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CHC Trial Going On and On

In many of our eyes, CHC Kong Hee ran his business like a church, and his church like a business. Church funds went to finance and sustain his wife’s questionable music career, termed as the Crossover Project. His wife’s music business prospered in a way, while not really selling anything. The infamous music video of his wife Sun Ho in China Wine pushes boundaries on what are Christianly images if you asked me. Kong Hee is trying to outsource blame on his church elders running his wife’s show business and Xtron. The prosecution however insisted that Kong Hee pulled the strings all the time. The court of public opinion has already ruled against Kong Hee anyway.

Christian-bashers, with the recent anti-377A controversies, would be gleeful that the supposedly strong Christian faction in parliament according to kopitiam talk is taking on fellow Christians. Hence, is this  supposedly Christian-steered parliament really pushing a Christian agenda if they take on Kong Hee instead of turning a blind eye or if they take on Lawrence Khong from FCBC for his unlawful dismissal of a church worker? Or simply Christianity as a label has nothing to do with government policies.

CHC trial: Kong ‘evasive’ so as not to implicate himself, prosecution charges
By Kimberly Spykerman
POSTED: 20 Aug 2014 14:33

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was being evasive so as not to implicate himself in the bond transactions, the prosecution charged, as it resumed its cross-examination of Kong on Wednesday (Aug 20).

Kong has maintained he was only involved in the budgeting of the Crossover Project, and left the financing of the project to his co-accused Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked Kong if that meant he would not be responsible if the bonds then turned out to be an illegal mechanism.

Calling it a “difficult question to answer”, Kong said: “Because I am a pastor, and as a shepherd, I want to take responsibility for a whole host of things. They – Ye Peng and Eng Han – have assured me that they have sought out advice from the professionals, so would the professionals be responsible?”

Kong is among six church leaders in the dock for allegedly using church monies to buy sham bonds in two companies – Xtron and Firna – in order to fund the Crossover Project. The project, fronted by Kong’s wife Sun Ho, is the church’s way of evangelising through secular pop music.

KONG SUPERVISED TEAM CLOSELY

The prosecution sought to show that Kong was more hands-on in all aspects of the Crossover Project than he let on.

Mr Ong pointed to a lengthy and detailed email Kong wrote to chastise Tan as evidence of how closely he supervised his team, whom he called his “spiritual children”. The email addressed issues ranging from unhappiness over the location of the hotel he and Ms Ho were staying at in Hong Kong, to consultants who he felt were not up to standard.

In an email to Deputy Senior Pastor Tan Ye Peng, Kong reprimanded him when promotional efforts of Ms Ho’s career in China yielded disappointing results. Kong wished he could run the “whole show” the way he ran the church, but as he could not, he put his and Ms Ho’s “lives and destiny in the hands of their disciples and spiritual children” and urged Tan not to let them down.

Mr Ong also said Xtron directors did not make decisions about the budgeting and financing of the Crossover Project, as Kong had claimed. He pointed to portions of statements from Tan, Chew and Serina Wee to the Commercial Affairs Department which contradicted Kong’s claims.

XTRON’S CASHFLOW PROBLEMS

The prosecution said Kong was regularly updated about Xtron’s cashflow problems, and would have been the one to approve any solutions to make up the deficit. This would ensure Xtron’s cashflow problems did not affect its ability to finance the Crossover Project. Xtron was Ms Ho’s artiste management firm at the time.

Mr Ong said: “Xtron’s cashflow problems … ultimately become the Crossover’s problems, because it has the potential to derail spending on the Crossover.”

Emails revealed that by end-2007, Xtron had a deficit of some S$0.5 million, and that some of the accused, including Kong, had discussed either pumping more of the church’s money into Xtron or transferring Xtron’s expenses to the church. Eventually, this took the form of the bond transactions at the centre of the criminal charges.

FINANCING NEEDS OF CROSSOVER PROJECT

Mr Ong noted that the proposal to purchase the bonds came about because Kong had tasked Tan and Chew to find a way to finance the needs of the Crossover Project. He also observed that there was “no real assessment of commercial motive on either side, as Xtron would benefit from any accounting adjustments made to allow it to deal with its deficit”.

