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Building ramps, workers' rights, and... "vigilante conduct"?

Issue 78

Selamat pagi from Jakarta (although as you read this, I should be on my way to Medan)! Yesterday I spoke at the Digital Discourses mini-conference organised by the Goethe Institut; my presentation focused on Singapore, POFMA, and the shrinking space for civil society. I’ll try to put together my notes from my speech into a coherent piece for Milo Peng Funders.

How hard is it to build a ramp?

As it turns out, building ramps aren’t necessarily a straightforward business in Singapore. Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh brought this up in a post last week, saying that a ramp at Bedok Reservoir Road had finally be completed seven years after it was first proposed. Why leh?

You see, the government makes money available to all town councils across Singapore for upgrading and improvement works. But MPs have to go through People’s Association Grassroots Advisers to have proposed projects considered. And who are these Grassroots Advisers? PAP members. This means that even in opposition-held constituencies, they have to go through PAP-affiliated advisers (usually the losing PAP candidate) to get improvement projects put forward.

In response to the post, Chua Eng Leong—a losing PAP candidate in Aljunied in 2015, and thus Grassroots Adviser—claimed that Pritam had raised a “red herring”. He claimed that project had also been mooted by the Eunos Citizens’ Consultative Committee (aiyoh, Bedok Reservoir Road in Aljunied GRC but also linked to the Eunos CCC) so there was no reason to delay it. He said it was “politically mischievous” of Pritam to suggest that things get held up for political reasons.

In came Pritam again: this time with a compiled summary of communication between the town council to the People’s Association. I’ll admit that I’ve only skim-read it so far; it’s just so much like death-by-bureaucracy I got tired. I’ll try to dive into it again some other time.

My main question for this entire episode, though, is why grassroots advisers are PAP members—that really doesn’t help with trying to convince Singaporeans that the People’s Association isn’t politicised, does it?

Erm, I don’t think “vigilante” means what you think it means

Jolovan Wham had his appeal to the High Court against his conviction and sentence for organising an illegal assembly (read: indoor panel discussion on civil disobedience and activism in which Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Skyped in) dismissed today. The judge upheld the S$3,200 fine, although he rejected the prosecutor’s argument that Jolovan’s bail should be upped from S$8,000 to S$15,000. Jolovan’s lawyers are going to file another appeal.

Jolovan’s lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, had argued that citizens should be able to organise such events, and that it would be up to the police commissioner to prohibit it. And if the commissioner’s prohibition is later found to be unwarranted, then the citizen has committed no offence for organising the event anyway.

Nope, said the judge, describing that as “vigilante conduct”. That’s, erm, literally not what “vigilante” means...

Bus drivers go to court

Five SBS Transit drivers are taking their employer to court. They say that they’ve not been paid the right amount of overtime, plus other breaches of the Employment Act, like being made to work more than 44 hours a week. SBS Transit says that this should be referred to the Industrial Arbitration Court, because it affects the collective agreement made between the company and the National Transport Workers’ Union, instead of the State Courts (where the drivers have made claims). But the drivers’ lawyer, M Ravi of Carson Law Chambers, says that the arbitration court is for issues between the employer and the union. He says that his clients have lost faith in their union and withdrawn from it, and should therefore have their case heard in the State Courts.

What’s up in Singapore?

The T Project’s fundraising campaign is ongoing! They’ve got to raise S$100,000 to keep supporting trans people in Singapore. Please support if you can.

This looks like a fascinating event: Kelelakian /ஆண்மை: Dialogues on Minority-race Masculinity in Singapore. They’ve got a few sessions going, and you can sign up here.

New slots have opened up at civil society conference Apa Itu Activist (happening 9 November), so don’t miss out and sign up here!

This past week on New Naratif, we released Episode 19 of Southeast Asia Dispatches, our fortnightly podcast of features, interviews and op-eds from around the region. In this episode, we visited Rohingya refugee camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, talked to two Malaysian students protesting their university’s involvement in a problematic event, and examined the state of activism and dissent in Singapore.

Then we had a research article about Singapore’s second colonial Resident, John Crawfurd, who retired in 1827 and ended up embarking on a second career opposing the “White Raja” in Sarawak, James Brooke.

We also published a photo essay about the informal street pickers in Phnom Penh, who do the lion’s share of the work sorting through trash and sending them on to recycling centres.

We’re also going to have our next online open meeting on 29 October from 7–8pm (Singapore time, GMT+8). Our Managing Director PJ Thum and Membership Engagement Editor Deborah Augustin will be on the call, so follow this link to call in and have a chat with them or ask any questions you might have!