March 27, 2017

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Black clock showing 8.30.

A GRAINY picture of an alleged Kim Jong Nam assassin has emerged. She sports a top that says “LOL” and was caught on camera at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

Malaysian authorities say that they have arrested a 28-year-old woman with a Vietnamese passport over the assassination of North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, and are still looking for four men and one woman. It is unclear if the woman arrested is the one on the camera footage.

Then North Korean officials tried to block the autopsy of the late Mr Kim. They wanted to claim the body to be repatriated to North Korea but Malaysia would have none of it, although they did not say whether they would send the body to Mr Kim’s family, who are in Macau.

Fatal accidents have fallen in 2016 in all categories except those involving the elderly, says the annual Road Traffic Situation report. Accidents involving elderly pedestrians shot up by 19.6 per cent, and elderly pedestrian fatalities were up by 21.7 per cent, with 16 of the 28 deaths happening while they were jaywalking.

Speeding violations fell by 7.8 per cent to 172,192 last year and speed-related accidents fell 10.4 per cent to 1,081. But the Traffic Police want to do more: New Average Speed Cameras that track a vehicle’s speed over a stretch of up to 5km will be deployed on Singapore’s roads to “shape” driver behaviour.

PM Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in on the Syonan Gallery naming spat, saying that “we cannot erase our history or bury the past” and that the gallery was a “reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”

Signs in front of the building have been modified to show the full name of the exhibit, which is Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies.

Does the name ruffle feathers? Sure it does. That’s the point, isn’t it? To be constantly reminded and constantly uncomfortable with a dark spot in our past so that we take pains to avoid it in the future. Does it honour or commemorate the Japanese Occupation? Hardly.

Perhaps critics of the gallery name should go to hell, by which we mean another in-your-face exhibit – at Haw Par Villa. That exhibit, though also “offensively” named is certainly not a tribute to hell, but a warning against reckless behaviour and a pointer to good living. Don’t believe? Just ask your grandmother.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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skillsfuture_300x250

Man in a purple shirt sitter and pondering while two businessmen walk by, at the CBD.

by Wan Ting Koh

IT’S all about workers’ rights early this year, with a few prominent cases making headlines and even into Parliament. The issues all revolve around what is fair for an employee – whether it concerns his or her termination, taking sick leave, or even whether he or she is getting paid.

In Parliament this afternoon (Feb 7), MP Tan Wu Meng asked for updates on the Surbana Jurong terminations, with NCMP Daniel Goh following up on what constitutes due and fair process in dismissing employees due to poor performance, and how employees can seek redress.

Surbana Jurong, a Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy, came under the spotlight last month for terminating 54 of its employees, a practice which it said was part of a performance review. The lay-offs raised concerns that the company was retrenching workers under the banner of poor performance so that it wouldn’t have to pay additional compensation to its employees.

Surbana has insisted that the terminations were not a retrenchment exercise. Its chief executive Wong Heang Fine sent an email to staff following news of the terminations, informing them that the company “cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation”.

“We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing,” he said in the email.

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After their dismissal, terminated employees took the issue to two unions, the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union, and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Surbana later acknowledged in a joint statement with the unions that the process “could have been better managed”. It added that it would work closely with the unions to provide an “equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement” for the affected workers and to help them find new jobs.

When asked for an update on the Surbana case, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say said that the company and unions have reached a “fair settlement” of ex gratia payments. This means that Surbana will pay a sum of money to affected workers even though there is no obligation for it. Mr Lim added that Surbana’s mass termination and then public labelling of the employees as poor performers were “unacceptable”.

There may be other factors such as working environment and HR practices, said Mr Lim, adding that a poor performance in one company doesn’t mean it will be the same for the next company.

Mr Lim said that companies dismissing employees over poor performance have to substantiate their claim with documented evidence. “If the employer cannot substantiate, he may be ordered to reinstate the employee or pay compensation,” said Mr Lim. He added that employees who feel that they’ve been unfairly terminated may approach MOM, which will ask the companies for proof.

Being prematurely dismissed is one matter. What if you’re not being paid your salary?

