JBJ: I will continue the fight
- Commentary: Mellanie Hewlitt
Date: 9 April 2003
A second look at the bogus trial racked up to systematically destroy legitimate opposition.
However, the spunky J B Jeyaretnam has emerged stronger and better from this ordeal. "What does not kill us, makes us stronger".
J B Jeyaretnam - the use of defamation suits for political purposes
Following the recent award of libel damages against opposition Workers' Party leader J B Jeyaretnam Amnesty International is increasingly concerned about the Singapore leadership's use of civil defamation suits for political purposes.
Amnesty International believes the Singapore leadership's decision to launch defamation actions against Jeyaretnam in order to 'defend their reputations and maintain the respect of the electorate' is both unreasonable and unnecessary. The leadership's action, and the decision of the court, place restrictions on freedom of expression that cannot be justified under international standards. Outside of Singapore, in a society respectful of these standards, Jeyaretnam's allegedly defamatory words would not have excited comment - let alone prompted actions of this kind.
Amnesty International questions why Jeyaretnam's case was ever brought to court. The organisation believes that Singapore's leaders are in fact resorting to defamation suits as a politically-motivated tactic to silence critical views and curb opposition
The case originated in a few innocuous words spoken by Jeyaretnam at the end of an election rally in January 1997. Interrupted during his speech by fellow parliamentary candidate Tang Liang Hong placing documents on the podium in front of him Jeyaretnam briefly stated, ''And finally, Mr Tang Liang Hong has just placed before me two reports he has made to police against, you know, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his people''.
The Prime Minister chose to impute a defamatory meaning to these words, and demanded S$200,000 damages for alleged grave injuries to his 'reputation, moral authority and leadership standing both locally and internationally'. However during the subsequent court hearings the Prime Minister affirmed that his integrity and political standing had not in fact been injured. Asked if his standing as leader had been injured in the world, the Prime Minister replied ''No''.
The Prime Minister also chose to release to the press the previously unpublicised contents of the police reports - in which Tang had claimed Goh criminally defamed him by labelling him an 'anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist' - thereby ensuring the wide dissemination of both the reports and Jeyaretnam's allegedly defamatory words. In his claim for damages the Prime Minister did not mention that he had effected the publication of the reports.
What then was the reason in bringing the action? The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) government, which has been in office since 1959 and continues to enjoy an overwhelming parliamentary majority, argues that such defamation suits are a legitimate and necessary means to uphold the integrity of its leaders - on which they claim their ability to govern depends. The government asserts also that the potential fragility of Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society makes it necessary to curb the individual rights of political opponents and others with dissenting opinions through civil defamation actions and through restrictive legislation - including the Internal Security Act (ISA) allowing indefinite detention without charge or trial.
Amnesty International believes that civil defamation suits are being misused by the Executive to intimidate and deter those Singaporeans holding dissenting views. The suits have a 'chilling' effect on Singapore's political life and place unreasonable and unacceptable restrictions on the right of Singaporeans to freely hold and peacefully express their opinions.
Whereas imprisonment of political opponents under the ISA has declined, the Executive's use of civil defamation suits to bankrupt opponents through the courts - and so prevent their participation in public life - constitutes an emerging pattern. In such cases the Singapore Judiciary has not moved to check the Executive's misuse of the law in this way.
In fact the government's resort to civil defamation suits to intimidate and deter those Singaporeans seeking to dissenting views may well have a more subtle and insidious effect than the ISA, in that such suits are not so likely to provoke domestic and
Within this overall context Amnesty International is concerned about some specific aspects of the court Judgement made against Jeyaretnam:
The Judge considered the plain and ordinary meaning of Jeyaretnam's words and rejected Goh's claim that Jeyaretnam was liable for defamation. Nevertheless the Judge went on to find Jeyaretnam liable on the grounds of a lesser defamatory meaning. The fact that the Judge provided the argument of a lesser defamatory meaning offends the concept of natural justice which requires that a defendant must know in advance of a trial the case he has to meet. The defendant was not given the opportunity to defend himself against an argument which was developed almost entirely by the Judge.
The fact that the Judge ruled that the Prime Minister had 'overstated' his case, and awarded a relatively low total of S$20,000 (US$13,000) in damages (as compared to S$1.4 million earlier awarded to Goh and against Tang Liang Hong) does not remove the threat that Jeyaretnam may still face bankruptcy and subsequently be expelled from parliament.
Jeyaretnam was ordered to pay 60% of costs - and the multiplier effect of the awards and costs of seven related cases brought by other senior PAP members may in the end prove financially crippling. The Judge himself questioned why Goh and the seven other PAP plaintiffs chose not to consolidate their cases into one and so reduce costs. In addition, the Prime Minister's decision to appeal the Judgement raises concerns that the financial burdens on Jeyaretnam may be increased still further.
