Tag Archives: Legal

Five reasons not to shut down Stomp

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Stomp, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read it. But calls to close it down are troubling, and miss the bigger picture. Although it is probably too late since the petition has already gone ultra-viral, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t agree with banning Stomp.

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Answered: Are foreign workers exploited in Singapore?

Passport to exploitation?The question of whether or not foreign workers in Singapore suffer systemic abuses continues to attract government denials and rebuttals, but to many observers the answer has long been settled with an obvious and resounding yes. In recent years Singapore has twice been rocked by apparently disgruntled workers, firstly with the SMRT bus drivers strike, and secondly the Little India riots. The plight of SMRT’s Chinese drivers was well documented in the months after they refused to work, but as the government continues to deny such realities in the wake of last year’s riots, it seems clear that crucial lessons have not been learned. As long as such problems go ignored, denied and unresolved, relations between foreign workers and locals are likely to be volatile.

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Has it come to this, freedom to burn effigies?

Is effigy burning allowed?

Is effigy burning allowed?

My initial reaction on hearing that Gilbert Goh had planned to carry out the burning of an effigy of transport minister Lui Tuck Yew was shock and disappointment. There’s got to be a better way to express one’s dissatisfaction with the government and their increasingly authoritarian system. A pile of ashes is not going to contribute much to nation building, not least if it distracts from much more important questions around an economic model of state control in key industries that leaves citizens short-changed. I’m still glad that the act didn’t go ahead, but when The Online Citizen reported that the government had gone so far in 2008 as explicitly stating that burning of effigies would be legal at Hong Lim Park, it became clear that there is another side to this story.

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2013 review part one – a year in justice

Singapore has never enjoyed a strong reputation on justice or the rule of law. As long ago as 1990 the New York Bar Association wrote of “a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests”. A look back on some of the biggest cases (and non-cases) of the year reveals little to suggest that the historically subservient relationship between the courts and the government has changed for the better. The (ab)use of legal proceedings to silence critics remains an ever-present, but this year has also seen troubling developments with the government at times appearing to be beyond the law. Is this “a year in justice” or “a year of injustice”? You decide.

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Harmful allegations swirl in Singapore’s judicial void

Reports of arbitrary and unjust behaviour on the part of the authorities investigating Singapore’s Little India riots have begun to surface in the Indian media. These allegations, made apparently by those deported without trial or due process are harmful to the reputation of Singapore’s police force, yet with no court case and no finding of guilt to present, the claims are almost impossible for the government to refute. Allowing such a situation to develop is a significant mistake as it undermines respect for local law enforcement efforts and could easily have been avoided if due process had in fact been followed. Bypassing the rule of law may have been expedient in the short-term but it is not likely to be in the best interests of anyone in the long-term.

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Round One to Alex Au in battle with AGC

Alex Au’s civil society supporters have scored an important if subtle victory in round one of his looming legal battle against the AGC. In making their call for the statements in question to be publicly rebutted, it appears that the AGC’s hand has been forced. The AGC has apparently agreed to a public hearing of the case, an outcome that – perhaps surprisingly – was never guaranteed, and which may shine a politically awkward light on the details of the case against Au.

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Support James Raj, victim of the Singapore government

James Raj

Alleged computer hacker James Raj is apparently still being held at Singapore’s Institute of Mental Heath, without access to third parties, including his lawyer. While the crime of which he is accused amounts to not much more than petty digital vandalism, the treatment he suffers at the hands of the state is excessive, disproportionate and draconian. I call on the government to ensure his rights – including to legal representation – are respected so as to ensure a fair trial. A conviction resulting from a trail tainted by procedural misconduct is liable to be ruled unsafe and overturned. The interests of justice are not served by such an outcome, and Singapore’s status as a rule of law country risks being undermined.

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Court of Appeal gives green light to unlawful governance.

