Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Review: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century

Some hours before this book was launched, its publishers received a call from the government department responsible for control of publications in Singapore.

Complaints had been received about the book. The public servants thus needed to investigate if there was a need to control the circulation of this book in light of the complaints.

On the surface, a complainant could put forward some valid reasons.

The cover of this book is brave yellow, a colour which the people of Thailand wear to show their love and loyalty to the Thai monarch.

It has a bold title "SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century". SQ21, as the author of the book writes in his afterword, "is the world's only direct flight between New York and Singapore" operated by Singapore Airlines.

The stories in the book capture experiences faced by a diversity of people - about 15 of them - in telling others they are homosexual.

To the ill-informed public servant, this would be much cause for concern.

It could have repercussions on an international Singapore brand. It could spark off bilateral tensions. It could also affect other national interests such as the family values which Singapore so proudly cherishes.

But as one delves into this book, one will be struck by how much this book is not an attempt to discredit Singapore and its national interests.

In fact, two themes are striking about the many stories in this book: love and courage.

Heterosexual couple Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen readily highlight this in their foreword.

They share, "SQ 21 is ultimately a book of stories about love... We found ourselves smiling as we read these stories, because love is very much like that for the two of us as well."

It is about "love for one's partner" and loving your parents and children. It is also about being true to yourself and those around you.

As importantly, this book is about saying the things that need to be said but that are difficult to be said. And it is about living with the consequences of decisions one has made.

To do all these, one needs courage and this courage is seen in the many persons who contributed to this book.

One will also find this book an exploration of living in Singapore.

Another interesting highlight of this book is how it shares the plight of other minorities. For example, the deaf person that found difficulty in securing a suitable job. Or the Malay lad who aims to rise the ladders of success and inspire a new level of confidence among Malays in Singapore. Or the woman that is beaten up and gang-raped.

This book has the potential to take reflections about both the Singapore identity and being minority in society forward.

There are some assertions in the book, which are topics of a raging debate in Singapore and elsewhere. For example, the acceptance of homosexuality in religion or therapies to help a homosexual become heterosexual.

This publication will inject new energy to such discussions.

Earlier this month, an encyclopedia was launched to serve as "a reference book for anyone seeking to understand Singapore's history and culture".

Channel NewsAsia reported, "The "Encyclopedia of Singapore" has been launched in conjunction with National Day celebrations. Written by an Australian of Singaporean descent, it is the first of its kind here, featuring an A to Z of Singapore's history, people and culture. It is Singapore's first comprehensive reference source."

There was glaringly no topic on "homosexuality" in that encyclopedia.

"SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century" is therefore an attempt to fill a missing page in the Singapore story. This will certainly help complete the Singapore story and facilitate appreciation of a lesser-known aspect of Singapore's history, people and culture.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, August 25, 2006

MDA Reply: Administration of Arts Entertainment Licences

The Media Development Authority has responded to my suggestions to improve the administration of arts entertainment licences.


We refer to your email addressed to PS/MICA Mr Tan Chin Nam dated 7 Aug 2006 on the above subject.

With regard to the licence for the Sama Sama exhibition, MDA did not receive the full set of pictures until two days before the event. MDA's requirement is for materials to be received at least 2 weeks before the date of an event. All of the pictures found objectionable were among the ones submitted late.

As for Smegma, it was upon closer scrutiny of the script that MDA decided to withdraw the licence as the play undermined the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and portrayed Muslims in a negative light. This was done after consultation with the Arts Consultative Panel.

We have noted your recommendations to improve the licensing of arts entertainment. We thank you for your feedback.

Amy Tsang (Mrs)
Media Content Division
Media Development Authority

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

MinLaw Reply: Committee To Review Legal Services Sector

The Ministry of Law has responded to my letter on the Committee To Review Legal Services Sector.


The Committee le[d] by Justice V K Rajah has formed several working groups to look into various aspects of the legal services sector, and it intends to consult widely. The different stakeholders which you have highlighted will be involved either as members of the working groups or as part of the consultation process.

In particular, I understand that committee members of the SCCA [Singapore Corporate Counsel Association] will be invited to join the working groups. Justice Rajah also plans to meet with the leadership of the SCCA personally to hear the concerns and ideas from SCCA.

The Committee also welcomes views from general members of the public, particularly members of the legal fraternity, on how the legal services sector can be taken to the next level.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Book Review: Economists Say Goodbye To Economics

On 15 August 2006, a friend who studied economics at a top American university and is now involved in helping set Singapore's economic direction asked me, "How do you get someone interested in a dry subject like Economics?"

I found it hard to answer this question. I gave a positive but absolutely vague answer to avoid adding to my friend's plight about his pet subject.

After all, I had abandoned economics after college to study law in university, and - as much as I did not admit to my friend - I too found economics to be a very dry subject!

That evening, as I walked around a book shop, a Singapore publication by Chen Z J, "Economists Say Goodbye To Economics", grabbed my attention - a result, clearly, of the conversation with my friend.

I found the author, who studied Economics at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, to be even more disillusioned about the subject.

In fact, he is so disillusioned about Economics that he is offering US$1,250,000 to any Nobel laureate in Economics to refute his findings, in particular two key "secrets" the author has discovered about how money works.

The bold author further questions that if no Nobel laureate can claim his prize, should economists even continue to be awarded the Nobel Prize every year?

