were at the scene, they might have had a better chance of apprehending the culprits as there were witnesses around.”

It sparked off a debate about the role and the priorities of the police. Two questions immediately arose: -

* Do they regard violent crime as less important than political activism? A dozen anti-riot policemen carrying shields and batons recently were rushed to disperse four opposition party activists protesting peacefully in central Singapore.

* How many such public assault cases have been classified as civil cases? If it is a general policy, how has it affected the record of crime statistics in Singapore, since civil cases are not classified under ‘crime’. In other words, should crime statistics be higher than what is announced?

Public opinion was largely against the police in this case and I believe that a high-level public statement is needed to explain what the police role and responsibility is in the event of a public assault.

While the police ignored violent assault cases they acted zealously against four individuals for staging a peaceful request for transparency and accountability at Robinson Road. The quartet were interrogated and almost charged in court though they harmed no one nor violated any Singapore law.

They also thought it was necessary to question some of those who showed solidarity for mrbrown, the columnist sacked by the tabloid TODAY for his satirical article on the government policies, by appearing in brown t-shirt outside Singapore's City Hall underground station.

Have the police become a tool of the executive?

Have they forgotten that they are supposed to be independent and their first and foremost duty is to uphold law and order in the nation?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Albert Winsemius, 'founding father' of Singapore

National day is round the corner. It is the time of the year that we are being bombarded by the media on how the founding members of the ruling party delivered Singapore from the 3rd world to the 1st. This national narrative is rather misleading as the article below shows. It was a foreign talent, Dr Albert Winsemius, who chartered our economic development and steered us to economic success.

Albert Winsemius, 'founding father' of Singapore
Thirty-five years ago, in the spring of 1960, Dr Albert Winsemius arrived in Singapore - soon to become his second fatherland -- for the first time in his life. He headed an international team of experts in the field of development economics. A year earlier the former British colony had become independent, and the government of the young nation had asked the United Nations to invite Dr Winsemius, the founding father of the Dutch post-war industrialization programme, to help them to find out which chances the future would offer to Singapore.

By Kees Tamboer

Dr Winsemius' first impression was anything but hopeful. "It was bewildering," he remembers. "There were strikes about nothing. There were communist-inspired riots almost every day and everywhere. In the beginning one has to very careful about passing any judgement - one does not know the country, one does not know the people, one does not know the men and women who are trying to steer this rudderless ship. But after a couple of months the pessimism within our commission reached appalling heights. We saw how a country can be demolished by unreal antitheses. The general opinion was: Singapore is going down the drain, it is a poor little market in a dark corner of Asia."
Within a year, on 13 June 1961, the Winsemius team offered Singapore a development plan. The final assessment was written by Winsemius personally: 'Expectations and Reality' was his motto. This was permeated with an emotional appeal for unity, a passionate warning that time was running out if Singapore was not to sink away into the mud. The gloom was not completely unrelieved, there was one bright spot on the horizon: "In our opinion", wrote Winsemius, "Singapore has the basic assets for industrialization. Her greatest asset is the high aptitude of her people to work in manufacturing industries. They can be ranked among the best factory workers in the world."

Shirts and Pyjamas
After delivering his development plan in the summer of 1961, Winsemius became the chief economic adviser to the Singaporean government. He held this function for almost twenty- five years, and at no time was there ever any written contract. The collaboration was based on mutual trust. Twice a year Winsemius flew to Singapore to spend about a fortnight there - one time it was to help drafting the plans for the coming year, the other time for checking and steering. Part of the deal was that he would come immediately should the government let him know that his help was needed at short notice, which was, for instance, the case in 1965.
"When we started with the implementation of the first development programme, Winsemius recalls, "I was convinced that a policy of protection of the home market would come to nothing, because there was almost no home market. I immediately advised them to try and form an economic federation with Malaya. As soon as this aim was achieved, I assumed, we would be able to move over to the next phase and try to conquer a position on the world market. Four years later Singapore was expelled from the Federation, and there were the signs of some initial panic in the state. In my opinion there was no longer any reason for such a reaction. On the contrary, this is the best day of my life, I told my friends in Singapore, for in those first years of development Singapore had proved that it was able to overcome internal antithesis and to work together to build up a manufacturing industry that would certainly be competitive in the long run."
Albert Winsemius distinguishes five main phases in the economic development of Singapore.
"The first step", he explains, "was to set up low-value industries, such as the production of shirts and pyjamas in factories in which women could work. The contribution made by the women during the initial years of industrialization has never really been properly studied. This contribution can easily be underestimated. It was the only manufacturing activity then with sufficient experience. The sewing machines could be rented, and the girls and women had experience in working with them. Therefore a very quick start was possible in the field of shirts and underwear. This aspect of early industrial development deserves more attention than it has received so far."