 

Salary issues

Some 6,000 salary non-payment and short payment cases were lodged by employees last year and in 2015. Mr Lim gave the breakdown of cases in a written answer to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s parliamentary question last month about how many such cases had been referred to the Labour Court.

Of the 3,000 cases referred, 1,400 cases had the Labour Court issuing court orders in favour of employees. Out of these, 800 cases saw employees being paid within 14 days while 250 cases had employees who were paid after 14 days. A total of 350 cases were defaulted as the 200 companies involved were in financial straits or had ceased operations.

Some 25 employers were charged in court for more egregious offences each year for the past two years, Mr Lim added. These charges may include failure to pay salaries on time, or not paying a dismissed employee within three days of termination, and each charge carries a fine of not more than $15,000, or a jail term not exceeding six months, or both.

 

Sick leave entitlement

Employers are expected to excuse employees with sick leave or hospitalisation leave from work too. MOM called these “basic protections” after several Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees claimed that taking sick leave would affect their chances of promotion. Their allegations came after SIA stewardess, Ms Vanessa Yeap, 38, was found dead in a San Francisco hotel room on Jan 31 (United States time). She was reportedly ill two days before her death.

According to crew members interviewed by ST, every employee has 10 incentive points each year and these are docked when the employee submit medical certificates for common illnesses. All points are lost when the member of the staff accumulates 12 medical certificates.

Points are considered in the staff’s annual appraisals, though they account for less than 5 per cent of the weightage.

When contacted by ST, SIA said that operating with a medical certificate is a disciplinary lapse. It declined to say how it measured performance of its staff, but said that it takes into account many other factors apart from crew attendance.

It said: “As with all other businesses, employee productivity and attendance at work are important for a successful airline operation. Although crew attendance is a component in the performance management process, we would like to emphasise that crew performance is measured across many other factors.”

In response to concerns, MOM issued a statement yesterday saying it expects all employers to excuse their employees from work if they have a medical certificate.

It added: “Paid sick and hospitalisation leave is a basic protection under the Employment Act and is also a core benefit in collective agreements… employers should avoid penalising an employee solely based on his consumption of sick leave.”

According to ST, MOM is in touch with the SIA Staff Union and SIA’s management over the issue.

Under the law, employees with three months of service get five days of sick leave and 15 days of hospitalisation leave.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

IF THE changes to the Town Council Act which were introduced in Parliament yesterday had already been in place, the Workers’ Party would be in deep trouble.

Among other changes, managing agents will be barred from taking on key positions in their town councils. If you recall, a husband and wife team of managing agents also held executive positions in the WP-held Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). Town councils would also have to keep a register of conflicts of interest by staff – or face fines.

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Then there is the issue of when town councils should submit their annual audited financial statements. AHPETC had been tardy on at least four occasions. Under the changes, it would have to be done within six months from the end of the financial year.

The number of sanctions which attract penalties has gone up from three to another nine. The current Act imposes fines for failure to provide information to an auditor, misuse of sinking and operating funds, and flouting rules relating to the Lift Upgrading Programme. Now they extend to a whole lot of areas, including not co-operating with G officials empowered to enforce compliance.

The Bill goes into great detail on the powers of such appointed inspectors. It makes it plain that town councillors have to respond to inspectors’ request for answers, documents, equipment and to allow them to enter premises. Anyone who suppresses information or makes false statements “shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both”. There is no longer any town council cover for individuals. There will be “personal liability” if individuals are found to have been involved in the commission of any offence.

The Bill also touches on when and how the G can decide to move in to “officially manage” a town council. This marks a change from past statements that the G wouldn’t bail out town councils which are in trouble. In this sense, it is rather like the Charities Act where the Charities Commissioner can move in to manage a troubled charity for a certain period of time.

We can expect fireworks when the second reading of the Bill is up for debate in Parliament.

 

Read more about the Town Council Act here: Cleaning up the Town Council Act. It’s about time!

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

KILLER-COP Iskandar Rahmat will hang after all. Unless the President grants him clemency, which will happen when the moon turns green. He has been convicted of murder, not manslaughter or some other charge which involves killing people but doesn’t quite amount to murder.

