Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wear pink for prayer & expression on October 22

On Monday, 22 October 2007, Nominated Member of Parliament and corporate counsel Siew Kum Hong will take an important prayer to Singapore's most sacred law-making body, Parliament.

Scheduled to be heard and debated at some point between 1.30pm and 4.30pm, it is a prayer for thousands of people young and old, male and female.

The prayer is humanity's cry for fair treatment and non-discrimination. The prayer stands for the land of equality that independent Singapore's founding fathers and mothers sought to build.

The prayer also represents the dawn of a new page for civil activism in Singapore, where many holding strong views about the issue did not hesitate to come out and make their views known.

Siew Kum Hong is not just seeking the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code. (It is highly unlikely that the legislation will be repealed, since most indications from the elected political leadership swing in favour of keeping Section 377A.)

Siew Kum Hong's prayer is more significant. It is about the future of expression in Singapore, and the importance of standing up and fighting for the things that one believes in.

Siew Kum Hong took on a very difficult task of bringing an important plea to his parliamentary colleagues. That journey for him has not been easy. People are have called him names. Others have also sought to stereotype him. He has been scrutinised at both a professional and personal level.

As a citizen of Singapore, I am proud to have a Nominated Member of Parliament like Siew Kum Hong. (I am as proud of the fact that he is a friend, who I respect greatly.)

He is doing what Nominated Members of Parliament should be doing in Parliament, in providing a voice for the parts of society that go unheard; and in highlighting issues that elected Members of Parliament, whether from the ruling party or otherwise, will hesitate to raise for fear of losing votes at General Elections.

Even if Siew Kum Hong does not seek or have a second term as Nominated Member of Parliament, it is clear he will go down in Singapore's history books as a pioneering NMP.

If you are free, make sure you are there to witness history in the making.

Be in the public gallery in Parliament on October 22 to hear Siew Kum Hong's prayer.

Also, wear a pink shirt / blouse to let him know that you're there to support him in what he is doing; and that you believe fundamentally in the importance of standing up and fighting for things that one believes in .

Even if you can't be in Parliament, wear a pink shirt / blouse on Monday to show that you too believe in standing up and being counted.

Your support will certainly make a difference. Let's be festively pink on October 22!

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this? Website Stained & Shamed

When was launched, it made me very happy. To me, it represented people who were willing to stand up, make their views known and be counted. I was also encouraged by the level of transparency shown in the petition signing process, right down to identifying the regions where people lived in Singapore.

When the website came out, the civil activism made me even more glad. To me, it was about having a voice that needed to be represented, in response to

I was, however, surprised by the decision of to keep the "silent majority" hidden. The creators of the website were encouraging others to sign anonymously.

Since I was not too happy with this arrangement, I set up a Keep s377A group on Facebook to complement the work of the website. I feel people, who feel strongly about retaining Section 377A, should have a choice to identify themselves and be able to engage others about the views they cherish.

My decision to do this attracted much criticism since I have come out to support the repeal of Section 377A. One person even accused me of being hypocritical.

Fortunately, I managed to persuade some of these critics on the importance of doing so.

I also feel it was important to set up this group since a good number of my friends support the retention of Section 377A and this would be a useful platform to make known their position.

In a few days, has gone on collect over 10000 signatures. Perhaps, this is a sign that the "silent majority" is really not so silent after all.

In a way, I was happy because the number of signatures had shown the case that Singapore's political leadership and mainstream media have been endeavouring to make.

But this morning, a friend shared with me his experience in signing the petition on He had included his name in the petition but he had left a comment to say that he was not signing the petition. Instead, he stated that he was disputing it and, in the comments section, he went on to highlight his reasons for disputing it.

Some time later, he checked back His name still remained there but his comments had been removed, and this gave the impression that he supported the petition. He has written in to the creators of the website to have his name removed but his name remains. (Update on 22 October 2007: His name has now been removed.)

This experience is not isolated. A reader has wrote in to another website to share this: "I've noticed that there were a lot of spoof messages on the keep 377a petition, whose ironic comments were taken down. However, their names were NOT taken down. This is dishonesty: either they should have left the comments and names, or taken down both. Please draw attention to this fact, as I believe that through this ruse the petition organisers at Keep377a have inflated their numbers through, essentially, fraud."

It is unfortunate that this has happened. An exemplary exercise started by a well-meaning group is now stained.

It is also shameful for civil activisim since the very integrity of the creators of can now be called into question. These creators have lost the moral authority to run the website.

They had sought to establish their case on the basis of "healthy and wholesome traditional family values" and "to do what is right". But their impropriety is a slap in the face to those same values they have sought to espouse and to the supporters of that have placed their trust in the petition on

It also does not do justice the case that Singapore's political leadership and mainstream media have tried to make.

It also means that Members of Parliament in Singapore, who seek to make the case for retaining Section 377A tomorrow in Parliament, will now have to seriously think about their credibility if they seek to rely on the results of the petition.

The honourable thing for the creators of to do now is to apologise for their actions, step aside and let a fresh group of persons run the website.

The fresh team can decide to re-start the petition process.

Alternatively, the fresh team can submit the petition to an independent audit of the signatories before the results are submitted to the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Readers Question - From Facebook

In August and July 2007, I was asked several questions on Facebook. Here are some of those questions and my answers.

Virtual Recruitment: Is this the next big thing for recruiters?

In my last job, I was recruited virtually. Everything was conducted and concluded by e-mail!

What role would you play in an adventuring band?

I'd be the non-musician turned adventurer!

Best place you have ever visited?

Mount Cook, New Zealand.

Would you kiss on a 1st date?

The lawyerly reply would be - it depends!

What is one thing you always carry with you?

Mobile phone.

Lee Kuan Yew - man, metaphor or hologram?

None of the above! Son of God because at the 1988 Singapore National Day Rally, Lee said, "Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”

Who should pay on the first date?

Three ways to do it:
a. The one who asks for the bill.
b. The one who asks for the date.
c. Split it if you don't want to see the other person again!

What is the one thing I should always carry with me?

A mask!

What is the point of God?

Then, you don't get the point.

How can it be any other way?

Because that's what having a choice is all about!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Friday, October 05, 2007

More Time For Public Response

The Ministry of Trade & Industry, Singapore, has responded to my letter concerning the short period of consultation for the proposed amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act through The Straits Times.

It has extended the period of consultation. Its response is below.

Dharmendra Yadav


(Source: The Straits Times Forum, 5 October 2007)

Public consultation extended to Oct 26

We refer to the letter, 'Why only 10 working days for feedback?' (ST, Oct 3).

The proposed amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and subsidiary legislation arose from the taskforce that reviewed the Act. The taskforce had considered inputs from various sources in the course of its work. At the same time, we have broached the proposed amendments with consumer and industry organisations when developing the taskforce's recommendations.

Notwithstanding this, we will extend the period of public consultation to Oct 26 in order to give more parties the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments.

We thank the writer for his feedback.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Corporate Communications
for Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Trade and Industry

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Dealing with errant library members


The National Library Board (NLB) in Singapore has implemented a programme to recover more than $5 million in overdue fines from some 800,000 library members.

This has prompted varied reactions from such errants users.

In some cases, the overdue fines relate to books borrowed several years ago.

Plus, some $3.5 million have been written off "for amounts greater than $6 that have been outstanding for more than five years belonging to library members who were not contactable, for foreigners who have left the country and for users who have since died".

The NLB can learn from this and put in place measures to swiftly recover such debts.

Where debts are written off or users fail to pay despite repeated reminders, the NLB should not hesitate to list such users on the databases of credit bureaus. This will affect the credit standing of those live users who seek access to credit facilities and may encourage them to clear their debts with NLB.