The prosecution charged that the accused would have injected capital into Xtron, regardless of the church having to bear increased expenses. “Whatever financial arrangements needed to be made to capitalise Xtron would be done … Never mind that the church would end up bearing increased expenses,” said Mr Ong.

But Kong argued that these expenses to Xtron would have been legitimate ones and for real services. In the case of the bonds, Kong said he was told they were a good investment.

NDR and CPF

In short, some of the changes proposed on flexibility and options in the CPF are a mixed bag. CPF Minimum Sum for next year is $161,000 although there would not be further increases in the near future, the PAP government bowing to public pressure and political expediency if the PAP wants to survive the next GE. Currently, the Minimum Sum is $155,000. Another concession PM Lee is offering is that there can be a lump sum withdrawal although details of this tweak to the CPF are unavailable yet. So far the conditions are that it can be up to 20% and only when the CPF member has retired. Whether this lump sum can be withdrawn only if the Minimum Sum is met or not plus other details would be unveiled later.

However, despite earlier hopes when the CPF controversy raged, there are no proposed changes to the CPF interest rates. If interest rates are attractive enough, although “attractive” is subjective, the public would rather keep more money in the CPF longer. From the look of things, CPF is being tweaked further and further and becomes more complicated, because the government wants to be more populist.  And once CPF becomes more complicated, all the more people find it harder to understand and CPF is misconstrued. Already minimum sum is easily misunderstood, the calculation of CPF Life payout is not transparent, the limits of using CPF on housing are overlooked when CPF is used to service home loans. The latest rounds of CPF tweaks would still eventually upset some while please others.

Singapore to Revise Parts of Pension Plan Amid Retirement Concerns
Government Wants to Give Pensioners More Flexibility in How They Tap Savings
By CHUN HAN WONG
Aug. 17, 2014 2:28 p.m. ET
SINGAPORE—Singapore wants to boost financial support to low-income pensioners and revise parts of its state-run compulsory savings plan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Sunday, seeking to address citizens’ concerns over the inadequacy of their retirement savings.

The move comes amid growing public discontent over Singapore’s Central Provident Fund, or CPF, which culminated this year in one of the largest protests ever held in this tightly regulated city-state. Such sentiment, analysts say, stems from rising socioeconomic pressures that have drained support for the governing People’s Action Party in recent years.

In an annual policy speech, Mr. Lee acknowledged Singaporeans’ concerns and pledged to change parts of the CPF system, but defended the overall pension plan as sound.

“The CPF scheme is good but it can be improved,” the prime minister said. “It works well for most Singaporeans, but not quite for all—especially the lower income, and also it’s not quite flexible enough.”

Among the proposed changes, the government plans to give pensioners more flexibility in how they can tap their CPF savings, such as through limited lump-sum withdrawals rather than just regular monthly payouts, Mr. Lee said.

To help about 10% to 20% of elderly Singaporeans who lack sufficient CPF savings and don’t have alternative means of retirement support, the government would provide them with an annual “bonus” payment after they turn 65 years old, Mr. Lee said, without elaborating.

The CPF—a compulsory savings plan for citizens and permanent residents—requires workers and their employers to contribute to retirement-savings accounts, which earn modest interest income at rates set by the government, typically in the low single digits. Established in 1955, the plan has since been liberalized to allow fund members to use some savings to buy homes, pay for health care, and make financial investments.

The pension system came under heightened scrutiny earlier this year after the government said in May it would raise a minimum retirement-savings threshold. The move unsettled many lower- and middle-income Singaporeans who fear that they can’t save enough to meet the new requirement, and prompted some 2,000 people to stage a protest in early June.

Recent surveys also suggest perceptions of retirement inadequacy have become acute among Singaporeans. In a 2014 survey, insurance firm Manulife Financial Corp. MFC.T -1.33% found that only about 20% of respondents believed that their CPF savings were adequate for their retirement needs. A 2012 survey by U.K. bank HSBC Holdings HSBA.LN -1.21% PLC found that 56% of more than 1,000 respondents felt inadequately prepared for retirement or weren’t preparing at all.

Singapore’s rising life expectancy and declining birthrates have complicated matters, as aging citizens require greater retirement savings and have fewer working-age family members upon whom to rely. According to government projections, the ratio of working-age Singaporeans to elderly citizens, ages 65 and above, could fall to roughly 2 to 1 by 2030 from more than 6 to 1 currently.

