June 23, 2017

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FINALLY some light is shed on the ministerial committee. It was set up and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean. (The Straits Times, Jun 17) The committee includes Minister for Culture and Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

And now, there’s the revelation that the Mr Shanmugam had previously corresponded with the younger Lee siblings on the house and is now sitting on the committee. In a brief Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam shot down Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s suggestions of a conflict of interest as “ridiculous”. DPM Teo Chee Hean has also said that there is “nothing secret” about the committee.

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The developments have drawn even more high-profile names into the saga, joining a motley mix including Singapore’s new Attorney-General (A-G), several lawyers and a personal aide. If you’re losing track of who’s who, we’ve got a list of the key actors and some questions that can be asked of them right here:

Cabinet ministers: Mr Lawrence Wong, DPM Teo Chee Hean and Mr K Shanmugam

In a joint statement on Jun 14, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling raised a serious allegation against PM Lee that also involved Minister Wong.

They said: “We were shocked to see that Hsien Loong had used his position as Prime Minister to obtain a copy of the Deed of Gift from Minister Wong, which Hsien Loong then passed to his personal lawyer to advance his personal agenda.” Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had executed a Deed of Gift in 2015 with the National Heritage Board for a public exhibition of items from their family home. PM Lee has denied all allegations, while Minister Wong has not responded to this.

After PM Lee posted his summary of Statutory Declarations on Facebook, Dr Lee Wei Ling promptly responded by sharing three screenshots of private correspondences involving Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, and Mr Shanmugam, amongst others. One of the emails shows an intriguing email from Mrs Lee Suet Fern to Minister Shanmugam about persuading Dr Lee Wei Ling to reconcile with her father (read about it here).

Even DPM Teo was briefly mentioned in the PM’s summary of his Statutory Declarations. PM Lee said that: “I was so struck by the sequence of volunteered statements that on 23 April 2015, 11 days later, I recounted to DPM Teo Chee Hean in my office what had happened at the reading of the Last Will, including what LSF had said.”

And now, there’s the DPM’s latest announcement of his and the two other Cabinet ministers’ role in the ministerial committee. In response to this, Mr Lee Hsien Yang questioned if Mr Shanmugam had a “conflict of interest” in advising on the “options to help achieve [Mr] Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes, and the drafting of the demolition wish” while being part of the committee. Mr Shanmugam has blasted his allegation: “I was already a Cabinet Minister when I spoke with some members of the Lee family — at their behest — and gave them my views. They were not my clients. Nothing that I said then precludes me from serving in this Committee.”

It has not been confirmed that a copy of the Deed of Gift was handed over to Minister Wong. Would there be a paper trail to indicate the handover? Is there any documentation to show on what grounds the G took over the Deed of Gift?

Ms Kwa Kim Li

Managing partner of Lee&Lee Advocates and Solicitors, and the niece of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wife Mrs Kwa Geok Choo. She prepared the previous six versions of the will.

Previously, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in a Facebook post: “Stamford Law did not draft any will for LKY. The will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee. Paragraph 7 of the Will was drafted at LKY’s direction, and put into language by Lee Suet Fern, his daughter in law and when he was satisfied he asked Kim Li to insert into his will.” However, Ms Kwa has told The Straits Times that she did not prepare the last will. (Jun 16)

To this date, it is still unclear who drafted the final will. At around 2pm today (Jun 17), Mr Lee Hsien Yang explained that “My father’s Final Will of December 2013 was a reversion to his 2011 will on his express instructions. The 2011 will was drafted by Ms Kwa Kim Li of Lee & Lee[…]” PM Lee and Ms Kwa have not responded to this.

According to PM Lee’s Statutory Declarations, Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email on Dec 16, 2013, 7.08pm to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and copied Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Kwa. The email contained a previous version of the will stating that all three children would receive equal shares. Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave each child an equal share in the estate under the first will. Ms Kwa was allegedly out of the loop, and replaced by Ms Wong Lin Hoe, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s private secretary, after LHY emailed Mr Lee Kuan Yew that Ms Kwa was “away” and that it’s not “wise to wait till she is back.” PM Lee claimed that the next day, Ms Kwa told Mrs Lee Suet Fern that “she did not seem to have received this email.” This has not been confirmed by Ms Kwa.

If Ms Kwa did not receive the email from Mr Lee Hsien Loong about the changes for the last will, was she in Singapore during that time or overseas? Were there any other attempts to contact her? Since Ms Kwa drafted previous versions of the will except for the last one, it would be relevant to ask her this: Why did Mr Lee Kuan Yew remove the Demolition Clause in the fifth and sixth will?

Ms Wong Lin Hoe

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s long-time private secretary. She helped to make arrangements for the last will after Ms Kwa was out of the loop on Dec 16, 2013. The last will included the Demolition Clause that was previously removed from the fifth and sixth wills.

The clause is the most contentious part of the will. PM Lee said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew “gave instructions to remove the Demolition Clause.” In a speech to the parliament, PM Lee said that in Dec 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew attended a “special Cabinet meeting” to “discuss 38 Oxley Road.”

After the meeting, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote to the Cabinet: “Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”

However, in a joint statement released by Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was reportedly “despondent” and told Dr Lee Wei Ling that: “I should not have listened to Loong and gone to meet Cabinet.”

PM Lee said that he “only learnt about the contents of the last will on April 12, 2015, when it was read out to the family.”

PM Lee also claimed that at 8.12pm, Dec 16, 2013, Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email to Ms Wong and copied Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mr Bernard Lui, a lawyer from Mrs Lee’s law firm, Stamford Law Corporation [now Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC]. In the email, Ms Wong was reportedly informed that Mr Lui “had the will ready for execution” and that Ms Wong could contact Mr Lui “to make arrangements for the signing of the will.” The next morning (Dec 17), two lawyers from Stamford Law Corporation, Mr Lui and Ms Elizabeth Kong, witnessed Mr Lee Kuan Yew signing the last will. PM Lee claimed that Ms Wong was not present at the signing of the last will.