Separately, in other cases, "the cost of recovering the money (postage and printing charges) is a lot more than what" is owed by the user. The National Library Board has said that the estimated operating cost of this recovery exercise is "less than 1 per cent of the amount to be recovered".

By not returning the books promptly, these errant users are doing a great disservice to others who equally deserve the benefit of such public services. They are being absolutely selfish by depriving others of the gift of knowledge.

For these reasons, one can perhaps question why the National Library Board should even bear the estimated operating cost of this recovery exercise. In fact, this cost should be charged to and recovered from such users who fail to pay on time, either in the form of a late payment fee or interest charged for late payment of fines.

I welcome the steps taken by NLB to recover the amounts owed by members of the library. I hope it will take up some of my ideas and that the amounts recovered will be used to improve library services in Singapore.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why so little time for consumer protection public consultation?


A public consultation was launched for proposed amendments to consumer protection legislation last Friday.

If the amendments eventually make it into legislation, the changes will affect millions of consumers in Singapore. One can reasonably argue that it will be a step forward for human rights in Singapore since the consumer will now enjoy wider protection.

At the same time, compliance with the legislation may mean higher expenses for consumer-centric businesses in Singapore, especially the financial services sector that will be affected uniquely by these changes.

Yet, for such an important piece of legislation, the Ministry of Trade & Industry has only permitted a mere 10 working days for members of the public, including interest groups, businesses and others affected by the legislation, to respond to the changes.

This leads one to question the sincerity of this exercise. How serious is the relevant law-maker about incorporating public feedback into the exercise?

And even if one can justify the law-maker is serious, the short time period is extraordinary and appears irrational.

Most public consultations - especially those that impact millions of Singaporeans - are held over at least one whole month. If the changes are controversial, such as the one we are seeing in the case of the longevity insurance scheme, a longer time period for public consulation is given.

The Ministry of Trade & Industry should extend the period of public consultation. If not, it should provide compelling reasons to support the exceptionally short time period of public consultation.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review: From Leonard To Leona

Over the years, women I have encountered in the course of my life have told me that child-bearing is the most intense experience that a woman will ever have - it inflicts extreme pain and its fruit is immensely satisfying.

For the transsexual, that same experience is the journey from manhood from womanhood (or vice versa).

Indeed, most of us know a lot about motherhood but very little about the life of being a daughter without the capacity to ever really be a mother.

It was this desire to learn more that prompted me to invest in a copy of Leona Lo's book, From Leonard to Leona: a Singapore transsexual's journey to womanhood.

But I was totally unpreprared for the emotional roller-coaster that I'd be going on.

While it is possible to read this book in one sitting, the sheer amount of emotions and personalities running through this book immobilised me such that I had to read this book over three sittings, with a day's break in between each.

There is the student who never finds a place among friends. There is the Christian search for truth. There is the child sexually abused. There is the grandson, nephew brother and son that never was. There is also the patient that undergoes an invasive life-threatening surgery.

There are the incomplete lovers. There are the cynical cold public servants. There are the sucky systems of society.

Simply put, there was just too much to swallow!

In spite of all these, the character that is Leona prevails or perhaps, more appropriately, unveils herself in her unique blend of humour and horror.

Leonard Lo's journey to be Leona Lo is a landmark contribution to the understanding of a lesser-known community in Singapore; a class of people within a class that the armed forces of this country has bastardised as "302".

Its premise has a familiar famishness that many a minority will relate to. Its ending has a sweet success that many a freedom fighter will relish.

From Leonard To Leona is a soulful story of hope and promise that should be read.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Doing The Impossible

Walt Disney once said, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."

To those who have been wondering why this blog has been at a standstill for a few weeks now, that's exactly what I have been up to!

I am now back in school (since mid-August). I am pursuing a mandatory postgraduate diploma at a Singapore university. This is a course for legally-trained persons desiring Singapore court access rights.

The experience at the Singapore university is proving to be a uniquely Singapore experience, and I will certainly write more about this in time to come. But just to give an indication of what it's like -- three weeks into term, I had to get ready for an exam! It just ended a couple of days back and holidays are next week, so I can afford to take a breather.

In addition to the opportunites in school, I am working about 2 days a week. And amidst all these, I have had to make time for loved ones. So it is no surprise that I have had to minimise what I can share on this blog.

Nevertheless, the opportunity not to write here has been great, it's given me lots of time to reflect about the future of this blog, even with all these "happenings". Don't worry, I am not about to kill this blog. I still think this is an important space for developing one's thoughts and, it remains at least to me, a positive avenue for learning!

I was told of a trend that people are closing down their blogs but I guess that happens with all new things - once its novelty appears to wane, it is only normal for people to abandon certain preferences for other more exciting stuff.

To me, this only shows how impossible it is becoming to upkeep a blog and, yes, as someone once said, "it's kind of fun to do the impossible"!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Friday, August 03, 2007

How To Sustain Relationships

Some weeks ago, a friend sent me an instant message on the mobile phone. He asked, "How do you sustain a marriage?"

At first, I was taken aback by this question. What would I, an unmarried wildly single individual, know about sustaining a marriage?

But, since I am not the type to turn down the challenge of addressing difficult issues, I decided to help him find an answer.

As I prepare to mark three decades of my life tomorrow, I realise that I have had many relationships with different people - as a son to my parents; as a sibling to my brothers and sisters; as a colleague at the workplace; as a mate to those who went to school with me or those that I met randomly; and, in the past, as a partner to another, albeit unmarried.

With these different relationships have come unique lessons about how to sustain each of them.

I have realised that three things, which I personally call the HAT principles, apply to all these relationships:
a. Have a strong reason to sustain that relationship.
b. Act on goals to strengthen that relationship.
c. Trust those in the relationship to do the right thing.

I think these HAT principles would equally apply to sustaining a marriage. I will deal with each of these in turn.


It is important to have a strong reason to sustain the relationship. In doing so, one has to take personal responsibility for finding those reasons and to use those reasons as a call to arms!

We see this a lot of time when one is courting another. Very often, the courtship develops into something more because the person has strong reasons to take it forward.

More than a decade ago, I received a calendar from a life insurance company which had the following quote on one of its pages, "It is easy to make friends but difficult to keep them."

Since then, I have taken a lot of responsibility in keeping the friends that I make and I want to stay in touch with.


A year back, I found the strong relationships I had with my university mates strained; these were relationships that are precious to me and I did not wish to lose.

I decided to organise regular lunches to enable me to meet them once a month. I do the same with several other friends at my Third Thursday Thinking Talkies.

My ex-boss has a habit of setting annual relationship goals with his wife. As part of these goals, they would plan very early in the year and set aside at least two weeks of their annual schedule to go on two or more holidays at places they mutually chose.


Some months ago, I made this point about trusting those you love, which I find increasingly tested among my friends.

Trust those you love to do the right thing. Questioning the motives or agendas of those who you love is not the way to run a relationship because it will only bring more negativity into the relationship.

You must accept that your loved one will from time to time make wrong decisions in life and these are learning milestones for those that make such decisions.

You must also accept that there are certain matters among those you love that you cannot change.

If one cannot accept these things, it is reasonable to just end the relationship.

It is important to bring positive energies into a relationship and focus on the things that one can change.


If you wish to sustain your relationship, use the HAT!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Section 377A Repeal Means Less Two Lives

In the last three years, my work in a cooperative and in the community have often brought me opportunities to engage with different school students in Singapore.

Through these opportunities, I have met at least three students who not only have done extremely well in school but have been also been very active in non-academic activities.

They have now left or are about to leave school but they continue to be very active in the community. Some of them have also been roped into Singapore's national youth movement.

Another common thread between these three students is that they are in same-sex relationships.

When I met person A, I thought she was in a healthy heterosexual relationship. But later, she shared with me that she was not very happy in that relationship and ended it.