I immediately bought the book not because I aspire to be a Nobel laureate and hope to eventually claim the cash prize that the author is offering, which could be a strong reason for many specialists in Economics around the world.

Instead, I bought the book for three other strong reasons:
1. The failed economist in me wanted to reinforce my reasons for dropping Economics many years ago.
2. I relished a good debate and challenge - my occupational hazard.
3. I wanted to know what were the two key "secrets" that the author had found.

In the next 102 pages, which I read that same night, I was brought on a journey by the author. He offered a colourful history of Economics. He willingly offered his own beliefs about how the world economy as we know it today has evolved. He described vividly about how economic growth could lead to the end of this world and why economists should really say goodbye to economics!

Having read the book, I found myself unsure about whether or not to believe the author.

If he is to be believed, the very future of Singapore and the rest of the world is at stake, including the jobs of the many experts like my friend advising our government on this vast subject called Economics.

If he is not to be believed, it certainly marks the perfect start for a very robust debate about the many arguments he provides in this book.

Then, voila, it dawned upon me! I had found in this book the perfect answer to my friend's question about how to encourage a person to be interested in Economics.

"Economists Say Goodbye To Economics" is recommended reading for both economists and non-economists. There is much food for thought in this book. The references at the end of the book are especially useful for an individual who wants to do read up more on the issues raised in the book.

The irony of "Economists Say Goodbye To Economics" is that it has given a "dry subject" like Economics a refreshing lifeline. You could also well end up a millionaire after reading this book! So who wants to be a millionaire?

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mahathir on current issues in Malaysia

At the National Day Rally 2006, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, spoke on a variety of current issues affecting Singapore. It was a speech that brought together some old issues, which have been talked about in different forums and the thrust sounded all too familiar.

In June 2006, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, spoke on a variety of currents issues affecting Malaysia. It is interesting how PM Lee's speech mirrored or contrasted some of the issues raised by Tun Dr Mahathir.

While I do not agree with some of Tun Dr Mahathir's views, I found Tun Dr Mahathir's speech had more learning points. And I wished the National Day Rally could have been likewise.

These are some of the positive highlights or learning points of Tun Dr Mahathir's speech. The video of his speech can be watched at the Malaysia Today website in six parts.


He spoke about why he feels, in 50 years, all countries in the world will be multi-ethnic, except China, and why he thought Malaysia’s management of race relations and religious freedom was a success – though some people disagree there is racial harmony in Malaysia.


He felt Malaysia had lost its mastery of English and welcomed the trend to teach Science and Mathematics in English in Malaysian schools.

He emphasized it was necessary to both speak Malay & English well, and also have knowledge to create products and innovate.


He talked about one-party dominance of a democracy, and how it can stifle debate.

He took the view that a government should be strong but not too strong. He spoke about ‘neighbouring countries’ which have been dominated by one political party and how opposition politicians in these countries were charged with corruption or made bankrupt.

His view is that governments having more than 90% majority in Parliament may be regarded as "a little bit too strong". As a result, persons will not criticise the government and, if there is criticism, it will be subdued.

In his view, a strong government is one with a 2/3 majority in Parliament - as opposed to 90% majority - as such a majority can enable critical assessments of policies to be made.

He also felt an opposition was necessary to ensure the government makes the right decisions and to provide alternative viewpoints.


He encouraged people not to reach conclusions or make decisions about issues before first understanding the issues at hand and the background about the issues involved.


He reiterated why it was important for an individual to not have just good knowledge but a strong values system. A strong values system would mean a person who is resistant to vices or temptations in society, and who is disciplined. It also means if a person undertakes to do something, the person must do it well.

To achieve this, parents must spend more time with their children, especially in educating them on the ill effects of television and Internet. The education system too has an important role to play in building character to help individuals face struggles, and shape winners and passionate individuals.


He felt it was important to take a stand and risks, especially when things are obviously wrong.


He shared Malaysia needs good leaders to maintain its premiere position among developing countries. And he is confident of its future.

Dharmendra Yadav

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Take A Message

I have noticed a number times when one receives telephone calls from a person desiring to get in touch with another person.

The most likely response you hear will be: "Sorry, you got the wrong number" or "Sorry, he's not in".

Such a response does not help the person making the call.

A better response could be: "Can I take a message to give the person you wish to contact?"

When you get a call from a person who is looking for another person, be positive and provide a helpful solution to the person.

Dharmendra Yadav

Letter: Committee To Review Legal Services Sector


I congratulate the Ministry of Law for appointing a committee to comprehensively review the legal services sector and make recommendations to make Singapore more attractive as a legal services international hub.

The committee comprises members of the judiciary, representatives from government and lawyers drawn from some law firms in Singapore.

I wish to suggest that the Ministry of Law consider adding the following groups of persons to the committee:
1. Academics who teach law
2. Corporate counsel
3. Law professionals who have left the profession to pursue other roles or have been promoted to management positions

Their addition will complement the composition of the Third Committee on the Supply of Lawyers. Plus, they are likely bring to their own unique ideas to make the sector vibrant and competitive.

After all, some of them are important constituencies in the legal services sector and having them on this main committee may underscore this importance.

I hope the Ministry of Law will consider taking up this idea.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, August 18, 2006

Someone Used My Intellectual Property

A reader recently sent me this question.

