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Budget talk

Parliament passed the Budget this week, so we’ve got to start this week’s round-up with some of topics that stood out, in no particular order.

Pritam Singh asked if the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee has been set up yet. Nope, says Chan Chun Sing. He explained that the government doesn’t always announce when the EBRC is convened because the committee needs to work independently of unnecessary media attention or public pressure. Question: why does the EBRC need to change the boundaries every time? Also, why do they draw the constituencies in ways that make no geographical sense? Perhaps they need more scrutiny, not less.

Pritam also mentioned in his speech that some Singaporeans think that introduction of the Merderka Generation package has been timed to coincide with elections, but Chee Hong Tat insists that’s “misleading”. According to him, it’s only the Workers’ Party that’s “politicising this tribute to our Merdeka Generation.” Sure, bro.

Cheryl Chan suggested wealth and inheritance taxes on the super-rich as an option for Singapore’s tax system (and somewhere out there Donald Low didn’t stop sneezing for a day). Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that it’s better for wealth taxes to target property.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is getting a boost, a big one. Their current annual spending is S$979 million. By 2025, they expect it to be S$1.9 billion. They’re also going to set up a new Science and Technology Agency to leverage technology to look into things like forensics, biometrics and surveillance. Please remember that our Minister of Home Affairs looks to China’s CCTV surveillance network as a model (I’m never going to get over this).

The government is reviewing the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. There’s also chatter about preventing foreign interference—but there’s some broad strokes and we don’t have details yet.

Conflicts of interest

We’ve got a new Auditor-General, Goh Soon Poh. The problem? She’s the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How. Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party asked in Parliament if this would affect public perception of how independent the Auditor-General is, but Chan Chun Sing said there is no conflict of interest. But The Online Citizen points out that the last time the AGO did their audit, they did uncover lapses in MINDEF’s operations. They ask:

“Hence, the important question is, would Auditor General Goh Soon Poh, wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, tell her husband at home about any future lapses in MINDEF uncovered by her office, while her people are still investigating the lapses in Heng’s ministry?
And what would Heng do in this case? Report her to the Attorney General to prosecute her for breaching the Official Secrecy Act  or pretend he didn’t hear about it?”

I also want to know.

Speaking out…

Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira has called for more official transparency and access to data, as well as more acceptance of academics whose research results go against the official narrative. Everyone needs to read this bit:

“Our former prime ministers have stated that there is no guarantee your party will be in power forever. Your party may well be in power, but it may be a different party with less integrity and ability than today. Or it may not be in power at all.
If and when that happens, to set and keep Singapore on the right path, let us invest today to have institutions in place that allow Singaporeans to speak from a position of strength on the issues of the day and challenge any future government that they feel is not acting in the best interests of Singaporeans.”

He was swiftly backed up by Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University, who wrote: “Academics and/or other Singaporeans who provide constructive critiques of official narratives and policies which we are accustomed to should not be treated as adversaries or renegades, but rather, as partners in nation-building.”

…and the consequences

Unfortunately, this week we also heard more about cases in which people haven’t been treated as partners. In his affidavit to the court, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong claimed that financial advisor Leong Sze Hian’s sharing of a now-debunked article had been an “attack against me personally as well as against the Singapore Government, of which I am the head.” But Leong hadn’t written the piece, merely shared it, without comment. Plenty of other people had shared it too… so why is Leong the only one being slapped with a defamation suit?

Going further, Lee complained that Leong was using the defamation suit “to wage a public campaign to gain sympathy and support”. I have very little patience for this—who was the one who sued? What did he expect Leong to do, just roll over?

An exciting giveaway!

If you’ve made it this far, then I have a special treat for you (well, some of you)—free stuff! I’ve been given 2 pairs (i.e. 4 tickets) of complimentary passes to A Land Imagined at Cathay Cineplex (it’s screening at The Cathay, Cathay Cineleisure, Cathay Parkway Parade, and Cathay JEM) to give out to a couple of newsletter readers.

I’ve never ever done a giveaway before; for awhile I toyed with asking random questions, or getting people to send me cat photos. But in the end I figured that was too much trouble (and I might get stuck trying to decide which is the best cat photo because all cats are Best Cats), so I’m just going to keep it simple and have it first come, first serve. If you’re among the first two to reply to this newsletter and ask for the tickets I’ll tell you where you can pick them up!

For those of you who haven’t heard of A Land Imagined, it was the Singaporean film doing us proud at film festivals (it won the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival) while Crazy Rich Asians (pfft) was getting all the limelight. The trailer’s below:

Baby shark, doodoo doodoodoodoo…

I usually end with “About the neighbours…” but this newsletter seems to be quite long and full of serious information, so I’m going to end with something much lighter (and dumber). Have some R&B Baby Shark.