Thursday, December 22, 2011

Racist remarks indefensible


On his own Facebook page, your comrade and the honourable Member of Parliament, Seng Han Thong has reportedly said: “The staff are not trained for this emergency preparedness, they know how to prevent terrorist but even this one, they are not prepared so they follow a very strict kind of SOP, so they have to be flexible, and especially to deal with different kind of emergency whether it is terrorist attack or internal, system flaw. They are not ready. I notice that the PR mention that, some of the staff, because they are Malay, they are Indian, they can’t converse in English good, well enough, so that also deters them, from but I think we accept broken English.” (emphasis mine)

I am reminded of the time when another comrade of your political party, the dishonoured Choo Wee Kiang, abused the privileges of his august office to make similar remarks in Parliament.

Your party leaders at that time were happy to be indulgent and to condone such insensitivity, which strikes at the fabric of what it means to be Singaporean. Choo remained in office, and went on to be a criminal.

Seng has suggested that his comments “were mis-interpreted”. I am not sure how. Whatever way you construe it, his remarks are downright racist.

I still take the MRT. The lack of communication skills is an observation that cannot be limited to particular races within the workforce.

Seng is a highly-ranked member of the labour movement. I am concerned that his remarks will have an adverse effect on the inclusive work policies of a listed company like SMRT.

Seng should resign from his position in Parliament and the labour movement, notwithstanding his constructive contributions to date. These should be no places for harbouring a racist.

I hope, as my Member of Parliament, you will stand up and make this request, rather than follow the example of your predecessors to tolerate such insensitive leaders.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Make Parliament More Accessible


Parliament sat to debate the President's Address from 17 October 2011 to 21 October 2011. It has been [about] five days since the debates ended. It is clear that the mainstream media has failed to provide comprehensive coverage of the debates.

For example, Parliament provides a link on its website to a special page for Parliament on Channel NewsAsia. Yet, when one accesses that link, one finds many speeches or exchanges involving Members of Parliament over the week are not even there.

From alternative sources like the Facebook pages of relevant Members of Parliament, it is clear that a good number of Members of Parliament received almost little or no coverage.

Either the editors of these mainstream media outlets felt that such speeches were not newsworthy or it was just impractical to do so (more likely the latter).

As an aged lawyer and Saint, you must appreciate the value of providing Singaporeans unfettered access to developments in the highest law-making organ of this country.

Without meaning to disrespect your wisdom on this front, I only wish to add that the benefits of such access far outweigh the costs associated with it.

In this regard, while I note and appreciate that members of the public already have hassle-free access to the public galleries of Parliament, I have a number of suggestions that I hope you will consider:

a. Set up a channel on Starhub, Mio TV or the Internet to provide live streaming or coverage, when Parliament sits;

b. Make available uncensored recordings (preferably with subtitles) of Parliamentary proceedings on parliamentary website within a day of any Parliamentary sitting; and/or

c. Publish parliamentary reports on the Singapore Law Watch website as soon as these become available.

I hope your team and you can look into these possibilities, among others, of making parliamentary proceedings more accessible or connected to lay persons like me.

Notwithstanding that you were the current Prime Minister's second choice as Speaker of Parliament, I am hopeful that your legacy as Speaker will be a Parliament of many firsts.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, October 24, 2011

REACH needs new chief


A few years ago, there was a rebranding of the government’s Feedback Unit. Led by a new chief then, the Honourable Member of Parliament Amy Khor, it became Reach.

Reach plays an important role as an arm of the Executive. In its own words, its role is “to feel the pulse of the ground and keep the government apprised of key issues of concern amongst Singaporeans”.

This year, through its different leaders, the government conceded that it had failed to comprehend the concerns of the people, and it had misread the pulse of the ground on key policies.

If nothing else, this showed that Reach had failed miserably in that mandate. The only reach that Reach achieved in its restructuring was its sheer lack of reach.

Reading the speech of its chief to support a motion to thank the President for opening Parliament, one can perhaps understand why.

Khor remarked, “Online engagement will increasingly become more important with the growing number of digital citizens. It is simply impossible to engage on all sites. The government could engage on sites which allow for reasoned and constructive debate and gain traction. Netizens themselves who desire rational discourse should support such sites or else start them. They should not be afraid of being labelled 'pro government.'"

In essence, Khor seems stuck in a time-warp. She is merely reiterating a past strategy of government that has failed: we deal with online media, on our own terms, with persons who will bravely wear the badge “pro government”.