I have a picture on my blog. Someone has used this picture without my permission. What can I do?


It is important to emphasise that such use really depends on the facts of the situation.

You, the owner of the work, should consider seeking independent legal advice. Your lawyer would be able to review the facts of the matter and provide a more comprehensive legal opinion.

However, legal costs of pursuing an intellectual property infringement can run into the thousands. And if you wish to pursue this, you should really be prepared to spend.

Of course, if you are successful, some of these costs can be recovered. Your lawyer will be able to advise you about the chances of recovering what you spent.

Some law firms in Singapore whose intellectual property expertise I am familiar with include:
Ravindran Associates
Alban Tay Mahtani & De Silva
Lee & Lee

The Law Society of Singapore may know of others.


Generally, under the Copyright Act in Singapore, pictures are considered artistic work. If one is not the owner of an artistic work and one uses the work without permission from the owner, one may have infringed the copyright in the work.

However, it is possible for one to defend the use of the work and argue that the person had not infringed the work. For example, the person could argue, among other things that, the work was used for criticism or review.

Then, the person is under a duty to sufficiently acknowledge the work. This usually means a simple inclusion about the details of the source of the work. I know many media - both mainstream and alternative - use this as a defence of the use of work belonging to other persons.

Such a matter can get complicated if the person who used your work is not in Singapore.


You may wish to consider writing to the person who has used the picture stating why you feel your copyright has been infringed. And if you feel it has been infringed, request for corrective measures. Such measures can include an apology for using the work or a sufficient acknowledgment of the work, if this was not done.

I tend to do this. In most cases, I have found the person will write back either justifying the use or accepting my request for corrective measures to be taken. If the person justifies the use and I feel the justification is satisfactory, I will not pursue the matter further.

You may also wish to take some measures to prevent people from reproducing or using the work found on your website. In any case, I wouldn't post things on my website, which I do not wish to share with others.


When making my work public, I reasonably expect my work to be shared without my knowledge. I am prepared to accept such "unauthorised" use if the knowledge of the work is useful to the person using it.

I now find increasingly that people are less willing to share their intellectual property with others. I find this trend somewhat worrying.

My learning process would have ended long ago if many others I know did not share or had not shared their work willingly with me.

Be gracious with your knowledge. Do willingly share your intellectual property, as far as reasonably possible.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, August 14, 2006

MICA Reply: Mr Brown Incident

After sending the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts a reminder on 7 August 2006 about my letter on the Mr Brown incident, the ministry finally replied. I am also including below another letter from a friend, Kelvin Tan, on the same issue.


Thank you for your email dated 7 Aug 06 to our Permanent Secretary, Dr Tan Chin Nam.

We have noted the contents of your email.

Julia Wan (Ms)
Corporate Communications Department
for Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts


I am a concerned citizen and I am writing to highlight my disappointment at Ms Bhavani's response to Mr Brown's article in TODAY.

Surely one who is the Director of Corporate Communications at MICA would understand the value of Mr Brown's article in articulating the sentiments of the general public as well as in presenting a good-humoured poke at current socio-economic trends, a practice very common in tolerant, highly developed societies.

Unfortunately, Ms Bhavani's response leaves much to be desired, not only because she has surprisingly demonstrated his ignorance of blogging personalities given her position, but primarily because it reeks of intolerance and political brown-nosing. There are many things to note.

Firstly, on her ignorance - While Mr Brown is writing under a pseudonym, he has never hidden his true identity from the public. Therefore, Ms Bhavani's charge that he will not defend his views openly are spurious at best. In fact, one might argue that he has presented his views in a far more open and fair manner than a faceless entity at MICA writing a condescending letter in the press.

More importantly, rather than accept Mr Brown's musings as a possible alternative perspective on current socio-economic trends that the government should note as contributive to future policy considerations - as "first world governments" would, Ms Bhavani - and Mr Lee Boon Yang by extension - wasted no time in branding his article as distortions of the truth. Nevermind that the question 'whose truth?' was never asked.

Thirdly, I object to Ms Bhavani's rather puerile stand that a non-partisan observer cannot present views that criticises the policies of the government. As citizens, we all have a stake in the well-being of our country as well as our fellow citizens. Criticising the policies of the state (which is a separate entity from the country and the nation) in a non party-political manner is very much our innate right as citizens and I am rather appalled at Ms Bhavani's delineation which seeks to remove that fundamental right from us. And you are surprised when citizens no longer
feel a connection with Singapore?

Fourth, Ms Bhavani writes that it is not the role of journalists to champion issues. Is this how the government wants to create an 'inclusive society' where 'every Singaporean matters?'. What is wrong with championing issues as long as it is does not infringe on the right of another individual? This response from Ms Bhavani had me asking "which Singaporean really matters?"

Finally, Ms Bhavani talks of constructive criticism and the need for the provision of an alternative / solution or else shut up. I find it disconcerting that it is no longer adequate for a member of the public to voice their disapproval about policies and expect competent public service officers (funded by public taxes no less) to brainstorm and come up with the alternatives / solutions or at least validate current policies by explicating why alternatives won't work.

