Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (above) has demanded an apology from a local blogger for a posting seen as accusing him of corruption, Mr Lee’s lawyer said.
Lawyer Davinder Singh wrote to Roy Ngerng (above) on Sunday asking him to take down the original article as well as the links posted on his Facebook pages and to post an apology by Wednesday.
Mr Singh said the allegations by Mr Ngerng in his May 15 blog post ‘Where Your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial’ were “false and baseless”. In the post, Mr Ngerng compared a chart from Channel NewsAsia depicting the relationship among City Harvest Church leaders prosecuted for misusing $50 m in church funds, to another chart created by him setting out the relationships among the CPF (Central Provident Fund), Mr Lee, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and other Singapore companies. [Note: As of 11.33 am on 20 May, it appears that the original article has been taken down from Mr Ngerng’s blog, though there are still other articles criticising the government for the way it uses the people’s CPF funds.]
“The article means and is understood to mean that Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore and the chairman of GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF,” Mr Singh wrote in the letter.
Comment: This is a very good article that gives some background on the People’s Action Party’s use of legal actions against its adversaries. In the past, they have sued opposition leaders such as JB Jeyaretnam, Chee Soon Juan and Tang Liang Hong for defamation, often bankrupting them in the process.
Freedom of speech is not, and can never be, an absolute in a civilised society. Even liberal democracies such as the US have libel laws. It is often argued that the PAP uses defamation suits to suppress its opponents or silence dissenters, but one could also take the position that the ruling party’s leaders are merely exercising their legal right as citizens of this country to seek redress for baseless attacks against their reputation and honour. Any citizen is entitled to sue for defamation, so why not government leaders?
Critics would then counter that in the US and other Western countries, defamation suits against political opponents are virtually unheard of. I suppose free speech is so cherished (indeed even sacred) in Western nations — especially in the realm of politics — that any defamation suit in that sphere would not go down well with voters. Many critics of the PAP advocate that allowing such unfettered freedom of speech would be progressive for Singapore.
But would it, really? I look at the kind of political mud-slinging that takes place in the West, where one can say practically anything one likes about one’s opponent and get away with it, and wonder whether that is the tone of politics that we would like to have in Singapore. US President Barack Obama was accused of “palling around with terrorists” by his rival John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin in 2008. She got away with it. Do we want such baseless allegations to be flying around in Singapore politics? Would that really help Singapore to progress as a civilised nation and become more ‘democratic’? Is that the kind of political discourse that helps to build a better, more cohesive nation and society?
For me, democracy is not just about giving everyone a say in how the country is governed and allowing them to say whatever they want. As many in Thailand would now attest, total freedom leads to total mayhem. We should not forget that democracy was born of a desire to build a more civilised society. And a civilised society needs not only liberty and rights, but also rules, boundaries and guidelines.
For a counterpoint from my learned fellow tutor-blogger Kevin Seah, click here.
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