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#11: Will the general election come early?

Also: Support The T Project! And enjoy PinkFest!

I’m back in Singapore and trying to regain the momentum that I had going before I left. Anyone who’s let the emails accumulate while travelling will know what a pain this is—send good thoughts! #help

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Election buzz already?

I don’t know why this is behind a paywall but the Elections Department has appointed about 30,000 public servants as election officials. Training’s already begun. The next general election has to be called before January 2021; does this mean it’s going to come early? The past timelines provided by ST: “For the 2015 General Election, public servants were called up for training about 11 months before the polls. The timeframe was about 18 months for the 2006 General Election and about 31 months for the 2011 polls.”

Keep in mind: we’re going to “commemorate” (they’ve been careful not to say “celebrate”) the bicentennial of Raffles’ landing in Singapore next year. Are they going to try to recreate the 2015 SG50 magic?

Support The T Project

The T Project, the only dedicated shelter for transgender Singaporeans, is raising funds to renew its lease. They need S$34,800 for the year, so please contribute what you can!

From $1,600 to $452

A Bangladeshi worker was promised a monthly salary of $1,600. When he arrived in Singapore, he was told that his employer had changed the number to $452. Kudos to MP Louis Ng for asking important questions about this in Parliament. I actually interviewed this worker for this feature in Esquire Singapore. MOM wasn’t very happy with the story, so I’m publishing their response in full below. (MOM sent this to Esquire Singapore instead of to me, so I’ve been wondering if I should publish it, but I guess the point of sending a response was to get it published?)

And I know I mentioned this in a previous issue, but just going to link the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report findings on Singapore again: “Large numbers of migrant workers experienced conditions indicative of labor trafficking in Singapore, and, although the government continued to prosecute labor trafficking cases, it had yet to secure the conviction of a labor trafficker under the trafficking law. Authorities did not effectively identify victims compelled into service through psychological coercion or debt bondage, leaving some victims unidentified and subject to punishment or deportation.”

Fragmentation and the arts community

A piece in RICE Media argued that a recent townhall session with the two Arts NMP-hopefuls showed that the arts community in Singapore is too fragmented to progress. Others disagree. Reading the RICE piece, though, it seems to me as if a lot of the frustration shouldn’t necessarily be directed at the Arts NMP candidates, nor at the arts community, but at the NMP scheme itself. NMPs aren’t actually politicians in the proper sense of the word, which is why there is really not that much that NMPs can do except surface issues to put on record. We should always remember that ultimately, the NMP scheme is a token tossed out to placate Singaporeans into thinking that we have adequate representation and diversity in Parliament. We don’t.

Conflict of interest?

Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, recently did a long interview with Channel NewsAsia’s On The Record, where he denied that there had been a conflict of interest when he was part of the City Harvest Church defence team. As part of the team, he’d argued that Kong Hee et al could not be charged under a particular section of the Penal Code, which provides for heavier penalties for criminal breach of trust. The government later said that the sentences were too low, and that it was a gap in the law that had to be remedied. At the time, people had wondered why, as deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, Tong hadn’t pointed out the flaw in the law governing criminal breaches of trust. Some still say it was a conflict of interest.

Sand sand sand sand sand

This piece in the Guardian touches on Singapore’s demand for sand: “The world’s biggest importer of sand, Singapore has contrived a 20% increase in its land area using sand sourced from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, much of it illegally. In 2008, it claimed to have imported only 3m tonnes of sand from Malaysia, but the real figure, according to the Malaysian government, was 133m tonnes, almost all of it smuggled, allegedly. As Singapore grows so its vast neighbour Indonesia shrinks. Illegal sand extraction threatens the very existence of some 80 small low-lying Indonesian islands bordering Singapore, playing havoc with marine ecology.”

Word salad

RICE Media has a piece this week calling on Singapore’s public service to be more direct and concrete in their communications, rather than relying on vague motherhood statements. My take on this is that this level of word salad has been exacerbated by the lack of a truly independent press and demands for accountability; if there isn’t any pressure for straight answers, then it’s easy to get lazier and more complacent, and just fob people off with vague statements and buzzwords rather than concrete plans and direct responses.

Death penalty

Here’s a very evocative short film about the death penalty in Singapore; I spoke to them last year about my observations of the experiences of death row inmates’ families.

Facebook chatter

Two women have been warned by the police for making supposedly “inflammatory” race-related comments on Facebook. They had apparently posted comments on Facebook “alleging that members of one race looked down on members of another race” and were subsequently investigated for making comments that were “prejudicial to the maintenance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore”. We don’t know what they actually said and whether it would reach the threshold of hate speech, but Singapore’s laws regulating what can or can’t be said about race or religion are famously broad.

The Cuff Road Project

The Straits Times did a video profile of TWC2’s Cuff Road Project, a soup kitchen for migrant workers stuck in Singapore, many because of work injury claims. As a one-time volunteer at TCRP, I can vouch for how important this volunteer-driven initiative is.

And now for a visual break…

I don’t know enough about birds to have a favourite bird, but if I did, it would probably be the kakapo.


I was going to individually link the LGBTQ-related events that are going to be part of PinkFest, then I realised there are just too many of them, so you should really be checking out this website from now until 21 July to check out the range of activities on offer. Also, don’t miss Leslie Kee’s Out in Singapore—the exhibition runs at Intermission @ The Projector until the 29th.

Migrant workers
A few migrant worker-related events this week: HOME and Aidha are organising a Sports Day on 8 July, with different activities for migrant domestic workers to participate in. Entrance is free for MDWs, you just have to register. Find out more here.

There’s also a discussion on migrant workers’ labour conditions at the City Book Room on 8 July, for those who are more comfortable communicating in Mandarin.

And another! TWC2’s regular research forum is on 12 July. Charan Bal will be speaking on “Guest Workers & the Illiberal State: State responses to migrant worker activism & unrest”. Register here.

Press freedom
Also on 8 July, I’ll be on a panel about journalism in Singapore as part of W!LD RICE’s Singapore Theatre Festival.

Humanist Cafe
The Humanist Society’s latest sit-down-and-chat session is on 12 July. You can register to be a member of the Humanist Society here.

Come Talk About Poverty
We had a great discussion about healthcare last month, so this month we’re back with another hot topic: poverty and inequality in Singapore. There’s been plenty of chatter about whether the system is good enough—just look at the last issue of this newsletter. So let’s talk about it: it’s all about engaging face-to-face and getting used to talking about controversial and yes, political, issues together. It’s on 13 July at 7:30pm, so don’t forget to register.

Singapore Cat Festival 🐱🐈🐱
The Cat Welfare Society is supporting the inaugural Singapore Cat Festival from 14–15 July. It’s a festival. Of cat. I don’t think you need more information.