All in all, I am highly disappointed with the high-handed, condescending way Ms Bhavani dealt with what was a light hearted article by a humourous member of the public. I hope it is not indicative of the practices of our public service.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What To Do When Stopped By Police

I was recently stopped by a police officer for a random check during a night out with friends. It was my first such brush with a police officer, and I would like to share some learning points.

Some other people I know have been subject to similar checks. It is unfortunate that a majority I spoke to do not know what to do in such cases.

In fact, quite a few of them returned feeling fearful. They worried about the check for at least a few days afterwards.

This is what you can do when you are checked by a police officer.

The first and most important thing is verify the person is a police officer.

Usually, the police officer will have a warrant card, and the police officer has a duty to show you this. Ask to see this warrant card and take down the particulars of the police officer.

The next key thing is to cooperate with the police officer. Respect and be polite to the police officer in the same way you would expect the police officer to treat you.

The police officer should act in a way that minimises embarassment to you, without compromising your personal safety. And, as such, the police officer may request you to stand in an enclosed or discreet area.

In most such checks, you will be asked for some proof of identification. Provide the police officer the necessary document.

Generally, the police officer will conduct an identity check. The police officer will record your particulars in the police officer's log book. The police officer will also check the police database to confirm if there are any warrants of arrest issued in your name. If there are such orders requiring your arrest, you will be dealt with accordingly. If there are no such warrants pending, the police officer will return the proof of identification to you and thank you.

Such a check should not take more than five minutes.

At the end of the check, ask the police officer for the name and telephone number or e-mail address of a more senior police officer you can contact for feedback or if you have any enquiry. Alternatively or if the police officer refuses to give this to you, find out the police station he is from.

Make it a point to write to the commander of the police station or contact the senior police officer. Provide feedback about the police officer or clarify the police check.

This is important not just for your personal safety and comfort, but also it is in your interest to encourage a responsible and vigilant police force.

Dharmendra Yadav

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Alumni News - Singapore Association


Dharmendra Yadav (LLB 2003) is about to complete three years as corporate counsel of NTUC Income, a leading insurer in Singapore and a prominent insurance cooperative in the world. He and other Leicester alumni meet on a regular basis on the second Saturday of every month in Singapore.

Dharmendra writes: ‘This is to continue a tradition we started in Leicester where students from Singapore used to meet similarly. We have now gone a step further and recently set up a website to better reach out to each other and serve as a support network. It is work in progress but do check it out."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Interview: Singapore Theatre Festival


I wonder if you could share some of your thoughts about the forums you attended at the Singapore Theatre Festival. What you thought about them?

Being an inaugural theatre festival by W!LD RICE, I think the forums mark a promising start for the festival. Of the forums that have been held, I attended one: "Stayers And Quitters - Beyond Easy Assumptions".

I was immediately struck by how well-attended the forum was. The seats ran out. People were sitting on the floor and some were even standing. Another promising sign was that the discussion time was also extended.

During the discussion, people willingly offered their views. I did feel, nevertheless, a better effort could have been made to involve others in the audience.

What issues were discussed?

A key focus of the discussion was the play, "Homesick".

Two of my friends, who attended the forum and had not seen the play, got automatically convinced to watch the play! They bought tickets to watch the play immediately after the forum, although they initially did not intend to watch it. I later received feedback about how much they enjoyed the play.

The themes that the play covered were also discussed. One issue was why patriotism cannot be defined by one shade of paint, as much as there is a tendency to do so here in Singapore.

Some also shared about why they feel they belong in Singapore, despite having spent many years away from home. I thought the discussion aptly reflected the theme for National Day this year: "Our Global City, Our Home"!

What do you think is the impact of theatre on political discourse in Singapore, through activities such as the post-play forum?

One of the things I have realised about theatre - especially in recent years - is its importance as a tool of expression in Singapore. I find there are a lot more things that one can say or do in theatre, which one will certainly not find in mainstream media.

The post-play forum can serve as a useful platform to better understand the issues or themes raised in a play. People also get an opportunity to understand the views of the people behind the production. It can be useful to know, for example, why the director did this or that, or why an actor behaved like this or dressed like that.

All these eventually help individuals make informed decisions about the issues or themes covered by theatre, and this will benefit discourse in Singapore, political or otherwise.

Our media regulators also currently tend to give theatre professionals more space and flexibility, although there are precedents to show that such regulatory decisions can be subjective and inconsistent. This is, however, acceptable for situations where the legislation is flexible and some discretion is to be exercised; so long as the discretion is not abused, malicious or corrupt.

I also hope that theatre producers will consider selling the scripts of such plays at such forums, since this can help a person appreciate the play better and escalate one's level of engagement with theatre.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Readers Question: David Marshall Interview

Over the past couple of days, readers have written to me with various questions about the David Marshall Interview. I now attempt to answer these questions.


I met him twice. First on 5 May 1994 and again on the eve of National Day that same year. It was during the second meeting that I decided that I would one day publish his interview unedited. I stored the transcripts soon after.


It took 12 years for blogs to arrive!

But, in all honesty, I was actually remiss. I recently met some members of the Marshall family and I recalled this interview.

Last week, I dug out the transcripts. I felt the time had come to release this interview.

Let me also assure you that the fact this release comes at the same time as the Law Society's interview with another elderly and prominent lawyer-turned-politician is sheer coincidence!


A lot of these were typographical errors when I typed the interview. Some others were due to my limited transcripting skills and knowledge, when I was 17. Most have now hopefully been corrected!

