Are you sure democracy cannot help you financially?

July 27, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Is it a coincidence that victims of the Lehman Brothers scam in Hong Kong are being compensated for their losses whereas those in Singapore are not?

Hong Kong’s financial authorities have taken action to pressure banks to pay back at least 60 percent (more for older victims) to each investor for their losses incurred as a result of buying the toxic financial products from Lehman.

In contrast, Singaporeans are told that they have to jump through hoops just to have their claims heard.

Even then, they are made to wait for their cases to be heard and, in many cases, are told that their money is irretrievably gone.

Either that or they have to initiate litigation to claim compensation which is an expensive process with no guarantee of success.

Perhaps, the most telling difference is DBS’s reaction to the two sets of investors. The Singapore bank volunteered that it would refund Hong Kongers who purchased its troubled products whereas no similar move was made for Singaporeans.

So why the difference between Hong Kong and Singapore?

For one thing, the authorities of Hong Kong are still accountable (and therefore responsive) to its people. This is because its elections are much freer and fairer compared to what we have in Singapore. Elected representatives have to respond to the voice and mood of the electorate.

In Singapore, MPs also have to remain attuned to the voice and mood, but not of the voters. Instead they have to keep an eye and ear out from what their party bosses say. In this matter the PAP, and hence all its MPs, were more intent on protecting the establishment and its system than helping the investor-victims.

And their party bosses have molded the election system in such a way that they will never lose power. If they cannot lose power, what incentive is there for them to pay attention to the voters?

Members of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong have to be sensitive to what their constituents say. Public opinion matters because it is broadcast and published by the media which is reknowned for its freedom and independence from the ruling class.

Singapore’s media, on the other hand, can be turned on and off by the PAP. This is not hard to do when the Singapore Press Holdings is controlled by none other than former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan.

In addition, Hong Kongers enjoy freedoms of speech and public assembly – and the Lehman victims have exercised their freedom well. It was through their public protests that the banks agreed to compensate them for their losses.

Alas, Singaporean investors can only gather at Hong Lim Park – away from the eyes and ears of the people for whom their angry message was intended. As a result, the banks were free of the pressure to negotiate and compensate.

Free and fair elections, a free media, the freedom to assemble are what made the difference between Hong Kong’s investors and Singapore’s, even though both groups were sold similar products and were caught out by similar events.

So the next time anyone says that democracy and human rights can’t make you money, just remember these four items: Hong Kong – Singapore – Lehman Brothers – compensation.