Now, if you thought that murder had to be pre-planned and thought through before the deed is done, you’re wrong. The idea “can be formed on the spur of the moment, just before the actual killing takes place”.

That’s what the Supreme Court ruled when Mr Wendell Wong appealed against the judgment. Of course, it would be better if there was clear evidence of planning, like how Iskandar came ready with a knife to kill Tan Boon Sin. But, if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he had the intention to kill at the time of the killing, it’s murder.

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Now this is a tough call because the only one who can answer the question would be the killer himself since the dead cannot speak. He’s not likely to say stuff that would send him to the gallows.

In fact, Iskandar argued that he only intended to “rob and run” and that he acted in self-defence because the father and son had attacked him. The elder, because he found out that he had been tricked into taking $600,000 worth of valuables from his safe-deposit box, and the younger, who came charging at Iskandar when he got home.

Except that it wasn’t clear if the elder man knew that he had been tricked at all. He had been co-operative about being part of the supposed sting operation which Iskandar cooked up. Plus, he was a 67-year old with a knee problem and Iskandar, 34, could have run away quite easily if attacked.

Then there were the 23 stab wounds mainly to his face, neck and chest. The “overwhelming number and severity of the wounds” showed that Rahmat had “an intention to cause death”.

As for the younger man, his attitude wasn’t that of a man who was rushing home to disarm an imposter. He walked out of his office with the expectation of returning to work, going by what his colleagues said. The court said he was probably going home to help his father, who was not fluent in English, make a police statement.

He reacted when he saw Iskandar with his father’s limp body. Iskandar said he merely wanted to get away and didn’t realise the knife was in his hand when he swung at the man who was standing between him and the door. But the younger Lee had 17 stab wounds to his face, neck and scalp – “vulnerable” parts of the body, the court pointed out.

“The sheer number of times he had stabbed and cut the man showed that Rahmat must have intended to cause his death,” said the court. Or there would be need for Rahmat to “retaliate with such ferocity and brutality” against a much lighter and unarmed man.

Iskandar tried also to plead diminished responsibility, in the hope that a mental condition would let him get his head out of the noose. But he only brought this up long after his arrest in 2013.  By then, the G psychiatrist had examined him and found him to be clear and lucid. He even stressed that he had no mental problem.

The case is over. Unless the moon turns green. But for the men and women in blue, it’s a big stain on their uniform. May the spot be scrubbed out…

 

TMG covered the Kovan double murder case extensively. Here are our past stories:

  1. Kovan double murders: Trial opens
  2. Kovan double murder: Where’s the murder weapon?
  3. Kovan double murder: Accused takes the stand
  4. The 5 lies of Iskandar (according to the prosecution)
  5. Cop to hang for killing father and son
  6. Kovan double murder: Victims’ family speaks
  7. Kovan Double Murder Appeal: Attack was ‘fierce and ferocious’, says prosecution

 

Featured image Murder’s weapon on the table by Flickr user Maarten Van Damme. (CC BY 2.0

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Photo of clock face with hands pointed to half past eight.

IT ISN’T just one, but three new facts.

They were discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom between Aug 4 last year and Jan 30 this year. They are

a. internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958,

b. an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer and

c. an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.

This was reported in an International Court of Justice press statement issued overnight. Malaysia is using the three documents to challenge the ICJ ruling in 2008 that awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore. It issued a press statement earlier yesterday but didn’t give details.

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According to ICJ, Malaysia claims that these documents establish the new fact that “officials at the highest levels in the British colonial and Singaporean administration appreciated that Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh did not form part of Singapore’s sovereign territory” during the relevant period. Malaysia argues that “the Court would have been bound to reach a different conclusion on the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh had it been aware of this new evidence”.

Why didn’t Malaysia make the points earlier?

ICJ, quoting Malaysia, said the documents were  “only discovered on review of the archival files of the British colonial administration after they were made available to the public by the UK National Archives after the Judgment was rendered in 2008”.

It also said that Malaysia argued that its ignorance of the new fact was not due to negligence as the documents in question were “confidential documents which were inaccessible to the public until their release by the UK National Archives”.

