Monday, March 23, 2015

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

I never got to meet him but I am a beneficiary of all that he did for Singapore. I have been educated extensively about him through different media. 

Today, in honour of all that he did for my loved ones and me, I mourned his loss by laying flowers for him at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, Singapore. 

I have written at least twice about him and I believe the views I held then about his legacy to be even more relevant today:

Singapore Not Just Story Of One Old Man

A Cabinet Without Lee Kuan Yew

Rest In Peace, Mr Lee. I will miss you.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, March 06, 2015

Rationale For Axing Law Schools Not Convincing


National University of Singapore (NUS) law dean Simon Chesterman has suggested that the eight law schools dropped from the approved list are among the lower-ranked law schools in Britain and their graduates often find it harder to get jobs ("Shorter list of approved UK law schools welcomed"; last Thursday).

He then urged parents and students as follows: "Instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a law education at a lower-ranked school, they could be better off pursuing other degrees locally."
I have had the benefit of studying at NUS Law School, the Singapore Management University (SMU) Law School and Leicester Law School. I gained far more from my experience in a year in Leicester than I have in a year in the other two law schools.

It is not accurate to imply that graduates of the University of Leicester find it harder to get jobs. Recent alumni of the law school include at least one justice's law clerk and a leading investment banker. Several of us started our careers in top Singapore law firms, and most of us are now in offshore law firms, multinational corporations or financial institutions.

By narrowing the list of approved schools to high-cost areas of England like Oxford and London, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education has made the pursuit of an English law degree more expensive and a preserve of the rich. My parents had to sell their HDB home to send me to law school.
If the decision was made purely on rankings, the University of Bristol, which was ranked lower than the University of Southampton in the 2014 Guardian League Table for law schools, should have been struck off.

Many students choose to study law overseas because they desire to study law but are not able to secure a place in the local law schools. To suggest that they do something else is a fundamental failure to understand a person's motivation for studying law. Not all who choose to study law do it to become lawyers. This is a traditional mindset we should shift away from.

Stakeholders of the legal profession could have been better consulted before the recommendations were made. The eight law schools could also have been given an avenue to respond to the recommendations, rather than wait five years for the next review to take place.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mr President Writes Back, Critics Silenced

When I last wrote about Singapore's sixth President Sellapan Ramanathan, a more senior member of our legal fraternity sent me an angry response chiding me for being grossly unfair to an aged member of our country, whose driving motivation had been to do nothing other than give the best he could for his country. 

I dismissed his response and I said it was for the President to one day tell young Singaporeans like me what he had done for our country. I now wish I had held my tongue then.

Since leaving the Istana, Nathan, at 91, has been indefatigable. He would put many younger Singaporeans like me to shame simply by his sheer energy. 

He is fighting back to ensure that Singaporean 'ingrates' like me will not forget the great contributions he has made to Singapore with a series of publications. 

Given the chiding I received, I made it a point to read two of these publications recently. 

The first is a publication that goes to the bookshops this week: S R Nathan in Conversation. 

When I picked it up to read the night I bought it, I wondered what could he say that I didn't already know about him or Singapore. 

I started with his views of the divide we see in contemporary Malaysia today and he painted vivid a picture of how the well-intended roots of United Malays National Organisation, which should have evolved into a United MALAYANS National Organisation, has put Malaysia on a polarised path.

Of course, one could perhaps argue that he is looking at Malaysia from the tainted lens of battle-hardened Singaporean who toiled restlessly to bring Singapore from a colony to sovereign state, driven by a motivation to be all that a less divisive Malaysia should have been.

Ironically, Nathan makes clear his agenda at the start of the book: "My concern is not political debate, but simply the future growth, prosperity and wellbeing of Singapore and its people." 

In the pursuit of his agenda, he weaves together a series of stories from different stages of his life in shaping contemporary Singapore. He shares his stories with a diplomatic candour clearly burnished through his sensitive sojourns. 

Indeed, the strength of his story-telling made it such a difficult book to put down that I finished it in one sitting.

From time to time, he also refers to his autobiography, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the President, to fill in the gaps in his stories. This makes the reason for reading his autobiography even more compelling, which became the second book I read about Nathan. 

Reading both books you realize how invaluable Nathan's expansive contributions have been to Singapore. 

Here was a man with a ringside view of change in independent Singapore, who was happy to assert his influence whenever called upon to do so in sheer defence of such developments; something he felt was necessary to feed millions of mouths in Singapore. 

Hence, his involvement in reforming both the printing press and the diplomatic corps to enable each of these institutions to stay relevant to a government that became increasingly sensitive to negative criticism and bourgeois idiosyncracies. 

The relevance of his books can be  best summarised in Nathan's own words, "History never repeats itself exactly, but a close study of it can alert us to dangers. Experience of the past can prepare us for contingencies." 

Through his publications, Nathan has effectively silenced those who criticised his quiet ways of getting a job done. 

My President Nathan, thank you for doing the best you could.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Singaporeans like me desire from our future MPs


My Minister Chan, 

I write to you in my capacity as an ordinary voter of your constituency. 

About two years ago, I moved to take up residence in the area you have been tasked by your political party to care for, having lived for over a decade in an area where the Honourable Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected to care for.