In doing so, Khor has only shown why she is a better politician reaching out to her exclusive die-hard white-wearing fans rather than a feedback chief desiring to be inclusive, regardless of how critical the views may be of government. She seems to have no misgivings polarising the digital citizenry by labelling them as irrational and destructive. Her sentiments perhaps reflect that Khor may have passed her ‘use by’ date, and why one would be hard-pressed to justify her relevance as the face of Reach.

Contrast Khor’s remarks with the more enlightened and practical approach highlighted by her colleague, the Honourable Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng.

Baey shared, “All communication media are neutral and social media is no exception. It is just another milestone in the evolution of media landscape. It is up to us to adapt and leverage on them.”

He then suggested, “The government does not have to rebut every single rumour or set the record straight for every misrepresentation made, even on the platforms it chooses to engage. Sometimes, it is better to leave the discussion open and not jump into defence too quickly or even at all. Firstly, it is not possible. Secondly, the time, money and effort expended would not be justified. Thirdly, the government should also trust in the public’s ability to make logical assessment of the information they encounter online. The government has to accept that it cannot and should not try to have the last word on every debate. Whether we like it or not, civic engagement in cyberspace has to be treated with the same level of respect and care, planned and delivered with the same competence we wish to achieve in our physical domain. Netizens expect their government to engage with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity.”

Baey speaks from the heart. He is a media veteran, in light of his track record as an artiste and communication professional. It is no surprise therefore that his views resonate with many in online media circles, including veteran journalists like Cherian George.

Being the natural charmer that he is, he has the potential to reflect the face of a government capable of engaging its citizens ‘with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity’. It is time for Baey to replace Khor as chief of Reach.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Empower Law Society if Government open

According to one news media, the Honourable Minister for Law Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam has recently remarked, "We don't, as the government, have a monopoly on ideas - nor expertise, nor resources in every field. And there's a clear recognition that to achieve the best possible policies for Singapore, we have to tap on the private sector and volunteers. This ensures a range of perspectives and diverse, and often better ideas."

While I accept the Minister means well, I approach his views with some measure of caution. If this is something the Minister is really serious about, he can do two things immediately in an area that comes under his direct purview.

First, section 48 (1) (c) of the Legal Profession Act (LPA) allows the minister to appoint 3 advocates and solicitors to sit on the Council of the Law Society of Singapore. A former President of the Law Society has expressed concern about this power. The minister can return or delegate this power to the general membership of the Law Society or the Council.

Second, section 38(1)(c) of the LPA restricts the Law Society from "commenting on matters affecting legislation not submitted to it". The Law Society has sought an amendment of this provision in the past but it fell on deaf ears. The Minister can repeal this provision in order to better reach out to the private sector and to ensure diversity in perspective and ideas.

If the government has no monopoly on ideas, the minister can start by loosening his somewhat monolithic control of the legal profession.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maybe, PAP Ministers not so talented - Part 2

Dennis, a reader of this blog, shared these thoughts below in response to an earlier post. I thought it deserves a space of its own.


There is a lack of talent of the preferred mound that the PAP traditionally prefers, trained from a certain predictable pool, ex-scholars, first class honours perhaps, subscribed to the same right wing political philosophy, favours the rule of the elite, etc.

It has now reached a time in our country's history when many well-educated Singaporeans do not feel sorry for lack of such talent any more. People coming from this traditional pool have largely run out of passion and ideas.

Obsession with GDP, the yawning gap between the rich elite and the ordinary Singaporeans, consistent failure to do more for our poor and disadvantaged policies, elitist education policies, government making money out of the people at any opportunity, opening of IRs, strange liberal foreigner employment policies, the list goes on and on. We debated over these in the last two elections this year.

Running out of passion

Why passion? Because the ethos of promotion and high pay have become a given in civil service such that many are driven by pay. Ministers do not realise but their frequent admissions of so called talent not joining political service if pay is reduced, is a de facto admission that the people they thought fitted the bill are driven by money, not passion.

Singaporeans should be relieved that these people do not join in the first place as their heart is not with the government and the people. I shudder to think how many 'wrong' people have joined political and administrative service because of the motivation of money and promotion. Maybe that explains the kind of policies we have had over the last 20 years.

"Singapore Inc" is nothing to be proud of. It is an ironic tag symbolising how the PAP government has gone off tangent over the past 20 years because of the love of money. The love of money is the root of all evil. Without the right passion, our people will perish.

Running out of ideas

The PAP government subscribes to a set of right wing politico-economic theories. We cannot assume that the government or the civil service will always be right in their policies. The last 5 years have convinced many people that they are making mistakes in their policies which have serious repercussions for the country be they economic, social, political and even moral.

In the past few months, I met so many educated, well qualified and well placed Singaporeans who have become very concerned with these erroneous policies. Yet post election, basic policy making has remained the same.