The award against Jeyaretnam consisted of S$10, 000 'compensatory' damages, and S$10.000 'aggravated' damages. The 'compensatory' damages were awarded despite the fact that the Prime Minister accepted that his reputation had remained intact. The Judge found that the Prime Minister did not need to prove actual injury to his reputation. Amnesty International believes it would have been preferable for the Judge to base his conclusion on some evidence of actual damage to reputation. The absence of any criteria against which the award can be measured may open the way for the Singapore Courts to consider rumours and speculation in assessing damages.
There are also concerns that the award for 'aggravated' damages was not sound in law. The Judgement stated that the 'aggravated' damages should be awarded because the defendant was unable to prove his argument that the suit had been motivated by political considerations. The plaintiff's subsequent hurt feelings during the trial therefore justified an award for 'aggravated' damages. Penalizing the defendant for not proving that the trial was politically motivated shifts the burden of proof from the plaintiff
to the defendant, which flies in the face of natural justice.
Amnesty International sent observers to Jeyaretnam's trial in August and to Tang Liang Hong's appeal in September. The observers' findings will form part of a broader report - to be issued after the Court of Appeal rules on the Tang case - examining in more detail the government's real intent in filing such defamation suits, the Judgements, and the wider effects such actions have on freedom of expression and peaceful democratic discourse in Singapore.
Chang Li Lin <lilin@...> on 04/09/2003 08:26:22 AM
6 April 2003
JBJ: I will continue the fight
JBJ and 120 of his supporters and well-wishers
attended his 77th birthday celebrations at the Chengdu
Restaurant. Spotting a red batik shirt, JBJ who for
most of the night was lighting the room with his
1000-watt smile, appeared relaxed and happy. Present
at the dinner were his son Philip Jeyaretnam and
former members of the Workers' Party. Several Think
Centre members were also present headed by its
President Sinapan Samydorai.
The birthday dinner organised by Mr. Ng Teck Siong and
well wishers gave JBJ's supporters an opportunity to
buy his latest book-"The Hatchet Man of Singapore".
The dinner offered a rare opportunity into the insight
of the Jeyaretnam family. Philip, declaring himself
as his father's son to the cheer of the crowd, said
that there were two qualities that he would always
remember his father for. One was his everlasting
compassion and the other his tenacity. Philip said he
would always be proud of his father.
In delivering his speech, JBJ who initially promised
that he would not speak too long could not resist the
temptation. JBJ thanked his supporters for their
presence and he was encouraged that he did not stand
alone. He went on to say that our society has become
greedy and is becoming meaner by the day and that has
to change. JBJ reiterated his belief that the good
life did not only mean having your material need
satisfied but also freedom and dignity guaranteed by
virtue of one being a member of the human race.
In true JBJ style, his parting statement to his
supporters was that there was no intention of him
giving up or relenting in his fight for his belief of
what is right for Singapore. Lions don't eat grass.
Think Centre wishes JBJ a Happy Birthday and thanks
him for tirelessly honouring his democratic duties for
the people of Singapore. Some spirits cannot be
He was elected to parliament in 1981 as the first
non-People's Action Party (PAP) MP since independence
in 1965. In 2001, he lost his parliamentary seat after
being declared a bankrupt for not paying the massive
damages awarded to PAP members in a series of
defamation suits. Due to this, he is also barred from
standing for parliamentary seats in future elections.
Jeyaretnam believes the defamation suits against him
were politically motivated to remove him from
As one observer has said: "So I would say it's time
for the Singaporean government to have an overall
review of the defamation law in Singapore. I think
there should be legal reform to ensure that freedom of
expression is adequately protected," Albert Ho, on
behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission. [AFP,
April 2, 2002]
He could no longer practise law as a brankrupt. At 77
he is forced to sell his books in the streets for his
living. He is no quitter and desires to get into
parliament after paying-off his debts with regards to
the bankruptcy. He needs money to get into parliament.
He deserves a decent birthday. He struggled to deliver
justice for the poor, the discriminated and the
Jeyaretnam challenged the government on a range of
issues including high ministerial salaries and the
role of the judiciary to police methods of
investigation, defamation laws, freedom of the press
and workers' rights.
He is still a champion of human rights.
"The Singaporean government has a history of using
civil defamation suits to stifle political opposition.
defamation suits place unreasonable restrictions on
the right of Singaporeans to peacefully express
their opinions and to participate freely in public
It needs to be recognised that a dissenter is a
citizen with equal rights. When there are doubts, we
should resolve the issue in favour of expression
rather then suppression.
"International law considers a persons' situation in
society when restricting freedom of expression.