The Separation in 1965 marked the beginning of the second phase. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) started with an enormous building programme, under the leadership of Mr. Howe Yoon Chong. "This was very inspiring, people could see what was being achieved. On Sundays fathers and mothers showed their children in what kind of new dwellings they would live presently. In that same period we succeeded in interesting, just as had happened in Holland fifteen years earlier, big oil companies like Shell and Esso in establishing refineries in Singapore.
The third phase was that we started as soon as possible with the upgrading. Singapore became very active in promoting education for technical jobs, especially for the electronics industry. In the beginning it was quite a difficult job for me to convince people at the top of the big Dutch electronics company Philips to set up production plants in Singapore. I went to Eindhoven, where the headquarters of Philips are situated, to warn them: you have to hurry, I told them, otherwise there is a very real danger you will be too late and then you will be sure to miss the boat in the growing market of Southeast Asia. The result is that Philips is now one of the big investors in Singapore and is doing a very fine job there.

The fourth phase was to make of Singapore an international financial centre. Formerly the young state was bound to the English pound sterling. I knew a Dutchman who had lived and worked in Singapore; he was an employee of the Bank of America in London at that time. I visited him and told him we wished to transform Singapore into a financial centre for Southeast Asia within ten years. He told me it could be done in three or four years. He took a globe and showed me a gap in the financial market of the world. Trading, he explained, starts at nine o'clock in the morning in Zurich in Switzerland. An hour later London opens. When London closes, New York is already open. After closing time on Wall Street, San Francisco on the American west coast is still active. But as soon as San Francisco closes, there is a gap of a couple of hours. This gap can be filled by Singapore, should the government not shun taking some drastic measures - such as cutting its links with the British pound.

Container harbour
And the fifth and last phase was that we transformed Singapore into a centre of international traffic and transport. My advice was: build an airport where the biggest aeroplanes can land and let everyone know that they are welcome to land there. In other words, do not use landing-rights to protect your own Singapore Airlines. They followed this advice and it became a success. And thanks to this initiative Singapore has become a tourist centre too, especially for short stays. In the same vein, we started to construct a big container harbour. In Holland I had been chairman of a committee to advise the Dutch government on the problems to do with shipbuilding, so I had some knowledge about what was going on in that world. I saw the enormous growth of container transport between the United States and Europe, concentrated initially in the harbour of Rotterdam. So I advised the construction of a big container terminal in the harbour of Singapore, taking the risk of overcapacity and unoccupancy during the first years for granted. The advantage was evident: Singapore would be the only harbour in the region with container facilities. Nevertheless it was a hard job to convince the harbour authorities. Only after a small conversation with the minister the decision could no longer be postponed. Nowadays Singapore, after Rotterdam, has the second largest container harbour in the world. That surely is something of which to be proud."
"In my opinion", says Dr. Winsemius, "it would be next to impossible to transplant the Singapore wonder elsewhere. I have experienced it in other countries. I have given advices to the government of Greece and, for five years, to the government of Portugal. It is senseless to launch an economic development programme in a country which lacks political stability and does not have a government that sticks to that programme in the knowledge that, one day, it will be recognized and rewarded by the voters."

Kees Tamboer is the economic editor of the Dutch daily Het Parool