PAP is clearly not able to think of their little custom-made box anymore. Clear examples are transport and housing: essentially the government has shirked from taking the hard decisions.

I, like many Singaporeans, are rightly concerned about this business as usual attitude of the PAP government. If the PAP government does not indeed change from within, this serious lack of ideas and the continuance down the same path from last 5 years are quite a worry for our country. Perhaps many other Singaporeans not used to doing their own critical assessment of government policies do not share this view.

However, I take heart that in the past few months, I have met many many Singaporeans who share the same concerns I have (they are well educated and successful in their own careers, well travelled and well versed in world economics and politics).

We are united by one thing: our love for our country and our wish that our country can do better in many areas than under the present regime. There are many Singaporeans whom I am confident will step up to serve because they will not see their country fail or go down a certain undesirable path to which increasingly Singaporeans do not subscribe any more.

There are many Singaporeans who have passion and also, better ideas. We do not need to rely on the current elite in government and administrative service. Many Singaporeans are willing to think out of the box. The challenge for any political party now is how they can harness the passion of us Singaporeans to make a difference, to make Singapore an even better country and nation.


Finally, it leaves me to thank my friend and fellow corporate counsel, Chia Lyn Lynn, for permission to use the image that appears in this post.

Perhaps, the committee reviewing ministerial salaries will take a page from Lynn and Dennis.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maybe, PAP ministers not so talented

My friend, Siva, who used to work at the political desk of The Straits Times, penned the thoughts below.


Lee Kuan Yew says there isn't enough talent for an alternative Cabinet.

Our new President (a former Deputy Prime Minister and LKY's first choice for Prime Minister) ran Government Investment Corporation of Singapore when it racked up huge losses.

The ex-Foreign Minister, whose new supporters mourned his electoral defeat, curtailed the arts and helped a regime that killed its citizens and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi.

Where was a serving minister when tenders for the SportsHub and MotorHub were screwed up?

Maybe, it is the PAP ministers who aren't that talented after all.

Siva Govindasamy


The case that there has not been enough talent to go around may have been true in a Singapore of past. However, there are signs of increasing lethargy in the prevailing political leadership in Singapore.

More people, who used to support the ruling party, are crossing over to support the work of other political parties. The ruling party has also been hard-pressed to attracts strong talents within Singapore.

More former Malaysians occupy positions within the political leadership in Singapore, that has led some to speculate the ruling party may well be preparing Singapore for reunification with Malaysia.

Many ministers were retired earlier this year. No one is reported to have secured any key positions beyond those created for them in academia and government-linked bodies.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Are lawyers excluded from Yellow Ribbon Project?

The Yellow Ribbon Project was started in 2004 to help ex-offenders re-integrate into society.

Its annual flagship event, the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, around the populated Changi Prison complex will begin in a few hours.

I participated in the run some years back. I also tried to volunteer for the initiative some years ago. I was very excited that such an initiative existed. My enthusiasm has, however, been short-lived.

For various reasons, over the years, I have come away with the impression that there is a conscious attempt to exclude lawyers from this wonderful initiative.

I would certainly like to hope my impression is inaccurate but the information publicly available presently indicates otherwise.

No law association – whether the Law Society of Singapore, Association of Criminal Lawyers or Singapore Academy of Law – is publicly involved in the organising of the event, or even in partnering it.

No legal professional sits on the various committees administering the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

The featured employers and volunteers of the Yellow Ribbon Project do not include any person from the legal sector.

I found all these circumstances rather odd since lawyers play an integral role in our criminal justice system. This responsibility certainly extends to the rehabilitation of such offenders and giving them second innings.

It has been over 5 years since this initiative started. It is time the Yellow Ribbon Project involves lawyers, especially those from the criminal bar, more prominently.

I still support the Yellow Ribbon Project.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

No need to abolish ISA

My own view has always been that the abolition of the Internal Security Act is not necessary.

I would like in place, within the framework of the ISA, certain safeguards to ensure that it is not abused for political purposes.

Some have argued that this was the case with the so-called Marxist Conspiracy, when one Minister is reported to have resigned over the incident. A current Deputy Prime Minister has expressed reservations about these arrests in the past. (No surprise the home affairs portfolio, which has oversight of the ISA, is held by the other Deputy Prime Minister.)

To his credit, the old law minister Shunmugum Jayakumar, the man credited for enhancing sentences through Parliament in Singapore that would attract the ire of some human rights activists - from the use of the cane to the rope - took steps to improve the procedures of the ISA.

The ISA Advisory Board is now chaired by a Supreme Court Judge, with the President holding veto powers to cancel the detention order on the recommendation of the ISA Advisory Board.