Later in the afternoon, Ms Wong emailed Mr Lee Kuan Yew stating that “We have received a faxed copy of the signed document for Mr Lee to re-read in the office”. Questions were raised by PM Lee on how Ms Wong would know that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had read the will, if she was supposedly not present when Mr Lee Kuan Yew signed the last will. It is not confirmed if Ms Wong was there to witness the signing.

Mr Lucien Wong

At around 7am today (Jun 17), Mr Lee Hsien Yang once again retaliated in a Facebook post. This time, he showed a comparison of contradictory statements by PM Lee on how Mr Lee Kuan Yew felt about having monuments to himself after his death. What’s noteworthy is the second quote from a letter by A-G Wong to the lawyers of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling. A-G Wong was PM Lee’s personal lawyer at that time. He was recently sworn in as A-G on Jan 16, this year, and will be serving a three-year term. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is led by the A-G, and is the principal legal adviser to the government.

Along with this picture, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in the post: “Lucien Wong was LHL’s personal lawyer, and now the Attorney-General of Singapore.”

And from the younger siblings’ joint statement referencing the Deed of Gift: “However, after the gift’s acceptance we soon received letters with spurious objections from Hsien Loong’s then personal lawyer, Lucien Wong. Lucien Wong was made Singapore’s Attorney-General in January 2017.”

There’s an insinuation that A-G Wong may not have been appointed for purely meritocratic reasons (read more here).

It behoves the AGC to issue a public statement to clear his name and office. Why is A-G Wong still silent?

Stamford Law Corporation lawyers

Mr Bernard Lui is a partner in Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, formerly known as Stamford Law Corporation. In an email Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent to Ms Wong, which she copied to Mr Lui, it was mentioned that Mr Lui “had the [last] will ready for execution.” The email also instructed Ms Wong to contact Mr Lui directly to “make arrangements for the singing of the will.” Mr Lui, together with another lawyer from Stamford Law, Ms Elizabeth Kong, went to 38 Oxley Road on Dec 17, 2013 to witness Mr Lee Kuan Yew signing the will.

Mr Lui and Mr Ng Joo Khin, also a lawyer from Stamford Law Corporation, were present for the reading of the last will on April 12, 2013. At the reading, PM Lee reported that Mrs Lee Suet Fern said that while Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked her to prepare the last will, she did not want to be “personally involved”. Thus, she got Mr Ng to handle the preparations for the last will instead. However, while reading the email correspondence on the preparation of the final will, PM Lee said that “there was nothing to show that Mr Ng Joo Khin [NJK] had been involved in the preparation of the Last Will as LSF had claimed during the reading of the Last Will.”

According to Ms Lee Suet Fern’s email, Mr Lui had the final will ready. Surely he should know who drafted it? Or the other lawyer who witnessed. Do either of them know who drafted the will? And finally, a question for all who were involved: Have any of them been summoned by the internal ministerial committee to give statements?

More questions are raised as both sides continue to hurl allegations at each other. So far, PM Lee has raised suspicions about the involvement of Mrs Lee Suet Fern in preparing the last will. While Mr Lee Hsien Yang has maintained that Stamford Law did not draft the final will. More significantly, we now know more about the ministerial committee.

 

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 Suhaile Md

YOU’D think the mother of a young child would be put off by the bloodthirsty ways of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Apparently not.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter. Even if her fighter husband died, she believed that “her ‘elevated status’ as a ‘martyr’s widow’, she felt she could easily marry another ISIS fighter”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today (Jun 12). The 22 year-old single mother was arrested for radicalism earlier this month. She is the first female Singaporean Muslim radical to be detained here.

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Her radicalisation began in 2013 after exposure to ISIS propaganda online. It “deepened over time” thanks to her contact with ISIS supporters and militants online, said MHA. A year later, Izzah herself “actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online”. By 2015, the infant care assistant at PCF SparkleTots Preschool was “looking for ‘a Salafi or an ISIS supporter'” to marry and settle down with in Syria. Salafis are followers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam.

Izzah’s sister came to know about her pro-ISIS social media postings and her intention to join ISIS back in 2015. Her family’s attempts to discourage her from flying to Syria were in vain but they did not tip off the G about her radicalisation. One family member also “destroyed” evidence in order to try to “minimise her acts”. It’s not clear if any action will be taken against the family member for destruction of evidence.

Had Izzah’s family members brought her to the G’s attention, she “could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation”, said the MHA. Furthermore, given the global threat of terrorism, it “makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities”, it added.

Said the MHA: “Early reporting could enable the individual who is at risk of becoming radicalised to be given proper guidance and counselling. They could be steered away from the path of radicalisation and may not need to be severely dealt with under the law.”

Signs of radicalisation include, amongst other things, expressing support for terrorist groups, having the intention to or encouraging others to commit violence, sharing and reposting content related to terrorist groups and so on.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Izzah’s detention is the first such arrest under the ISA since August last year when then 33 year-old Asrul bin Alias was arrested for social media sharing of pro-ISIS content with the intention of spreading its extremist ideology (read more here). According to a MHA report on June 1, there were 14 radicalised Singaporeans who were brought in under the ISA since 2015.

Other arrests in 2016:

On August 19, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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WANTED for robbery, David James Roach may finally be serving time behind bars – but not for the reason one might expect. The suspect in the Standard Chartered bank robbery was sentenced to 14 months in prison for money laundering by a Thailand criminal court yesterday (June 6).

The 28-year-old Canadian was charged for failing to declare cash worth over US$20,000 to the customs – for which he was sentenced to a year in prison. He was sentenced to another year for money laundering and four months for violating the foreign exchange act. The sentences were to run consecutively.

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However, Roach’s sentence was halved because he confessed to those charges. And the Singapore robbery case continues to hang in balance. According to The Bangkok Post, Roach’s lawyer said that his client only confessed to money laundering, and not to the robbery.

