Skip to content

#13: Let Ben Davis play football lah!

Also: A cyberattack affects 1.5 million patient records.

When I first started this newsletter, I said I would do it for three months, then evaluate. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough interest, enough news or enough time to pull it all together week after week.

Well, this is the 13th issue, which means I’ve officially done this for 13 weeks. There are 446 subscribers (at the time of writing) and an open rate that’s usually >50% over the course of the week.

There’s also been more than enough news, and this week especially proves the point.

Ben Davis and NS deferment

This is something that has attracted plenty of attention this week, so I’m going to do as comprehensive a round-up as I can. Around the same time that Tharman Shanmugaratnam was admiring France’s World Cup win, it came out that the Ministry of Defence has rejected Benjamin Davis’ application to defer his National Service, even though the 17-year-old is the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with an English Premier League team (Fulham FC). Although deferments are occasionally granted to athletes, Mindef said that they’re only granted to those who represent Singapore in international competitions and could be potential medal winners; a criteria that has been observed as being heavily skewed towards individual athletes, as opposed to those in team sports. Members of the football community have said that the two-year NS obligation will hamper Ben’s development as a footballer, but Mindef sees his Fulham FC contract as a “personal pursuit”. His dad has indicated that they’re prepared for Ben to give up his Singapore citizenship if there’s no other way to chase his dream. But Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State for Defence, says Ben’s appeal will fail if no new facts are presented. Mindef later also doubled down in a pretty petty statement, insisting that Ben’s “actions are meant to further his own professional career, not national interest. As his father openly admitted, he is looking out for his son’s future, not Singapore’s.”

Singaporeans have rallied to Ben’s cause, with two petitions (here and here) calling for MINDEF to allow him to defer NS. People have also been writing to their MPs. Why has this resonated so much with Singaporeans? Perhaps, as Daniel Yap argues, “many Singaporeans feel that we don’t have a say in what we want Singapore to be… That’s why we want Ben Davis  to break the law, become a fugitive and chase his sporting dream. We want to live vicariously through Ben.”

Even the Singapore Kindness Movement has weighed in on this, pointing to the highly transactional approach that Mindef has taken towards Ben’s case—do we really want to think about everything in terms of return on investment? And MustShareNews has drawn up a list of people whose NS had been deferred or disrupted.

Kena cyberattack

There’s been an “unprecedented” cyberattack on SingHealth’s IT databases, resulting in 1.5 million patient records stolen, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s. The government has said that they’ll send text messages or letters to each of the 1.5 million people to inform them if their information has been compromised. If you want to check if you’ve been affected, you can find out here. So far, none of the information seems to have surfaced in the public domain. Channel NewsAsia also says that the authorities know who might be behind this attack, but they’re keeping mum for now.

On the judiciary and contempt of court

Dr Kevin Tan, a law professor at NUS, gave a talk last weekend on the judiciary in Singapore, where he argued for some things to make the judiciary in Singapore more independent: he called for an independent Judicial Appointments Commission, the abolition of the Judicial Commissioner post and the abolition of supernumerary judges (judges who stay on contract after passing the retirement age). Teo Soh Lung summed up the session.

On Tuesday, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li heard the cases against Jolovan Wham and John Tan—the first contempt of court cases brought under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. The Act lowers the legal test for scandalising the judiciary from “real risk” to “risk”, but Wham’s lawyers argued that in any case, a post that only had 29 reactions and no shares “cannot possibly constitute a ‘risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined’”. I attended and reported on the hearing for Asia Times. Judgement has been reserved, so we have to wait and see what happens.

No discrimination? Pfft.

One day before Pink Dot, the Inter-University LGBT Network issued a press statement expressing disappointment at having been told that their representative could not speak at TEDxYouth organised by St Joseph’s Institution because it would breach Ministry of Education “regulations”. What regulations are these? 🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️ Your guess is as good as mine. The government has claimed that “members of the LGBT community are also not discriminated against in schools”—so what would they call this?

The CareShield debate

The CareShield debate over gender-differentiated premiums continued on at the beginning of this week, but has since been overshadowed by the Ben Davis story. The petition has since garnered 8,687 signatures—add yours if you haven’t done so. On Facebook, a question: should CareShield be a national security scheme, or one that runs like private insurance?


Singapore ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—the new TPP after the US pulled out—this week. We’re the third country to do so: Mexico and Japan did it before us. The agreement will come into force 60 days after six out of the 11 signatories ratify it. If you don’t know what the heck this is about, The Economist has an explainer on the CPTPP.

HSR developments

Mahathir now says that Malaysia will negotiate with Singapore to defer the High-Speed Rail project. The Malaysian government doesn’t think the HSR is a good idea for them right now, given the state of the country’s finances, but to drop it unilaterally would come with serious penalties.


Another hint that elections could come earlier than the January 2021 deadline? More ministers are going to participate in joint community visits outside of their constituencies; it’s a commonly-held belief that when the politicians start walking the ground more (or are given media coverage for walking the ground more), it means they’re building up to the polls. I doubt it’ll be terribly soon, but we’ll see what next year brings with those bicentennial commemorations.

This joint community visit thing is meant to be part of efforts to help them better connect with the ground and understand the issues that Singaporeans face. (I’m not sure managed community visits really help ministers get a sense of the ground, though.) Singapore’s ministers have long been criticised for being in “ivory towers” and disconnected from the ground, and the new generation of leadership is no different—they were recently described as “4G without the connectivity”.

And since we’re on the topic of elections and political parties, Channel NewsAsia has a good interview with Dr Paul Tambyah, chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Other bits and bobs

My favourite review of Press Gang, which has ended its run at the Singapore Theatre Festival, is by ex-Straits Times journalist Corrie Tan.

I spoke at the closing ceremony of the NUS Global Citizen Conference last night. Here’s (more or less) what I said.

And now for a visual break…

It’s Pink Dot today, so I’m going to share this beautiful video from last year. See you at the light up tonight!

Events coming up

Pink Dot
It’s Pink Dot today so I hope you’re in pink wherever you are! For Singaporeans and PR subscribers, see you at 3pm at Hong Lim Park. Check out the important info before you go. #weareready

Beyond CMIO
Singapore Unbound is organising a literary reading on Sunday to interrogate the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categories in Singapore.

Human rights and the Universal Periodic Review
I’ll be moderating this discussion about the UPR process and human rights violations in Singapore next Saturday (28 July). Come join us.

Carnival of Poetry
Also on 28 July, migrant worker poets will be performing their work at The Arts House. The enthusiasm is always infectious, so check it out!