I write to express my disturbance at your recent comments concerning a politician of a different party. I believe the contents of your comments reflect the kind of politics that constituents like me do not wish you to pursue. I am sure you mean well for our country but you risk turning off voters like me with every less than helpful comment you make on personalities that may not necessarily matter to your constituents. 

As we celebrate 50 years of independent statehood, leaders like you tasked to take us into our next 50 years can certainly be more gracious and, at any opportunity you can, forgiving of the shortcomings of our fellow citizens, especially those that may hold and express divergent viewpoints.

Rather than dedicating your time to such less than savoury purposes, I would like you to convince me on the basis of your constructive work and the strength of your arguments on issues of the day affecting our country. 

Indeed, I came from a constituency where my sitting Member of Parliament impressed my neighbours and me with a great, undivided sense of purpose and attention. Even though appointed at the highest levels of the Executive and holding positions valuable to our little red dot on international bodies, he often used his constituency for important announcements and other key national initiatives. His single-minded focus has always been on the issues that matter to Singaporeans and not personalities. From all that I know of him, he has never indulged in the kind of politics that pains me to see you pursue.

I am sure many Singaporeans will agree that he is the kind of leader we would like to see in Singapore for the next 50 years and I hope, as a fellow member of his party, you will find it worthwhile to perhaps follow his example.

At this point, I will only say that my experience has been contrastingly different as a resident of your constituency. 

Purely to illustrate my point, some of my neighbours tell me that they have not met you since the last general elections, where you were elected through a walkover. While I am appreciative of the national contribution you are making as a sitting Minister, I hope you will come meet your constituents more regularly. 

I am not sure if you will seek to be re-elected from my constituency but I am sure you will agree that there is much more to be done in the area that comes under your care and from which your party is likely to seek a re-election.

Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Venerable Venereal Straits Times

I haven't wrote in a while. But today's headlines on the by-elections in Hougang in the venerable The Straits Times (Singapore) was sufficiently venereal to motivate me to awake from my slumber. 

Compared to another friend, who almost got a stroke reading the same news, my reaction is perhaps muted.

At least three websites, whose writers have, to some extent, informed insights into the workings of the Singapore Press Holdings, have addressed the coverage of The Straits Times. If you would like to understand my reasons for taking issue with The Straits Times, you can read this link, this link and this link.

What I want to write about is why I think this is happening and why it may be the return of an old normal that readers of The Straits Times should get used to.

If the general elections coverage of The Straits Times was the beginning of a new dawn for a newspaper under a valiant editor wanting to remain relevant to a readership disenfranchised with its less than objective coverage, the Hougang by-elections coverage of The Straits Times is the rehashing of an old story by an editor fearless in driving a blunt wedge through its readership, even if it means polarising a populace frustrated by a ruling party showing signs of complacency.

In February this year, The Straits Times replaced its former editor with the honourable Warren Fernandez. Warren believes he is a true son of independent Singapore. He has a written a tome about the founding father of the People's Action Party. He has gained immensely from the meritocratic system espoused by the PAP. He has waxed lyrical about the PAP's success in managing Singapore in columns aplenty, which I once followed as a young student. Read his book, if you would like a flavour of these insights.

It is therefore not surprising for someone like Warren to think that to be loyal to Singapore is to be loyal to the PAP in pushing the agenda of the PAP. I accept he owes a great deal to the PAP system for what he is today. After all, at least until he was invited back to The Straits Times, he may well have been working in a multi-national oil conglomerate bringing home twice his current annual salary in bonuses alone.

As such, I admire his deep-seated desire, willingness and ability to want to give back to our motherland.But there is a fine line between blind faith and good faith. The coverage today of The Straits Times was a display of the former.

In my view, there was something more important that was clearly more newsworthy and deserved the front page coverage. This, the solidarity of Singaporeans from all walks of life in that pelting rain in a cause they believed in.

I once said his book "represents Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. If, as a reader, you do not like it, ignore it. Alternatively, you can choose to be engaged and offer your own version in return."

Likewise, The Straits Times is fast becoming Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. Ignore it or embrace it.

Thinking about whether this is the kind of your newspaper you want to subscribe to in Singapore is allowed.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this? Feel free to react below or leave a comment.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Singapore Parliament replies on its accessibility

This was a response I got from the Clerk of Parliament in relation to certain queries I made about parliamentary proceedings in Singapore.

Since then, I note MediaCorp now makes parliamentary recordings available to its viewers much quicker than before. I am not sure why should only MediaCorp be given the complete video footages. I wonder if any other media has applied to Parliament for such recordings, and how Parliament has responded to such request.

Dharmendra Yadav


The press has full access to parliamentary proceedings and speeches made in the House. For TV and online news coverage, MediaCorp also has the complete video footages of each sitting. As the extent of press coverage of speeches made by Members is entirely a media decision, Parliament does not interfere with the coverage nor impose any restrictions.

We currently publish the Singapore Parliament Reports containing the verbatim speeches of Members on LawNet, and on our website within a week after the end of proceedings.

We regularly review the feasibility of other avenues to make parliamentary proceedings more accessible to the public and will take your feedback, including their cost considerations, into our review. While video streaming of speeches is certainly something that is on the radar, the cost issues are not small and extend into tens of thousands a month for such a service.

We value your suggestions and wish to thank you for your interest in our parliamentary proceedings.

Ms Ng Sheau Jiuan
Clerk of Parliament

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this? Feel free to react below or leave a comment.