Roach has till July 6 to appeal the Thai court’s decision. Meanwhile, he is being held in the Klong Prem Central Prison in Bangkok. He has been in prison for about a year.

It’s been nearly a year since the robbery and now the question is: Will Roach be extradited back to Singapore after his sentence? Thai authorities declined to extradite when they first arrested him.

On July 7 last year, Roach allegedly walked into a StanChart branch in Holland Village, handed the teller a piece of paper which reportedly said “This is a robbery, I have a weapon, give me money, don’t call the police”, and made off with over $30,000. 

On the same day, Roach fled to Bangkok, Thailand. Just two days later, on July 9, he was caught by the Royal Thai Police. But Singapore’s requests for assistance to extradite Roach were rejected by the Thai authorities, as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. The Attorney General’s Office of Thailand commented that it was “not in a position to consider” extradition, without elaborating.

The Canadian government had then requested the Thai immigration police to deport Roach back to his home country. Singapore also does not have an extradition treaty with Canada.

If found guilty of robbery in a Singapore criminal court, Roach could face up to ten years jail and six strokes of the cane under Section 392 of the Penal Code. If found guilty of possessing a firearm or offensive weapon, he could be jailed for up to three years under the Arms Offences Act and Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act.

He’s now in for 14 months. Maybe that’s just the start of it.

 

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by Sharanya Pillai

IN THE aftermath of Changi Airport Group’s (CAG) response to the fire at Terminal 2 (T2), the report card is mixed.

There was some praise for CAG’s response. Aviation experts approved of the move to shut down the entire terminal, even though the the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said that the fire, which was in a room storing air-conditioning equipment, was “small”. While some have pinpointed the airport’s open design as a contributing factor to the spread of the smoke, another expert conceded that the “benefits of an open design outweigh the fire problems”.

Meanwhile, the SCDF was lauded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for dealing with two other fires on the same day, in Punggol Field and a Woodlands condominium.

So far, so good. CAG, however, is still battling flames over its communications strategy, with some people noting that passengers could have been notified earlier, and the transfer of passengers from T2 to T3 managed better. CAG has acknowledged the delay, but a few questions also remain, such as how exactly the fire started and whether it could have been prevented.

As more details trickle in, we look at some key numbers about the incident.

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30 minutes was how long it took for an evacuation to be ordered by the chief of the Airport Emergency Service after the fire was detected.

15,000 is the estimated number of people, including airport staff, evacuated from T2.

40 is the number of T2 flights affected.

1,000 is the estimated number of people stranded on the tarmac, and

4 hours is how long they were stuck there before being transferred to T3.

1 hour was how long the SCDF took to put out the fire.

1 hour lapsed between the detection of the fire and CAG posting social media updates on Facebook and Twitter about the situation.

Another hour later, CAG announced on social media that T2 flights will be moved to T3.

7 is the number of people provided with medical assistance. Three were taken to Changi General Hospital for smoke inhalation, while four were treated at the airport clinic.

3 is the number of units damaged in T2. Restaurants Chutney Mary and Nando’s on the third floor suffered water damage from the sprinklers while an office on the fifth floor was flooded.

8 hours 50 mins was approximately how long T2 was shut down for.

Some 24 hours after the scare, the world’s best airport is up and running again, with the exception of the damaged eateries. CAG said that it is continuing investigations with the authorities.

 

 

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PUBLIC holidays – a time for rest… and a time for protest?

While Labour Day went by without too much fanfare in Singapore, the occasion was politically-charged in many other parts of the world. People took to the streets to call for better working conditions, while labour unions aired their grievances to politicians.

And with the rise of the far right in the US and across Europe, this year’s protests were also uncomfortably tinged with anti-immigrant sentiments. Have May Day protests become an even more potent political force? We look at significant ones from this year:

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1. Paris, France: Going too far against the far-right

Image by Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux.

Divisive elections and large gatherings can be an explosive mix, as the French found out on May Day. A peaceful march near the Bastille monument escalated into violence rapidly, as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Six officers were injured, with one suffering third-degree burns. The tensions came on the heels of the terrorist attack at Champs Elysees that killed an officer, stoking fears about national security in an increasingly volatile country.

The majority of protestors claimed to be marching against presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant rhetoric. There are suspicions that the crowd was hijacked by a group of about 150 agitators, who were upset that Ms Le Pen had made it to the final round of polls. But their outburst might have turned into political mileage for the far-right stalwart, who has long condemned violent riots in the country.

 

2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Garment workers ‘sew’ dissent

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Thenetparadigm.

The Cambodian government had officially banned labour unions from marching on May 1, but for disillusioned citizens, disobedience was the only option. Thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand an increase in their monthly wages and better working conditions. Police on site did not interfere with the march.

The apparel industry is one of Cambodia’s biggest sources of income, generating $6 billion for the country annually. It has long relied on suppressing wages to maintain a competitive edge globally, but this has come at the cost of entrenching some 600,000 workers in poverty.

Over the years, the Collective Union Movement of Workers, a Cambodian labour union, has achieved small victories for garment workers, such as a $13 raise in the minimum wage effective this year. But until they obtain their requested minimum wage of $171 per month, the workers will take their grievances far beyond May Day.

 

3. Jakarta, Indonesia: Flowers on fire

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan McIntosh.

Around 40,000 protestors flooded the streets to demand higher wages, and improved working conditions. Workers marched toward the presidential palace, while other activists carried signs advocating for the rights of female domestic workers.

But the peaceful labour demonstrations in Jakarta were marred by the burning of flower boards left for Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja. A group of trade unionists from Indonesian Electric Metal Workers Federation and the Confederation of All Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) destroyed the boards and set them on fire. Trade unions have opposed Ahok as they are unhappy with the minimum wage set by his administration for Jakarta. Some have interpreted their actions as politically motivated and an unwarranted distraction from the advocacy of labour rights. “Jakarta today – a handful of people trying to tarnish the labour struggle…this is shameful” said a netizen on twitter.