She now tells me that she is much happier in a relationship with another female friend. She has also disclosed the existence of her homosexual relationship to her loved ones, who I understand have accepted her for what she is.

Person B was comfortable enough to introduce me to his partner recently. However, before that, I had been under the impression that he was heterosexual and was seeing someone. He still maintains a public profile where he continues to see a woman, who loves him.

Person C continues to tell me how he is dating different women and happily looking to find someone to eventually marry and settle down with her. Little does he know that I know through some mutual friends he is actually homosexual. But, nevertheless, I am happy to let things be until he is ready to trust and tell me more about who he really is.

Reading the book "SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century", I have found that these stories are not unique.

Author Ng Yi-Sheng also shares the difficulties he faced when getting people to share their stories in the book, "On seeing the finished stories, a few people actually withdrew, disoriented by a first-person account that they hadn't written with their own keyboards. Two people agreed to be interviewed, then cancelled because their fathers had just forbidden them to talk about their orientations."

Other friends have shared with me about how some marriages have broken because one of the partners a few years into the marriage discloses his or her homosexuality. Some of these persons are forced into such marriages by their parents.

Going back to the three students, I found it rather odd that a girl should be able to come to terms with herself more easily and be open about it. After all, it is our boys who go through National Service and are meant to have been trained to find the courage to face their deepest fears.

I also found it odd why some parents in Singapore would forbid their own children from speaking publicly about their own orientation or how one could demolish the sacred institution of marriage with such frivolousness.

And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced it has to do with Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises gross indecency between two males. (Of course, I am not ruling out other possibilities.)

Over the past months, since the review of the Penal Code was announced, many people have provided different reasons on why Section 377A must go.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has put his foot down on this issue and said people should not be penalised for a medical condition. He has expressed his hope that the day will come when Section 377A is repealed. His parliamentary colleague, Baey Yam Keng, has also come out to support a repeal. But their voices represent a minority in the largely conservative ruling party.

Alex Au, who runs the Yawningbread.Org website, remains strident in his view that Section 377A is discriminatory. He points to how Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal has on 17 July 2007 declared the law on homosexual buggery discriminatory and unconstitutional.

However, citing Singapore law, he notes, "The problem of course, is that the Singapore constitution does not explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; in fact it does not even forbid discrimination on the basis of sex. So men and women can be treated differently under Singapore law, and indeed are. What is a crime for men need not be a crime for women. If we haven't even recognised that men and women are equal, this only shows how backward we are."

Likewise, the Council of The Law Society of Singapore has stated, "The retention of Section 377A in its present form cannot be justified...Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recogniseable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless of one’s personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence."

Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong has alternatively provided, "I truly do believe that a strong economic argument is the only way to get the Government to move on Section 377A in the near-future, and that an argument based purely on civil liberties will get us nowhere."

He suggests that it should be framed "in a lingo that will convince the Government" by showing "it's all about growth, jobs, money". He notes, "If you can make a convincing case that 377A is somehow affecting that, I think you've got a really good chance."

Frankly, some of these are not reasons for which I would have supported a repeal of Section 377A and, until recently, I was unconvinced about why Section 377A should go.

But now a key reason why I would support a repeal of Section 377A is because its departure would mean less people in Singapore will be cornered or compelled to lead two lives, and that more people will find it easier to be themselves.

It will enable one to stay focused on bettering oneself, instead of using that time to conjure foolish plans to keep one's sexuality secret.

Above all, the repeal of Section 377A will go some way in alleviating this distrust and climate of fear that exists in Singapore society.

A piece of legislation that lowers the self-respect a person has for oneself and forces one to live a double life; that induces the sons and daughters of Singapore to lie again and again to their loved ones; and that makes parents take unnecessary precautions to protect their children should have no place in Singapore.

It is time for Section 377A to go.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Monopoly, Moratorium, Minorities

In about 2 weeks, I will begin a process, which will last about 2 years and will eventually see me being called to the Singapore Bar.

After that, I will be able to represent another person in the Singapore courts.

As part of that process, I need apply one year in advance for pupillage in a law firm. This usually involves shadowing a senior lawyer, who helps you achieve certain learning outcomes.

Competition for pupillage is very strong in the top firms and it is very much like applying for a few lucrative positions, with thousands of other graduates.

The only difference here is, because of the caps the Singapore government imposes on law school demographics, you compete with far less applicants and have a better chance of success.

Places in these top law firms usually get snapped up very fast.

I understand the only local law school imposes a moratorium on such applications, that is no student is allowed to apply before a certain date. Those who break the moratorium usually face a penalty.

An excerpt from the directive local law school, according to one blogger, reads as follows: "In order to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity when applying for pupillage, students will have to sign a Letter of Undertaking stating that they agree to not apply for a pupillage position until the class imposed moratorium has been lifted... Any student found to be in breach of this Undertaking before the Moratorium Date will likely jeopardize his/her pupillage position in the Law Firm. As such, students are highly encouraged to apply for a pupillage position at the Law Firm of their choosing on the Moratorium Date or soon after."

I am told that, because of the moratorium, the human resource teams of several large law firms are forced to work a lot harder.

Interviews and offers for places need to be made within days or valuable talent will be lost to other firms.

I also learnt that from a lawyer working in one law firm that her firm held back interviews and offers for places this year. What happened was something I would personally consider unprofessional as much as it may be well-intended - some law students turned up at the door demanding to be interviewed.

To me, such a moratorium smacks of anti-competitive practice, and I hope a local law student will consider having this practice escalated to the Competition Commission of Singapore for a view.

Of course, one could argue that it's not anti-competitive since the whole process is voluntary and students are always entitled to opt out. Some students, who form a minority of the law school population, choose to opt out -- bravo to them!

Fortunately, the moratorium does not apply to law graduates, who studied overseas.

But what it sometimes means is that, by the time some overseas law graduates apply, pupillage vacancies have already been taken by local law students.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mass Whistleblowing Military-Style

Whistleblowing has been the flavour of corporate governance for some months now.

In the last few hours, it has been alleged that a Singapore military officer of Second Lieutenant rank sent out an e-mail to a whole bunch of individuals whistleblowing about certain things one of his more senior officers had done.

There has been no official verification about this by the Ministry of Defence in Singapore. It has also not been reported by any media yet.

But if this is true, three thoughts immediately come to mind:

a. The Second Lieutenant deserves every protection he can receive as a whistleblower. He should not be punished but he should be commended for what he has done, even if one may not necessarily agree with the manner in which the issue was reported.

b. But maybe the manner in which the issue was reported can be attributed to the circumstances the officer found himself in. For example, could it be that the issue was reported and no one acted on or looked into the issue, and the Second Lieutenant acted after he was frustrated by inaction?

c. Perhaps, it also highlights the lack of a whistleblower mechanism within the public service, which is why the e-mail ended up being sent to so many people and eventually its contents are now being disclosed and discussed in the public sphere.

I will reserve further comment on this issue until more information is known. And if this issue is untrue, I ask the reader to treat this as purely a work of fiction.

I will however add that a whistleblower mechanism can and should be put in place most organisations, especially large ones and where public money is involved.

Such a mechanism will enable individuals of these organisations to better report practices, which appear questionable. The mechanism should also provide enough space for an independent investigation of the practice.

The investigation should be carried out by a person with a reporting line to the highest-ranking person in the organisation, such as the Chief Legal Officer or General Counsel.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

YourFilm.SG: Time To Test, Provoke & Question

Some of my friends are behind this initiative, YourFilm.SG.

I encourage you to participate; if not to win, then to at least put YourFilm.SG's promise of accessible expression to the test.

According to the website, "the theme for this year is YOUTHniquely Singapore, giving youths of any background" - but only those "youths" between 13 and 35 years old - "the opportunity to convey what, in their opinion, makes Singapore unique", and to keep the "competition as accessible to the masses as possible, the organisers will be accepting films captured using any type of video recording device, including mobile phone cameras and digicams".

