It is very seductive, but yield not to temptation

May 17, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats
The PAP and its supporters often mock democracies and point out how cumbersome the system is in getting legislation passed. Singapore, they say, suffers no such malaise. The ruling party here governs with efficiency without any obstruction from the opposition.

Of course, the good people at the PAP won’t tell you that recently in the US, Congress passed a piece of legislation that hits close to home and should make us pay attention. Sadly, however, it will escape most Singaporeans.

It has to do with the US Federal Reserve, America’s central bank. Hitherto, the US Government had no control over what happened to the money under the control of the Fed (yes, it surprised many Americans too).

When the Obama administration released US$2.2 trillion dollars as part of the bailout package to be administered through the Fed in 2009, the US Senate Budget Committee felt it was its responsibility to find out from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke how much money was used for what and by whom?

The chairman’s response? It’s really none of the Senate’s business.

And he is right. There’s no legal provision to compel the Reserve to disclose its accounts. No audit, no statement of accounts, no nothing.

Duly enraged an Independent Senator from Vermont, Mr Bernie Sanders, introduced legislation to audit the Fed and that would require it to report its dealings to Congress.

Mr Sanders said in an interview on CNN: “The Fed has lent out over two trillion dollars and it doesn’t want to let the America people know who’s received that money…most Americans don’t know what goes on in the Fed…because they operate in virtual secrecy.”

Mr Sanders’ amendment passed 96-0 in the Senate. There was not a single oppositional nay-vote – and it’s not because America is a one-party state. 

Watch Mr Sanders’ interview here. A must-watch video.

Now, let’s talk about efficient-because-we-don’t-have-opposition Singapore. The GIC and Temasek Holdings, like the US Federal Reserve, don’t tell the Singapore people how much money they sit on and how the money is used. We have no say in where our tax and CPF monies go to.

In 2008 both organisations – one headed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the other by his daughter-in-law – lost a total of $140 billion in failed investments. There was no inquiry, no public accounting of the investments, and no one was held accountable for the debacle. It was as if nothing happened. Both Mr Lee and Ms Ho are still running the GIC and Temasek.

But unlike the US we don’t have a democratic system where lawmakers can challenge the status quo and change the way things are run. We are unable to introduce a law that would audit the GIC and Temasek. We only hear and see what the PAP wants us to hear and see.

Yes, democracy as practiced in the US and elsewhere may slow down the decision-making process. Debates and contestation of ideas can sometimes hold up a policy and is implementation.

But it also means that the ruling party’s motives and plans are thoroughly scrutinised. Such checks-and-balance means that the interests of the people come first, not the ruling elite’s. Most important, it means that the people have control over the country’s affairs and the direction it is headed.

Moving speedily in a posh and suped-up race car sure beats driving a lumbering and heavy tank. But it won’t be much fun when you are headed towards the edge of a cliff and you find that the brakes aren’t working and steering wheel has been removed.

Don’t be seduced.