Defeated in the 2017 Jakarta elections, Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat got only 43 per cent of the votes. His rivals accused him of making blasphemous statements against Islam. Indonesian prosecutors had called for him to be jailed.

 

4. Istanbul, Turkey: Reminder of a gruesome history 

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Mstyslav Chernov.

May day protests in Turkey turned violent as the Turkish police fired tear-gas and rubber-bullets at demonstrators in Istanbul. Among those who attempted to reach Taksim Square Mosque, 200 were detained by authorities. Experts say that tensions were heightened especially after a crackdown and a failed coup on July 15 last year.

Clashes erupted in various parts of the city as demonstrators, led by members of left-wing parties and trade unions, took to the streets.

Taksim Square was the place that demonstrators gathered to celebrate Labour Day until 1977, when the protests turned ugly, with dozens killed on “Bloody May Day”.

Turkey’s Western allies say Ankara has sharply curtailed freedom of speech and other basic rights in the crackdown that followed a failed coup last year.

 

5. Oregon, United States: Pepsi takes centre stage

Screenshot from Twitter user Doug Brown.

And on the lighter side of things – Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad got disproven in real life. In a May Day protest in Portland, someone actually attempted to hand a can of Pepsi to law enforcement, in nearly the same fashion that Jenner did in the now widely-spoofed video.

But no, the crowd did not erupt into cheers. Rather, the officer simply did not react to the gesture. And other protesters pelted the police with Pepsi cans instead. Not so refreshing, after all.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Johan Fantenberg. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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by Suhaile Md 

SO WHAT if she was axed from the national team training programme six months back? Feng Tianwei’s still got it. Singapore’s top table tennis star won the 2017 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) title on Sunday (Apr 23).

It’s her first major title since she was booted out of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last October. Apparently, the 30-year-old didn’t fit into its rejuvenation plans, so STTA would not support her training. It would however support her participation in the ITTF world circuit. Though it’s not clear what exactly this support entails. As for major meets like the Olympics and the Asian Games, she will face the same qualifying criteria as any other STTA athlete. The three-time Olympic medallist had failed to make it past the Olympic quarter-finals in Rio 2016.

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There was much drama surrounding Feng’s ouster (links below). But she was quick to pick herself up and form a team to support her training. She has been busy competing since.

Barely over a month after the split, Feng faced world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion, Ding Ning in a China Table Tennis Super League match on Dec 6. The bout was a nail-biter, but Feng prevailed, beating the world champion by just one set. The score: 3:2.

While the win gave her a much needed confidence boost, constant travel across China for league matches took a toll. A few days later at the ITTF Doha Open, Feng lost 3:4 to Miu Hirano of Japan in the round of 16. That’s one step short of the quarter finals. It was the last event of the year.

The loss of STTA’s resources clearly had an impact. “This is the first competition I’m going to where I’m handling every aspect of competing by myself,” said Feng after her loss to Japan, reported The Straits Times (Dec 10).

Lucky for her, she still qualified for the Sports Excellence Scholarship which provides her with a monthly stipend of up to $8,000 amongst other benefits like medical support. The scholarship is awarded by the High Performance Sports (HPS) Steering Committee, not STTA. HPS is chaired by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu. Feng successfully renewed the scholarship in March this year.

Feng’s 2017 season started on a sour note. She was absent from the STTA awards ceremony in mid-February although she was the top table tennis performer in Singapore last year. She had come in third for both the World Cup and Asian Cup in 2016. The best player award was not given out that night.

According to ST, when asked about Feng’s absence, STTA president Ellen Lee said: “She is no longer at the STTA… all this while, we have been recognising Feng Tianwei for what she has done and we are grateful… I think it’s about time that we also let the recognition be given and spread on to other players as well.”

February was a dismal month for her. For the ITTF Qatar Open, she was defeated by German Solja Petrissa, who ranked 13th in the world, by two sets. Feng was ranked sixth at that time.

There was one bright spot. On Feb 23, Feng met the qualifying criteria for the Asian Table Tennis Championship in April, so STTA took her in as part of its Singapore contingent. It was the first time she played with the STTA since their October split. On April 14 though, she lost to China’s Chen Meng at the quarter-final stage in three straight sets.

Despite the loss, Feng was ranked third in the world by ITTF in March and April, up from sixth when she parted ways with STTA. The next best Singaporean, ranked 25th in the world, is Zeng Jian. Since Feng is no longer in the STTA, this makes 20-year-old Zeng STTA’s best player.

Feng solidified her hold on the global rankings with her ITTF Korea Open win on Sunday (Apr 23). After her win, she said: “At the moment I don’t practise with the national team in Singapore although I live there. I am practising in different clubs and with different private sparring partners. Sometimes I even go to China for training.”

The three highest ITTF ranked players will represent Singapore in the SEA games team events this August, said STTA technical director Loy Soo Han in response to queries from The New Paper in January.

So it really doesn’t matter whether Feng is part of STTA or not as far as the glory of Singapore is concerned. Feng could still play for the national team if she maintains her ranking. If she wins medals, Singapore’s best paddler would have done so with little to no resources spent on her by STTA. Very much like Joseph Schooling.
.

Read more on last October’s controversy here:

  1. Feng breaks silence on STTA controversy. Here’s her letter – in English

  2. What STTA’s Deputy President said about Feng Tianwei’s sacking

  3. Feng was a “bad egg”, a “disgrace to nation”, says STTA Deputy President

  4. Feng Tianwei’s shock exit and the economy

 

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ONE of the reasons why Singapore is perhaps the safest place to live in is due to the low frequency of natural disasters resulting from our geographical location. Fortunately, we are being geographically encased by Borneo on one side and Malaysia on the other. Thus, any typhoon or tsunami activity will go through those locations first. By the time they reach Singapore, it’s merely a tame tropical depression with great surf conditions.