Unfortunately, I have moved at least three times since the interview. Once to a new flat in Singapore, the next time to England and then back to Singapore. In this process, I lost the original tapes of the interview so I only had the various versions of the transcript to rely on.

As such, I am especially grateful to the family and friends of David Marshall who have either called me or wrote to me following the release of this interview with their points of correction.


I will keep you in suspense!

But I wish to underscore something, which I feel is necessary. We are at an unfortunate point in our history, where many of independent Singapore's movers and shakers have left us or are on their way already. It is a reality we cannot ignore.

To add more salt to this wound of life, I have met quite a number of persons who are under the misled illusion that the success of independent Singapore was all the work of one man. I get absolutely flabbergasted by such remarks, especially since this is not true. I don't blame them though; their staple of information happens to be our mainstream media.

There is therefore a critical need to capture some of the contributions and views of the many individuals that made Singapore what it is today. I know some effort has already been put into capturing the legacies of some of our founding fathers, and some persons are taking this work further. K Kesavapany and his team at Institute of Southeast Asian Studies deserve special mention here.

However, independent Singapore is not just the legacy of these founding fathers. I am sure this Singapore story had its fair share of founding mothers, contrarians or even "villains". We really need to find these people and document their stories before we lose them.

The mainstream media will not do this. And even if they do, their work will be limited due to a range of circumstances.

Blogs and other independent or alternative media thus have a golden role carved out for themselves here.

I hope more will take advantage of such spaces to document such lesser known aspects of our Singapore story.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Meeting David Marshall In 1994

Many years ago, I made a promise to David Marshall, the first Chief Minister of Singapore and one of Singapore’s finest legal minds.

The promise was to publish in full an interview, which I had with him on 5 May 1994 at the offices of Singapore law firm, Drew & Napier. Today, about 12 years after the interview and as Singaporeans celebrate 41 years of independence, I am pleased to make public this interview in full and keep a promise made.

This interview was part of an assignment for my college newsletter, which I completed with two others. An edited version of this interview was published in my college newsletter that same year.

He died soon after in 1995. I felt privileged to have met David Marshall in his lifetime. It was a dream come true since, from the age of 12, I had always wanted to meet him.

He remains my inspiration in my law career. When I met him, I also returned having learnt the importance of doing something else – giving to the community.

I hope reading his words will inspire you similarly!


The role of youths! Ha!

In my time, I tried to educate our people in an understanding of the dignity of human life and their right as fellow human beings, and youth was not only interested but excited about what I consider things that matter. Things of the spirit; the development of a human being to his true potential in accordance with his own personal genius in the context of equal rights of others.

Today, youth is interested in getting paper qualification and, as soon as possible, shoveling gold into their bank accounts. It’s a different world, even the law.

I am a consultant here [Drew & Napier]. When I left in ’78, there were three partners – it was supposed to be a big firm; two assistants – we were a big firm; 17 staff. This office has four floors. They think that it is a waste of time to use the lift so we have an internal staircase. We have more than 90 lawyers, more than 200 secretaries and I don’t know how many staff.

The law is no longer a vocation, it is a business. Everything is geared to business!

Of course, there is this pragmatic development of our country. Ah, our rising expectations of a pragmatic character! It is a fantastic and almost a miraculous development in my lifetime.

When I was Chief Minister, there were men dying of starvation and because of ‘beri-beri’. I took my PA [personal assistant] and an Inspector of Police for night at midnight. For two hours, we toured Singapore and we estimated there were two ten thousand men sleeping on the pavements. No homes.

Today - no unemployment, no homeless. I started this business of building homes for our people. Compare the puny work I achieved and the fantastic HDB homes that are available today for our people. I am deeply impressed and I take off my hat to this very able honest government. Dedicated!

But I am seen as a critic and I am a critic.

I am frankly terrified by this massive control of the mass media, the press, the radio, television, antennae, [and] public meetings. You can’t write a letter to the Straits Times; if there is a shadow of criticism, it’s not published. And the Chinese press follows suit. It’s a very dangerous position because experience proves that no one group of human beings has got all the wisdom in the world.

I mean… well, two of you are Chinese and one Indian [Ed: actually, the interviewers were one Chinese, one Jew and one Indian]. I don’t know much about Indian history but look at China. You had Confucian authoritarianism for more than 2500 years. What happened to China? She was a fossil. She had to reinvigorate herself with the Western ideology of communism. Another authoritarian ideology! And what was the result?

There must have been a million decent people who were transformed into vipers, vicious obscene vipers. I’m afraid of this control of the mass media.

And are youths the miasma of apathetic subservience to authority? But you say to yourselves, “Well, you know, what do we seek in life? We seek a rice bowl, full!”

It is full and overflowing, in fact. They serve you your rice in a jade bowl with golden chopsticks; not that it makes much difference to the taste of the rice. But you’re empty!

You’ve got technocratic skills and you are seeking more but internally you are empty. Money is your acid test of success.

I’ve got nothing against money. I’d like to have money myself! I’d like to have a house and a garden and dogs and a car and a chauffeur but, look, I’ve got a flat. I’ve got a swimming pool attached to the flat. I’ve not even got a car but I use taxis. I have a dignified way of life without being wealthy.