This is where the problem currently lies.

The Board does not comprise a majority of judges, who I have no doubt are independent. Rogue ministers or power hungry political leaders could easily fill the majority of the ISA Advisory Board with their own lackeys and tilt the recommendation of the Board in their favour.

The Court of Appeal established over a decade ago that it was necessary for a court to review the executive’s decision to issue a detention order. Parliament then clipped the wings of the judiciary, post-Chng Suan Tze.

I would like the powers of the judiciary to review such decisions returned.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Insensitive advertising by law firm


"I wish to draw your attention to an advertisement on the Law Society website.

The advertisement states, "Roy & Partners are expanding and have vacancies for Chinese Junior and Senior Litigation Secretaries to handle motor claims and personal injury claims."

The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices provides unequivocally, "Race should not be a criterion for the selection of job candidates as multiracialism is a fundamental principle in Singapore. Selection based on race is unacceptable... If a job entails proficiency in a particular language, employers should justify the need for the requirement. This would reduce ambiguity and minimise incidence of misunderstanding between the job seekers and the recruiting party."

One would have expected that a website that represents a noble profession like ours to be more sensitive. The Law Society has a duty not to encourage such unacceptable employment practices. It can do better in working with the National Trades Union Congress to educate law firms about fair employment practices.

I hope corrective and preventive measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents."


The reply accepted "that a person should be employed on the basis of his job qualifications and not on the basis of his race" and advertisements "will be screened for their contents to prevent a recurrence of such advertisements", in order to prevent it from being offensive for any reason.


The previously controversial sentence now reads, "Roy & Partners are expanding and have vacancies for Junior and Senior Litigation Secretaries to handle motor claims and personal injury claims."

Interestingly, a new requirement has been added - "bilingual in English and Chinese" - with no explanation as to what this requirement has to do with the role. Hundreds of legal professionals, including litigation secretaries, in this country "handle motor claims and personal injury claims" without being "bilingual in English and Chinese".

Law firms like these can be encouraged to adopt the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices. The partners that run such firms should be persuaded to attend fair employment training programmes. Perhaps, the Law Society, as an employer, will lead by example and adopt these guidelines.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

My President, His Daughter

And you wonder how they missed her for Tin Pei Ling?

I hope she runs for Parliament in 2016 and give voters like me a chance to let her be our voice.

After all that she has said, I don't have to give you any more additional reasons about why I am voting for her father.

As a Singaporean, I wholly agree with her. When you vote this Saturday, make your voice count.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My President, My Voice

The Workers’ Party yesterday released a statement about how their constituents are being disadvantaged by shameful politicking.

What is the President of Singapore – who is above politics; who was deemed elected by the whole electorate; who is supposed to be the balance of power – doing about it?

He has been absolutely silent. No surprise there because apparently he cannot act, except with the advice of the ruling party.

Is this the kind of confidence the presidency is meant to espouse?

Is this the kind of caged presidency we wish for Singapore to have for the next 6 years?

I was supposed to be out of this country on 27 August 2011 but I decided to postpone this trip to exercise the only opportunity I may have for the next 5 years to pre-empt such state of affairs.

On 27 August 2011, I will be voting for a President, who is not going to sit around in the Istana and watch such unfair treatment of its citizens take place idly.

I will be voting for a President, who will be the balance of power that I would like the President to be.

I will be voting for a President, who can be a voice of the people.

I will be voting for a President, who will be worth every dollar of the over S$4 million the Singaporean coffers pay him annually.

I will be voting for a President, whose office I would like to see established rather than the office that the ruling party would like to see exist.

That is my right as a citizen of Singapore because I have just about had it with twelve years of a stupendously silent presidency.

The constitution cannot be above the will of the electorate.
The electorate can ensure that the constitution continues to reflect its hopes and aspirations.

Majulah Singapura!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Law Ministry Should Share Blame

I did not wish to make any comments on this issue initially.

Many friends have made their views known to me. A foreign service government scholar even invited me to participate in a “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event this Sunday, which I accepted after some hesitation.

It heartened me that many of my non-Indian friends were the ones taking the lead in reacting to this issue, and that it underscores the efforts of the government in creating a united society irrespective of our inherent differences is paying off.

At least one of my friends has written extensively about this issue; both his views and the reply from the government have been made available here.

However, I felt I had to say some thing now that the Minister for Law has put the weight of his office behind this issue.

At the outset, I was surprised that it took the minister more than a week to respond to this issue, which he himself conceded had a xenophobic element, after some 40,000 people have begun preparations to eat curry.