The "duties and responsibilities" of a person, as
called in ICCPR Article 19 (3), may differ from person
to person. A person's right to protection against
defamatory or slanderous speech, therefore, must be
analyzed in relation to his societal duties. For
example, in Lingens V. Austria, the European Court of
Human Rights held that a government official accused
of holding an 'accommodating attitude' towards Nazis
had to endure more criticism as a result of his public
position. The court ruled that public figures must
endure more criticism than private persons in order
for public debate, essential in democracy, to properly
function. Defamation laws must honor this
distinction." [Human Rights Brief, Center for Human
Rights and Humanitarian Law, Washington College of
Law, American University, Vol. 6. Issue 3. 1999]
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Comments from sender:
Bureucratic wrangling between two Government Owned and Government Linked entities has led to massive delays and inconvenience.
If ever there was a case to be made for cutting the red tape, and
establishing clear lines of communications between GLCs, this must be it.
And this was not an isolated case, coming weeks after Delgros's claim against
LTA for bungled operations (also featured below).
15,000 homes hit snag getting wired up
by Denesh Divyanathan and Bryan Lee
AN ACRIMONIOUS dispute between SingTel and StarHub Cable Vision (SCV) means that up to 15,000 homes face problems getting wired up for cable television and cable broadband Internet access.
Another 13,000 Housing Board (HDB) flats being upgraded have had to use a make-shift connection which SCV said was untenable in the long run. This also delayed the completion of the upgrading projects.
The drawn-out fracas, which began 11 months ago, involves a deal that is meant to allow SCV to use SingTel's manholes on the street and ducts to run cabling to homes.
But a stand-off over the terms of the deal has escalated to the point where SingTel has appealed to Acting Minister of Information and the Arts, Mr David Lim, against a ruling made by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Yesterday, SingTel said SCV could provide its own cabling infrastructure, but SCV said that was against the intent of the deal and would cause public inconvenience from building works and extra costs to consumers.
As SingTel and SCV blame each other, in tersely-worded statements, for the lengthy delay, thousands of new homes are missing out on cable TV and cable Internet access at a time when many people are spending more leisure time at home.
More than 10,000 flats in new HDB estates and at least 5,000 homes in private condominiums and landed estates have been unable to subscribe to cable TV or cable modem services, SCV said.
One affected resident, Mr Michael Morris, who lives in a private colonial house in Seletar camp, said he had missed out on watching major sporting events such as last year's World Cup football. 'I am surprised that in a country like Singapore, which prides itself on the speed of its bureaucratic and legal processes...that there hasn't been a much faster resolution to this.'
Some property developers told The Straits Times they have incurred extra costs to install temporary connections for recently completed projects. And with at least 40 private residential developments due to be completed this year, they worry the dispute will result in delays and extra cost.
Developers contacted declined to reveal which projects have been hit on concerns that publicity over cable installation problems will deter buyers and hit property values.
But sources say affected developments include Newton 18 off Newton Road, Forest Hills in Sembawang and Papillon in Balestier as well as parts of new HDB estates such as Sengkang, Punggol and Woodlands.
According to StarHub, the crux of the dispute lies in a 'unilateral decision' by SingTel on May 22 to change the terms for SCV obtaining access to SingTel's manholes.
StarHub spokesman Jeannie Ong said: 'SingTel's new terms, imposed on SCV in May last year, effectively gave SingTel full scope to delay, block and generally frustrate the completion of SCV's cabling into new residential buildings.'
StarHub said things began to unravel when SCV, then Singapore Cable Vision, began offering cable modem services in 1998. SingTel had then decided to increase the network lease costs and demanded a new deal with different terms as SCV was now competing with SingTel in the Internet broadband arena.
Negotiations became more difficult when StarHub and SCV began talks on a merger. 'Indeed, this delayed the merger by nine months,' Ms Ong said.
SingTel and SCV reached a new agreement last April at a higher cost to SCV. But on May 22, one week after StarHub announced its merger with SCV, SingTel notified SCV of its new terms, StarHub said. And that was when it began to get difficult for new homes to be wired up to SCV's cable network.
SCV then raised the issue with the IDA in June. And while the IDA mulled over it, The Straits Times understands that StarHub chief executive Terry Clontz wrote a personal letter late last year to his SingTel counterpart Lee Hsien Yang, urging a change of heart.
On Feb 11, the IDA issued its decision. Although it would not reveal the decision in detail, SCV said it 'had the effect of reinstating the status quo we had requested'.
SingTel then lodged an appeal on Feb 25 with the Minister. A decision is pending.
When contacted, SingTel said it will not argue its case in the media as it is under review by the minister. It was 'most unfortunate' SCV had disputed certain terms of the agreement, it said.
SingTel spokesman Chia Boon Chong said 'it is important to note that SCV is not mandated, obligated or required to buy the services covered by the agreement from SingTel' and could provide the cabling facilities itself.