The government has tried to mitigate this by requiring CPF members to set aside a so-called “minimum sum” in their pension accounts, which would then be released through monthly payouts after members turn 65 years old.

The minimum sum—meant to provide fund members with regular postretirement income—is revised yearly to account for inflation and increasing life expectancy. But many poorer Singaporeans resent the adjustments as a shifting of goal posts that prevents them from fully accessing their own savings.

In the latest revision, Mr. Lee said Sunday the government would raise the minimum sum to 161,000 Singapore dollars (US$129,300) starting next July—up 3.9% from its current level but more than double its 2003 level.

However, the prime minister said he doesn’t expect any “major increases” in the minimum sum thereafter, though revisions would still be made from “time to time.”

Indonesia and ISIS

If ISIS becomes a real state, something like the Taliban but with more violent jihad ambitions, would Indonesia establish formal diplomatic ties? Already some Indonesians have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight. With the Indonesian government struggling to manage the domestic terrorist danger, it would be hesitant and certainly not the first if ever to recognise IS, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL.  Especially if IS still maintains its bloodlust and hatred for everyone else. Already politicians have called for censure of IS propaganda, rightly so as IS goes against Pancasila.

 

Heeding Concerns of the Spread of ISIS Across Indonesia
Jarkata Globe

The national and international media continue to report the rapid advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, but now often referred to as the Islamic State. It is creating an opinion here that ISIS as an entity should not deserve support from any walk of life.

In the weeks that followed extensive discussion on the impact of ISIS the Indonesian government decided to officially ban ISIS, arguing that the militant outfit should not be allowed to spread its teachings in the archipelago.

The declaration on the ban of ISIS was made in the presence of high-ranking officials from certain ministries and other government security apparatus including Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Marciano Norman, Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Moeldoko, and National Police chief Gen. Sutarman.

It is not at all clear how ISIS could pose a real threat to the country’s national stability and security nor whether there is one who is perceived to be in charge of the ISIS movement in Indonesia. But the presence of key officials from those ministries and state agencies during the declaration has confirmed the government’s position that ISIS will not be given any room to maneuver itself and spread its teaching here.

Aside from that, the presence of the key officials is also a reflection that the government means to focus on ISIS and that the issue needs to be addressed through effective interagency cooperation.

The policy of countering the ISIS movement, if such a movement has already been far-reaching here, is not only about effective intelligence. It is also about the reliability of interagency cooperation and effectiveness. Weeks after reports that ISIS has garnered support from certain members of society here, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono chaired limited cabinet meetings on the issue, leading up to the announcement of the government’s decision to ban ISIS.

The government realized that closer cooperation, coordination and sharing of information between agencies is indeed necessary if the negative impacts of the ISIS link is to be prevented.

One report had said that the government had from the very beginning monitored the activities of ISIS here. The government is of the opinion that ISIS is an ideology that runs counter to Indonesia’s state ideology of Pancasila on pluralism and religious freedom. The government, however, stopped short of mentioning ISIS as a threat to national security.

The government can make an assessment at any time and they can also create scenarios on what might happen in the future. But there will always be surprises, no matter how carefully the government protects its national security.

This is to say that government is in a position to determine whether ISIS, perhaps inspired by Al Qaeda’s ideology, poses an imminent threat to national security. A series of terrorists acts here, from the first massive Bali bombing in 2002 to the relatively small scale of terrorist activities — not to mention casualties resulted from such an activities — simply started from the spread of improper teaching of Islam.

The case is evidence to the realities that people were being exposed to the dangerous national environment, if one were to believe that ISIS’s link here had a strong basis for any activities prohibited by law.

As ISIS garnered more support from a certain group of societies in many parts of the world, including that from Indonesia, there was reason for the government to be alarmed by a possible jihadist movement run across the country.

What surprised many was that the imprisoned terrorist convict Abu Bakar Ba’asyir officially pledged his allegiance to join the jihadist movement of the militant group.

The militant group of ISIS has metastasized. Perhaps it is against such background that the government has declared the banning of ISIS. The question then is how can one understand the ISIS threat to Indonesia’s national security.

The lineup of officials during the government’s declaration in banning ISIS indicated it as a confirmation that ISIS activities may have some repercussions, short or long term, for national security.