An issue as sensitive as this would never have been allowed to fester for more than a week under the watch of his predecessor and mentor, Professor Shunmugam Jayakumar.

We know the minister has been busy dealing with issues raised by the looming presidential election but, surely, this was a matter that deserved greater priority, given that the minister himself acknowledged emotions were running high in certain forums.

We now also know that the report in the newspaper was riddled with inaccuracies.

If this incident happened more than five years ago, what has happened since? Has the mediation worked? Do the families now have a more constructive relationship with each other?

If the minister was going to take more than a week to respond to this issue, he could have come more prepared to provide a comprehensive account of the matter.

Unfortunately, the journalists present at the press conference failed to ask these tough questions of the minister. Then again, the government has always maintained the Singapore press is not an investigative one; it is not supposed to ask such questions. The pliant nature of its work leaves it with little choice to take at face value what is offered by the government. Later, if the information comes out wrong, it is the national duty of the press to shoulder it squarely.

Nevertheless, how did this report end up getting fed to the newspaper in the first place? The government is known to maintain a tight lid over information that reaches the press. We are told the mediator provided the information. Was the mediator not sufficiently prepared or briefed before the information was shared with the press?

The minister further gave some understanding of the mediation process. If his account is to be relied on, the mediator is absolved of all responsibility.

The reality, if you have ever been involved in a mediation, is that the mediator plays an important role in nudging parties to reach an amicable solution. Often, the process involves the mediator speaking separately to the parties before bringing them together. The mediator will then encourage parties to consider the dispute from different perspectives in an effort to get them to consider solutions that can work.

It is true, as the minister suggests, the solution is neither imposed, recommended nor enforced by the mediator. But the mediator is a key facilitator of the dispute and it is quite likely that, in the absence of a mediator, the parties would have failed to reach such a solution.

Given these circumstances, the agency of the ministry has to shoulder some, if not most, of the blame. My friend has sought an apology from the law ministry for this incident. I am not hopeful he will get one.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Has the Prime Minister run out of ideas?

Having sat through about three hours of the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally 2011, I was reminded of some words that an opposition politician had shared at an event a day earlier.

The opposition politician had suggested the ruling party has run out of solutions to offer Singaporeans and, like its dying founding fathers, it is ailing. The Minister present at the event naturally disagreed reflexively, “He has been very political today!”

I thought, “If politicians are not political, who else would be?”

At the National Day Rally, the Prime Minister added new meaning to being political. He had nothing new to offer, except certain enhancements to his policies here and there. The more the Prime Minister talked, the more his words sounded like an opposition party manifesto.

Yet, the solutions he offered fell just short of the solutions proposed by the opposition. Perhaps, just like the blue he wore - some shades darker than the blue of the Workers’ Party - a feeble attempt by the Prime Minister to be different?

If that was not enough, he reverted to the usual fear-mongering tactics, which has become the bulwark of dominant Singapore politics. Investors will pack up and leave. Jobs will be lost. The country will falter.

While emphasising that Singapore is not a welfare state, he announced welfare-driven changes to Singapore’s health policies.

Dismissing the suggestion that the government of the day is not populist, he paved the way for populist measures to improve access to housing and universities. The ultimate populist move came when he pandered to an opposition theme of “putting Singaporeans first” and announced a slew of initiatives to stem the flow of immigration into Singapore.

To me, the National Day Rally did not reflect a Prime Minister speaking from a position of power. It reflected a Prime Minister frightened and bullied by the electorate. His real message to Singaporeans like me was however not lost.

In encouraging Singaporeans to come forward and share ideas, in urging Singaporeans to seek different paths to success, in pleading with young Singaporeans to listen and follow the example of their elders, all the Prime Minister was effectively emphasising was that it is time to be bold and masters of our own destinies.

Behind his words, the Prime Minister was underscoring the urgency of taking a page from our forefathers to allow a new person to bring fresh ideas to the table.

If these are the kinds of things that the Prime Minister is going to champion for the next five years, the only real change likely to happen is the Prime Minister himself or the government in power.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Singapore Theatre Festival 2011

I am a donor to the theatre company, W!ld Rice. I think there are many things that can be said or expressed through theatre about issues of the day, without offending prevailing sensitivities.

W!ld Rice has, in recent years, earned a name for itself in this regard. One of the ways it does so is through its biennial Singapore Theatre Festival, which started in 2006. The Straits Times interviewed me about this development then.

W!ld Rice has been so effective in its work that the National Arts Council wanted to send a negative message to W!ld Rice about this so it snipped the funds it gives W!ld Rice last year. Donors like me wanted to send a message to the National Arts Council so we increased our donations.