StarHub replied: 'The clear intent of the lease of SingTel's facilities was to avoid duplicating the incumbent's network. This would only have created unnecessary and extensive public inconvenience in trenching and road works, multiplied costs to consumers and rendered services totally uncompetitive.'
Date: Wed Mar 12, 2003 9:48 pm
Subject: STI News: LRT's runaway losses - up to $3m a year & LTA may face $4m claims
Comments from sender:
Latest debacle at LRT is just one of the many cases which cast increasing
doubts about the viability of State on Entities, and the transprency and
accountability issues surrounding management of public funds.
See also recent foul-ups by LTA per below;
Canned bus-time project: LTA may face $4m claims
by Karamjit Kaur
SINGAPORE'S main bus operators have spent an estimated $4 million extra to fix
problems connected with the $40 million bus information system called
traffic.smart that was aborted recently.
These were additional costs incurred to fix problems for a system that SBS
Transit and Trans-Island Bus Services (Tibs) expected to be foolproof, The
Straits Times understands.
Now, the bus operators, both public-listed companies, are said to be planning
to claim that money back from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which
cancelled the project last week.
SBS and Tibs would neither confirm nor deny this when contacted.
They would say only that they were discussing the implications of the
project's cancellation with the LTA.
The LTA was equally tight-lipped. It would say only that it was in discussions
with the bus operators as well as Stratech Systems.
Stratech is the IT systems and technology developer that had won the contract
to design and develop the $40.3 million radio communication system according to
the LTA's requirements and specifications.
Work started in October 2000.
The LTA was to bear the initial capital costs for traffic.smart, while SBS and
Tibs would split the maintenance bill between them.
That bill, apparently, would have topped $4 million a year.
SBS and Tibs would also develop their own satellite systems to track their
fleets, which would later be integrated with the radio communication system.
Then it all began falling apart.
SBS and Tibs had designed their systems to track buses on the road every 25
But traffic.smart required tracking to be done every 5 secs.
So SBS and Tibs had to modify their systems.
A software program that was supposed to transmit data on bus locations to
control centres at the LTA, SBS and Tibs also caused problems.
The data was supposed to be processed and disseminated practically the instant
it arrived. But there was a time lag.
That meant the bus companies had to modify their systems again.
Neither would put on record how much they spent to do so, but SBS is believed
to have spent more than $2 million, and Tibs, more than $1 million.
LRT's runaway losses - up to $3m a year
by Alexis Hooi
THE operator of the Bukit Panjang Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line has been
losing about $2 million to $3 million a year even with cost-saving measures in
place, and it could go further into the red.
Singapore MRT (SMRT) president and chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa said
yesterday that the most senior SMRT staff had been deployed to help the
problem-stricken Singapore LRT (SLRT) work its way out of trouble.
Speaking at an awards presentation at its North Bridge Road headquarters, the
48-year-old SMRT chief, who took over last December, said: 'We've thrown in so
much staff, money, anything you can think of, to make it work.'
She said running the loss-making SLRT has been a public service more than
'As an organisation, we've tried our very best to make the system work for the
people. We've spared no expense, to the extent that we are losing millions of
dollars every year.
'If we don't contain the costs, next year it could be $5 million and the year
after that could be $10 million. I mean, it's ridiculous.'
In January, the SLRT system, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SMRT, was given six
months to set its house in order by Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief Han
Eng Juan, after a breakdown in October halted train services for five days.
Since it started operating in November 1999, the 14-station line which links
Bukit Panjang New Town to the MRT system at Choa Chu Kang, has broken down
about 50 times.
While the initial problems had more to do with the train system's design,
later disruptions were more maintenance-related, including poor supervision,
LTA had said.
Yesterday, Madam Saw acknowledged: 'The SLRT has not been a very good example
of performance. I didn't build the system, but it's there and we have to
And the three-year-old Bukit Panjang system continued its run of breakdowns on
Monday afternoon when services had to be suspended twice because of a power
failure, and a third time because of a train's brake problems.
Aside from its subsidiary's woes, Madam Saw said SMRT was right on track,
despite last week's freak accident when a car smashed through a fence along
Lentor Avenue and landed on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train.
A comprehensive review of the entire MRT system to improve safety is in place
and a decision to build stronger barricades to protect train tracks will be
made in about three weeks' time by the LTA.
Madam Saw is also going ahead with her plans to make SMRT a
The staff of 11 MRT stations were recognised for their good work at
yesterday's awards presentation. They were chosen partly from the results of a
public survey of 20,000 passengers in December last year.
The survey looked into customer satisfaction, equipment and facilities,
housekeeping standards and the number of commendations or complaints received.
Yishun MRT station clinched the best station award for last year.
Madam Saw said: 'While there are many areas of improvement, our target is one
million happy customers a day.'