It’s a rather strange turn of phrase.

When exactly were they made accessible? This is important as the ICJ has to decide if the new discovery was made within the last six months to allow the appeal. If the facts had been lying around in the archives for years and was only spotted late last year because Malaysia decided to “review” the archives, does it count?

If the ICJ is satisfied, then the next stage is to determine if the facts were “decisive”.

So it seems that the tussle over Pedra Branca, an island outcrop of granite rocks 40 km east of Singapore, isn’t over. It’s of strategic importance, as it sits at the eastern-most entrance of the Straits of Singapore where hundreds of ships pass through daily.

A few members of Singapore’s original legal team, such as former Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, have been called back to action. Clearly, Singapore will defend its sovereignty over the island. Its oldest feature is the Horsburgh lighthouse built by the British in the mid-1800s.

This is the second test-of-sovereignty case Singapore has had to deal with in recent months. Last week, Singapore took possession of the nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrexes, which had been detained in Hong Kong for what seemed to be custom or administrative shipping irregularities. Singapore had claimed “sovereign immunity”, as no country is allowed under international law to forfeit material that belongs to another state.

Whatever the case, let us hope that the issue won’t be tossed up as an election football in Malaysia with political parties trying to outdo each other in nationalistic fervour. The Malaysian general election is due to be held by mid-2018.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

BARELY two weeks in power and newly minted United States (US) President Donald Trump has signed a slew of Executive Orders (EO) targeting immigrants. The most well known of which are the orders to build a wall (Jan 25) at the Mexico-US border and a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries (Jan 27).

Mr Trump’s supporters claim he is only doing the necessary for national security by tightening rules and borders. Across the political divide, they charge that the moves are ineffective and blatantly bigoted against Muslim and Mexican immigrants. Which is it?

 

On the Muslim ban

EO title: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States

Some key points from the EO:

  1. Cuts refugee entry quota numbers from 110,000 to 50,000.
  2. Suspends, for 120 days, the US Refugee Admissions Programme (USRAP).
  3. Suspends, for 90 days, entry of all “immigrants and non-immigrants” from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
  4. Upon resumption of the USRAP, “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.
  5.  A ban on all refugees from Syria until further notice.

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” said President Trump last Sunday (Jan 29).

Mr Andrew McCarthy, a writer for conservative site National Review (Jan 30), agreed that it was a ban against extremist Muslims, not all Muslims. It stems from a “need to separate our Muslim friends from our radical Islamic enemies”. And the seven countries are on the list because they either have governments that “hate the United States or are too dysfunctional to provide background checks on their nationals”, he said.

Another national review writer, Mr David French, said (Jan 28) that a refugee intake of 50,000 per year was actually the 15-year average before 2016. Former President Obama was the one who had gone beyond the norm by increasing it to 110,00 in 2016. Mr Trump is merely going back to the norm, added Mr French, citing data from the Migration Policy Institute, a US non-profit think tank.

However, it’s hard to believe the move is free of bigotry for three main reasons, opponents of the ban has countered.

Firstly, Mr Trump called for a Muslim ban during the elections campaign and when the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO, he stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promises.

House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO. He stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promise. Mr Trump had called for a Muslim ban then.

Secondly, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani publicly said that Mr Trump had asked him to find a legal way to ban Muslims.

And finally, the direct involvement of Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in the creation of the EO concerned some, like writer Andrew Prokop of left leaning website Vox.com. Mr Bannon ran the Trump election campaign. Before that, he used to run Breitbart news, the hard-line right wing media company.

Mr Bannon has been growing increasingly powerful in the White House, with a controversial seat in the National Security Council’s top-level meetings. A senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said that in the drafting of the EO, the input of experts from the DHS was overruled by Mr Bannon, reported Reuters on Jan 31. DHS is the national agency responsible for public security.

Critics like the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine pointed out that more terrorists have come from countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan than the seven listed, yet the two countries are not on the list. Furthermore, non-Muslim immigrants and refugees will be prioritised. This is religious discrimination, it added. Such discrimination will only embolden the extremist narrative that the US is anti-Muslim and hence the move would be counter-productive.

