Singapore opposition party says banning speeches counterproductive

15 Apr 07

An opposition party which held a public forum despite the government’s banning of speeches by six European Parliament lawmakers and a Filipino said Saturday that Singapore “kicked itself in its own foot”.

“Repercussions are likely, said Chee Siok Chin, a member of the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) central committee who said the prohibition “drew far more attention” to the human rights situation in the city-state than if the guests had been allowed to speak as scheduled.

Five of the European lawmakers sat on the podium during the forum at a hotel Friday night after their appeal to the ministry of foreign affairs to reconsider its decision was denied.

“Their silence sent a strong message,” said Chee, who added they were all “appalled” that they were not allowed to speak at a public forum organized by a legally recognized political party.

Three local speakers including party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan criticized the 60 per cent pay increase given to ministers last Monday which brings them to an average salary of 3.1 million Singapore dollars (1.25 million US dollars), among the world’s highest.

The pay of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is set to jump to 3.1 million Singapore dollars (2.1 million US dollars) or five times the salary of US President George W Bush.
The government maintains the hikes are necessary to keep the brightest in office and prevent corruption.

The impending raises have triggered widespread criticism from Singaporeans amid a growing income gap.

The EU representatives who met with a senior official from the ministry were told that “Singapore political issues have to be decided by Singaporeans and not foreigners who had no responsibility for Singapore,” a statement said.

They were told that European Parliament members were “free to express their views in the European Parliament or post them on the internet.”

EU ambassador Holger Standertskjold headed the European Commission’s delegation to Singapore. They left Friday night and early Saturday, said Chee Siok Chin.

All details of the forum had been worked out with authorities two weeks ago, she added.

Chee Soon Juan, Singapore’s most vocal opposition leader, was made bankrupt last year for remarks he made about the city-state’s leaders during an election campaign.

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