I don’t see the necessity of owning a Mercedes-Benz and a swimming pool and a couple of mistresses. I think we’ve got our values all wrong.

You know $96,000 a month for a Prime Minister and $60,000 a month for a minister. What the hell do you do with all that money? You can’t eat it! What do you do with it? Your children don’t need all that money.

My children have had the best of education. In fact, I’m very proud of them. One of them is a senior registrar to two major hospitals in Oxford. Another of them is a consultant in European law to the Securities and Investment Board in the United Kingdom. They’ve had their education. There are no complaints.

I never earned $60,000 a month or $90,000 a month. When I was Chief Minister, I earned $8,000 a month. Look, what is happening today is we are encouraged to and are becoming worshippers of the Golden Calf.

We have lost sight of the joy and excitement of public service, helping our fellow men. The joy and excitement of seeking and understanding of the joy of the miracle of the living the duty and the grandeur. We have lost taste for heroic action in the service of our people.

We have become good bourgeois seeking comfort, security. It’s like seeking a crystal coffin and being fed by intravenous injections through pipes in the crystal coffin; crystal coffins stuck with certificates of your pragmatic abilities.

What has changed?

The self-confidence of our people has grown immensely, and that is good to see. Our pragmatic abilities have grown magnificently, and that is good to see. Very good to see!

You are very able. You’re ambitious, and the government has heroic plans for the future. It hasn’t finished.

I take off my hat to the pragmatic ability of our government but there is no soul in our conduct. It is a difficult thing to speak of because it is difficult to put in a computer, and the youth of Singapore is accustomed to computer fault. There is no longer the intellectual ferment, the passionate argument for a better civilisation. The emphasis on the rice bowl!

Tell me I’m wrong, come on.


Our lives are empty. We don’t understand the joy of living is not in the gold coins. It is not in the bank account. The joy of living is in human relations. We are not in appreciation of this miracle of life.

We are giving a lop-sided view, an unfairness to the government! We come out of a morass of imperial subjugation where people were dying of starvation and now?

You know, when I won a case once years ago, I was presented with a lovely porcelain Buddha with a big flowing belly and ears that reached to his shoulders and a chubby face.

I said to my client, “Look, you Chinese got a real feeling for aesthetics. How can you worship something so obscene?”

He said, “Mr Marshall, try and understand. China is a land of starvation where millions of people die for lack of food, and to be able to eat that much, to be that fat, that is heaven!”

Now, that is the attitude of our government: to be able to eat that much, that is heaven and you should be content.

So are youths not content? They are not anti. Our youths frankly, very honestly respect the pragmatic achievements of the government, and I’m grateful, but they feel empty.

There isn’t this joy of living which youth expects and youth needs – to learn the joy of living. How do you teach it?

I think you teach it through respect for the individual. That’s our tragedy. If you want to put it in a nutshell, our tragedy is that we emphasise the primacy of society as against respect for the individual. Mind you, both are right.

I mean both sides have the liberty. Of course, there should be respect for the needs of society over the right of the individual but you must respect the individual too in seeking the expression of the needs of society. Here, we have no respect for the individual.

Cane them! Hang them! There are more than a hundred queuing up to be hanged, you know that?

[Minister For Law] Jayakumar said, “I have plugged the loop-hole whereby they could escape being hanged and just have twenty years of imprisonment!”

Oh, wacko the ducks – you need a monument!

The joy of hanging people; flogging them, every stroke must break the skin. I don’t like it. I don’t believe it is a deterrent. I see no proof. Look, it seems to me logic! If every year we have more death sentences, how can you say death sentence is a deterrent? If it were, there should be less death sentences.

But you know I’m in a minority and my father had one saying which I’d like you to publish. It is a beauty. He was a true democratic heart although he didn’t know it.

He used to say, “David, if ten men tell you your head is not on your shoulders, shake it and make sure. Don’t accept it. Just shake it and make sure!”

Well, I’ve shaken my head again and again and again and I still think I’m right. I know I’m in the dog-house.

The government doesn’t see I do respect them immensely. They don’t see I’m a genuine friend. They only see me as a critic and to be a critic is to be an enemy who must be erased and destroyed. There is no such thing as an honest critic to the PAP. It’s a blasphemy to criticise the emperor, spoilt son of heaven.

[Lee] Kuan Yew says you mustn’t lampoon a Chinese gentleman. Oh, dear me! Ya, what happened? What happened to China?

In Europe, they institutionalised the court jester and the court jester had total immunity against any result from his public criticism of the kings and emperors and the courtyard. Open public criticism – that was his job! They tried to laugh it off but at least there was one person to prick the bubble of their overgrown egoism.

And which civilisation has progressed better for the development of humanity? The Western civilisation or the Chinese civilisation?

You talk of Asian values. I only know two Asian values and, I wish someone would really pinpoint them instead of pontificating ponderously in humbug and hypocrisy.

Family values - I think we have more family cohesion in Asia than in Europe; more family warmth and I like that. I accept that there is a greater tradition of family warmth and family cohesion.

Two, we have a greater passion for education. My secretary – I asked her once what her background is. She said her mother is a washer-woman and, here is this lovely secretary doing a damn good job. She was educated. How her mother could save enough to give her the education?

So these are the only two values I know. Somebody tell me what other values that are Asian, which everybody talks and nobody mentions the exact parameters.

