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Reshuffling the Cabinet

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
5 min read

There won’t be a weekly wrap next week because I’m going on a five-day working staycation; I’m going to (mostly) lock myself into a room and edit my book manuscript, and try to get as much of it done as I can. But I’ll be holding a democracy classroom on Friday night, right after I come out of “seclusion”!


Covid-19 update

Here we go again: TraceTogether-only SafeEntry (basically, TraceTogether lah) is going to be mandatory in many public venues from June. This will apply to malls, places of worship, restaurants, workplaces, schools, and gyms. SafeEntry Gateways are also going to be deployed, requiring people to tap their phones (with the TraceTogether app open and Bluetooth on) or TraceTogether tokens before entry.

Want to talk about all this Covid-19 technology, and what it means for privacy and surveillance in Singapore? Join this democracy classroom!

Over a thousand migrant workers living at the Westlite Woodlands dormitory have been quarantined after Covid-19 cases were found; 17 migrant workers who had previously recovered tested positive again. Experts are looking into whether they're reinfection cases.


Cabinet musical chairs

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced the latest Cabinet reshuffle, so more reading of tea leaves can commence. Heng Swee Keat is no longer the finance minister, as promised when he stepped down as Chosen One; Lawrence Wong will take over that portfolio come 15 May. A bunch of other ministers have also been shifted, as you can see from Isabelle Lim's flow chart in this tweet 👇🏼

Currently, my fellow crystal-ball gazers and I feel like this means Lawrence Wong is now the front-runner for Chosen One, rather than Chan Chun Sing. Lawrence Wong hasn't suggested that cotton comes from sheep, hasn't had audio leaked of him bristling with arrogance, and hasn't catastrophically screwed up any speeches. From what I've seen so far, the response tends to be along the lines of "they're all quite uninspiring, but Wong is perfectly okay". I don't know how representative this is of general public sentiment, but it's kind of depressing that this is where the bar is now.


Humans aren’t cargo, so stop transporting them like they are

Last Tuesday, a lorry carrying 17 migrant workers collided with a tipper truck. At the time of writing, two of the men have died, one is in the high dependency unit, three are hospitalised, and the rest have been discharged. The lorry driver has been arrested for careless driving causing death.

This incident has revived a long-standing debate about safety and the transport of migrant workers. Migrant rights NGOs—real ones, not the Migrant Workers Centre—have been saying for over a decade that workers should be transported in minibuses (preferably with seat belts) rather than being ferried around in the backs of lorries like cargo. Tragedies like the one that happened this past week have happened before; this old blog records news articles related to transporting migrant workers on lorries from as far back as the 1990s. This piece was published on The Online Citizen in 2010, and we’ve not progressed much at all.

The Road Traffic Act bans good vehicles from carrying passengers, but there’s a specific carve-out that allows it to be used for this purpose for migrant workers:

From the Road Traffic Act.

A common argument that some employers make is that this form of transportation is more “efficient” or “cost-effective”, because, after they transport humans, lorries can also be used to transport materials and equipment for the construction project. This is what a consultant told TODAY:

“A large portion of workers typically stay off-site in multiple dormitories, so you need multiple buses travelling different routes to transport workers to the site every day. You will need thousands of buses for thousands of contractors and worksites in Singapore — is this optimal?”

With all due respect to this construction veteran industry, this is absolute bullshit. He would never say the same thing about, say, school buses, even though, if we were to adopt his logic, the same argument should apply. The safety of humans can’t be subordinate to the desire to save money. 33-year-old Tofazzal Hossain (the first worker who died in this recent accident) should not have died just because bosses in the construction industry want to reduce their overheads. He was the sole breadwinner for his family back in Bangladesh; his two-year-old son will never get his father back again.

We might not be able to eliminate traffic accidents, but there is clearly something that we can do to prevent such deaths; indeed, we’ve already done it for most other people in Singapore, who don’t get ferried around the island in the backs of trucks. To stick to this unsafe practice because it’s more “efficient” (efficient for whom?) is unconscionable.

The Migrant Workers Centre has said that members of the public who want to help the affected workers can make a donation here. But please go beyond giving money; while the funds will help bereaved families, we need to make sure we put a stop to systemic practices that will create more bereaved families further down the road. Write to your MPs, start your online campaigns and petitions, find different ways to make noise and apply pressure to get the government to ban this method of transport and support employers in transitioning to safer methods.


Got some more…

A civil servant and her husband are being charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information related to home-based learning during the pandemic. Last week, another civil servant and her friend were charged under the OSA, for leaking Covid-19 figures prior to official release, and also for accessing and communicating information on a Covid-19 patient.

Kwa Kim Li, cousin to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and formerly a lawyer to the late Lee Kuan Yew, has been referred to a disciplinary tribunal in the latest installment of the Lee family feud. The tribunal has been instructed to look into two issues: that Kwa hadn't followed LKY's instructions to destroy the superseded wills, and that she'd given false and misleading information to the younger Lee siblings in 2015.

Singapore wants to run for membership of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs from 2024–2027, the UN's drug policymaking body. The current list of members contains some very problematic countries too, but as someone who has worked to abolish the death penalty and observed Singapore's approach to drug policy for years, this piece of news struck me as just The Worst Idea.


The democracy classroom is back!

As already mentioned, I’m restarting the democracy classrooms. If there are any particular topics that you think people should discuss, feel free to reply to this email and make suggestions!

Otherwise, come join us at the end of the month to talk about Covid-19, privacy, and surveillance. Sign up here.


Checking in on our neighbours

There’s a special ASEAN summit this weekend to talk about the situation in Myanmar. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the military junta that staged the coup, is expected to attend, which has understandably caused a lot of unhappiness among anti-coup and pro-democracy groups. Inviting Min Aung Hlaing, and not the National Unity Government, shows that ASEAN is acknowledging the military junta as Myanmar’s government—something that protesters have repeatedly said that governments and organisations shouldn’t do. Over at the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter, Johannes Nugroho looks at the role Joko Widodo’s administration in Indonesia is playing in this summit and ASEAN’s response to the coup.


Thank you for reading! Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be interested. 🙏🏼 Once again, a reminder that becoming a Milo Peng Funder is an awesome thing to do!

Weekly Wraps

Kirsten Han

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.