Yet, our counterparts in the international community are not as lucky as us. Natural disasters often disrupt the life of the natives – damaging infrastructure, costing massive amounts of money to recover from the damage, causing a temporary halt to economic activities and worst of all, resulting in high death tolls and injuries. Here are some natural disasters around the world in the month of April:

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1. Lima, Peru – Flood and mudslides: Death toll continues to rise 

Floods and mudslides have been afflicting Peru since the start of the year. The death toll is currently at 113 as of 19 April. The heavy rains have been affecting the South American country all year round, causing rivers to reach high levels, forcing people to leave the place. An estimated million homes have been damaged and more than 2,500 kilometres of road have been destroyed.

In a latest update, the National Center for Emergency Operations said that the recent natural calamity is because of a climate phenomenon called “coastal El Nino”.

CNN reported on March 20 that half a million people in and around the country’s capital, Lima, have been affected by storms and flooding. President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has said the country will need some US$9 billion (S$12.5 billion) to rebuild and modernise the affected areas. He said: “We know it is a difficult situation, but we are controlling it, and we are hopeful that it will soon pass”.
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2. Naypyidaw, Myanmar – Cyclone Maarutha 

Image of Cyclone Maarutha churning above the Bay of Bengal captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
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Cyclone Maarutha caused a storm to move over land on the Rakhine coast of Myanmar on the night of April 17. The landfall was first classified as a tropical depression on April 15 in the Bay of Bengal, according to Aljazeera.

Relief web reported: Three people were killed in Irrawaddy Division as Cyclone Maarutha made landfall on Arakan State’s coast and swept through southern coastal Burma on Sunday (Apr 16).

The town Thandwe was swept by the cyclone with winds at 60km/h and steady, heavy rain. The cyclone continued but weakened as it passed the rugged terrain of the region. This cyclone is the first tropical cyclone in the northern hemisphere. This cyclone season usually leads up to the southwest monsoon.
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3. Wellington, New Zealand – Double trouble Cyclone Debbie and Cyclone Cook

Image of Cyclone Cook sweeping through the South Pacific before approaching New Zealand taken by NASA.
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April isn’t a particularly good month for New Zealand as it was first hit by Cyclone Debbie and then Cyclone Cook.

In the first week of April, the tail-end of Cyclone Debbie devastated the Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe, forcing its 2,000 residents to flee with only a few minutes’ warning. Although flooding eventually became less severe than anticipated, hundreds of trees have fallen, and police said many roads had been closed in the North Island. State of emergency was activated in Bay of Plenty and Thames-Coromandel, with the defence force assisting in moving residents to higher ground and keeping people away from the coast. Fortunately, there are no reported deaths due to Cyclone Debbie.

About a week later, New Zealand was hit by Cyclone Cook on April 13. It struck New Zealand with power outages, fallen trees and landslides reported around much of the central and eastern North Island, which bore the brunt of the storm. Forecasters feared that Cyclone Cook could be the worst storm to strike New Zealand since 1968. There is also no known deaths due to Cyclone Cook.
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4. Manila, Philippines – Earthquake Swarm

Image of a Filipino villager walking past a tilted shanty at a coastal village in the earthquake-hit town of Taal, Batangas province, Philippines taken by Francis R. Malasig.
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The Philippines was hit by an earthquake swarm, which is when a local area experiences sequences of many earthquakes striking in a relatively short period of time, on April 8.

Three quakes ranging in magnitude from 5.0 to 5.9 struck Batangas province, about 90 km (55 miles) south of Manila, around 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) over a period of about 20 minutes, said the U.S. Geological Survey. Hundreds of residents of coastal areas in a province south of the Philippine capital fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami on after a series of earthquakes on the main island of Luzon. However, the earthquake swarm was not powerful enough to cause a tsunami according to Head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Dr Renato Solidum.

While there were no reports of casualties, power was cut off in some in some areas and cracks were reported in homes and some commercial buildings. Landslides were also reported in some towns and a portion of a Catholic church tower that had collapsed.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common. An earthquake of magnitude 7.7 killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ryan Ong

A LOT of Singaporeans think Financial Advisers (FA) only sell insurance, but that isn’t all they do in this day and age. While insurance is part of the financial planning they do, most FAs take a holistic long-term view. Many prefer to work at building lifelong relationships, helping their clients all the way to retirement; and that means they need to do more than sell policies. Here are some other things you can get them to do for you:
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What exactly is a Financial Adviser (FA)?

In Singapore, FAs are licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) under the Financial Advisers Act.  Depending on the qualifications they’ve received (FAs do plenty of tests and exams to qualify), different FAs are authorised to offer different types of financial products, and dispense different types of financial advice. Insurance policies are just one aspect of their work.

Most FAs can also do the following:


1. Compare insurance products to give you the best s
olution for your needs

It might surprise you to learn that some FAs don’t just sell products from one insurer. Because insurance is just one facet of what they do for you, some FAs are willing to compare different policies for you depending on your lifestyle needs and affordability to suit your needs and get a better deal.

Some Manulife FAs, for example, will compare different insurance policies to make sure you get the right products within your budget. They can end up recommending or selling policies from other insurers, if they feel it’s a better fit for your portfolio*.

This isn’t to say FAs who work with specific insurers are bad; they are just more focused on helping certain demographics. But if you’d feel better with an adviser who will compare across the industry for you, know that there are many who will.

(*That’s why a lot of new FAs, who often seek to help families and friends as their first clients, tend to end up with the Manulife Financial Advisers; it lets them pick from a wider range of options, to deal with the individual cases that they’re intimately familiar with).

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2. Help with your retirement planning

For most Singaporeans, retirement planning is quite straightforward (just decide who gets the house, the car, and nominate someone to get your remaining CPF monies).

