Another instance of why political rights matter

January 29, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

A rather tragic development last year went relatively unnoticed. In its 2009 annual general meeting, the Law Society witnessed one of its most pathetic showings: There were only 4 nominations for the 8 council seats that were up for grabs.

And this from an organisation that has a membership of 3,500. A news report (see below) said that members felt that the Law Society represented neither their interests nor the interests of the general public, hence the uninterest in its affairs.

But is this any surprise? The Society has been firmly under the thumb of the PAP Government, told like a boy to be seen and not heard. The Legal Profession Act, amended after the Society under the leadership of Mr Francis Seow criticised the Government for introducing laws to control the media, stipulates that the organisation cannot comment on legislation, existing or proposed unless invited by the Government.

Now when was the last time the Society was invited to say anything? How does one respect an organisation that needs to ask for permission to speak? Is it any wonder then that it is in such moribundity? Consider this: Apart from the 8 seats open for elections, the rest of the members of the 21-seat council are co-opted. 

Having interacted with many lawyers, the Singapore Democrats can attest to the fact that legal practitioners generally do not take pride in their profession and see it as just another means of making a living. With extremely few exceptions, lawyers are deathly afraid of taking up cases that involve political issues.

Tragically, the Law Society is but a microcosm of society at large. Singaporeans, like our lawyers, shun the system that dumbs them down. They disengage, preferring to go about their own business.

This may be good for the PAP which thrives on the fact that Singaporeans are too afraid to question and challenge it. But is this any good for the people? For the nation? For our future?

And just like Singaporeans, Law Society members are also feeling the strain of the influx of foreign law firms coming into the country to compete with them. And like Singaporeans, they are quite helpless to do anything having allowed their political rights to be removed.

This is why Mr Lee Kuan Yew continues to cock-a-snook at Singaporeans, comparing us to equinines that deserve spurs in our ribs and calling us fools because we vote for the opposition.

Why does he hold Singaporeans in such contempt? Because he has the control of the elections department, the media, the police and, if all else fails, the military. He knows that there is not a damn thing we can do to change the political status quo.

 

Apathy, sense of disconnect in profession, say lawyers
Today
21 Oct 09

Is apathy taking root in the law profession? Or are its champions not doing enough? Those were some of the possible implications after the Law Society’s annual elections last week received only four nominations for eight seats, said lawyers MediaCorp spoke to.

While it is not uncommon to have fewer candidates than seats, there is generally a contest in at least one of the three categories.

Law Society president Michael Hwang and Mr Leo Cheng Suan, both incumbents, were returned unopposed in the three seats for the Senior Category which is for lawyers in practice for at least 12 years. Lawyers Anand Nalachandran and Laura Liew were the sole nominees in two other categories for those who have clocked fewer years.

One lawyer told MediaCorp: “I’m surprised that the level of apathy has dropped to this level.”

Others interviewed offered various reasons, from how some smaller firms were feeling neglected to a general sense that the society – which regulates the 3,500-strong profession and contributes to the community by providing pro-bono work – was not doing enough to champion their interests.

One senior lawyer who declined to be named suggested a “disconnect” between the 46-year-old organisation and its members. An example was how six foreign firms were allowed to ply their trade in Singapore, adding to competition, he said. “If this had happened in the past, the Law Society would have said no.”

Unhappiness among small law firms and sole proprietors has been simmering since 2003, when several lawyers tried to unseat the council due to what they perceived as onerous requirements about how they managed their accounts.

But the sense of apathy is not new either, said former Law Society president (1995 to 1997) Chandra Mohan Nair, likening it to political apathy in Singapore. “Those who feel there is a disconnect … (should) come out and serve the Law Society and make the changes,” said the partner at Tan Rajah and Cheah.

In his younger days, Mr Mohan had asked Mr C C Tan, a senior partner and the society’s first president, if he could serve the organisation. Mr Tan’s reply: It was his duty to do so. How many senior partners today would say that, Mr Mohan wondered.

Mr Hwang could not be reached for comment as he is not in Singapore.

But Mr Anand, who will serve a fourth term on the council, admitted that finding time to contribute was a challenge, and how a lawyer spends his free time was “a personal decision that should be respected”.

The remaining vacancies on the 21-member council – in which eight seats are up for grabs annually and the rest are co-opted – will be filled by lawyers co-opted at a meeting next month.