The website then goes on to say, "all entries will be showcased on to the world once they are approved and uploaded to this website" and there are "great [cash] prizes to be won".

Note, however, that little is said about the approval criteria or even how the winners will be picked. In such a situation, one can only hazard a guess.

It is interesting to also note that the "audience choice" winner will take home the smallest share of the bounty.

If this is a contest to honour expression, it may have been ideal to let the people express their choice and pick all the winners.

To me, to be a youth has always been an opportunity to question and to do the things that one will probably be less comfortable doing as an adult.

It is also a fantastic opportunity to be idealistic or contrarian; to basically test what in common parlance is known as the "out-of-bound" markers.

I hope youths will jump on this opportunity by submitting entries that will question and provoke thought; that will be idealistic or contrarian; and that will test the organisers censorship - oops, "approval" - criteria.

In the spirit of idealism that defines youth, one can only hope that the judges will not differentiate between those "approved" films that pay homage to the laurels of Singapore's political masters and those that are less than politically correct.

Of course, it will be fantastic if a young person whose family really needs the money is rewarded for his pure creative talent rather than the bias of his film.

When I was a college-going youth, my interview with David Marshall could never be published unedited, given the circumstances then.

But after a decade, it happened; it has now not only been published by the Law Society, it's also been featured in a magazine for male professionals, Lexean, and many other online sites too!

And the satisfaction I got from this far surpasses a dollar value that one can ever place on it. Happiness indeed.

With today's technology, doing what I did will take less than decade. So if YourFilm.SG does not "approve" your film, don't worry; there's always YouTube!

Oh yes, if you're one of those "unapproved" film-makers, make sure you leave a link to your film on this blog page!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

MHA Response: Abdul Basheer Case

The Permanent Secretary's office in the Ministry of Home Affairs has responded to an article I wrote.

I welcome the clarification from Ministry of Home Affairs and thank the Permanent Secretary's office for this opportunity to learn.

By doing so, the Ministry of Home Affairs has answered some questions I raised about Abdul Basheer's detention some days ago, "Was this the pivotal factor or could there have been other more compelling reasons? What really prompted a promising spark of Singapore's ethnic minority community to focus on such causes?"

I had questioned, as opposed to speculated, "if Abdul Basheer could have become attracted to radical ideology because of discrimination at the workplace, frustration with the lack of opportunities to make one's mark on society or dissatisfaction with a poor quality of life".

The Ministry of Home Affairs has replied, "Our investigations do not show that any of these possible factors influenced Abdul Basheer to become radicalised...Different factors attract different people to radical ideology."

But I found these words in the final paragraph of their reply intriguing: "In Singapore, there is no justification for anyone to become radicalised because of workplace discrimination, lack of opportunity or quality of life. Nor should these alleged shortcomings of Singapore society be used to rationalise and explain away the actions of those who have been led astray."

I haven't made up my mind yet on these words and I can only ask more questions about the direction these words are taking.

Is the Ministry of Home Affairs directing how the press should be reporting the matter?

Or is the Ministy of Home Affairs saying such "alleged shortcomings of Singapore society" should not be discussed in the context of alleged terrorist activities?

Or by saying "in Singapore, there is no justification for anyone to become radicalised because of workplace discrimination, lack of opportunity or quality of life", is the Ministry of Home Affairs expressing its hope or aspiration about "radicalisation" vis-a-vis what one faces in society?

On a related note, I understand from some sources that directions were issued to the press about not publishing Abdul Basheer's photograph or naming the schools Abdul Basheer had been to; this is particularly because there were concerns that persons resembling Abdul Basheer or from his past schools would be stereotyped or discriminated in some manner.

While this is a sensible request, it hasn't stopped at least one newspaper in this country from disclosing the schools. Perhaps, this reflects a press that is clearly capable of applying its own independent mind to a sensitive situation.

Finally, I wish to note that, even with this reply, Abdul Basheer's side of the story has not yet been heard. And I remain hopeful about one day finding the answers to the other questions raised about Abdul Basheer's case.

Thank you, again, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Two Messages About Terrorism In Singapore

I initially wanted to write about an annual lecture organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), which I was invited to attend by a colleague.

But two messages I read in the past two days made me put this initial plan on hold.

An unknown person in Singapore sent me the following message yesterday:
"Thank you, again, for an article that tries to be politically correct, but at the same time, managed to provoke others to think about Basheer in a less reductive way. I also appreciate your recent blog [posting] on the issue. I know Basheer would also appreciate the fact that someone who is not even a close friend, has managed to see beyond the grey clouds. I must admit that I do not really have much regard for the law profession at times, but in these trying times, the irony is that it is a lawyer who is now defending an ex-lawyer using the very rules that he (Basheer) has once discredited. I know you are not defending him, you are defending his rights as an individual. For that, I have utmost respect for you. Thank you once again and I hope you don't get in trouble for your guts."

The day before I got this message, a known person in Singapore, His Excellency, President Sellapan Ramanathan, delivered another message. He said, "Terrorism is a kind of crime. For you to prove it is not easy. When we used to have secret societies, somebody would bash someone else up. There would be no witnesses. How do you bring these people out? How do you prove it to them? We, in Singapore and Malaysia, must understand the nature of terrorism and how it impacts society."

Reading these two messages side by side, it appears that there is a divide between at least one top thinker of this country and one sentiment from the ground. One, however, cannot be absolutely sure how indicative this is of the present situation in Singapore.

The unknown person has also left me with more questions than answers! Do I actually have guts? Have I really seen beyond the grey clouds? Will I get into trouble?

After all, I am merely doing what His Excellency has encouraged, "We, in Singapore and Malaysia, must understand the nature of terrorism and how it impacts society."

I believe such understanding can only begin when one asks questions, and begins the search for answers to those questions. This is a fundamental part of any learning process. And, of course, not all the answers we find will be correct.

On another note, with all due respect to His Excellency, the Executive did not use the Internal Security Act - which is the legislation being used to combat alleged terrorism - to deal with secret societies. The measures to deal with secret societies required special permission from Parliament and the use of another statute: the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

Unlike the Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act is subject to regular review by Parliament. This, in my view, is an important safeguard in the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

Also, I am neither defending Abdul Basheer for his alleged involvement in terrorism nor defending his fundamental rights. As a corporate counsel (as opposed to being a member of the Singapore Bar), I have neither the standing nor the competency to do so. This is the responsibility of an independent lawyer, duly appointed by Abdul Basheer or his immediate family to represent Abdul Basheer.

His Excellency raises a very critical question: How do we catch terrorists and prove that they have done it?

At this point in time, looking at my growing list of questions and those of others, I am not sure if the Internal Security Act is really the most practical solution, if at all.

On a more personal note, I cannot agree with those in Singapore who "do not really have much regard for the law profession". Please do read this 1994 interview with David Marshall!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Make ISA Orders More Accountable & Transparent


I refer to the letter sent by the Permanent Secretary's office to The Straits Times in relation to a commentary concerning the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA).

I wish to seek some clarification, and also to share some ideas.


In that letter, the Permanent Secretary's office makes this argument: "Since the 9/11 attacks, several foreign governments and security agencies have expressed that they wished they had legislation similar to Singapore's ISA, to fight terrorism effectively. Singaporeans expect no less of their Government, to keep them and their families safe against catastrophic terrorist acts."

Would the Permanent Secretary's office be willing and able to provide the list of foreign governments and security agencies that have expressed such an interest? And if they have so wished, why has each foreign government or security agency failed to implement an equivalent of the ISA?

I wish to add that, in the absence of such clarification, I am most concerned about the position the Permanent Secretary's office has taken.