However, FAs would be around to help if your legacy planning is more complicated. For example, if you pass away unexpectedly and your 15-year-old child is to inherit the house. Or if you own a business, which is to be inherited by two or more children; and you want to establish rules on whether and when that business can be broken up and sold.

Most FAs know the proper safeguards when handling retirement planning, and can at least refer you to the most appropriate and cost-effective experts to help.

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3. Check up on other investments you’re considering

Different FAs will, depending on their network and qualifications, offer different depths of service. However, all of them understand how to build your portfolio for retirement or other purposes. They will know the right level of risk, and whether a given asset fits your portfolio.

This makes FAs a useful source of advice, if you are considering different investment opportunities. For example, if you want to invest money to help your children open their own café, your FA can determine how this will impact your portfolio, and make changes accordingly (or frankly advise you against it, if that’s what must be done).

FAs can also research alternative investments you’re considering, such as gold exchange-traded funds or property investments, and determine if they are viable additions to your portfolio.

Due to their extensive involvement in the finance industry, FAs are also more aware of potential scams, or entities on the MAS watch list (these entities often rebrand themselves to confuse the public).

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4. Continuously rebalance your portfolio to fit life’s changing circumstances

Proper retirement planning is not done in a single session. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio (the various assets that make up your wealth) on a regular basis.

One example of this is age: As you get older, your portfolio should shift from growing your wealth to protecting it. This means exchanging riskier, high return assets, such as equities, to safer assets like Singapore Savings Bonds, or even simple fixed deposits.

Also, your changing financial situation can require quick, drastic changes. If you’re suddenly retrenched, for example, you may need to change your insurance policy to something with lower premiums.

You can get your FA to do formulaic and calendar based rebalancing, to deal with these.

Formulaic rebalancing means your FA can recommend changes to the assets in your portfolio, when they no longer meet a planned asset allocation (this happens as a result of changing values among various assets, from stocks to cash).

Calendar based rebalancing is often done annually or semi-annually. Your FA will rebalance your portfolio, will deal with your changing age, along with new needs such as sending your children to university, or buying a new house.


5. O
ne-stop value-added information source

What are the implications to your housing loan when the American Federal Reserve imposes an interest rate hike? What does it mean for Singapore Savings Bonds when the Singapore Government Securities Yield falls?

If you don’t have the time to find out, your FA is a quick source. Besides being able to explain how current events are going to impact your portfolio (or your wallet), FAs are the most common intermediary between the finance industry and the lay person. They’re a good way to get smart about fluctuations in the market, and to better understand the financial world.

In personal finance, bad decisions often come from a lack of understanding; FAs explain situations, which reduces drastic mistakes like selling off your assets in a panic.

If something in the news alarms you, be sure to call them before you react.

 

This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Mr Bill Ng with recipients of the Hougang United club scholarship fund (image by Hougang United)

by Gary Koh 

THE raids on Mr Bill Ng Eng Tiong’s football clubs and his bid for control of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has thrown the spotlight on finances – those of the FAS as well as the clubs he controls. The merger and acquisitions specialist’s skill as a money-maker applies on and off the pitch, but what of how he spends it?

Mr Ng’s first foray into Singapore football came in 2004 when he was brought into semi-professional side Tiong Bahru FC for his expertise in turning around the fortunes of in-crisis companies in other industries.

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It was an all too familiar story in Singapore football – without a viable revenue stream to fund their football operations, Tiong Bahru FC was a club mired in debt and primed for shut down. Mr Ng turned to legalised gaming in the clubhouse as the best bet for clubs to be financially self sustaining.
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The Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse in People’s Park Complex.

“Self-sustaining”, though, is an understatement. Its takings for the last financial year came to $36.8 million, more than 20 times the income of a typical S-League club and even more than the FAS, which gives local S-league clubs an annual $800,000 handout. Many National Football League (NFL) clubs operate on less than $10,000 a year.

But spending has been a big question where Mr Ng is concerned, and could make or break his campaign. Sport Singapore made a police report about suspected misuse of funds after checks this week raised “serious questions about the use of club funds”. A police raid on Mr Ng’s clubs followed on Apr 20.
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Police cart away boxes of documents and computers from the Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse.

The Straits Times reported that the Tiong Bahru FC spent nearly as much as it made in most years, which is also surprising for a club of its stature. Mr Ng said that 80 to 85 per cent of the revenue is returned to the player or paid out as winnings. It was from Tiong Bahru’s FC funds that the controversial $500,000 donation for the Asean Football Federation’s football management system was made.

A report in Today revealed that Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC paid close to a million dollars in rent for its People’s Park Complex clubhouse last year, which works out to $31 price per square foot for the 2,583-square-foot basement unit. It has 15 staff and paid out salaries of over $2 million, spent $528,000 on staff training and benefits but committed a comparatively paltry $168,000 for its football activities, although that number is many times higher than the budgets of other clubs of the same calibre.

Mr Ng’s business acumen would be put to a sterner test in 2009 when he was once again asked by FAS General Secretary Winston Lee to turn around a different crisis club, this one in the S-League. Then known as Sengkang Punggol, they were more than $1 million dollars in the red. Again, Mr Ng’s ‘jackpot solution’ helped the club, later rebranded Hougang United,  it generated a $2 million dollar surplus over the next five years. It is the only local club that eschews the $800,000 handout from the Tote Board.

The questions about spending are amplified by poor results on the pitch. Players of Tiong Bahru FC found themselves relegated to Division Three for a spell, but the strengthening of their financial base allowed for them to return to Division One in the next few seasons. The club has never topped the NFL despite its good financial fortunes. Hougang United FC is also seen as underperforming, given its financial position.
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Hougang United players decked out in suits before departing for an overseas game (Image by Hougang United FC).

Mr Ng’s methods were not without criticism, from murmurings on the regular turnover of coaches to accusations of seeking ‘profit-at-all-costs’. In order to win the vote, he has to convince his critics that he isn’t using football to chase finances, but that he is using finances to improve the football situation.

