June 28, 2017

Authors Posts by Johannes Tjendro

Johannes Tjendro

Johannes Tjendro

by Johannes Tjendro

CAN we really believe everything we see on the Internet? The answer is obviously “no”. In practice though, it is not always clear what is fake and what is real.

Here are some recent examples we have found of news that made rounds on social media and messaging apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Guess which one is true and which one is false:

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1. Satay made of dog and cat meats at Bazaar Ramadhan 2017


2. No cash issued from your CPF after your death


3. $200 fine if you throw tissue “into bowl, on plate, or cup” 


Be careful if you thought any of them were true – they are all fake. But you are not alone if you could not tell that they were false.

According to a poll by the G, “around two-thirds [of Singaporeans] could not recognise fake news when they first saw it. And only around half are confident of their own ability to recognise fake news,” said Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K. Shanmugam earlier at a conference today (June 19). The two-day conference on fake news co-organised by The Straits Time opened this morning.

This warrants our concern, given that as many as “around 75 per cent of Singaporeans came across fake news at least occasionally”, and of the 75 per cent, a third of them “came across fake news frequently”.  Around 25 per cent also “shared information they later discovered to be false”, said Mr Shanmugam. Facebook and WhatsApp are cited as the platforms where people most often chanced upon fake news.

The Minister pointed out that these findings followed upon an increasingly worrying global trend of fake news spreading on the web, and a public that is not sufficiently discerning in their social media consumption (and production via sharing). This trend, dubbed “the rapid spread of misinformation online”, was identified by the World Economic Forum in 2014 as the top tenth trend in terms of global significance.

Significantly, one of the biggest fake news that has ever broken in Singapore was the hoax on the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It happened on March 18, 2015, when a Singaporean student created a fake copy of a government website and posted a false announcement that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. Mr Lee died five days later.

Minister Shanmugam highlighted that “established news outlets like CNN and China’s CCTV fell for the hoax”. He also added that while “the news outlets did not intend to misinform… unintentional fake news can cause harm too”.


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by Johannes Tjendro 

IS 38 Oxley road just a private residence or something more? Many people, including the G, think there is more to the house than just the place where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived.

But many of us, it seems, are late in realising the significance of the house. Last year a thesis paper written by a then-graduate student at Columbia University, Ms Cherie-Nicole Leo, looked into the importance of the house and what it means for Singapore. We found this thesis publicly available online and thought that it was worth summarising. Here are 10 things we learnt.

1. The house isn’t just about Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It’s about colonial history and the foundation of his party.

The late Mr Lee moved into the colonial bungalow, which is now over a century old, at the end of the second World War with his mother. The house was originally built by a Jewish merchant and later occupied by Japanese forces. After the war, it came under the control of the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, who rented it to Mr Lee for 80 Straits dollars a month.

The dining room in the basement of the house is an especially significant place, since it was where early People’s Action Party (PAP) members came up with the signature lightning logo and the party manifesto. Despite the presence of an official Prime Minister residence within the Istana, Mr Lee chose to live at 38 Oxley Road for over seventy years.

2. It’s also a key narrative in PM Lee’s upbringing and political career

One of the key reasons Mr Lee Kuan Yew chose to stay put was that he wanted to give his children as normal a childhood as possible. As reported in a 2015 article by The Straits Times (Mar 24), he did not want to give the three children “a false sense of life”, and hence had them grow up in the family home.

PM Lee also witnessed key political developments at 38 Oxley Road. During the 1955 election, postmen, union leaders and the founding members of the PAP would sit at the verandah dealing with “Vote for PAP” election bills, as documented in the book “Men in White”. In his eulogy to his father, PM Lee described feeling “excited by the hubbub at Oxley Road” when the house served as an election office during voting seasons.

3. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has publicly expressed hopes for the demolition since 2011

According to Ms Leo, the seemingly earliest documented instance of Mr Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling for the demolition of 38 Oxley Road was in 2011, during an interview with journalists from The Straits Times for the book “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”. The issue came up when he was pressed on his thriftiness.

The then Minister Mentor revealed that he had owned the jacket he was wearing for over 15 years. When questioned on why the house had not been renovated or upgraded, he then volunteered that he had told the Cabinet to demolish it after his passing.

4. There are competing “values” in deciding whether to preserve the house

As Ms Leo noted at the start of her paper, the question of whether to preserve 38 Oxley Road is “emblematic of the difficult task facing heritage decision-makers, where there exists a multifaceted group of stakeholders who present competing, conflicting, or contradictory values, interests and positions”.

As illustrated in her diagram above, the house carries significance in the historic, social, symbolic, architectural and political regards. In the economic sense, it may go both ways. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, ever the pragmatist, was particularly concerned that it might be costly to upkeep a house with no foundation. He also noted that demolishing the house would probably raise the property value of his neighbours’ houses, and ease restrictions on how much they could build.