First, as the government strongly believes that ISIS runs counter to Pancasila ideology, ISIS-related activities or movements may jeopardize one of the elements of national security, namely societal security, which emphasized the ability of our society to persist under possible threats of the spread of ISIS teaching.

Second, sociopolitical stability may be eroded, if peace and harmony among the people here, regardless of their ethnic origin and political background, are torn by ISIS ideology.

Security risk resulting from the negative impacts of the spread of ISIS ideology calls for broad security measures to be undertaken. In the case of a real threat to national security posed by ISIS, the government can employ the following regulations: Presidential Instruction Number 2/2013, which emphasizes the cooperative mechanism between civic and security authorities to respond to and resolve domestic security disturbances caused by the ISIS movement; and the Anti-Terrorism Law Number 15/2003, if there is a strong evidence of ISIS terrorism-related activities.

The ISIS issue is already here. In the end, the new government of Indonesia will continue to face and need to address effectively the long-term security implication of the ISIS movement, if the government is not to be seen moving at a snail’s pace to address the issue.

Bantarto Bandoro is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Defense Strategy, Indonesian Defense University and founder of Institute for Defense and Strategic Research (IDSR) in Jakarta.

New NMPs

What’s in the make-up in the next bunch of NMPs which is typically someone from the education, social safety net, sports, arts and business sectors in a nutshell? Is there more to it than meets the eye and who’s in and just as important for kopitiam talk, who’s out?

Since Kok Heng Leun did not make the cut, so no Arts representatives among the latest batch of NMPs, that means to some, one less champion of LGBT rights in parliament as the arts community has usually been a firm supporter of LGBT issues. With HPB and NLB still fresh in some of our minds, which of the new NMPs is out to push the “Christian Agenda”? The antithesis of the “Gay Agenda” as some call it. Angie Chew, ex-Buddhist Fellowship President and William Wan from the Singapore Kindness Movement also would not have a chance to represent their interests, as well as the interests of connected constituents, in parliament.

The NMPs are picked by the Special Select Committee, which is headed by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, Dr Ng Eng Hen, Ms Grace Fu, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Ms Ellen Lee, Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Masagos Zulkifli and Ms Sim Ann. Hence, your elected partisan MPs select who can be supposedly non-partisan NMPs. It is indeed surprising if one is not cynical by that idea.

 

 

9 new Nominated Members of Parliament announced
channelnewsasia.com

SINGAPORE: Nine people have been selected as Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs), following the deliberations of the Special Select Committee of Parliament. This was announced in a press statement on Monday (Aug 11)

There were 36 candidates considered during the process. The nine that were eventually selected are:

Ms Chia Yong Yong, President, Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD)
President of the SPD since 2008, Ms Chia helped expand the organisation’s number of satellite centres to serve the disabled, and launched various programmes to help people with disabilities to integrate with the community.
Mr Thomas Chua, President, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Mr Chua is also Vice-President of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, and was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2012.

Mr K Karthikeyan, Vice-President, National Trades Union Congress
His interests are in promoting workplace safety and health, and workers’ skills upgrading. He has been a member of the National Wages Council and the Public Transport Council.

Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, Co-Founder and Director, The Thought Collective
Her interest is in working with youths, and she is a Board Member of *SCAPE Youth Talent and Leadership Development.

Mr Mohd Ismail Hussein, Director, Association of Muslim Professionals
Mr Mohd Ismail is active in the area of corporate social responsibility, focusing on the disadvantaged and youth-at-risk.

Ms Rita Soh Siow Lan, President, Singapore Board of Architects
Ms Soh was also previously President of the Singapore Institute of Architects and, in that capacity, worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to review policies on conservation, urban design and development control.

Dr Benedict Tan, Chief and Senior Consultant, Changi Sports Medicine Centre, Changi General Hospital
The former national sailor, who won gold medals in the 1994 Asian Games and SEA Games, was also the recipient of the National Youth Council’s Singapore Youth Award and the Public Service Star.

Associate Prof Randolph Tan Gee Kwang, Deputy Director, Centre for Applied Research at SIM University
Assoc Prof Tan has published many academic titles and taught on the subjects of statistics, econometrics and applied economics. His research work includes labour and housing matters.

