Thursday, December 13, 2012

Palmergate: Of politics and sex scandals 2012

Barely 10 months has passed since Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the Workers' Party over his personal indiscretions and it seems that another MP has fallen prey to sexual temptations - this time from the ruling party. Michael Palmer, Speaker of Parliament and MP for Punggol-East SMC, has tendered his resignation from the PAP over "improper conduct" with a former employee of the People's Association.

PAP to dance to its own tune?

In some way, Yaw's affair has set a precedence for things to come and all eyes will now be on the Prime Minister and his party to see how they will manage their way out of this political calamity. This is especially so since the PAP had been very quick and vocal in criticizing the WP for letting its Hougang constituents down and for the lack of transparency and accountability in the way it handled the fiasco. Little would the PAP expect that the tables will be turned on them months later, and that they would have to hold themselves to the same standards imposed upon the WP.

To their credit, Palmer has taken responsibility over his indiscretion with his resignation and the PAP appears to be in control of the situation by nipping it in the bud with a swift response. This is a stark contrast to how Yaw refused to admit his blunder and the temporary lapse of accountability by the WP before it decided to take action against Yaw.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the PAP will continue to walk the talk and reclaim political ground lost in the last by-elections. As it is, Low Thia Khiang's reactions to Palmer's affair has been nothing but fair and distinguished, and this strategy of political magnanimity will not only make PAP's reactions to Yaw's affair appear as petty attacks, but more importantly allow WP to claim the moral high-ground.

On the prospect of another by-election

Besides looking to see if the PAP would dance to its own tune, Singaporeans will also want to know if the PM will call for a by-election in Punggol-East SMC, and if so, when. While the judiciary had recently clarified that the PM has the unfettered discretion over the decision of a by-election, it will not reflect well on him should he decide against it or postpone it indefinitely. On the other hand, this prospect of another by-election would mean that Singapore would have undergone 4 election processes in 2 years, each within months of each other. Election fatigue and unresolved issues such as transportation, housing and an increasingly foreign population would mean that the PM would have to play his cards very carefully if he hopes to win the game.

Calls for a by-election have already been made by opposition parties (WP, SPP, RP, SDP) and Singaporeans, both itching once again to exercise their democratic rights to vote. The ball is now in your court, Prime Minister.

On the relationship between the PAP and PA

Despite the official rhetoric that the PA is a non-partisan organisation, it is commonly perceived by Singaporeans to serve the political interests of the PAP, and it is not hard to see why. From the denied use of community facilities by opposition parties, to the clandestine affair between a PAP MP and a PA employee, the PAP appears to be figuratively and literally in bed with the PA. This impression that the PAP abuses its position and authority to gain political mileage at the grassroots level not only goes against its pillars of intergrity, accountability and transparency, but could even go as far as to augment Singaporeans' support for the opposition parties with their underdog status. As such, it would be prudent for the PAP to maintain its distance from the PA, or at least be perceived to be so.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Teo Soh Lung's Dysfunctional 8

For a single-issue group that names itself after an outdated troubleshooting key, Teo Soh Lung et al. do not seem to be doing much introspection to deal with the ghosts of their past and to find closure to live in the present. It is sad to see that after 25 years, Teo Soh Lung is still sticking her finger into every major issue pie and contaminating it with the germs of Operation Spectrum.

When members of the Law Society tried to censure M Ravi as mad and incompetent as a lawyer, she brought up her arrest under the ISA. During Hari Raya, she talked about ISA detentions. When James Minchin was barred from entering Singapore, she talked about ISD intimidation. During the criticism of ST's racism and racial profiling, she talked about ISA detainees demonised.

On the recent SMRT bus strikes.

While it is commendable of the various NGOs to stand up against the exploitation of migrant workers by profiteering corporations, those with links to the government even, Teo Soh Lung should refrain from getting involved due to her political baggage that she brings to SDP's table.

This whole episode is reminiscent of past events that led to Operation Spectrum. Disgruntled migrant workers, check. Political voice, check. All that is left is the appearance of a hidden hand or foreign intervention, which will give the government the perfect excuse to clamp down on the NGOs and political parties associated with it.

Deja vu anyone?

On the Catholic Church and the Archbishop.

