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#10: This is what being upset about critique looks like

Also: A Select Committee update, and the return of the water issue

I haven’t got any events this week—I’m considering getting rid of that section and mixing it in with the regular updates. Thoughts?

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Discussions on inequality

Following the success of Teo You Yenn’s book This Is What Inequality Looks Like, which triggered more discussion of structural inequality in Singapore, the establishment is pushing back. There was first an op-ed by social worker Sudha Nair, who focuses on low-income families who make “poor choices” and need help to “change”. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-jin shared it: “Rhetoric and bleeding hearts may sell and draw eyeballs. And it’d continue to be so I guess.” Dude.

Then Mohamad Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who has a background in social work,  wrote a piece emphasising self-reliance and insisting that there is enough support for low-income families in Singapore. All these articles were originally published in The Straits Times behind paywalls, but the Ministry of Social and Family Development have helpfully republished them for free on their blog.

But some other social workers have pushed back: Dr Ng Kok Hoe, Han Yah Yee and over 40 other social workers have signed this letter. The full version, with the signatories’ names, is here:

Fake news

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods completed their open hearings in March, and started working on their report in May. Janil Putucheary said this past week that they are still mulling over the recommendations made, and that the report will be out later in the year. Cherian George, who was on the same panel at the East-West Center’s International Media Conference, pointed out that anti-fake news law must apply to governments themselves, since governments can be purveyors of fake news. He also called out the Singapore media for not pushing for greater independence themselves:

I think you do need additional freedom, you do. It's shocking that in Singapore—unlike most parts of Asia—it's people outside the press that are telling the press, please, have more freedom. For some reason the press doesn't want to echo that.


Defence Tech Summit

The Defence Tech Summit ended this week in Singapore. Among one of the exhibitors was a Chinese company peddling artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology. This article in TODAYonline talks about how facial recognition can be used to nab suspects and find elderly relatives; less discussed are the implications for privacy, surveillance and state abuse.


The US State Department has released its 2018 Trafficking in Persons report. It found that the Singapore government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.” Also: “Large numbers of migrant workers experienced conditions indicative of labour trafficking in Singapore, and, although the government continued to prosecute labour trafficking cases, it had yet to secure the conviction of a labour trafficker under the trafficking law.”

Amending the Goods and Services Tax Act

Tax evasion is bad, but it’s still a non-violent offence. Yet proposed amendments to the Good and Services Tax Act suggest giving the authorities the power to “forcibly enter premises, arrest without warrant or conduct body searches of suspects”.

The water thing resurfaces

The last time Mahathir was prime minister of Malaysia, the water agreement was a problem—I remember, in high school, how we had to brainstorm ways to renegotiate the water deal between Singapore and Malaysia as part of a project. Now Mahathir’s back, and so is the water issue; he wants to renegotiate the deal that’s meant to go up to 2061. This irked Member of Parliament Lee Yi Shyan, who stated in a Facebook post that raw water doesn’t cost Malaysia anything because it “falls from the sky”. Amid all this, the Crown Prince of Johor tweeted his thanks to Singapore for helping the state out during its water crisis. Singapore has opened its third desalination plant, so we can produce more drinking water ourselves. But even though we have perfectly good tap water, Singaporeans are still massive consumers of bottled water.

Nominated Member of Parliament

Some NMPs are getting ready to step down when they get to the end of their term. Kuik Shiao-yin and Azmoon Ahmad have confirmed that they won’t serve another term, and the Arts NMP Kok Heng Leun is also going to step down (I think civil society is going to miss having him in the House!) New NMP hopefuls include the blogger Xiaxue, and also two candidates from the arts community: Felicia Low of Community Cultural Department and Woon Tien Wei of Post-Museum.

Death penalty

Chia Kee Chen, a businessman who murdered his wife’s former lover, was sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal. The High Court had given him a life sentence, but the Court of Appeal said that said that the death penalty was “the appropriate, indeed the only adequate sentence”. I think it would surprise no one that I don’t see this as a good development, even if Chia’s crime was heinous. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be punished for his crime, but the death penalty doesn’t solve anything.

Pink Dot chocolates

This is a bit of a plug for a friend and also a cause I believe in: Demochoco has announced the flavours of the chocolate truffles that are going to be in the Pink Dot fundraiser box. Support the freedom to love and eat yummy chocolates at the same time!

Press freedom

I’m really looking forward to watching Press Gang at the Singapore Theatre Festival. Yahoo! Singapore has an interview with the playwright, Tan Tarn How: “If the government says with one side of its mouth that it welcomes naysayers and those with alternative views but chews up the people who step forward, which message will people remember?”

Related: I’ll be speaking on the festival’s session on journalism in Singapore at Lowercase Cafe on 8 July.

And now for a visual break

I haven’t actually seen that much of it, but I just find We Bare Bears super cute.