And you know we use this concept of family cohesion to place on our youths the burden of caring for aging and ailing parents and grand-parents.

The young have got their own lives to make. To carry in your own homes aging irritable ailing parents and grandparents can destroy the family life of the young.

But then, the alternative is for the government to pour so much mountains of gold into building homes for the aged. That’s sacrilege – gold is to be gathered and not to be spent.

I want to see more crèches, more homes for the aged.

Our Prime Minister [Goh Chok Tong] talks about gracious living. Where is the gracious living?

So I am a bad boy, I’m ostracised. The Straits Times makes slimy remarks about me.

The [press are] running dogs of the PAP.


Try and understand that the law is a vocation and not a business. Respect your client irrespective of the fees. I used to charge $1 for a murder case if he was Malay because he had no money. I used to charge $1 to trade unions; all Malay unions, I charged $1 a year. And the $1 is simply because, if you do it for nothing, you are not liable in negligence whereas $1 makes a contract and, if you are negligent, they can sue you.

I’d like them to also understand that justice is a meld of law and humanity. Law and humanity; decency in concepts; if we administer law by the soulless logic of the computer, we aren’t on our road to progress.

You’re too young but ask your parents – the Japanese times, their draconian approach to anti-social activities. Ask your parents how they welcomed the returning British soldiers in 1945.

I was stunned when I heard about it; that we a colonial people, a subject people, should welcome rapturously the armed forces of Imperial power. How was that possible?

I learnt that they had a sense of relief to be back in the ambience of British justice; out of darkness, out of the draconian attitudes of the occupying power.

If you want to make money as a lawyer, you can. I see marble palaces. My juniors, ha! Marble palaces, swimming pools, Mercedes-Benz! Oh, bravo!

They work till nine o’clock at night. I don’t know how their children survive. They work very hard, they make a lot of money. Yes, it’s true.

If you are going for corporate law, insurance law and the non-litigant aspects of law, you can make a lot of money.

If you’re a particularly good litigant – our litigation lawyers in civil cases – we’ve got some outstanding local lawyers. Yes, you can make a lot of money.

Don’t go in for crime. The Criminal Bar is a very frustrating Bar today.


And I’m according to Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament when he sought the abolition of the jury, “David Marshall is responsible for 200 murderers walking freely the streets of Singapore.”

I’m proud of that. I told him to put it on my tomb. If there are 200 people walking freely the streets of Singapore, it means they are contributing to Singapore. Singapore would have been poorer by hanging them. I have no compulsion.

Look, the purpose of criminal law is really two-fold: as a deterrent and as a catharsis of society to express its vengeance. If you escape it, you’re no harm to society so long as you maintain a good police force and so long as you maintain a certain human justice in understanding.

For me, the punishment must not fit the crime, the punishment must fit the criminal and the punishment must fit the needs of society.

Recently, I accepted a brief – a Sikh sentenced to death. He was 21 when he was arrested. His appeal came on five years later. It was dismissed.

But during those five years, he studied religious knowledge. He got distinction in the New Testament and he became a Christian.

He’s now 26 or 27. He’s going to be hanged. I like that man. I think he can be a real asset. He is a delightful chap.

I asked his family, his elder brother. I said, “You Sikhs are really close in the family. How did your family take his becoming a Christian?”

He said, “What could we do? The poor man is going to be hanged. How can we be angry?”

There are more than a hundred people queuing to be hanged. There are decent people there.

Look, there’s a lovely phrase – I forgot who coined it – who said, “There but for the grace of God go I, I know no man who stood totally spotless that he can say I committed no anti-social act.”

And so in our criminal code, if some escaped, that’s an asset.

I’m reminded of a lovely story of Sir Walter Raleigh. On the scaffold, he went up and tested the axe with his thumb and turning to the master executioner, he said, “This is the surest cure for all diseases. If you want to eliminate all crime, you got to eliminate all humanity.”

I have absolutely no bad conscience about the men I have helped escape the gallows and escape the prison. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have done that.

I say this, perhaps in conclusion, we have a judiciary of tremendous integrity. I’ve been practising since 1948, except for three and a half years, there isn’t a single case of financial corruption, neither in the High Court nor the magistrates’ courts. It’s wonderful to practice in the ambience of total integrity.


No! I think it was a guardian angel that brought me there.

I suppose you know, you must have read that I wanted to be a psychiatrist. First, when I was young, I wanted to be a doctor. I thought medicine was the greatest profession in the world – helping heal and comfort the sick and the helpless. And as I grew into adolescence, I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Not to practice but to do research: why the goodwill of the young?

All youths no matter what race, no matter what country, goodwill flows from their hearts. They want to help the world, but by the time you reach 30, your goodwill like good wine turns to vinegar – the vinegar of crabbed egoism.

I wanted to study the wise and whether these could be some antidote for this unhappy transformation of the goodwill of youths to the crabbed egoism but I didn’t have the money. Fortunately!

I don’t know if I could have achieved anything that vast. I don’t know whether I have the intellectual ability to do first-class research into the mind and emotions of man.

I fell, by accident, into the right career at the right time and it has been wonderful.

Regret? I’m full of gratitude for having become a lawyer and, especially, a criminal lawyer; for having helped thousands of people terrified, helpless before the silly forces of society. They’ve looked into me as their protector. I have no regrets at all for having helped them; humanity, if you can understand this.

