March 23, 2017

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Just because you are online doesn’t mean you can mouth off. That seems to be the message the G is sending to some online commentators who talked about the sentencing of the PRC guy who carjacked a taxi and killed a cleaner in his rampage at Changi airport last year.

Truth to tell, the sentence was eyebrow-raising.

Yuan Zhenghua was sentenced to 25 months jail but the term was backdated to the day he was thrown behind bars. So it means about a year shaved off. Apparently, Yuan was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at that time and thought the cabby was going to make off with his belongings. The sentencing judge took his mental disorder into consideration, adding that this lessened “his moral culpability to some degree’’.

Some people thought he got off too lightly and went too far online to slam the judicial system and the judge. References were made to the foreigner versus Singaporean controversy that has been raging here for some time and the question of bias was raised.

Seems the Attorney-General’s Chambers has been trawling online sites, found some Facebook postings unacceptable and wrote to the administrators of the Facebook pages. Now just who and how many were served such letters of demand that they remove the postings and apologise is not clear.

One apology read:

“We accept that posts and comments on our website in respect to the case of PP v Yuan Zhenghua scandalized the Courts of the Republic of Singapore.

We apologise for committing that act of Contempt of Court, and have taken down the offending posts and comments. We will not in future put up any post or comment to same or similar effect.”

Perhaps, the judge might want to think about writing a full judgment explaining his decision. Because, never mind the threat of contempt of court proceedings, it’s going to be hard to put a lid on this case.

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Things aren’t looking so good for Kong Hee and his inner circle of City Harvest leaders. After they were suspended from their offices last year, the Commissioner of Charities yesterday moved to make their removal permanent.

If successful, the key office holders will be barred from holding any office in any charity forever. The only person spared this fate is Sun Ho, Kong Hee’s wife; the COC said this was because it did not have sufficient evidence that she contributed to the mismanagement of the church.

The whole thing just looks bad for the eight executive members. Six of them still have to go to court next month to defend themselves against criminal charges related to the same case.

By letting Sun Ho off the hook because of “insufficient evidence”, the COC is plainly saying they’ve got enough on Kong Hee and his crew to justify its decision.

To bar someone from office for life is no joke – the media did not say how many times this has been done, but Zaobao reported that the last time such action was taken was two years ago – against the chairman of a Hindu temple in Marsiling.

In that case, the chairman was also accused of mismanaging the temple’s donations – though, it seems no criminal charges were filed against him.

Supporters of Kong Hee and the other members have until May 13 to persuade the COC not to proceed.

Their instinct may be to flood the charities watchdog with testimonials of how wonderful or indispensible their leaders are, but that would be a waste of time probably.

The eight members’ guilt – from the COC’s perspective – seems a foregone conclusion. Even though technically the COC still has to get the Attorney-General’s permission to proceed, the AG is not likely to undercut its own case – which is what the church leaders’ defence lawyers may argue if it denies the COC’s request.

In any case, it’s still not clear exactly what real impact the removal will mean for the church.

Kong will still be allowed to preach, and he is still widely loved by City Harvest members as the founder and spiritual father of the church. Just because he’s not in office doesn’t mean he can’t – or won’t – wield considerable influence over the church’s daily operations.

That power may diminish if he’s convicted in criminal court and jailed – but that’s not a given either. Remember Ming Yi, the disgraced monk who was jailed for misuse of temple funds in 2009? A big celebration dinner was held in his honour when he was released six months later and he’s still running a temple in Geylang. Word is he’s now got temples in Malaysia and Hong Kong too.

The big question today is how the COC’s decision will impact the criminal proceedings next month.

Assuming the COC, police, and AGC all used the same facts to determine their cases, it’s a bit puzzling for the COC to say that its decision was “independent and separate” from the criminal trial.

It also seems too much of coincidence that the deadline for the church leaders’ supporters to submit their appeals to the COC is – in Kong Hee’s words – “a mere two days” from the trial. Are we really suppose to think one has nothing to do with the other?

The COC said there is “due process” in its determination – but what exactly is this process besides consultation with the AGC?

Is the burden of proof on the church leaders and their supporters, or is it on the COC to make its case to the AGC? Are the standards the same as what the AGC has to prove in the criminal courts?

This ambiguity is present also in the COC’s decision to remove all eight executive members after only five agreed to voluntarily extend their suspensions. “Since there was no collective agreement and with the suspension period due to run out in June, the COC had to proceed to the next stage of the process, which was to remove them,” reported ST. Why are the eight being dealt with as a collective in the first place?

Will the criminal trial shed some light on these questions? Maybe they won’t matter much by the time the trial comes around.

But the COC should answer them anyway – if not to show the public it is transparent about its processes, then to quell any upset or grievances City Harvest’s church members may have if their leaders are permanently removed next month.

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TODAY’s story in ST about the Singaporean stranded in Bangkok seemed really kok to me all right.

Besides the fact that it’s essentially a one-source story (Besides the Singaporean, only his brother was interviewed), it’s strange that the Thai authorities would not allow him to come home because of what seems like a pettyish crime – stealing furniture and damaging a rental property. I’m no expert in Thai law, of course, but maybe ST should’ve spoken to one (or any lawyer) to check this.

Moreover, the guy was acquitted last Jan… so why didn’t he come home then? The opposing lawyer’s appeal was overturned on Dec 4, so the Singaporean had almost a whole year to return home? So now the lawyers are asking for a 60-day extension to submit another appeal. Eh, still cannot come home ah?

I’m sure the case and the issues before it are more complicated than what I’m thinking.. unfortunately, it just isn’t very clear going by this re-telling of the story.

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So the courts in the Susan Lim case have finally decided there is an “ethical limit” to what doctors can charge patients. Now they have to decide what exactly this “limit” is. Dr Lim’s lawyers appear to make a good point: According to ST and TNP, they said that since there had been no ethical limit before, how could Dr Lim be guilty of breaching it? (BTW, apparently MOH has no guidelines on doctors’ fees either – thanks TNP!)

Not that I think Dr Lim didn’t overcharge her patient – $25 million is a bit much yes? – but whether or not the State or the law has the right to intervene I suppose is one of the big questions about the case. The problem with saying that there is an ethical limit – and, more importantly, implying that doctors should somehow be self-aware of what this limit is – is that, well, ethics are tricky business.

The courts said that “every profession must have ethical limits. That’s what differentiates them from commerce.” Which means it’s not just doctors who should consult their conscience when sizing up how much their services are worth. (Lawyers too?! Haha)

No disrespect to our judges, but I’m not sure there is one – or an obvious one anyway. Professionals who own businesses have commercial interests they can’t ignore; the near melt-down of the world economy in 2008 had everyone talking about ethics in the banking sector.

In any case, not being a doctor or a lawyer, I have no idea how this case is going to turn out. Would be interesting to hear what people in these professions have to say.