5. Taken at face value, LKY’s Will may seem incongruous with the principles that he himself espoused

In line with Singapore’s first national shared value of “nation before community, and society above self,” many stakeholders have argued that preserving 38 Oxley Road “is a matter of national interest that should take precedence over an individual wish for its demolition. The quandary here, though, is that this wish to demolish the house was put forth by the very person whose association forms the basis of those [same] values, which warrants its” preservation for future generations.

Thus, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish to demolish the house may seem “out of character with his longstanding political mantra and the country’s foremost shared value of putting nation and society above self.” As Boston Globe journalist, Neil Swidey, wrote, “Lee’s demolition demand put his prime-minister-son in a jam, since it contradicts the founding father’s longstanding premise that Singaporeans should think of the state first and themselves second. Following Lee’s death, even the dutiful Strait Times [sic] quoted preservation specialists arguing that the greater good would be served by denying Lee’s last wish.” (Jun 20, 2015)

6. But upon closer look, his Will – while personal in nature – might not have been self-serving, as it was aimed at serving the collective national interest

It has become clear that his Will, while it may be seen as having “certain individual interests, is not totally self-serving after all; besides a concern for privacy, which may be seen as the most personal of his interests, Mr Lee Kuan Yew also requested the demolition of his house based on the fact that it could save public spending on renovating or maintaining it, and more importantly, that it would free up a prime downtown area for economic growth and progress.”

Ms Leo added: “Thus, even if Lee Kuan Yew’s will is, in a literal sense, an individual private wish, the underlying interests for his position on demolishing the house may equally be aimed at serving the collective national interest.”

“Just as other stakeholders argue for the preservation of the house to transfer the value narratives comprising associational, heritage tourism and branding, educational, and nation-building values to future generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s economic arguments constitute a value narrative rooted in pragmatism that similarly works toward a future public good, albeit a different vision of what that might be.” She elaborated.

7. There are indications he may have been open to a “surrogate” memorial

In an interview with The Straits Times (2011), Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously said of his desire for the house to be demolished: “I don’t think my daughter or wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past.”

In bringing up the concept of photos, Ms Leo notes that Mr Lee Kuan Yew may have been open to documentations and “surrogate” memorialising of the house and its history. She adds that policymakers may then strike a balance between Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s desire to demolish and the public interest in preserving the house, by working on more elaborate “surrogate” memorials.

As she writes: “While Lee Kuan Yew was strongly against personal hero-worship, he was not averse to the creation of a memorial that would honor the contributions of the team of founding figures and most importantly, the values upon which they built and governed the country.”

In his parliamentary address on Apr 13, 2015, PM Lee announced the formation of a Founders’ Memorial Committee to look at the idea of building a memorial commemorating the country’s founding fathers. He emphasised that it “need not be a grand structure” but should be “a place where we and future generations can remember a key period i n our history, reflect on the ideals of our founding fathers, and pledge to continue their work of nation-building”.

8. The outcome of reconciling the competing values has been falsely framed as a demolish vs. preserve dichotomy

This dichotomy can be seen as two different ways of protecting Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy: (1) preserving physical association with Mr Lee vs. (2) forwarding pragmatic values associated with Mr Lee:

For preservation – Mr Lee Kuan Yew lived here and this is where history was made, where the nation was born. Its association to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and related historic events bring about numerous values to the site, which should be preserved.

For demolition – Pragmatism and progress over sentiment, which does not rely on or militates against that association for its transmission to the future. Instead, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is preserved differently as forwarding different values that are ingrained in a pragmatic outlook on progress. Centred on maximising land value and economic growth, this approach relies largely on redevelopment of the 38 Oxley Road site rather than the preservation of its history.

9. A possible outcome – and the most effective in reconciling competing values – is the middle way of redevelopment with some form of preservation

Four physical scenarios:

  1. House remains on site and is preserved on site
  2. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation on site
  3. Redevelopment of the site with some form of preservation out of site
  4. Redevelopment with no preservation on site or out of site

The first three physical scenarios include some form of preservation and the last three include the redevelopment of the site. Scenarios 2 and 3 are therefore possible options where two goals of preservation and redevelopment overlap.

The values of the site “may be transmitted to future generations in a variety of ways that do not necessarily rely on the preservation of all or any of 38 Oxley Road’s physical attributes. Thus, an informed decision must look beyond these attributes in order to determine how these values are really spatialised in potential outcomes”.

From the above diagram, “it is evident that the most extreme physical scenario groupings had the fewest potential outcomes, while the two groupings in the middle had many more options. This immediately reveals how much potential for compromise is lost when the 38 Oxley Road case is framed as a dichotomy between preserve-versus-demolish positions as opposed to a spectrum of possibilities.”