The position is akin to saying, for example: Several Singaporeans have expressed that they wished they had an opposition in Parliament, to provide check and balance to the dominant party in Parliament.

However, when one looks into the issue more deeply, one can potentially argue that having an opposition in Parliament comes at a cost. And that is a price most Singaporeans - that is those who have returned the ruling party to power again and again - are unwilling to pay.

Likewise, it is also possible that the "several foreign governments and security agencies" have considered the Internal Security Act to some extent and realised it too has a cost attached. And that is a price they are uniquely unwilling or unable to foot.

Unfortunately, one can only appreciate this if the Permanent Secretary's office is willing and able to provide the list of foreign governments and security agencies that have expressed they wished they had legislation similar to the ISA.


The Permanent Secretary's office also states that there is an ISA Advisory Board with wide powers, which can hear representations about an Order of Detention and make "recommendations to the President".

I would like to suggest that the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the interest of transparency and accountability to Singaporeans, look into making public all such recommendations by the ISA Advisory Board to the President.

Of course, one appreciates that, due to relevant national security concerns, not all the recommendations can be made public.

And clearly, such disclosures should be made with the consent of the Judge of the Supreme Court, who chairs the ISA Advisory Board and is ultimately responsible for making the recommendations.

I am of the view that releasing at least part, if not all, of the recommendations to the public would encourage some confidence among concerned members of the public that the due process of the law has indeed been observed.

The President too should make public all reasons for accepting or not accepting the recommendations of the ISA Advisory Broad, without compromising relevant national security matters.


I hope the Permanent Secretary's office will provide the necessary clarification. I also hope the Permanent Secretary's office will consider my suggestions, with the office of the President.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Reflect Why Educated Turn To Radical Ideology


Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader is not the first person alleged to have "militant jihad plans". What differentiates his case is his stirling resume.

He had the best of the Singapore brand of education. He secured a prized place at university to study law. He produced a research paper on international human rights law. Then, he worked for a while in a top law firm before taking on the role of inspiring impressionable and idealistic youthful minds by teaching in a tertiary institution.

Yet the 28-year-old apparently abandoned a bright future to pursue fanatical aspects of his religion.

Political and community leaders have pointed the finger at the new media, warning people not to get information about Islam from non-credible sources. Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said: "We have to continue to be wary of dangerous political agendas coming under the guise of religion through attractive media."

If such is the threat, then it raises a question about the education system — because it would seem that, at the end of the day, all the best education given to the most deserving may still be sacrificed at the altar of propaganda.

Perhaps there is some truth in the argument a foreign friend, a public administration specialist attached to the United Nations, shared with me in Bangkok recently. She said: "You have taught your people to gather knowledge. You have taught your people to excel in school. You have given them secure, lucrative careers. But at the end of the day, your people cannot question. They develop an affinity for propaganda and miss out on the real opportunities the world has to offer."

Looking beyond the influence of the Internet, one might wonder if there are other factors within Singapore society that have led to this new trend of so-called "self-radicalised" extremists, people like Abdul Basheer.

Some time ago, British society underwent a similar shock when it was disclosed that the terror threat was rooted much closer to home than expected. Well-educated British citizens had planned to commit atrocities in the name of religion. To date, much reflection continues in British society about what caused this trend of homegrown extremism.

British-Pakistani artiste, Irfan Ajeeb, who will star in an upcoming Bollywood film Suicide Bomber, told the Yorkshire Post: "I firmly believe that when you look at these guys, we are more or less all the same. We live in households that are similar ... That's why it's so confusing for me, to ask why a guy could do this.

"He wasn't born like that. It's due to events in his life. I also watch the television images of America bombing Afghanistan and Iraq. The solution isn't to strap on a bomb and bomb innocent people in London."

Discussing the lessons from the London bombings, academic Asim Siddiqui said at an anti-terrorism conference last year: "Muslims must accept the damage Islamist terrorism has done and work constructively with other actors in preventing recruitment. The government needed to spend more time and effort improving the living standards of the Muslim community in Britain. Civil society and media also have a role to play in providing fora for communities to talk to each other — not talk about each other from afar."

Similarly, it is important for Singapore society to reflect more on the latest disclosures of bright young talent suborned by extremist ideals, and what this signifies.

Terrorism, as Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng pointed out, is an issue all Singaporeans must address together. Even as Muslim leaders intensify their outreach to "vulnerable segments of the community" in countering radical ideology, "we should also be alert to what our children are learning from the Internet or from unregistered and dubious religious teachers. We should guide them to the right sources of religious knowledge", said Mr Wong.

In addition, more effort can be put into addressing the issues that make radical ideology attractive even to a person who is well-heeled. Is discrimination at the workplace the source of disillusionment?

Is there frustration with the lack of opportunities to make one's mark on society? Is he or she dissatisfied with a poor quality of life?

We do not know if these factors played a role in Abdul Basheer's life. We have heard only the Government's perspective. As former Justices' law clerk Andy Soh commented in a local newspaper: "It is all too easy for us to vilify and portray them as Osama bin Ladens in the making without the benefit of the full picture."

But based on the British experience, these are factors to look out for. The latest revelations are an opportunity for Singapore to reflect and to question. We cannot afford to let slip this opportunity to build a stronger, more civil society.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Detention Without Trial: More Questions Than Answers

Last week, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that it has detained without trial a law professional, Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader, on suspicion of terrorist activities since February 2007.

I met Abdul Basheer once about three years ago, when I was introduced to him by a mutual friend. He struck me as a passionate person with an interest for softer issues in society. He also had strong views on some matters, and was someone who knew what he wanted out of his career in law.

In fact, during law school, Abdul Basheer wrote a paper, "The Status of Refugee Children in Human Rights Law – New Bearings for a Common Destination", which was supervised by the current Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann.

But, according to my friend, Abdul Basheer "changed radically two years ago", and what has happened to him now comes as no surprise to my friend. My friend did not elaborate.

As such, I am taking a more than casual interest in this case. At this juncture for me, this case raises more questions than provides answers, since very little has been said about such issues:

1. Why did it take the Ministry of Home Affairs some 4 months since the detention of Abdul Basheer to publicly disclose such information about him?

2. The Ministry of Home Affairs has made various statements concerning the activities of Abdul Basheer. In summary, he had accessed various questionable material on the internet, wanted to learn Arabic and had even bought a ticket to Pakistan. Are these adequate and reasonable grounds to detain a person without trial or did the Ministry of Home Affairs act on pure suspicion?

3. Perhaps, what is different in this situation is that according to the Ministryof Home Affairs is that he had "militant jihad plans" and wanted "to make contact with a militant group - the Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) - that could help him train for 'militant jihad' and to cross over into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban". But then what is the evidence that the internal security team gathered against Abdul Basheer, which conclusively show that he had the motive "to wage 'militant jihad' in a land where Muslims were under attack"? Or is the Ministry of Home Affairs going behind the protective veil of the Internal Security Act so that it has no compelling need to reveal the body of evidence, which prompted authorities to act against Abdul Basheer?

4. Several persons have been quick to blame the new media for Abdul Basheer's plight. Was this the pivotal factor or could there have been other more compelling reasons? What really prompted a promising spark of Singapore's ethnic minority community to focus on such causes?

5. How are his loved ones reacting to this arrest? Do they welcome the arrest as a necessary move or are protesting the perceived unilateral move made by the Ministry of Home Affairs?

6. How is Abdul Basheer being dealt with in detention?

These are questions that I hope others are asking too.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Protect Innocent Family Members of Terrorists


On 6 June 2007, your ministry made the following orders:
- Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) (Exemption from Prohibition against Dealing) (No. 7) Order 2007
- Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) (Exemption from Prohibition against Dealing) (No. 9) Order 2007
- Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) (Exemption from Prohibition against Dealing) (No. 10) Order 2007

In these orders, your ministry exempted transactions involving certain property of "terrorists". It is of some concern to me that in the orders your ministry has listed the current addresses of such "terrorists", especially since these orders are publicly available at the eGazette website.