Prof Tan Tai Yong, Vice Provost (Student Life), National University of Singapore
Prof Tan is the founding Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, and also the Honorary Chairman of the National Museum of Singapore. He was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2009.
According to the statement by the President’s Office, President Tony Tan Keng Yam will be presenting the Instruments of Appointment to the NMPs at the Istana on Tuesday, Aug 26. The NMPs’ two-and-a-half-year term will commence on the same day, and they will take their oath at the next sitting of Parliament on Monday, Sep 8.

NEW NMPS LOOK AHEAD

Singapore’s Constitution allows for up to nine NMPs. The scheme was introduced in 1990 to bring more independent voices into Parliament. NMPs are not affiliated to any political party. Rather, they represent broad interest groups – the business community, labour movement, arts, sports, civil and social service organisations, as well as academia.

Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament and Chairman of the Special Select Committee, said: “We looked for eligible candidates who had distinguished themselves through their contributions to society or in their respective fields, and who could bring their specialised knowledge to add to the depth and breadth of the debates in Parliament. The Committee also took into consideration the candidates’ ability to contribute alternative ideas and fresh perspectives.”

Dr Ng Eng Hen, Leader of the House, Minister of Defence and a member of the Committee, added that they were looking for NMPs who could add to the discussions of issues facing Singapore in this term, including those related to ageing, economic restructuring, sporting excellence, retention of heritage, and the challenges facing working mothers. “We believe that the new NMPs will help Singapore deal with these challenges,” said Dr Ng.

Ms Chia of the Society for the Physically Disabled hopes to be the voice for persons with disabilities in Parliament, and share their views, aspirations and challenges. The lawyer believes that her nomination shows the Government’s commitment to ensuring the disabled are treated with dignity and given equal rights: “We should be inclusive and in a very real way. Not just in some policies that the Government implements, but in a way that society is able to acknowledge and accept persons with disabilities, and to know that we are all part of one community and we should nurture one another.”

Ms Kuik, aged 37, is the youngest of the newly appointed NMPs, and hopes to be the voice of younger Singaporeans. The non-partisan position of the NMP is “a good way to bring up issues-oriented opinions that are not tied to any particular ideology or party and all that”, she said. The Mum-to-be (who is expecting her first child in Oct) and entrepreneur also hopes to champion issues related to Small and Medium Enterprises and the cost of living for young families.

Former national sailor Benedict Tan will be the voice of sports, which “play a bigger role than in society than most of us would think”, he said. “It actually gets insinuated into education, into character development, into national pride, so it does have a huge role in society. And when I say sports, I mean sports, exercise and physical activity, all included. If you have been in the sports circle for a long time, you will realise that benefits of sports extend beyond competitive sports.”

Meanwhile, Assoc Prof Randolph Tan is likely to make the economy his focus. “I don’t think we can take it for granted that the success that we see now will necessarily carry forward without significant effort on the part of everyone concerned,” he said. “Workers will have to make some sacrifices, as well as companies at certain points in time. Certain policies that are taken for short-term benefits…may actually require some further trade-offs down the road.”

NO REPRESENTATIVES FROM THE ARTS AND ENVIRONMENT SECTORS

Two former NMPs – Associate Professor Eugene Tan and Mr R Dhinakaran – had earlier indicated interest in seeking a second term, but they were not selected to be part of the latest batch of NMPs.

Also missing from the new slate are representatives for the arts and environment sectors. Former NMP Janice Koh, who represented the arts sector in Parliament in the previous term, expressed disappointment at this, and said that artists and others from the creative sector have a role to play in Parliament – they are able to offer a more unconventional point of view on the issues of the day, often with a cultural perspective.

With no specific arts voice in Parliament, it will be up to the other MPs to continue reflecting these concerns in the House, said Ms Koh. “I certainly think that the arts community will also be disappointed by not being represented in the House. But perhaps it is an opportune time for the community to think more strategically about how to continue the arts and culture agenda, or rather, how to continue keeping alive the arts and culture agenda in the public discourse and in the media.”

The Western Media Doesn’t Like Thailand Now

With the Thai economy promising at least in the short term in some accounts, the junta is not totally a bad development in the interim. The military has broken forcibly the stand-off between the pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin camps. Does the end justifies the means in Thailand i.e. a junta and its strong government is what Thailand needed with a weak King, a sore loser more urban anti-Thaksin camp and a populist more rural pro-Thaksin camp?