Ms Leo further elucidated on the fact that “the options that capture the most values and most effectively negotiate between the competing value narratives are those which fall in the middle categories”. She said that “it is right between the two hybrid scenarios that the most creative and comprehensive combinations can be reached, through a redevelopment of the site with some form of” preservation occurring on site and out of site.

10. Such a compromise had been suggested before – reproduced here:

“I propose that historians and academics [A] properly document and catalogue all the items in the house. The ones of historic value should be [B] placed in a museum. Then, I propose that [C] the entire basement – which had the most historical significance due to the founding of the PAP – be recreated in the museum with the original furniture and fittings. Once that has been done, [D] the house can be demolished, and the site should be converted into a park, called the Lee Kuan Yew Memorial Park.

“This proposal will ensure that (1) the historical value is preserved and can be taught to future generations in the museum; (2) his wishes to destroy the house are respected, and (3) the address 38 Oxley Road will not be used for any other occupant and will be a place of national remembrance.”*

*This was written anonymously on the online Dialectic Forum in 2015.

In other words, in this proposal, historic associations will be upheld, while being in line with the pragmatic impulse of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will.


Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Johannes Tjendro

WHEN I read about the $10,000 super-interns in The Business Times (May 22), I decided to chat up an ex-super-intern friend, who had an eight-month stint at a foreign investment bank, to see how he was doing. As he had just graduated and landed a full-time job in investment banking, I asked him if he was ready for the “high life”. To this, he replied emphatically: “Not high life bro, no life…” He said he was making the most out of his vacation time before starting work this week.

Why do students take on internships? The most important reason is probably to “test-drive” a career. Do I have the talent and temperaments for it? Will I fit into the culture of the industry? Am I truly passionate about the work? What skills do I need to acquire before graduating?

Notice how money is nowhere in my list of questions. Not that money is not important, but borrowing what another friend said: “I’m not interested in earning extravagant amount of money or living an extravagant life. I’m more interested in finding a career and an industry that suit and interest me. If it pays well, then that’s a bonus.”

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It is not without reason that super-interns are so highly paid. Super-interns are reported to be putting in long hours at work (one person cited 6.30am – 9pm as his regular working hours in the Business Times report), often staying back late in the office to prepare reports beyond what their job scope requires.

They are expected to take on roles performed by full-timers, ranging from “executing client mandates to financial analyses and modelling”. In fact, my ex-super-intern friend told me that some of the full-timers have better lives than the interns.

Daunting as the work sounds, the money does sound pretty good. Assuming a three-month stint billed at $10,000 per month, a super-intern would earn a jaw-dropping amount of $30,000 in a typical “summer” holiday. “Summer” is what today’s university students call the mid-year holiday between May and July.

But I realised I wouldn’t know what to do with $30,000 except to use it to pay back my study loan. Perhaps I am not made for the “high life”. But then again, I am not a super-intern and have never been offered the opportunity to become one.

As a TMG intern, I work regular 9-to-6 working hours. Sometimes, when an article needs to be published the following day, I would continue working on it at home after working hours. Otherwise, I would be out catching up with friends or attending to my voluntary work in church.

Although I have only been working at TMG for slightly more than a week, I have begun to recognise that I do enjoy writing and editing. In the past week, I encountered many different types of people, especially on social media. I am learning to understand other perspectives and appreciate the fact that I have my own biases.

I have also been trying to “unlearn” the often complex academic style of writing that I have been using in the past three years. I need to consciously write for the general audience that make up the bulk of TMG readers. “Write simply, but not simplistically”, as Bertha would say.

Most of all, I enjoy the friendly company of the other TMG interns and full-time colleagues, who have been extremely helpful in getting me familiarised with the idiosyncrasies of our journalistic work.

Personal experience aside, perhaps it is fair to ask whether the salary is commensurate with the work that interns do. Most interns in Singapore, including myself, are reported to get between $600 and $1,000 per month. This is, for me, a fair amount that adds on to the rewarding experience that I have described above. Still, it is a small fraction of what super-interns get.

But I suppose the difference is logical: Super-interns usually work in the financial sector. When you are in the business of making money for other people, it makes sense to have greater emphasis on financial reward.

Does this mean, then, that super-interns are destined for greatness apart from the rest of us? I think not.

One of the things that attracted me to TMG is in the name. As Aristotle once said, and I paraphrase, good things come in the middle.

After all, what is the point of living the “high life” if you don’t even have a life?


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Johannes Tjendro

THE notable thing about Mr M Ravi’s application that the recent amendment to the Elected Presidency (EP) scheme is unconstitutional is that not a single Member of Parliament (MP) raised this point during the two-day debate. Presumably, since they were sitting to discuss changing the Constitution, the thought did not enter their minds.