The Court of Appeal has just handed down judgement in Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s IMF loan case. The case is crucially important and it raises two key points. Can the government lend away the wealth of the nation without Presidential approval? And can an individual citizen challenge the behaviour of the government in court, if it is alleged that there has been a breach of the constitution? The ruling of the court is against Kenneth on both counts. The government apparently can lend away the reserves without Presidential approval – effectively making the role of the President as the holder of a “second key” worthless. And furthermore, an individual citizen does not have the right to challenge the government in court, even if the case is of such gravity as this one where a breach of the constitution has been alleged. In stating as they do, that “the nature of the issue is entirely political” – the judges have completely misconstrued the reality of the case and the nature of the constitution. The decision is a difficult one to agree with. Upholding the law is not political.

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2016: All Eyes on Tony Tan

All Eyes on Tony TanThe President of Singapore, alongside his council of advisors, has many powers that could be used to frustrate a future democratically elected government. Current President Tony Tan, as a former PAP Deputy Prime Minister, has extremely close links to the ruling party and is also one of a core group of senior cadres noted for their abuse of the legislative process in bringing defamation suits against Tan Liang Hong and others. Come 2016, it will be essential to contrast Mr Tan’s currently hands off attitude towards the ruling party’s recent unlawful and unconstitutional behaviour, with any stance he may take towards a possible opposition government. Tony Tan has a troubling track record when it comes to partisan abuses of power and Singaporeans must be vigilant that his position as President is not used as a platform to block democratic progress.

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To: Tan Chuan-Jin RE: Stamp out unlawful employment practices.

For the second time in two weeks, I have today emailed (acting) Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin. Foreign workers in Singapore deserve to be protected by our laws, and the unwillingness of the Ministry to enforce the law is troubling.

Sir,

I wrote to you not long ago to express my concern regarding unlawful employment practices by one Shan Jian Xin Construction.  Most troubling in that case was the apparent unwillingness of your Ministry to take steps in ensuring the enforcement of the Employment Act.  Despite the above mentioned case reaching an ad-hoc settlement with some degree of satisfaction on both sides, the underlying problem remains.  Unlawful employment practices are widespread in Singapore and the inability or unwillingness of your Ministry to enforce the Employment Act is troubling.

Today I write to you regarding the case of Straits Construction Pte Ltd.  It has been widely reported in online media that Straits Construction is employing staff on contracts that are blatantly illegal within the terms of the Employment Act.  Firstly, that company seeks to contract out of the requirement to pay employees a higher salary for work done on Sundays and public holidays.  Secondly, that company seeks to contract out of the requirement to pay salaries within seven days of the end of the salary period.  Both terms are apparently unlawful with reference to the Employment Act which your Ministry is empowered to uphold, yet it appears that your Ministry is unwilling or unable to act.

Parliament has specifically empowered you and your team with powers of investigation and enforcement.  You should use those powers to show that unlawful practices will not be tolerated in Singapore, to show that Singapore is a rule of law nation, and to show those foreign workers upon whom we depend to build our homes and infrastructure, that they enjoy the protections of our legal system.  Anything less than this is a failure, and faces bringing Singapore into disrepute.  Qatar has recently been the subject of international condemnation for the exploitative treatment of foreign workers – yet from non-payment of wages, squalid living conditions to confiscation of identification documents, many of the problems reported there are apparently widespread in Singapore.  The major substantial difference between Qatar and Singapore appears to be that international attention is focussed on Qatar as it prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup, but this is not a fact that your Ministry should rely on in neglecting to enforce the Employment Act.  One day the attention of the international media may fall on Singapore, and your Ministry’s failure to uphold the law will reflect badly not just on yourself, but on the nation as a whole.

Most importantly though, you should ensure the protection of migrant workers from exploitative and unlawful employment practices because it is the only dignified way to treat our fellow human beings, who want nothing more than an opportunity to work hard and earn an honest salary for themselves and their families.

For the purposes of advocacy, I will be releasing this letter to the online media.

Best Regards
Andy Wong

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