I am not sure if these "terrorists" continue to be in your ministry's detention or if they have been permitted post-detention to return back to their homes and restart their lives.

If they have, I am not sure how the public disclosure of their addresses will help them return and play a positive role in society, especially if they still live in these premises.

More importantly, your public disclosure also does not help their innocent family members living in the premises presently. I believe these family members have suffered and been shamed enough as a result of your ministry's disclosure and detention of their "terrorist" family member.

If the number of keen public witnesses attending court in high-profile cases are a precedent, I think one can perhaps safely argue that there are enough eager "prying" eyes to want to check out their premises. Indeed, I think it will now place the family members of such "terrorists" in less than necessary spotlight.

Surely, your ministry can find a better way to make such orders; a manner, which facilitates the re-integration of such "terrorists" back into society and protects the sacrosanct privacy of their innocent family members.

Your ministry's prerogative should not only be to protect Singapore's interests from harm but also to protect their innocent loved ones from additional discrimination in society. I hope your team will play its part in giving wrongdoers a second chance, and keeping their innocent loved ones out of harm's way.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Personal Relationships & Work-Related Contracts

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work for a range of organisations, from the 3-person outfit to the hegemonic multinational corporation.

In small businesses, where one often invests one's own funds, personal relationships are pivotal. It can make a difference between spending a bomb on an item or paying for the same item at slightly over cost.

Prudence is a virtue indeed.

I realise that same prudence is a virtue in much larger organisations. It can be a factor in deciding how much bonuses you bring home at the end of the year!

But in larger organisations, where one deals with funds often belonging to others, personal relationships should be on the watch list.

Giving contracts to a friend or a relative or even one's personal supplier of goods or services (for example, the plumber of your house) should be an issue of concern.

Like it or not, there's always some form of kickback; and this does not necessarily mean mere cash or gifts-in-kind. It could be something as unobvious as goodwill.

This in turn marks the beginning of an organisation's journey down the slippery slope of reckless spending. One could end up paying more than is necessary for a good or service.

In some cases, this has eventually led to the creation of the rogue employee. And the manifestations of these have been seen in the corporate world at different points in history.

It is for this reason many large organisations find it useful to have procurement committees.

It is also for this reason one often solicits various quotes for a particular good or service before awarding a contract to a supplier; this is quite often an effective and objective way of ensuring an organisation is getting good value.

If you work in a large organisation, be wary of the colleague that awards contracts to those he or she knows personally.

Don't be afraid to whistleblow and bring this to the attention of the independent members of your Board of Directors!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


In the course of my work, I am often asked to provide a view on an issue and I have tried different ways of addressing such issues over the years.

I have found one style particularly effective with those who rely on me for views regarding problems they are facing. I also realised it is a meaningful way of ensuring that I have thought through what I am writing, and that it sounds reasonably sound.

I call this syle "REBARE", not least because it is a way of customising the bare view in a different way!

The view is provided in the following style:
1. REcommendations / Conclusion
2. BAckground / Facts
3. REasons / Legal Basis


I cut to the chase and provide what I think is the solution, recommendation or conclusion to a matter.

This very quickly draws one's attention to what I personally think is the most important part of the problem -- the answer. After all, everyone likes to be given an answer to their problems!

This is also useful in helping the reader decide whether he wishes to read on, much like the blurbs we seek in books or the executive summaries we head for in reports.


The next thing I do is I set out the background on which I have relied to provide the answer. In this section, I highlight the assumptions I have made and the facts that I have relied on to reach the answer.

One effective way of structuring the background is in the form a story. This helps to engage the reader's interest and engage him enough to carry on reading your view, especially since this views are provided in writing.


Finally, I will set out my reasons for providing the answer that I provided. This is where I cite the relevant legislation or data or information that I have relied on.

I will also explain how the various facts I have noted inter-relate to each other, and support the conclusion I have reached.


Of course, this style does not work always. For example, like when making this blog posting or when you are writing a novel or where sometimes it just makes sense to save the best for the last!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Spam Control Act 2007: A Lay Guide

Some owners of small businesses have asked me for some general digestible guidance on the new anti-spam initiative in Singapore.

The Spam Control Act 2007 will be effective in Singapore from June 2007. If you send unsolicited commercial electronic messages in bulk, you will need to comply with the Second Schedule of the Act.


It will apply to you if:

a. You, by electronic means (e-mail / SMS), advertise / promote goods, services, land or business / investment opportunities, including all suppliers / providers of these items; and

b. You send more than 100 messages within 24 hours OR more than 1000 messages within 30 days OR more than 10000 messages within 1 year on the same or similar issue; and

c. You have not sent such messages by mistake.


1. All such unsolicited e-mails must have a valid unsubscribe e-mail address and inform the receiver how to unsubscribe. It should also have a valid telephone number or e-mail address for the receiver to contact you.

2. The instructions to unsubscribe should be clear, obvious and in English. The unsubscribe e-mail address should be genuine and effective for 30 days from the time the receiver gets your message.

3. If a person unsubscribes, you must give effect to this request within 10 business days (Monday - Friday, except public holidays).

4. The first words of the subject of the e-mail must be "ADV" in <> followed by a space and the subject.

5. Information about the sender of the message should not be not false or misleading.


A. All such unsolicited SMS must have a valid unsubscribe mobile number and inform the receiver how to unsubscribe. It should also have a valid telephone number or e-mail address for the receiver to contact you.

B. The instructions to unsubscribe should be clear, obvious and in English. The unsubscribe mobile number should be genuine and effective for 30 days from the time the receiver gets your message.

C. If a person unsubscribes, you must give effect to this request within 10 business days (Monday - Friday, except public holidays).

D. The words first appearing in the SMS must be "ADV" in <> followed by a space and the message.

E. Information about the sender of the message should not be not false or misleading.


Any person who suffers loss or damage can take you to court.

The aggrieved person can get an injunction or damages (up to $1 million or more, if loss is more than $1 million) from the court against you.

For more comprehensive advice, please consult your independent lawyer.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Increasing Supply of Lawyers in Singapore


I write this in my personal capacity and my views below are based both on my personal experience and on anecdotal accounts that others have shared with me.

1. Reduce legal work experience requirement from three years to one year

Last year, the Legal Profession Act was amended to enable law graduates with lower second class honours degrees from approved British universities and three years of relevant work experience to go on to qualify as lawyers in Singapore.

Among the reasons why the 3-year requirement was put in place was that a flood of applications were expected from such graduates, and that it was also felt the 3 years would be an adequate period to suss out the motivation and ability of one aspiring to be a lawyer.

There have been at least two rounds of applications since the legislation was amended.

Unfortunately, contrary to expectations, the process has only attracted a limited pool of applicants (myself included).

Having been subject to the process and having attempted to encourage others to do the same, I find the need for three years of relevant work experience to be a very onerous requirement.

Most such graduates are well settled in their careers either in Singapore or overseas. Some have also left the legal sector for other areas of industry after gaining 1-2 years of work experience, when they realise that qualifying as a lawyer is too much of a sacrifice, especially since, in some cases, this comes at the expense of setting up families with one's partner.

I have also learnt that some law firms employ and take advantage of law graduates in such situations. These graduates are given work quite similar to what newly qualified lawyers would receive but are not paid salaries that are commensurate with the work they do.

I would like to suggest that the requirement of three years can be brought down to 1 year, since I believe this is an adequate period to make an assessment of the will and ability of a person, who may not have an upper second class honours degree, to do legal work.

I am also aware that the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association has in the past recommended that the requirement should be 2 years.