The closest that anyone got to was Workers’ Party’s Ms Sylvia Lim’s opinion that Parliament should not “arrogate to itself the right to decide such fundamental matters concerning the political system and state power” (Hansard 8 Nov 2016). She further suggested that the constitutional amendment on the Elected Presidency be put to a national referendum instead. She did not, however, provide a clear legal basis as to why a national referendum would make a more appropriate platform than Parliament.

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The Challenge

In a Facebook post dated May 22, Mr Ravi summed up his challenge as claiming that the amended EP scheme deprives citizens of their right to stand for public office. As a matter of fact, Section 45(1) of the Constitution does stipulate categories of people who are disqualified from running for office, such as those who are “declared to be of unsound mind”, “undischarged bankrupts”, or have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year or more, or not less than $2,000.

But Mr Ravi also added that the amended EP scheme discriminates specifically on the ground of ethnicity. He is convinced that this renders the EP scheme amendment unconstitutional.

This places Mr Ravi’s challenge to the amended EP scheme in much broader terms than Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s challenge. Dr Tan objects to the Government’s counting of the five presidential terms that is needed to trigger a reserved election. He contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first elected president, in 1993, rather than from the term of Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency. He was in office when the elected presidency took effect in 1991.

Mr Ravi contends that the reserved presidential election violates Article 12 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination against Singapore citizens on the ground “of religion, race, descent, or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority”.

However, the EP amendment makes it clear in Section 19B(5) that a reserved election cannot be struck down “on the ground of inconsistency with Article 12”. Furthermore, Article 12 provides for exceptions so long as they are “expressly authorised by this Constitution”.

Hence, it does seem that the amended Elected Presidency is precluded from any constitutional challenge. Mr Ravi himself acknowledged this in a live video on Facebook yesterday (May 23): “I know they made one amendment in the Constitution… to exclude the judicial challenge on this.”

When TMG asked him about this, he said that he would address it in his court submission.

The Basic Structure Doctrine: Is Parliament above the Constitution?

Mr Ravi also evoked the Basic Structure Doctrine, which originated from a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that no constitutional amendment should “destroy the basic structure of the constitution”, with the help of Prof Andrew Harding of National University of Singapore (NUS), who is “a leading scholar in the fields of Asian legal studies and comparative constitutional law”.

It is noteworthy that the first articulation of the Basic Structure Doctrine in Singapore was rejected by the Singapore High Court in Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs [1989].

In 1987, Ms Teo was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), but was subsequently released following a successful judicial review in the Court of Appeal. She was then served with a new detention order signed by the President. A month later, Parliament enacted amendments to the Constitution and ISA. Ms Teo’s counsel argued that the Parliament had retrospectively usurped “judicial power exclusively vested in the judiciary, in breach of the separation of powers”.

Justice F.A. Chua ruled that, on the contrary, if Courts had the power to impose limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, they would be “usurping Parliament’s legislative function contrary to Article 58 of the Constitution”. He further held that since Parliament gave the constitution, Parliament could also take it back.

Nevertheless, in 2012, the then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong delivered a lecture where he conveyed his belief that the Basic Structure Doctrine does apply to the Singapore Constitution. In his notion of the basic structure of the Constitution, he specifically included judicial power and the exercise thereof through judicial review, which is the means by which the courts check the illegality of legislative or executive acts.

Finally, while the High Court is bound by decisions made by the Court of Appeal, a High Court judge is not bound by decisions made by other High Court judges. On this note, he pointed out that the Court of Appeal, which upheld Justice Chua’s ruling, had declined to decide whether the High Court was correct to hold the basic structure doctrine inapplicable.

Ravi’s rant: A puppet President?

Mr Ravi went live on Facebook yesterday (May 23) to talk about his constitutional challenge against the EP scheme. Although his application was that it was unconstitutional for the presidential election to take into account race, he also lambasted other criteria for being unmeritocratic. He said that these criteria include being “wealthy” and having “$500 million or so”, being “well-connected”, and “being in certain institutions”.

He was perhaps referring to the private sector service requirement that says that presidential candidates must have served as the chief executive officer of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity for a minimum of three years. Alternatively, presidential candidates must fulfill the public sector service requirement.

He also veered into other matters such as the President being “a puppetry role”, especially judged by the fact that the President does not actually have the power to pardon death penalty cases. He recounted that he challenged this in court in 2010 only to find out that the President only has the said power “in theory”, but “in practice, it is actually the cabinet (who has it)”.

In October 2016, Mr Ravi was barred from applying for a practising certificate for two years by the Court of Three Judges — comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang. The judges said that Mr Ravi, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, had conducted himself “deplorably in relation to the judiciary, his clients and the profession as a whole”, including making “baseless, racially-charged allegations”.

Meanwhile, the hearing for Dr Tan’s challenge will likely be held in June, reported The Straits Times.


Featured image from Mr M Ravi’s Facebook page.

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