Certainly Western media types think that a chaotic even sporadically violent democracy is better than a stable junta. Not that they are wrong if the junta does not have a plan to transfer to civilian power eventually by October 2015 as promised. However, the junta’s stability is what Thailand needs now. An aside, the pro-Thaksin camp would win again when there is an election and their opponents would take to the streets again.

 

Five hundred days of dictatorship
Aug 5th 2014, 8:05 by The Economist | BANGKOK

THE ARMY has been the most powerful force in Thai political life since the introduction of constitutional monarchy in 1932. Since its most recent power grab, in a coup d’état sprung on May 22nd, a junta has been busy building a façade of legitimacy—as if to obscure from view their new dictatorship. An interim constitution grants absolutist powers to the military men, who effectively administer the monarchy. It also grants an amnesty for crimes related to the toppling electoral democracy and the tools necessary to ensure that martial law persists. A handpicked bunch will draft a similar piece of paper within the next 120 days. It is unclear whether the expected result, which is to be Thailand’s 18th constitution, will be put to a referendum.

To make it all fly, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s military dictator and prime-minister-in-waiting, had to prostrate himself in front of the 86-year-old king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The ailing monarch’s blessing was the only available source of legitimacy. Accordingly, the interim charter makes mention of the king no fewer than 38 times. Shunting responsibility to the king in this way is a time-tested trick.

On July 31st the king endorsed the members of a new national assembly, a 200-member strong rubberstamp composed of 105 military officers (including 40 generals, 21 lieutenants-generals, 17 chief air marshals and 14 admirals). Professional politicians were ineligible. The civilian half of the new legislature includes civil servants, academics, ex-senators and figures from the private sector (in all, ten women made the cut). An opening ceremony for the assembly will be chaired by the crown prince on August 7th. One of its tasks will be to give General Prayuth, the man who appointed all legislators, the job of prime minister. Unlike the coup-makers of 2006*, who quickly delegated power to handpicked civilians, General Prayuth and his classmates are intent on retaining complete control.

The army has given itself 500 days or so to establish “genuine democracy” by fiat. It will appoint a 250-member strong National Reform Council and then task it with proposing political, social and economic reforms. The stated point of the exercise is to “create the democracy with the King as the Head of State appropriate to the Thai society”. The key characteristics of such a democracy are supposed to include free and fair elections; an end to corruption, misconduct and inequality; and the impartial enforcement of laws. It all sounds perfectly “appropriate”. But it seems the generals have in mind a few extra characteristics.

For a start, no political comeback for Thaksin Shinawatra or his sister Yingluck, the siblings who won every election since 2001. Without competitive elections, the Shinawatras are powerless, albeit rich. The generals let Ms Yingluck leave Thailand to attend the Mr Thaksin’s birthday party in Paris on July 26th. That puts Ms Yingluck in a position to decide whether to return to Thailand—and face criminal charges—or join Thailand’s long list of exiled former prime ministers.

The junta says there will be a big election in October 2015. Thus far it has refused to say if it will impose any restrictions on the franchise. But it would be a wonder if it didn’t. For the whole point of the coups of 2006 and 2014 has been to overturn the winner-takes-all system which served Mr Thaksin so well, in favour of governance by “moral people” who cannot win elections.

Much of the elite feels offended to hear a spade called a spade. But there can be no mistaking that Thailand’s government has slipped from the reach of any popular majority. The dictatorship which has replaced it will make every effort to outlast the lifespan of the current king.

Most Thai citizens (and most Western governments too) would like to see Thailand emerge someday as a prosperous, democratic republic, a leader within South-East Asia. For them the near-term future looks unpromising. Large parts of the economy are essentially criminal conspiracies based on smuggling, prostitution, gambling and corruption. Research by the World Bank shows that only half of all income shows up in Thailand’s national-accounts data—which is among the lowest rates in Asia.

And while the benefits of Thailand’s economic growth since the 1960s have raised incomes and provided health care and education to most Thais, the pillars of future prosperity look shaky. The things that will be required by further development—rule of law, a well-regulated financial system, transparency of wealth, a strong commitment to a scientific society—are in short supply.