2. Expand list of recognised law schools

I would also like to suggest that the list of approved British law schools be expanded, and perhaps the position on external law degrees be revisited. I know of law graduates who do legal work in some of our law firms or in-house that have good experience and do good legal work but cannot qualify, simply because they did not read law at a recognised law school. This is really unfortunate.

Thank you for this opportunity to be heard.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Show Me Your Story First

I have read about at least one instance in Singapore, where a journalist provided a political leader and newsmaker "the final edited version" of an article.

Separately, I have been told of incidents where a newsmaker explicitly requests, "Please send me a copy of your article before it is sent to print."

Depending on who the newsmaker is, a few journalists will agree to such a request.

I am personally against such acts, especially if the request comes from a political leader or a person of some influence.

To me, it is the equivalent of doubting the integrity of the journalist.

It can also lead to an intrusion and censorship of the creative work of the journalist.

In my dealings with various media - local, regional and international - I have often found that a journalist who takes great pride and has a high level of confidence in the creative work he or she produces is more likely to decline the request.

Newsmakers make such requests because they are concerned that what they have shared with a journalist will be misused or misinterpreted.

Many media owners are likewise concerned about this, since this can adversely affect the reliability and reputation of the media.

Hence, one finds editors in the newsroom, who are meant to serve as a check and balance within the media. Editors are expected to bring an objective, sharp and critical eye to the work of the journalist. Editors are often able to do so because they have themselves been journalists with many years of experience.

Editors also have at their disposal corporate counsel who can provide them legal advice on legal issues that may arise from the work of journalists. For example, libel claims. I know from personal experience that editors in Singapore and England tap this legal resource with some frequency.

It is also for this reason newsmakers have at their beck and call publicists, whose role is to help the newsmaker decide when to accept an interview request from the journalist, prepare the newsmaker for the interview, anticipate how a journalist may use the response and to manage the responses provided in a manner that the response will be responsibly used; of course, not always in this order!

Most individual newsmakers for practical reasons cannot afford such luxuries. As such, individual newsmakers should take steps to mitigate the risk of having their responses to the media misconstrued.

Now, asking the journalist to provide a copy of the article before it is published is certainly not the way to go about doing it. Consider yourself very lucky if the journalist is willing and able to do so!

In my experience, I have managed the situation in two ways.

Firstly, I ask the journalist for a right to reply.

More importantly, I ask the journalist to include a link to my blog. This enables me to react quickly and post a reply on the blog, if the published article did not convey my views in a fair manner. I am also able to make my full interview with the journalist available on my blog.

I am aware that some others find it useful to run their responses by their friends, especially those with a keen eye for detail or those with some journalism experience or legal expertise, to ensure that they have phrased the responses appropriately.

I also know of a few persons who, as a matter of principle, stop providing responses to a particular media or journalist, if they feel they have not been treated fairly by the media or journalist.

The lesson here is really simple. Don't disrespect the journalist by asking to see his creative work in advance. Learn instead to better manage the journalist and take steps to mitigate the risks you may face as a result of your dealings with the journalist.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, May 14, 2007

MICA Reply: Review Films Act To Compensate Film-Makers

This is a reply to a proposal I made some weeks ago.

Dharmendra Yadav

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We are an open society with a free flow of ideas and rational discourse on matters of public interest.

Films are banned only in exceptional circumstances when they are inimical to the larger interests of our society.

Consequently, it is not logical to suggest compensating or underwriting the costs of such undesirable productions.

We will continue to review our regulatory framework regularly, taking into consideration the changes in our society resulting from globalisation and new technology.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Help Independent Credit Cooperatives Today

Make a crucial decision today and become members of two cooperative societies, before it is too late: TCC, "the credit cooperative with a heart", and TRC Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd!

If you are unconvinced, read on to find out more.

Credit cooperative societies play an important but understated role in our society.

Every month, a member of the society makes a fixed monthly contribution to the cooperative society. This act of constant giving generates a pool of funds for the members to tap.

Members can then take credit facilities at interest rates much lower than what banks would normally provide.

Credit cooperative societies have effectively reached out to individuals that many banks would rather turn away; individuals who would otherwise fall prey to illegal moneylenders.

These lenders often charge exorbitant interest rates and will stoop to the lowest levels - including the use of brute force - to recover their funds from such debtors.

Unlike banks whose main focus is to generate shareholder value, credit cooperatives focus on generating goodwill among members.

They do so, for example, by providing financial assistance and scholarships to the less fortunate in a manner more robust than most banks.

A recent amendment to the Cooperative Societies Act proposed by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies will limit the ability of such cooperatives to tap that spirit of giving in order to help the less fortunate.

Once Parliament passes the proposed amendment, these credit cooperatives will only be able to market themselves or reach out to a limited group of individuals.

The rationale for this amendment is that it will promote good corporate governance and provide a risk-based approach in the oversight of these cooperatives.

The regulator has noted as much in its public announcement, "Credit co-ops are not regulated to the same level as financial institutions and should only play a niche role in the Singapore financial system. They should not open their membership to the general public, but should only serve a defined group of members which share a pre-existing affiliation to each other."

However, this is being read in some circles as protecting the reach of banks, which are an extremely powerful lobby in Singapore's financial sector.

The announcement is also perceived to appease another powerful group in Singapore - the trade unions. The compromise reads, "The existing union-linked credit co-ops and other large credit co-ops with broad potential reach will not need to redefine their membership base. However, they will not be allowed to add to their already large (potential) membership base by amending their by-laws to expand their membership definitions or add new groups of members."

As a result, less powerful and independent credit cooperative societies which do equally important work will find themselves extremely disadvantaged by the proposal.

These include TCC, "the credit cooperative with a heart"; and TRC Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society Ltd, a credit cooperative which seeks "to promote greater awareness and consciousness of a progressive and improved lifestyle among members of the Indian community".

The regulator has sought to console these less powerful and independent credit cooperative societies by saying that: "Individuals who obtained co-op membership before new regulations were in place will be allowed to continue as members even if they do not fall within the new membership definition of the credit co-op. As a concession to existing credit co-ops which have genuine difficulties in redefining their membership due to their particular circumstances, the credit co-op may apply to the regulator for special consideration."

How open the regulator will be to "special consideration" remains a huge unknown.

But going by the reaction of these less powerful and independent credit cooperative societies, which are currently executing various membership referral initiatives, it is unlikely that there will be much room for them to negotiate after this defined membership regulatory regime is implemented.

With the recent negative publicity in Singapore about the raising of funds by charitable bodies, it is highly likely that the regulator will get its way.

Concerned by this development, I have sent in my applications to become a member of TCC through its website.

Above all, reader, I hope you will likewise join me in this intiative in order to enable less powerful and independent credit cooperatives to extend help to the financially needy and less fortunate in our society. And likewise, do encourage your loved ones to do the same too.

It is only with a strong pool of members that less powerful and independent credit cooperatives can continue to make a meaningful difference in our society. You can help make that difference today, before it is too late!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Review: A Labour of Love

I attended the final performance of the labour movement musical, A Labour of Love, with some of my friends.

The musical is an inaugural initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to commemorate Labour Day, in particular Young NTUC.

Tickets were sold for about $70 publicly. I learnt from some of my friends that tickets were sold out for all the performances.

Taking into account the premium prices being charged and the high level of branding by reference attached to the musical, my friends and I returned quite disappointed.

The marketing materials shared, "From an award winning team who worked on Beauty World, Fried Rice Paradise, Forbidden City and many other sell out shows, comes the first musical based on Singapore's history and the struggles of workers!"

Plus, various local media, including the leading broadsheet of Singapore, The Straits Times, which often take an extremely critical view of any artistic endeavour, had given glowing reviews of the musical.

