How Judge Belinda Ang concluded that the SDP had defamed the Lees

May 10, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Readers may be confused about the trial which is about to take place next week. The hearing is to determine the amount of damages the SDP has to pay Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong. The SDP has already been found guilty of having defamed the Lees.

This was done by Judge Belinda Ang in a summary judgment in 2006. A summary judgment meant that there was no trial where the defendants could call for witnesses, cross-examine the Lees and present our case. The summary judgment given to the Lees was a travesty of justice because there were many areas of dispute in fact and in law.

Put simply, the Judge believed everything the Lees told her without her even hearing what the SDP had to say in its defence. Not only that, she heard the Lees’ argument in her chambers in the absence of the SDP’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi.

No matter how you try to cut it, no one can say that justice was served and the judgment a fair one when the Judge heard only one side of the story.

Judge Ang based her decision on the fact that the article in question by the SDP compared the running of NKF by Mr T T Durai to the running of Singapore by the PAP.

Judge Ang cited the words in the headlines of the article: “It is impossible not to notice the striking resemblance between how the NKF operated and how the PAP runs Singapore. It would take someone foolishly blind not to be concerned with how our financial reserves and CPF savings are dealt with. Here are the similarities.”

And what were these similarities? The SDP article pointed out the following:

1. Mind-boggling salaries drawn by NKF staff and PAP Ministers.

2. Lack of transparency in how the NKF handled its affairs, including its finances, and in how the PAP Government handles the nation’s affaits including the GIC, HDB, and CPF.

3. Defamation suits taken by Mr T T Durai against whistleblower and those taken by the PAP against the opposition.

4. Authoritarian control where the running of NKF was, according to the KPMG report, was “centred around one man (Durai)” and where the running of Singapore is also centred around one man (Mr Lee Kuan Yew).

5. The use of the media by the NKF to raise donations and by the PAP to sow its propaganda.

(Read the entire article in The New Democrathere.)

Based on what she read in the article, Judge Ang came to the conclusion that the “ordinary, average reader” would, like her, conclude that the SDP is accusing the Lees of “corruption, nepotism, criminal conduct, a cover up and of advancing the interests of the Lee family at the expense of the needs of Singapore.”

First, how does Judge Ang, sitting in her chambers and having little contact with the “ordinary, average person” in her daily life know how such a person would think?

Second, how does she know that, for example, the Lees are not advancing the family’s interests at the expense of the needs of Singapore?

Without a trial where the defendants could cross-examine the Lees and to produce “ordinary, average persons” as witnesses, how did she come to the conclusion that she did?

Does she have any inside information about how the funds are used in the GIC? Does she know how much it costs the Government to build an HDB flat? Where did she get information that our CFP savings are all intact?

Even Mr Lee Hsien Loong has said that the GIC will not reveal its assets. Without transparency how can anyone, including Judge Ang, know whether there is any financial impropriety or not.

Any opposition worth its salt would pursue the ruling party and demand transparency. The Government is obliged to tell the public all that it does with public money especially in areas such as retirement savings, public housing and national reserves.

Even the late Ong Teng Cheong, former president of Singapore, became frustrated with the Government’s lack of transparency. So did former deputy prime minister Toh Chin Chye who said that he didn’t believe the statistics put out by the PAP Government.

The key word is TRANSPARENCY.

It is for the Government to be transparent in all its dealings, and not for the opposition to be sued when it questions the Government integrity because there is a lack of transparency.

In other words, when the Government is not transparent – and, more importantly, refuses to be transparent – it is legitimate for the opposition to question the Government’s integrity.

In the absence of verifiable information, how can anyone, least of all the country’s political opposition, sit back and assume that there is absolute propriety within Government dealings?

But that’s exactly what trials are: A forum where the Judge can hear all the evidence and viewpoints, including how this Government continues to remain non-transparent and unaccountable, and then come to a decision.

And yet, in 2006, Judge Belinda Ang chose to dispense with the trial and wholeheartedly believed everything the Lees told her without giving the SDP a chance to defend itself.

And so the hearing on Monday is actually a crippled trial where the SDP is only allowed to argue why the Lees should not be paid the amount of damages that they claim, when they should not even have been awarded the case in the first place.

Can anything be worse? Frighteningly, yes. Judge Ang may not even allow the plaintiffs to be cross-examined. The Lees hinted at this when their lawyer, Mr Adrian Tan of Drew & Napier, made it a point to say that the judge has discretion whether or not to allow cross-examination of the plaintiffs.

Just who is the “ordinary, average” Singaporean?

Judge Belinda Ang insists that an “ordinary, average reader” reading the SDP article would conclude that it implies that there is impropriety within Government circles. As pointed out this is debatable. What is clearer is that the ordinary, average Singaporean is, like the Singapore Democrats, also drawing parallels between the NKF and the Singapore Government.

Mr Alex Au of the Yawning Bread, albeit a little more articulate than most, wrote about the same subject in Political parallels to the NKF scandal. This article was reposted in other websites such as Think Centre and NewSintercom.