The junta’s very existence represents a rejection of the rule of law. While its commitment to stamp out corruption sounds good, graft is too entrenched to be rooted out by the army alone; like the government it replaced, the officer corps is essentially a business club, serving the country’s elite. The financial system, long under the control of the wealthiest Thais and leading Thai-Chinese business groups, will remain a closed shop. The central bank, which became notorious for its mismanagement of the financial crisis in 1997 and 1998, has since pursued a course that is directly supportive of the wealthy and has significantly slowed growth. Much has been written about the successes of the Thai economy, but Thailand’s record in raising peoples’ standards of living post-1997 is actually worse than that of any other country in East or South-East Asia (with the notable exception of North Korea**). The secretive policies of the Crown Property Bureau, the palace’s investment arm and the biggest conglomerate in Thailand, reflects a deep resistance to transparency. Finally, if freedom of thought and expression are to be the basis of any scientific society—then Thailand will just have to wait.

The forces that are leading the society backwards are now unassailable, according to the letter of the law. They shield themselves from every other kind of criticism by their association with the monarchy. Challenging a state that has been endorsed by the king is socially unacceptable—and now it is a criminal offence, too.

Eventually public opinion will turn against the junta. But a social response to economic failure will take time to develop. Thailand’s economy is short of labour, with nearly full employment. Its fiscal position is enviable by most European and Asian standards.

Yet a meaningful economic recovery in the second half 2014 would be nothing short of a miracle. Imports fell 14% year-on-year in June and industrial output fell 6.6%. Overall production, consumption, investment and tourism all slumped. Investment, which follows demand, will not pick up until the collapse in domestic demand has been reversed. High household debt and consumers’ reluctance to invest their black money are likely to complicate a return to rapid growth. Whatever happens in the next few months, Thailand is likely to be the slowest-growing economy in Asia this year.

At some point the self-appointed leadership is bound to weary of defending itself on the pretext of building a democracy. Most dissenters appear to have resigned themselves to the fact that their views will not matter for a while, perhaps two or three years. Many are too busy simply trying to make ends meet.

To stay in power till the next royal succession, the generals must prove that their brand of authoritarianism can improve the lot of 68m Thais. If they pulled it off, theirs would be the first coup anywhere since the end of the cold war that actually raised the pace of income growth. It will never be known what Thailand could have achieved for itself this decade within a democratic framework. If Thailand’s own history is a reliable guide, abandoning democracy can be expected to lead straight to economic stagnation and exacerbated inequality.

(Picture credit: AFP)

Corrections to this article:
* This clause was changed to refer specifically to the 2006 coup. As a reader pointed out, some of the leaders of previous coups were not so quick to hand over the reins.
** Another reader directed our attention to the case of North Korea, which we had overlooked somehow. Thank you, both.

Malaysians Protest Over 400% Toll Hike By Malaysian Government

The Malaysian Highway Authority’s Johor Causeway toll of cars is now RM 16.50 instead of RM 2.90, amongst other increases for taxis, buses and commercial vehicles. The explanation for the toll was that it was for the maintenance of the JB CIQ and the EDL, the smaller newer highway in JB that connects to the NS highway. Malaysians are angered as those using the EDL but not the Causeway get a free ride, while those who use the Causeway but not the EDL are subsidising for the EDL users.

Furthermore, this toll looks different from the VEP that the Malaysian government wanted to introduce in 2015 in retaliation to the proposed Singapore-side fee increase from $20/day to $25/day for foreign cars driving into Singapore.

The in-out toll will hit Johor residents who work in Singapore as well as commercial vehicles heading into the Singapore market and port, and back. The thousands of bikes entering Singapore daily are exempted for now from the toll so the industry and retail workers biking into Singapore would be unaffected so far. As this is separate from the tit-for-tat VEP by Putrajaya and with Johor re-asserting its economic independence e.g. Iskandar, a simplified explanation is that could be an attempt to dent Singapore’s economy by driving up daily costs of Johor-Singapore commuters and businesses, deterring them from driving south.

Malaysian bus drivers stage ‘strike’ at Johor Checkpoint

SINGAPORE — Malaysian buses ferrying factory workers and school children into Singapore are reported to have staged a strike at the Malaysian Checkpoint at Johor Bahru.