If you ever become a criminal lawyer, never look down upon your client. He may be a murderer or he may be a thief; he is a fellow human being. You must try and respect your client no matter what he has done. It is very important in your own self-respect in your work, and to help who is helpless in seeking help.

Look, at the age of 86, I can say in all earnestness, the thing that matters most in bringing human satisfaction is human relations. To be able to care for your fellow human beings, to be able to give! Never mind about receiving.

Even today, my friends say, “Oh, David, stop it! Why do you have to keep making public noises that annoy the government? Live in dignity and retirement. They’ll respect you and you’ll have the honours.”

Ha, honours! I want to fight till I’m dead!

What matters most in life is the right of human beings to live fully in the context of their own genius. In one word, perhaps, to fight for human justice. I once said humanity’s cry for human justice reverberates down the corridors of the centuries, and it is still crying for human justice.


I was coming. That was the old building and I was coming along the corridor carrying a set of books. It must have been morning and, outside my classroom, there was a Chinese boy much slimmer than you [Dharmendra] with his back to the wall – absolutely pale, full of fear.

And in front of him was my friend, an American boy – same student, same class – and dancing an Indian jig saying, “Chink! Chink! Chinaman!”

Without the slightest warning, I dropped my books and lunged at him [the American boy].


Recognise there is a lot of satisfaction in public service, foreign service, judicial service. A great deal of satisfaction in public service, even honorary public service in committees.

[If] you are totally engrossed in self-promotion, at the end of the day, you’ll find it’s dead seafood.

Try and give up yourselves to others.

I am so alien to this worship of the Golden Calf and the draconian attitude; the brutal attitude towards our fellow citizens. Here I ask people and, no doubt, if I ask you, “We’re all in favour so long as it’s not me having my bottoms cut! Yes, whip ‘em!”

Try to put yourself in the other man’s shoes.

And, of course, what have I got to say?

You, the young – you’ve got a fantastic, absolutely fantastic potential before you; economic expansion, heroic plans that the government has for the future not only the present. You are so lucky! No unemployment! Great potential even beyond your capacity to fulfill.

It’s an exciting country, Singapore. It’s a lovely country. And you have to make your own space for your own spiritual and intellectual needs and have the courage. Have the courage to serve your fellow men with integrity.

I’ll put it in one nutshell: have the courage to live, don’t be afraid!

You know, I’m told I’m fool-hardy and always criticising, although I have such a gracious life. But fool-hardy or no, this is me; I am prepared to take what you give.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, August 07, 2006

Letter: Administration of Arts Entertainment Licences


I write to you about some recent incidents that have been brought to my attention about how your team administers approvals for arts entertainment licences - a requirement of the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (Chapter 257).


According to one source, "The Media Development Authority (MDA) informed curators of the Sama-sama art exhibition at 5pm on the day of its opening that their application was successful although they objected to several photographs depicting a man in a Police uniform sitting on a toilet, someone in a school uniform sitting on a toilet to preempt any school(s) from complaining about how the uniform was being depicted as well as photos of two women and another of two men (each pair sitting on a toilet) - for being sexually suggestive."


One source linked to the play has shared, "The esteemed MDA has created a mess for a small minority theatre group, by issuing the licence and then cancelling the licence, and also changing their reasons for the cancellation, the same day. MDA had a month to vet the play. They claim on their website that they would usually vet a play and respond after two weeks. MDA had sufficient time to vet the play and inform us. We would have made the necessary amendments if MDA had informed us earlier. If MDA had cancelled the licence much earlier, we would not have proceeded with our production. We would have saved our finances but now we have lost so much."


The MDA plays an important role not just as regulator of arts entertainment but also as facilitator to help arts entertainment thrive in Singapore. The above incidents appear to unfortunately highlight that your team pursues the former more actively than the latter.

This can come at great cost to arts groups, who already face great difficulty raising funds in Singapore. And since many of these initiatives are run by volunteers, it can have serious adverse effects on volunteerism in Singapore.


I would like to suggest two ideas for your team:
1. MDA should consider compensating arts groups that suffer losses arising from such late decisions; and/or
2. MDA can learn from the Singapore judiciary's experience in clearing court cases, and be more efficient in administering arts entertainment licences to prevent similar incidents above.

I am copying this letter to the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and the Feedback Unit - who by their obligations to Singapore have a vested interest in proactively pursuing this matter with your team.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Knowing When To Go

A corporate leader in Singapore, Lee Hsien Yang, recently said: "Twelve years is a long time to stay in any single role and I think considerably longer than the average tenure of most CEOs. So I think it is appropriate that some point in time to move on and I suppose, in my view, it is as a good a time as any. The company is in a strong position. We have a strong management team in line, we have a board to see the process through and so I have informed the board of my desire to step down."

Someone once told me, "Every year in a role, take stock of what you have done and achieved. Benchmark yourself against others of similar calibre. Check if you have had a performance-related raise or a promotion. If you haven't for 2 years, you know it's time to move on."

Is twelve years a long time for a leader? How does a person decide when is an ideal time for him or her to leave?

I agree with Lee that a good time for a leader to leave is when a company has a strong position, management team in line and a good board of directors.

We should also actively review our roles.

Dharmendra Yadav