A recent poll by Reuters (Jan 31) found that 49 per cent of Americans supported the EO, while 41 per cent don’t. The support was split along party lines as well, with 51 per cent of Republicans who “strongly agree” with the ban, compared to 53 per cent of Democrats who “strongly disagree”.

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On the US-Mexican border wall

EO title: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

Some key points of the EO:

  1. Begin planning, designing, and constructing a wall along the US-Mexico border.
  2. Hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents subject to existing funds available.
  3. Quantify “sources of direct and indirect Federal aid or assistance to the Government of Mexico on an annual basis over the past five years”.
  4. Build detention facilities near the border to vet asylum claims.

Both sides of the debate on the wall agree that illegal immigration is an issue. About 3.5 per cent of the US population and 5 per cent of its civilian labour force are illegal immigrants, of whom 52 per cent are Mexicans, according to a Pew research in 2014.

Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month.

Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month. Building the wall and making Mexico pay for it was one of Mr Trump’s campaign slogans.

Supporters of the wall of course argue that the wall will be effective, with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chiming in on Twitter, that the wall he built on Israel’s southern border was effective. Of the various popular media in the US, it seems only hardline right-wing site Breitbart was effusive about its support for the wall. Recall that Mr Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist, used to head the media company.

There are practical hurdles however. The border stretches 3,100 km and the terrain is varied. While Mr Trump claims the wall will cost US$12 billion (SG$16.9 billion), independent estimates range between US$12 billion and US$25 billion, reported the BBC (Jan 26).

“The campaign is over and so is fun time. If the wall is worth having, it’s worth paying for”, wrote conservative news site National Review. It also questioned if it was worth aggravating Mexico with repeated calls, by Mr Trump, for it to pay for the US wall.

The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his trip to the US to signal his displeasure. He had said, “Mexico does not believe in walls. I have said it time and again: Mexico will not pay for any wall.

“I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.”

I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.

The idea of an import tariff of 20 per cent on Mexican goods was also floated by the President to raise funds. Ideas like imposing taxes on remittance out of the US into Mexico or a border tax have been suggested among others.

Opponents also question the effectiveness of the move. Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas said: “Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.”

Furthermore, an estimated 40 per cent of illegal immigrants came in legally with visas only to overstay and never leave. A wall does not address that, wrote the Chicago Tribune (Jan 27). This echoes the sentiments of the Boston Herald editorial (Jan 26). The figure however is based on a 2006 pew research on migration.

There have also been charges of racism specific to the wall. Most prominently, Republican Congressman O’Rourke from El-Paso, Texas, said that building the wall is racist, given Mr Trump’s characterisation of Mexicans as criminals and rapists during his election campaign.

Said the lawmaker: “When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.”

When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.

The other immigration related EO, “Enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States”, signed on Jan 25, dealt with “sanctuary cities”. These are cities that have had policies that empower local authorities to deal with illegal immigrants without getting federal authorities involved. These policies give local law enforcement more discretion and freedom to build trust with local immigrant communities as well as report crimes without the fear of deportation. This tamps down crime. On the flip side, it allows illegal immigrants to slip in to avoid deportation. Mr Trump’s EO aims to address that.

EOs are basically legally enforceable instructions from the President, to the federal agencies, on how to run the show. But they are not new laws per se. The various agencies are obliged to follow the instructions. Presidents have historically used this tool to set policies that bypass Congress, the elected body of lawmakers. Over 13,000 EOs have been issued since 1789.

The Supreme Court can overturn EOs if it’s proven to flout existing laws and the US constitution. In a study between 1945 and 1998, the Court upheld 83 per cent of EOs. Congress can sometimes step in as well. A study commissioned by the Congressional Research Service in 2006 found that only 4 per cent of EOs were modified by Congress. Furthermore Congress is currently dominated by the Republican Party. It’s doubtful it will challenge Mr Trump, the party’s own Presidential Nominee.