Perhaps, the Government now realises that it must provide such space for critical views if it wants to avoid losing more seats in Parliament.

In a sign of changing times last weekend, a sitting Minister decided to address theatre-goers at the festival. He discussed a range of issues with representatives from civil society and opposition parties.

Even the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers made his presence felt by attending the performance immediately before the Minister addressed the festival.

Perhaps, the National Arts Council will now revisit its decision to cut W!ld Rice's access to necessary funds.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Government Reply: Mediation Result Racist

The government has replied to my friend's letter, in the face of an unfortunate and shameful attempt by an agency of the Ministry of Law to brandish as exemplary a case that had a racist outcome.

My friend's comments, the reply from the Ministry of Law and the response of my friend to the Ministry of Law is made available below.

If you agree with my friend's views, please consider raising this issue directly with the Ministry of Law or your Member of Parliament.
I know some people are considering making a police report on this matter or even writing to the Presidential Council of Minority Rights, given the looming presidential election. You can explore these options with your respective legal advisers.

Dharmendra Yadav


Many of you have read my note to the Ministry of Law's Community Mediation Program, on the absurd decision that bars an Indian family from cooking curry in their own home.

The Community Mediation Centre replied to my email. Basically, the CMC's position boils down to this: the parties reached the agreement themselves, so to hell with common sense.

This begs the question - can we trust these clowns with anything, if they're so quick to hide behind other people at the first sign of their feet being held to the fire? Also, if they are so quick to shirk any responsibility for lack of common sense, what confidence can we have that they will apply any in future?

My own view is that the decision is extraordinarily bad, and inexcusable. It's either racist and inconsiderate in the extreme, or severely lacking in sense. Which is worse, you decide.

Still more disappointing is the knee-jerk defence of the decision. These people clearly don't get the point - that the decision is one that is offensive to right thinking people.

Had there been an apology by the Ministry, or a promise to reconsider the decision, you would have been forgiven for thinking it's a one-off. However, the defence of the decision lends weight to the suspicion that our country's civil service has evolved to the point where many decisions are made in a vacuum, disconnected from good sense, by a corps who have a deeply ingrained aversion to taking responsiblity.

This is bad for our country's future. And its present. I do wish there was more we could do to hold these people accountable, but it does seem like they're cocooned and live in an ivory tower.

For those of you who want to write to the CMC yourself, you should. If nothing else, it may emphasize that common sense is still a commodity in demand, and dodging responsibility is not appreciated.


We thank you for your feedback and concerns raised regarding the article in Today, “Number of neighbour disputes hit high” (8 August 2011) and write to clarify the case facts.

The article stated that community mediator, Mdm Marcellina Giam, “got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home”. We have checked with Mdm Giam and this is inaccurate. The solution to the dispute was proposed by one of the parties and accepted by the other party. Mdm Giam did not propose the solution for the parties, neither did she impose it on them.

This is in fact the crux of mediation. The community mediators, who are trained volunteers, act as a neutral third party to facilitate discussions between the disputing parties. Their role is not to decide on the outcome of a case; they have no authority to do so. The final outcome, which is unique to each case, must be a mutually acceptable solution arrived at by both disputing parties after discussion. Mediation seeks to provide an informal and amicable way of settling inter-personal, social and community disputes to cultivate a more harmonious, civil and gracious society.

In cases where parties are of different ethnicities, cultural background or nationalities, the community mediators take great care in trying to get parties to understand the varying perspectives, and foster greater understanding and communication. In this particular case, despite clearly different cultural backgrounds, both parties were able to come to a mutually agreed solution by themselves in the interest of neighbourliness.

We have also issued a clarification on the matter.

Joanna Hor
Deputy Manager
Community Mediation Unit


Thank you for your response. It does not address the concerns raised in my email.

Stripping away all the window dressing in your reply, what you're saying is that the parties agreed to the decision, and the mediator facilitated it, and so that should be the end of it. I've also read your ministry's clarification in the linked article. It is similarly unhelpful, and, like your reply, dodges the obvious issue:

- at a deep fundamental level, your mediator facilitated in 2 parties arriving at an extraordinarily bad decision, that is overtly racist, disrespectful of a family's right to enjoyment of their property, and prefers the spurious demands of a foreign family while relegating the rights of a local family.

I did in my earlier email say that it's not an answer to say that the mediator had nothing to do with the outcome. Yet you glibly state that the mediator "did not propose the solution for the parties, neither did she impose it on them". Aside from being a nice turn of phrase, this means nothing. Irrespective of what (you say) parties agreed to, there is absolutely no room for you to say that the outcome reflected any good sense. If that's what you're trying to imply, it's disingenuous. Let's be clear about this: The mediator had a responsibility to exercise good sense. The decision reflected a total lack of sense. In this case it is binary. You are either for common sense or for the decision, and going by your defence of the decision, it's clear that common sense is, after all, not that common.