MediaCorp Hotline received at least five calls about the incident early this morning (Aug 1). One of the callers, Mr Tan, said he saw many Malaysian-registered buses ferrying factory workers from Johor stopped their vehicles at Johor Checkpoint, refusing to continue their journey into Singapore at Woodlands.

Mr Tan said the strike by the bus drivers caused heavy traffic congestion at the Johor Checkpoint. Factory workers had to disembark at the Malaysian CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex) and walk a long distance into Singapore to board buses to their workplace.

Another caller said the congestion at the Malaysian CIQ had also affected school children travelling into Singapore. He said most of them will be late for school this morning. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

MH17: Malaysia’s Anger for Justice

Malaysians are rightly growing angrier and angrier, as grief and shock is being replaeced by frustration that nothing concrete at justice for the victims and their families has been achieved since MH17 was shot down last week. Instead, news of pro-Russian forces blocking crash investigators at the site and not returning one blackbox of MH17 besides general stonewalling by Russia, dominated. The UN is mulling a resolution drafted by Australia to condemn the downing of MH17. Expectedly, Russia and its allies would object or abstain, since Russia’s complicity in the shooting is deep. All eyes are on Malaysia and how far it intends to work with the other aggrieved states to demand justice.  It would be an uphill task as Russia is bound to be uncooperative despite the risk of being seen as a pariah state.

Malaysia must not forgive nor forget
By Wong Sai Wan -
July 21

I am angry and I am sure that I am not alone. I want justice and, again, I am sure I am not alone.

We cannot allow MH17 to be forgotten or swept away for political and economic needs.

Those responsible — no matter whether directly or indirectly — for the murder of the 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam on that fateful Thursday must be brought to justice.

The Special Parliament meeting on Wednesday to debate and condemn the downing of MH17 must not be about only speeches. Malaysians expect — no, demand — more than only empty talk. Our leaders must react with the anger that all of us feel.

I suggest that Parliament orders the Attorney-General to initiate a criminal investigation into this matter and to bring the perpetrators to justice here in Malaysia, if not at The International Court of Justice.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail must be firm in getting the murderers prosecuted. They must be put on public trial for mass murder and be put to death not only in retribution, but also as a deterrent to anyone else even thinking about it.

The Americans have their September 11 tragedy. MH17 is ours.

We have all read about those killed. Many of them are experts in various fields that could have made the world a better place. These murderers have robbed all of us of fathers, mothers, siblings and friends.

NEED FOR SWIFT JUSTICE

The United Nations must be forced to seek out the shooters, planners and, ultimately, the leaders responsible for this most dastardly of murders.

Malaysia is seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council at the end of this year and we must now make MH17 part of our campaign for that seat. If the UN fails to move, Malaysia must act, even if we have to do so on our own.

Shooting down a civilian aircraft without provocation is an act of war by any definition.

We must act swiftly to bring about justice, especially for the sake of the 298 people killed and for our nation, while we grieve for MH370.

Many of us are still reeling from that tragedy and the nation as a whole is struggling to come to terms with it.

Four months later, we are no closer to the truth than that fateful Saturday of March 8.

However, MH17 is different.

We know who is probably responsible and the world needs to hunt down the criminals.

Malaysia must start by recording in the strongest possible terms its anger by pointing its finger at Ukraine and Russia. These two countries, which we consider friends, must open their doors to our investigators to bring the murderers to justice.

Many people, including myself, do not believe the Russians do not know who pulled the trigger or who ordered the act. If Russia wants to remain a global powerhouse, it must ensure the prosecution must take place and the murderers punished.

Political and economic alliances must not be a consideration when dealing with this.

Almost 100 years ago, the United States entered World War I after the ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915. The attack killed 128 Americans on board, among the 1,198 passengers and crew who died in the sinking.

I am sure that if MH17 were an American or British aircraft, there would be international hell to pay. It is our job to make sure this precedence also applies in this case and not allow even one person to escape prosecution.

There may be a civil war in the area the plane was shot down, but downing a civilian aircraft is unforgiveable.

The perpetrators must be brought to justice and I, on behalf of all Malaysians, offer them our courts to do so.

THE MALAY MAIL ONLINE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Wong Sai Wan is editor-in-chief of Malay Mail.

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