So regardless of how people may feel about Mr Trump’s orders, whether his EOs are overturned or stay depends primarily on the Supreme Court in the months to come.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user babawawa. (CC0 1.0)

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THAT’S what one Singaporean mum was forced to do at a German airport after Airport Police decided that her breast pump was suspicious because she was travelling without her baby.

The BBC reported that Ms Gayathiri Bose, 33, said that she was taken to a room by a female officer and told to show her breast and hand-express her breast milk to satisfy the suspicions of the police. Ms Bose said she was in shock and complied. She was then allowed to board her flight from Frankfurt to Paris after 45 minutes.

Ms Bose said that she felt humiliated and traumatised and has lodged a complaint with the German police. Frankfurt airport police have denied that Ms Bose was asked to prove she was lactating.

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From suspected fake breast pumps we move on to confirmed fake websites: ICA has lodged a police report again about yet another website trying to pass off as the agency’s official one. Fake site www.ica.sgov.asia had asked users for information such as their Visa reference number and travel document number.

The official ICA website www.ica.gov.sg had already been the subject of other copycats last year. The fake website was suspended when TMG checked it on Wednesday (Jan 31) evening.

But what’s really hogging the headlines today is President Trump, and oh my how he hogs it. If it isn’t the backlash over his travel ban, then it is about how he just fired his Obama-appointed acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying his executive orders. Mr Dana Boente was sworn in as her replacement.

Or is it the anticipation of his pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat? Mr Trump is expected to name his candidate today. Mr Trump also replaced the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with his own man, possibly paving the way for deportations of illegal immigrants – another major campaign promise.

Whoever is running things on the ground better “get with the program”, said White House spokesman Sean Spicer, or else “they can go”. It seems that Mr Trump is putting his famous line from The Apprentice to good use. “You’re fired!”

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

IS ANYONE really telling the truth in this post-truth world? In fact, have you ever heard such a thing as “alternative facts“? And if you happen not to like the news, do you dismiss it as fake?

First, let’s get the phrase right. Fake news is deliberate and malicious, like that put out by Macedonian youths during the US presidential election.

Fake news is not about mistakes that come up in the course of reporting and publishing – which happens because journalists are fallible creatures. An American reporter apologised quickly when he reported that a bust of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. had gone missing in the Oval Office. He just didn’t see it.

Nor is it fake news when the media decides to alight on a certain angle. That is a question of editorial judgment, which you can agree or not agree with. You can’t call it fake although you might say it is “slanted”.

Here’s a local example from yesterday’s news reports:

 

TODAY: WP, Law Ministry spar over harassment law

The Workers’ Party (WP) cautioned yesterday against amending the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) to allow the Government to invoke a provision to deal with falsehoods, saying it would “vigorously oppose” any such move.

In response, the Law Ministry said last night that the WP had misrepresented the issues and the Government’s aims as being about seeking protection from harassment.

ST: Recent case about falsehoods, not harassment

The Law Ministry said yesterday that the Workers’ Party (WP) had misrepresented the Government’s position on a law that provides protection against harassment and false statements, after the opposition party suggested that the Government would be changing the law to protect itself from harassment.

In a sharp response, the ministry said: “The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA (Protection from Harassment Act) to protect itself from harassment.”

 

The ST put forth the Law Ministry’s case more forcefully than TODAY, which presented it as a disagreement. Neither counts as fake news.

If you’re reading this, please note that this is a commentary, which can be an argument for something or other based on the facts or an article that hopes to shed more light on an issue. In this instance, we’re hoping to explain the fuss over the Protection from Harassment Act or POHA which is the subject of a ping pong game between the G and the Workers’ Party.

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At the risk of over-summarising, here’s a quick and dirty run-down:

The Law Ministry isn’t happy that the majority of the three-judge Court of Appeal said there was no need for The Online Citizen (TOC) to notify its readers that a particular interview it had with Dr Ting Choon Meng accusing Mindef of brow-beating and bullying him contained false statements. The judges said that POHA is not meant for entities such as Mindef to use but is a low level remedy for individuals who have been harassed by others. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon differed, arguing that the law is not just for people who have been harassed but also to remedy false statements that have been made.