Your knee-jerk defence of the mediator and the bad outcome sends the message that the mediation centre/your ministry could not care less about fundamental unfairness in the outcomes you strike, and that you will hide behind the parties to dodge responsibility for bad decisions, ignoring all good sense, and no matter the policy interests that are offended by it. That's plain irresponsible.

Please also enlighten me as to what is the "more harmonious, civil and gracious society" that you say the program aims to achieve? Going by your view, it seems that will be a society where your centre endorses foreigners making unreasonable demands of locals, and has no qualms about having locals bow to these. Please, spare us such a society, we can do without it. If your ministry / centre does not have the spine to call out a stupid and unmeritorious request for mediation for what it is, what confidence can we have that you will safeguard any of our interests? Or that we can trust your centre with anything of significance?

You seem oblivious to the firestorm that this has created. I'd encourage you to access the online media to appreciate what Singaporeans really think about your centre and the decision.

The initial decision was disappointing. Your present email even more so.

Harveen Singh Narulla

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making President Tan Kin Lian Happen

I had initially held back endorsing my former boss, Tan Kin Lian, as I did not wish to pre-empt the issuance of the Certificate of Eligibility. It is time to stand up and be counted.

I worked with him for some 5 years. I have written about what his presidency will mean. I know his strengths and weaknesses. I believe he has the right values that this august office needs. I agree he can be the Voice of The People. I am voting for Tan Kin Lian.

If on Nomination Day Tan Kin Lian declares that he will not be standing for the presidential election, I will vote for any candidate he endorses.

Thank you, Mr Tan, for giving me the opportunity to vote again.

Dharmendra Yadav

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What Singaporean first DPM should do

[Note: This is a third party perspective of a grassroots leader.]

During a dialogue themed Singaporeans in Conversation, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke to about 250 students. When asked about the PAP losing power some day, he replied affirmatively. He added, "But do I see a smooth transition to a system that's more glorious? The answer is no. I think it will be a very difficult transition. And I'm not sure what the outcome will be and I'm not convinced the outcome will be a better one."

I was uncomfortable with his comments and concerned that our DPM took such a position. What troubles me is not that one day the PAP may lose power, but that the transition would not be smooth, as he articulated.

Many thoughts go through my mind when I reflect on the term “transition”. Does transition mean that the hand-over from one government to another would be road blocked with administrative hurdles? Does transition mean that PAP supporters will go onto the streets to protest (and worse still riot)? Or is he taking a view of transition to mean that a new government would take many years before they reach a point of maturity to govern effectively? I can only speculate.

Personally, I cannot agree with the DPM for the following reasons:

1. We have a highly educated, efficient and effective civil service. We are praised far and wide for being a “government that works”. Credit goes to the years of evolving our civil service into a pragmatic, efficient and somewhat unemotional entity that “follows protocols”. I would rule out the civil service as a cause of any major transition road block.

2. Will a change of government lead to turmoil and unrest? Again I doubt so. If this were to happen, it would suggest that our police officers are ineffective and unable to provide law and order. I have faith in our fellow brothers and sisters in the police to ensure that any turmoil or unrest would be quelled before it escalates to what we see in London in recent days.

3. How effective will a new government be? Can they be as good as the PAP? Or better? On this point, the answer really depends. From my observation, it is evidently clear that the opposition is getting better. Credible, intelligent and highly capable individuals are starting to step forward to serve. Should they one day come to power, they will not be alone in governing the country. They will be backed up by an army of scholars in the civil service to provide insights, research, and advise.

Many professionals are likely to also come forward to serve. Senior business executives would be quick to switch allegiance to the new government (business people are pragmatic). While I expect some hiccups, I wouldn’t go so far as to speculate that the transition wouldn’t be smooth and paint a doomsday impression.

To help allay my concerns, and for the sake of our nation’s future, I wish to offer my humble advise to DPM Teo look into the creation of a “Transition Framework” that will ensure a smooth transition from one government to the next, if the PAP one day loses power. This framework should be made public.

As our DPM, it is not only his duty to ensure that such a framework for transition exists, but it is also his moral duty as a Singaporean to do so. The DPM should stop politicking and start acting as a Singaporean first. The general election is over.

Great Expectations

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mediation Result Racist

My college friend has written a letter below in relation to recent achievements that an agency of Singapore's Ministry of Law sought to trumpet. Their benchmark in the promotion of racist practices in secular Singapore is hardly something to be proud about. I support his views and I hope the Ministry apologises.