A lot of bad blood came in 2014 following his management team’s controversial takeover attempt of financially insolvent S-League side Woodlands Wellington, amid fears that he would damage the club’s footballing culture in favour of a cushy bottom line.

A group of Woodlands Wellington fans, led by former long-serving club official Vengadasalam Rengayyan, formed an activist group to take control of the club and block Mr Ng’s takeover. The merger was eventually ruled to be unconstitutional, and neither Mr Ng nor the activists took control of the club. New management was put in place, and these days Woodlands Wellington only play in the Women’s premier league. It still runs a clubhouse with jackpot operations.

Mr Ng has countered that he was merely doing the job entrusted to him by the FAS – to turn struggling clubs around financially. He has also taken great pains to stress that the profits from Hougang United FC’s gaming operations are ploughed back into football and the community.

His most famous donation right now is the $500,000 from Tiong Bahru FC which went by way of the FAS to the Asean Football Federation, which raised eyebrows for both its quantum as well as for, why a small club was paying for the infrastructure of a regional football body.

Outside of that, Mr Ng’s notable football give-backs include a million-dollar club scholarship fund which pays the school fees of promising young footballers, and the providence of a regular allowance, in addition to regular fund-raising dinners for the late disabled footballer S. Anthonysamy, from 2012 until his passing four years later.

The financial help provided to S. Anthonysamy and his family is significant because Woodlands Wellington had paid scant attention to their former employee after the on-field accident in August 1996 that left him paralysed from the neck down.
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The late former Hougang coach and Woodlands Wellington player Amin Nasir (Image by Hougang United FC).

When Amin Nasir, once a caretaker coach for Hougang United FC and player at Woodlands Wellington suffered a relapse of cancer in 2014, the former national defender’s medical bills were paid by Mr Ng in his personal capacity. A regular monthly allowance is also given to his family, which will continue until the end of the year even though he passed away in January 2017.

Hougang United FC’s confidence in running operations without subsidies has enabled it to invest in footballing infrastructure at Hougang Stadium.
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Hougang United FC’s refurbished dressing room (Image by Hougang United).

Apart from being the first club in Singapore to acquire the Globus EuroGoal ball shooting machine that aids its goalkeeper training sessions, it has also renovated its home dressing room with individual lockers and a recovery bath-tub, and installed leathered seats on both benches.

But all this does little to put off critics, for whom money is merely a resource to keep building football. The closest the club came to on-pitch success was a League Cup runners-up finish in 2011, while meagre bottom-half league finishes of seventh, 10th and sixth were the best it could achieve in the three most recent league campaigns.

The task at hand for Mr Ng, and his Game Changers, should he win a mandate on 29 April, is enormous. He has to rejuvenate not just a single club, but an entire football ecosystem. Beyond financial recovery, he will have to win hearts and minds, convince Singaporeans that Singapore football deserves their support and convince the youth that the pursuit of football excellence is still worthwhile. Most of all, he has to do the one thing he has failed to do at his clubs – raise the quality of Singapore football.

 

With more than a decade spent covering football, Gary Koh’s works have previously appeared in local and international print and online publications, among them notably with FourFourTwo and Asian Football Confederation.

 

Featured image courtesy of Hougang United Football Club.

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by Suhaile Md

The White Helmets have had largely positive press coverage in international media. But there are some controversial allegations about the volunteer group, mostly from supporters of the Syrian regime.  On April 5, we spoke to founder Mr James Le Mesurier about it. This is part two of two. Read part one here.
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IT’S difficult to doubt the agenda of a group of volunteers who risk their lives to pull babies out of broken buildings.

However last year (Sep 21) when the Associated Press (AP) asked Syria’s President Assad, if he would support the White Helmets’ Nobel Peace Prize nomination, he said: “It is not about the White Helmets, whether they are credible or not, because some organisations are politicised, but they use different humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement certain agenda… What did they achieve in Syria? And how un-politicised is the Nobel Prize? That’s the other question.”

Not an unreasonable question given that foreign powers have taken sides in the Syrian conflict. Russia and Iran back President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Saudi Arabia, and Turkey back the rebel groups. And the White Helmets are funded by the latter group.

Last year (Sep 28), the British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK had donated £32m (S$56m) since 2012. Earlier in April 27, a US State Department press briefing revealed that the US government donated US$23m (S$32m)  to the organisation. By the end of last year, list of donor governments include Germany (7m euros), Canada (C$4.5m), and the Netherlands (8.5m euros) as well.

White helmets training. Image from Mayday Rescue Facebook page

Donations by itself do not prove a nefarious agenda. Yet skeptics say that foreign governments don’t just give millions away altruistically either.

Mr James Le Mesurier, founder of the White Helmets and a former British diplomat, disagreed: “There’s a huge difference between funding which is conditional, and funding which is unconditional… Yes we get money (from the above countries)… but it has never been a secret.”

“For accountability and transparency reasons we have to publish it on the website, we have auditors to confirm where the money has gone.”

He added: “If it was a covert programme, we are doing a really really shit job at it.”

If it was a covert programme, we are doing a really really shit job at it.

The White Helmets have an annual budget of “US$30m to $32m,” with about “75 per cent from governments, and 25 per cent coming from private donations”. Private donations range from a few dollars worth to seven-figure sums.

This year, US$15m was raised “from organisations that are not western governments”. Regardless of the source, “we do not accept them if there’s any political conditionality” like wearing a certain logo, or making certain comments on media, said Mr Mesurier.

Still, the early White Helmet teams were trained in Turkey by ARK, a for-profit international contracting firm funded by Friends of Syria, “a coalition of about 35 different countries who provide support to those that are in opposition to the Assad Government,” said Mr Mesurier. He worked as a consultant there.