The twist is that Justices Andrew Phang and Chao Hick Tin relied heavily on Law Minister K Shanmugam’s focus in Parliament on “victims” during the passage of the Bill in 2014. They also referred to TOC’s publication of Mindef’s response and how Mindef had enough resources to put its point of view across.

Now it seems that the Law Minister is saying that the two judges were wrong to mis-read his intentions this way. The thing is, how did Parliament view the Bill – or does it matter at all now? What is the issue here: the freedom to make false statements? The courts, from District to High to Court of Appeal, had no doubt that the article in question contained falsehoods.

The falsehoods were:

(i) MINDEF had knowingly infringed Dr Ting Choon Meng’s Singapore Patent 113446, with the intent to
subsequently apply to revoke his patent upon his legal challenge; and

(ii) MINDEF waged a ‘war of attrition’ against Mobilestats, by deliberately delaying the court proceedings in Suit 619 of 2011 and asking for more trial dates than necessary, thereby increasing legal costs

(Editor’s note:  Only (ii) was found to be false. We apologise for the error)

Given that these have been ascertained, what is the next step?

The journalistic practice is to say “sorry”. A correction will be published and a notification put on the offending online version as well.

What about the argument that Mindef was given the right of reply? Yes, it was, in a separate link. This is like putting a right of reply in the letters page of newspapers – which sometimes leaves first-time readers wondering what the issue was about because they have no recourse to the earlier article. MSM do this if they are convinced that it was a matter of a difference of opinion, rather than facts. Facts are sacred.

According to the original article posted on Jan 15 in 2015, TOC said that it had “sent a request to Mindef to comment on this article”. “We will publish their response, if any, when they reply”. This is pretty odd because the questions weren’t asked before the article was published but after. Mindef replied five days later on Jan 20 on its Facebook page. In the interest of balance, news media usually try to get the other side of the story as well, unless it was a piece of breaking news which demanded immediate publication.

Would all the row have been avoided if Mindef’s input was incorporated in the earlier piece? Truth to tell, TOC wouldn’t have had much of a story then. Why? Because if it had believed Mindef, then there was no story on the small man being bullied by the big boys because what Dr Ting alleged was not true. If it thought Mindef’s response was only a matter of opinion, then possibly there could be a story on either:

a. Mindef, Dr Ting still clashing over the patent rights issue. (See TODAY example above)

b. Mindef: Dr Ting’s allegations not true (See ST example above)

Either approach might have gotten TOC off the Mindef hook, although some might view it as succumbing to intimidation tactics rather than using a journalistic perspective.

So did TOC print fake news to put Mindef in a bad light?

What can be said is this: It didn’t verify the facts in the pursuit of a good story.

 

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by Wan Ting Koh

THE Workers’ Party (WP) fired its first salvo on Jan 22, six days after a landmark ruling by the apex court on the use of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

Basically, the Court of Appeal judges ruled in a 2-1 split decision that the G cannot be defined as a “person” under Section 15 of the POHA.

Then, hours after WP’s first statement, the Law Ministry (MinLaw) replied. And WP countered.

WP said that MinLaw failed to address two of the key points it had raised in its first statement: Why the G needed the POHA to protect itself and why this wasn’t stated in Parliament when the Bill was moved in March 2014.

We break down the exchanges:

 

1. Clarification of the use of the POHA in Parliament

WP, in its first statement released on Jan 22, said that the G ought to be “upfront” about the intent of the POHA Bill. It said: “The prospect of the POHA being used to ‘protect the Government from harassment’ and the rationale for why this was necessary was not explained and discussed as one of the aims of the Bill.”

WP added that it would “vigorously oppose” any attempts to amend the law to clearly define how the POHA protected the G from harassment.

MinLaw, in its Jan 22 reply, said that WP had “misconceived and misrepresents the issues and the Government’s aims.” It said: “The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA to protect itself from harassment.”

WP, in its second statement released yesterday, said that while it welcomed that the G was not intending to amend the POHA to protect itself from harassment, MinLaw failed to address why it wasn’t stated in Parliament that the intent of the POHA was to protect the G.