It was unfortunate that the Catholic Church was implicated in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy and deeply regrettable that in 2012, was used as a pawn by Function 8 in their game with the government. Whilst the bitterness and resentment harboured by the ex-detainees towards the government is understandable, it is simply disingenuous to drag the Archbishop through the political mud again, for personal politics.

If you have a grudge to bear against the government, take it up with them mano-a-mano and leave the Church out of it. Religion and politics should not intertwine in a secular society over secular issues, period.

On Terrorism and the ISA.

It is one thing to champion for the repeal of the ISA, but it is a completely different thing to champion against the ISA because it deprives potential terrorists of their freedom without any evidence against them to show for in open court. It is unfathomable how Teo Soh Lung, in good faith, is able to speak on behalf of terrorists.

According to her, the whole JI is but a figment of the government's imagination. JI members such as Mas Selamat, Abd Rahim bin Abdul Rahman and Husaini bin Ismail who fled Singapore are "political exiles" who were accused of "serious unproven claims that will affect the men's careers and status in society" and "their arrests serves as a reminder to all political exiles that returning to Singapore may cost them their freedom no matter how long their exile is." In her blindness and baggage, terrorists on the run are political exiles. If this example does not show that she has lost it, I don't know what else can.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Strike and an Industrial Relations' Awakening

This strike is historical. The 5 bus drivers who were charged for an illegal strike and 29 other colleagues who were repatriated did not expect they would be penalised for voicing their dissatisfaction and going on a "strike". A word that was not uttered in the media in the first day, as if by not calling it a strike it would make it disappear and deny its existence,

Calling a Strike a Strike and the Consequences

However, calling it a "strike" would had implications on insurance claims if any, read AXA's argument of  "collision" vs "accident" in the Ferrari case, and the type of legal action against those who went on strike. As it turned out, once it was sealed as an illegal strike since the workers did not give their employer 14 days notice, those who went on strike had their legal fate sealed. It was not malingering, it was a strike.

The 14-days notice is a fair brinkmanship warning and gradual escalation of the stakes before workers down tools, or in this case, hands of the wheel and foot off the pedals. SMRT management would have started serious negotiations or called the drivers' bluff. As those SMRT bus drivers were not union members as reported, it was still unlikely that SMRT would have taken any strike threat seriously anyway. The SMRT bus drivers painted themselves into a corner whether their grounds for complaints were valid or not because their action was illegal and they were not part of a union.

Singaporean First is a Laudable Policy

In the end, SMRT adopted a Singaporean First employment practice by paying locals more and that is too be lauded. Putting locals first before others is not exploitation. Should foreigners be paid just as much? The general sentiment from the public about foreigners in recent times is that they should not, so SMRT should not be blamed for its profit-centric-nationalistic policy mix and should continue this salary discrimination as long as their SMRT foreign workers rely on SMRT quarters and other facilities as part of their contract. If these disgruntled workers don't like it they can quit, not strike.

A Sharing of Blame - Drivers and SMRT

Were the SMRT bus drivers' concerns e.g. living conditions, valid? SMRT by their without prejudice admission that they should have engaged their bus drivers more and earlier, says plenty. SMRT is not without culpability in the strike and they were just as responsible, albeit indirectly, in the bus service disruptions on 26th November. The extent of the route disruption was not divulged by SMRT but that only 29 were deported, it meant that 29 was a number SMRT was comfortable with deporting and anymore would be severe disruption of bus services. Whether SMRT was more culpable than the bus drivers - legally no, contractually no, ethically maybe depending if you are more a xenophobe or a bystander with no stake in SMRT shares. Nonetheless, there should be zero tolerance on illegal strikes like this SMRT strike as this is a bad signal to investors and businesses.

Deterring Strikes (and Lockouts)

As Singapore continues to need foreigners in the various service and industrial sectors, and as the first strike was struck last week, the industrial relations map of Singapore is changing. There have been many complaints of exploitation by construction companies of its foreign workforce and cases of PRC workers protesting outside MOM, as they are not unionised, are not rare. News of this feat by the SMRT bus drivers and regardless that some were rightly arrested and deported, would have settled into the psyche of foreign workers here. The seeds of strike as a disruptive bargaining tool and even its antithesis, a lockout, are being sown unless the authorities can send a strong enough deterrence to both workers and employers to behave. LTA and the court would have to be tough on both SMRT and the 5 arrested if they want to show that illegal strikes are not tolerated.