Surely, that reasonably raises questions of foreign agenda? Possibly regime change, or the overthrowing of President Assad, as it’s widely viewed?

The White Helmets do not have a regime change agenda, how exactly does rescuing somebody from a building result in the toppling of Assad in Damascus?

He replied: “What you need to connect, if you’re going to make this point, is means to ends… what ARK was doing, was funding media activists, giving them cameras, it’s good governance development, it was civil society development… the White Helmets were one of eight programmes.

“The White Helmets do not have a regime change agenda, how exactly does rescuing somebody from a building result in the toppling of Assad in Damascus?”

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Not agents of the CIA, or Mossad, or MI6…

Mr Mesurier said he’s been called an operative of foreign spy agencies like America’s CIA, Israel’s Mossad, and UK’s MI6, among others.

None of which are true. The idea of a rescue force came about when he was working in the private for-profit ARK. His job there “involved meeting mayors, local politicians, media activists, and designing and delivering training courses in peace and stabilisation activities”.

After the bombings started, it was in one of those meetings that local leaders said they needed to find ways to protect themselves. That’s when the idea to train rescue teams hit.

In 2013, a local leader in a village in Northern Aleppo sent Mr Mesurier’s 25 volunteers to train in Turkey. That’s where they were first issued with the protective helmets. It was white, because it’s “$5 cheaper than the other colours”.

White helmet volunteers training. Image from Mayday Rescue Facebook page.

Volunteers were lay people, teachers, bakers, blacksmiths, tailors and so on. Word spread and other communities in rebel held areas started approaching ARK. The growth and spread of the White Helmets was not the clandestine efforts of a spy. It was the simple need for a first-response rescue group.

In August 2014, the various teams came together, adopted their charter, pledge of neutrality, and voted in a leader, Mr Raed Saleh. The organisation was formalised then. Mr Saleh runs the show now, not Mr Mesurier.

Mr Mesurier left ARK around that time to set up Mayday Rescue, a non-profit organisation registered in the Netherlands, “because he didn’t feel right doing it (training White Helmet teams) on a for profit basis”.

Mayday Rescue supports the White Helmets with training and mentorship. While it has no management function, funding does go through Mayday Rescue. According to its website, the annual report and financial statements for 2016 will be published online this coming June.

Amongst other expenses, the money goes to the equipment purchases, training costs, and the “very very meagre” monthly stipend of US$150 each volunteer gets. Those who were maimed in service, as well as families of those who lost their lives, are also supported with a stipend. The White Helmets set up the Herofund in 2014 to help with public fundraising.
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Neutrality not respected

The White Helmets, he repeated throughout the interview, are neutral. They save everyone regardless of background.

The Syrian government is not convinced. It does not allow the White Helmets into regime controlled areas. Even when the White Helmets had six fire fighting teams near the vicinity of the forest fires in Latakia earlier this year, the Syrian government declined their offer to help, said Mr Mesurier.

Maybe it has something to do with online clips of some volunteers who have been very outspoken in their comments about the regime? Those are very few and far between and do not represent the view of the organisation, he said.

White helmets training. Image from Mayday Rescue Facebook page.

Also, it’s a war zone. The volunteers are lay persons who used to be housewives, teachers, bakers, and so on before the war. Their volunteerism exposes them to “tremendous stress”, they take “tremendous risks” to their lives. Mr Mesurier did not say so, but it’s understood: When you spend your days picking up bodies due to regime bombs, it’s only natural to be angry at the regime.

To the date of the interview (Apr 5), 171 volunteers have died and 488 were permanently maimed. There are currently 3,100 volunteers.

171 volunteers have died and 488 were permanently maimed. There are currently 3,100 volunteers.

When asked if he thinks the volunteers are targetted, Mr Mesurier said with finality, “absolutely”. Their centres have been bombed before. And the regime airstrikes infamously engage in “double-tap” attacks where a bombed site is struck again shortly after its first round – to get at the people who run in to help victims.

Interestingly, the volunteers are able to move freely in opposition held areas of Syria in spite of it being an “archipelago of local warlords” and “local arms organisations”. Although yes, in some parts, like ISIS controlled areas, the White Helmets are not allowed to use their GoPro head cameras when they go about their work.

Nonetheless, they can clear checkpoints “from top to bottom”, which is “fairly unusual”, said Mr Mesurier. He doubts any other organisation is able to do that. In fact, this also shows that the White Helmets are not western spies or agents. They would not have such freedom of movement otherwise.

It’s probably because of the “trust that people have of the White Helmets,” he added. Furthermore, the services the White Helmets provide to local communities have not been successfully replicated by local armed groups.

“Some local warlords have tried to set up their own rescue teams… but the values that makes people want to join an extremist organisation are almost the opposite of the values that make somebody want to be a White Helmet”.
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So are the White Helmets western stooges or not?

Skeptics would charge that the graphic videos and images are used in the propaganda war to make the President Assad’s regime look bad. This garners support for regime change, exactly what the western governments funding the White Helmets want.

To that, Mr Mesurier replied that the White Helmets just want the bombings to stop, not remove Assad or change regimes. Showing images “is not regime change”, it’s about “making truth accessible”, to show that people are suffering.

Mr Salah Skaff, 25, reacts carrying the body of his daughter Amira Skaff, 1.5 year old, after an airstrike on the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria April 7, 2017. – REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

It’s hard to argue with that. Given the volunteers’ lives lost and thousands of online videos that capture the harrowing circumstances the volunteers face, it’s hard to believe the white helmets work hard just to make the regime look bad.

It would be far safer and easier to spread fake news instead. (Read more here.)

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Mr James Le Mesurier was awarded the Order of the British Empire last year for his work with the White Helmets. In the past, he served as a British Army Officer from 1989 to 2000. Later he had a diplomatic stint for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. After which, he moved on to various roles in the private sector risk management companies. This information is publicly available on his LinkedIn profile.

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Featured image from Mayday Rescue Facebook page

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