Open letter from SDP to WB and IMF chiefs

September 13, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Mr Paul Wolfowitz

President

World Bank

Mr Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo

Managing Director

International Monetary Fund

Dear Sirs,

On behalf of the members of the Singapore Democratic Party, may I extend a very warm welcome to you to Singapore.

Unfortunately, I write to you under much less cheerful circumstances.

Apart from the ban on outdoor protests during the WB-IMF Meetings, the Singapore Government has also banned a rally and march for Singaporeans scheduled on 16 September 2006.

The “security” reasons given for the ban are but a smokescreen. The Minister for Home Affairs said in 2003 that “The government does not authorise protests and demonstrations of any nature.” In fact, I have been repeatedly prosecuted for speaking in public without a permit since 1999. There is an outstanding charge against two of my colleagues and I for speaking in public without a licence during the election period in April this year.

In August last year, four activists conducting a silent protest to call for transparency and openness in Singapore were met by the riot police. The judge then ruled that the protesters’ message was “incendiary” and that Singaporeans cannot “picket public institutions” because to do so would be to “question [their] integrity and cast a slur on their reputation.”

So is the Singapore system as transparent and corrupt-free as it is made out to be?

There are many reports of Singapore becoming the center of money-laundering activities. A senior fund manager in Asia commented that “Singapore has truly become the global centre for parking ill-gotten gains.” These funds are believed to have even come from druglords operating in Burma.

The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), of which Mr Lee Kuan Yew is the Chairman and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is the deputy, handles about S$100 billion of public funds. Yet, the GIC does not make public its accounts. Singaporeans have no idea and no say in how the Government manages this public money.

All this doesn’t get any attention because the Government owns and runs the entire local media. Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its Global Press Freedom Index 2005, one spot above Azerbaijan.

Making videos that carry political content is prohibited. Podcasting was banned during the elections in May 2006.

Even the foreign media in Singapore have been sued and prosecuted into self-censorship. A senior correspondent in Bangkok wrote: “The unfortunate result has been…a foreign press corps that doesn’t dare report critically on the nepotism and cronyism that underpins Singapore’s development model.”

And speaking of lawsuits, my opposition colleagues and I have been sued repeatedly for defamation by ruling party leaders and made bankrupt when we cannot afford to pay the crippling damages that are awarded to them by the judiciary. As bankrupts we are barred from standing for elections. In my case, the Singapore Government has even seized my passport and banned me from traveling overseas.

As for the judiciary, its independence has become the subject matter of an on-going legal wrangle involving two business companies that will be heard in Canada’s Supreme Court in a few months. Does this inspire confidence in the rule of law in Singapore that free trade so cherishes?

Our elections are far from democratic. Freedom House wrote in its annual report that “Singapore citizens cannot change their government democratically.” An international team that studied the country’s elections system concluded that “free and fair elections do not exist in Singapore nor can we expect the political system to open up in the future.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave us a glimpse of how his regime works when he said during the 2006 elections: “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters’ votes.”

Without freedom, free trade is untenable. Despotism plus globalization equals exploitation. We need look no further than the Indonesia under Suharto’s rule. This is exactly the situation that we have in Singapore and this is what our protest this Saturday is all about.

Consider this: The incomes of the bottom 30 percent of households in Singapore have fallen since 2000. According to the latest UN Development Programme Report Singapore’s income inequality ranks at 105th in the world, between Papua New Guinea and Argentina.

While the poor get poorer, Government ministers continue to lavish themselves with salaries that are highest in the world; Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pays himself three times more than President George W. Bush.

Through all of this, Singaporeans have been thoroughly silenced. What you are witnessing vis-à-vis the clampdown on WB-IMF activists and protests is but the tip of the iceberg.

Workers have no voice because the umbrella National Trades Union Congress is headed by a cabinet minister and he has six deputies – all of them ruling party members of parliament.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the wages of Singaporean workers are adjusted by the National Wages Council which, by the way, has American, German, and Japanese business representatives sitting in it. Is there any other country that allows foreign nationals to help determine the wages of its citizens? The exploitation is so bad that domestic maids are not even allowed to have a day off from work.

Sirs, we believe that for the free-market system to serve the masses and not just the elite, there must be transparency, openness and democracy. Economic progress and political openness are two sides of the same coin.

This Saturday a group of peace-loving but courageous Singaporeans are defying despotism and going ahead with our peaceful assembly. We do this because we love our country and we love democracy, freedom and human rights.

The Singapore Government has vowed to stop us. We want to alert you to this matter and would even invite you to come and observe first-hand the repression. The event is scheduled to commence at 11 am at the Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park.

We would also like to ask for a meeting with you to elaborate on some of our concerns that we are unable to make in this letter.

My colleagues and I have been sued, made bankrupt, fined and jailed. But we are not complaining because we know that this is the price that we have to pay for freedom, and we gladly pay it.

All we ask is that you let the Singapore Government know that the continued repression of our fellow citizens is unacceptable in this globalised world.

As this letter would be of immense interest to the Singaporean public as well as international observers, I would like to make it available to them.

Once again, I bid you a very warm welcome and wish you a successful and enlightened Meeting in Singapore.

Sincerely,

Chee Soon Juan

Secretary-General

Singapore Democratic Party