Said WP: “Had the government intended the POHA to be used to protect itself, it ought to have explained and defended this application of the law explicitly and directly during the Parliamentary debate rather than focusing that debate on the protection of individuals.”

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2. Explanation on why the G needed the POHA to protect itself

WP in its first statement said that the G had no need to use the POHA to protect itself from harassment as it had access to “significant resources” and “media channels” to address false statements. It added that the POHA could be used as a tool to suppress views that are different from the G.

Said WP: “For the POHA to be used to protect the Government from ‘harassment’ risks weakening Singapore’s climate of free speech and robust debate. It risks turning the POHA into the latest in the many tools that the Government can use against Singaporeans who publicly express different views from the Government on its policies and actions.”

MinLaw replied that the case was not about harassment, but about false statements. It said that everyone, including the G, was entitled to point out published falsehoods and have true facts “brought to public attention”.

Said MinLaw: “At a time when false information can affect election results… it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making.”

WP, in its second response, said MinLaw still didn’t explain why the G needed the POHA to protect itself, given it has “vast media resources” which it can use to reach out to the public.

The case which started it all concerns a Dr Ting Choon Meng who had made claims over a patent infringement involving the Ministry of Defence (Mindef). The allegations were published as an interview on website The Online Citizen.

Although TOC later published Mindef’s response in full and linked it to the Dr Ting article, the Attorney-General sought a court order to amend the story and pushed for the allegations not to be published without notifying readers about the false statements.

MinLaw, in its response, seemed to have taken a dig at WP too. It said that since WP claimed to be a “champion of transparency”, WP should welcome the G’s ability to put a stop to falsehoods. “There can be no objection to this unless the Workers’ Party sees profit in the dissemination of falsehoods,” it said.

Well, in reply, WP threw in its own barb: “MinLaw’s entire statement on 22 January focused on the distinction between false information and harassment, splitting hairs and diverting attention with bad insinuations about the Workers’ Party’s good faith in raising this issue.”

The opposition party repeated its argument that the use of POHA could potentially suppress dissonant voices critical of the G. Said WP: “Too broad an application of the POHA beyond the protection of individuals, including and especially through retroactive legislation, may deter legitimate critical comment and debate, thereby weakening public trust in Singapore’s political institutions and eroding our democracy …”

 

Read Bertha’s piece, which asks the question – and gives some answers: Did TOC put out fake news?

 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

AFTER the sweltering heat, comes the rain. This would have been welcomed if it didn’t rain so hard and for so long. The Meteorological Service Singapore warned last Monday that the two weeks of this month from Jan 16 are expected to be wetter than the first fortnight, even though the overall rainfall for January is forecast to be slightly below normal.

So that might mean wading through flash floods when you go visiting relatives this Chinese New Year weekend.

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To not dampen your spirits further, here’s a twist to today’s round-up of the news. Note that it is not post-truth, fake news or alternative facts that we’re putting across. We’re just having some fun in the coming year of the rooster:

a. Alternative facts, by the way, are the words made up by a Donald Trump aide who argued with a journalist about the number of people who had attended the US presidential inauguration. When told that alternative facts are really, hmm, falsehoods, she responded by threatening a “re-think” of the relationship between the media and the White House. American media are all a-flutter; there’s a fox in the hen house.

b. Town councils have been told to set aside 14 per cent of income for a special lift replacement fund. That’s a lot of money, given that they already have to set aside 26 per cent of income for the sinking fund to pay for major repairs. Can we expect a rise in service and conservancy fees? It depends on the amount of G grants that will be given out to town councils for this. Please do not start cackling yet.

c. But we bet there will be plenty of cackling and clucking over Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s thesis that a one-party political system might be the best system for Singapore given the smallness of its size. “Imagine, if we have a multi-party system back in 1965, will we have come so far so quickly?” said the man who is among the front-runners for the post of Prime Minister.

d. The courts have a dilemma: It has to decide whether a man was merely talking cock when he claimed that a botched penis enlargement procedure he had undergone made it impossible for him to sexually abuse his daughter. There was plenty of discussion about exactly when he went for the operation in Johor and what was really injected into him. Paraffin? Silicone? Collagen?

 

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