Perhaps, the glowing reviews were a justified sacrifice at the altar of national interest.

A reasonable member of the artistic audience, who is usually also a discerning one, was therefore led (or misled) into believing that the musical was going to be of a standard produced by the much-loved architect of Singapore musicals, Dick Lee.

Nevertheless, many of my friends who watched the musical had a fair amount of fun "dissecting" the play.

The play was essentially the story of an old man who had dedicated his life to trade union work from the time he met his wife. In fact, it was his wife that got him to take an active interest in trade union work.

In this musical, active unionists were roped in as artistes to perform. This is laudable since it conveyed both the diversity and passion one finds in a trade union.

There was also good use of theatrical tools, including real-time subtitling and other interactive elements.

But passion, diversity and effective use of props, sound and lighting failed in the face of weak content.

The script had great room for improvement and, at many points, one ended up feeling that one was attending a propaganda event of sorts.

The NTUC story was exaggerated and the hyperbole got even louder as the musical progressed.

This came at the expense of the personal relationships being presented in the musical. As such, the plot missed the wood for the trees, since personal relationships are really central to the work of any effective labour movement.

One could not help but return with a perception that the producers had oversold the NTUC story, to a point where the story felt draggy and skewed.

This caused at least one person in the audience to remark tongue-in-cheek to a song about "hope, faith and a bit of luck" in the musical: "I need hope, faith and a bit of luck to survive this play!"

Thankfully for the producers of the musical, there was no interval in the performance, which meant members of the audience - some quite reluctantly - had to watch the performance right till the end.

Most ironical was a scene involving the pivotal character, the wife of the old trade unionist. At a metaphorical level, the wife represented the union and everything that the old trade unionist stands for.

Unfortunately, she dies at the end. Her death, to a sensitive audience, may well have symbolised the death or dark future of the trade union.

This is really unfortunate for a musical that, at the outset, sought to highlight the relevance of a trade union in a developed Singapore.

As a result, one ended up watching up a musical that was high on entertainment value and energy but low on plot.

Better "hope, faith and a bit of luck" next time, Young NTUC!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spare The Photocopier

A Singapore law professor once shared with me, "It's easy to set up a law school in a university. You just need space and a photocopier!"

One of the things I find shocking about the legal profession is how un-environment-friendly it can be in its use of paper. This practice of wasting paper starts from law school where one develops a penchant for photocopying. The practice then becomes a habit, which one takes into the profession.

I have found, over the years, that the immediate solution to any legal problem appears to be the photocopier, regardless of the relevance of the material photocopied to the problem.

The issue of relevance is only dealt with after the photocopying is completed, that is when one has had the chance to better consider the material photocopied.

The costs of photocopying also end up being borne by the client in the form of disbursements.

In the working world, I have learnt that this habit is not just limited to the legal profession. Many in the working world are equally entranced by the photocopier.

Over the years, I have attempted to persuade my colleagues and loved ones to be more considerate in their use of paper.

In March this year, my sister's friends gave her a birthday present: a photocopier for home use! When she gladly brought the present home, I knew then my attempts have had limited success.

Nevertheless, some six weeks later, one consolation is that the present still remains unused and wrapped in its packaging!

Another consolation is that I have had better success personally. I do a variety of things to limit my use of paper, which I willingly encourage others to apply.

Firstly, I limit my use of photocopying. I only photocopy things that I know would be relevant and useful to me. Ironically, this habit has partly been facilitated from my days in the University of Leicester, where photocopying used to cost a dear 20 pence per page. As a result, I was forced to spend hours in the library to read and assess the material, and take away only what was relevant.

Secondly, I don't keep printed records. I get my administrative staff to scan documents that I receive and I read them online. If I need to circulate the documents, I send it to others by e-mail rather than by fax or mail. My records are also stored in online folders; the advantage here is that I can utilise them at any time from any computer with Internet access.

Thirdly, I print two pages on one page (not recommended for those who need reading glasses) and, as far as possible, I use both sides of the paper. If, for any reason, I have not been able to use both sides of the paper, the paper goes into my recycling bin and I make use of the clean side at the next available opportunity.

Sometimes, this has incurred the wrath of my computer experts in the office; they argue that using recycled paper jams the printers and my meek counter-argument often is that they should invest in printers that facilitate the use of recycled paper!

Finally, after I have used the paper fully, I throw the paper away in the recycling bin, in the hope that this used paper will go on to be used in other useful products.

Please spare the photocopier and use paper prudently.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Council of Elders For Singapore


In the recent debate on pay hikes for ministers and civil servants, some Singaporeans were surprised that some of our public servants continue to earn pensions upon retirement.

Many are asking what is it that they do that justifies such a perquisite, which those in the private sector do not get. After all, they have already been well rewarded in office with their private sector-benchmarked salaries.

Not surprisingly, point-by-point responses have come from the Public Service Division (PSD). This is not the first time the PSD has had to deal with such issues. Nor is it going to be the last.

No doubt the issue will be raised at every General Election, and even more so whenever Parliament sits to debate proposed tweaks to the pay of such public servants.

There is one more effective way to deal with these questions: Form a Council of Elders, which can function like a second house of Parliament, debating all Bills after their first reading in the House.

Immediately, the Council of Elders will become an effective and independent second-level check for sensitive or important issues before Parliament. In this way, these senior leaders are also empowered to continue to add value to our law-making process, even after their retirement.

A few other Commonwealth jurisdictions have such a second house, including India and the United Kingdom, whose laws we utilise in our legislative system.

Such public involvement will more than justify the pensions our elderly public servants continue to earn. At the same time, it enables Singapore to better put to use a pool of retiring talent, while preserving and appreciating the legacies they have left for future generations.

In recent years, we have seen several high-profile retirements. These individuals have at times voiced their concerns about policies pursued by the ruling party.

Retired Permanent Secretary Ngiam Tong Dow, the architect of various aspects of the Singapore economy, has written a highly-acclaimed book, A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy, and made many sit up with his public comments on topical issues like the civil service, the deployment of our elites, and public transport.

Mr Tan Kin Lian, the innovator who turned a fledgling local insurance cooperative into a $16-billion powerhouse, has also been vocal in sharing his thoughts on the issues of the day through letters to the media. Most recently, he weighed in with his own suggestion on the formula for calculating ministerial pay.

We have also seen the retirement of various batches of Members of Parliament, several of whom were prominent and outspoken during their tenure, but who faded from the public eye as soon as they left Parliament. Former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon and veteran politician Tan Cheng Bock are just two names that come to mind.

We need to recognise that this older group of persons carry a sense of history, which can be useful in our legislative process.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong recently shared: "The laws that we have today are a product of the interaction of forces and ideas over the course of our nation's history. To understand the law and its relevance well, a lawyer needs to understand the context in which laws are made, why they were made and what their objectives were."

His comments could apply to our legislators whose key duty is to formulate and pass laws. Such a sense of history can be best achieved through a Council of Elders, where our talented senior citizens will be an essential part of the legislative process and be able to criticise Bills in a well-informed and constructive manner.

A key issue here is whether such a Council of Elders should have voting rights over all Bills tabled in Parliament.

It is unlikely that any elected leader who has toiled hard to win the support of the people will agree to this. Nevertheless, we also need to recognise that, as long as there are committed, courageous and credible People's Action Party leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, there is no way the party is going to lose its parliamentary majority.

And in such a democracy where one party commands an overwhelming majority, it may be useful for a second house to have some voting rights, but with elected leaders always retaining the right to veto decisions of the second house.

The Council of Elders will bring the diversity of our legislative process to a new level, where schemes such as Non-Constituency or Nominated Members of Parliament have arguably had limited success.

With the achievement of its First World status and a greying population, it may be a good time for Singapore to look into a Council of Elders.

Dharmendra Yadav

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