Dharmendra Yadav


I'm writing in respect of the much publicised mediation on the Indian family cooking curry.

It is hard to believe that your centre turned up such a silly, and offensive result. As an Indian, I am personally offended at the gross insensitivity of the decision and its utter lack of good sense.

There is nothing laudable about it and much that is troubling:

- It shows your mediator's insensitivity to a local family's very acceptable practice (cooking in their own home, and that too a culturally identified cuisine).

- It shows appalling judgment in identifying something as a problem that anywhere else in the world would be laughed out of the room (REALLY.. and if you don't believe that, go ask around).

- It stokes the public disaffection on the overwhelming numbers of foreigners in Singapore by favouring a foreign family making an unreasonable request of a local one.

- The outcome is deeply unfair - to locals, to Indians, and to anyone enjoying the use of their property.

- The outcome has an explicit racial dimension (the whole Chinese/Indian, curry-issue overtones).

- Because of the racial overtones, you've put the mediation program at risk of being sucked into more such issues.

- Because of the racial overtones, you've opened up the possibility that this becomes a point of unhappiness between people of different communities. Did your mediator not know that there are other practices by the different races that can be fodder for similar complaints? Like burning of paper during the Seventh Month, for example? (incidentally a practice that I myself participate in with family and friends each year out of respect for their Buddhist tradition even though I'm Indian)

- The outcome threatens to make criminals out of ordinary people for doing something that does not break the law. ie, if they get into trouble for not observing the decision, it will only be because of your centre's decision, not because of any underlying wrongness (that is the the act would be "malum prohibitum", not "mala in se").

- It totally undermines what is essentially a very positive scheme to help people live happily in close proximity and deconflict / defuse situations when they arise. Your decision decreases the public acceptability of the scheme. Knowing now the silliness that can result from a session at your centres, it is likely that any right thinking person would doubt your mediators' ability to come up with better.

Please do not try and hide behind the fact that the Indian family agreed to the outcome in the mediation. You have a duty and a responsibility to exercise judgment and good sense (otherwise why are you mediating other people's disputes?).

Just because they may have gone along with your silliness does not absolve you of your responsibility to exercise common sense.

Thankfully all the commentary I've seen on the internet about this has been overwhelmingly critical (as is appropriate and necessary) and incredulous. I've my fingers crossed that it does not lead to other complaints that have racial undertones, to test or highlight the decision.

Your centre owes the public, Indians in Singapore, and the Indian family concerned in particular, an apology. Quick action may yet save the mediation program. Trying to make excuses about this or justify it (on any grounds) will only make your position more difficult.

Please, do the honourable thing and take responsibility. Singaporeans deserve at least that.

Harveen Singh Narulla

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Income's Orange Revolution

Minister Lim Swee Say (LSS) has come out to defend the position of my former employer, NTUC Income, in the wake of revelations as to why my former boss and presidential hopeful, Tan Kin Lian (TKL), left NTUC Income. He has shared he wanted NTUC Income to be run more professionally, not that it implies that TKL ran it unprofessionally.

LSS has a very different style from that of his predecessors, Lim Boon Heng and Ong Teng Cheong. In his tenure, he has been shameless in his pursuit of preparing NTUC and its cooperatives for a future, where it sheds it straight-jacketed, stingy image. That image may have appealed to a generation of past; it will not to a generation that is more questioning and image conscious.

To achieve this vision, LSS has had to get rid of NTUC's old guard, albeit in a respectful and sensitive manner. Unfortunately, as is the case with such changes, no matter how well one manages it, feathers get ruffled. What LSS did with NTUC Income is a microcosm of his unwavering pursuit to reposition NTUC.

I had decided the year before TKL's retirement that 2007 would be my last year as a full-time employee in NTUC Income. I was taking a sabbatical to complete my qualification process as an advocate and solicitor of Singapore. I informed NTUC Income of this.

I was in my last months of full-time service in NTUC Income when TKL was succeeded by Tan Suee Chieh (TSC). I worked part-time for NTUC Income until December that year. It was my intention to return to NTUC Income after my sabbatical ended two years later. However, the policies of the law firm I joined in order to complete the applicable regulatory obligations required me to resign from NTUC Income. Nevertheless, during that limited period, I was in a position to experience first-hand the transition of leadership.

In all fairness, TSC did not have an easy time. He had to dismember the entrenched association of NTUC Income to TKL. This required turning upside down a lot of the practices of NTUC Income. He had to divest a lot of non-core assets. He also had to pull the plug on several unprofitable product lines, among other things. He went on a massive spending spree to improve the office environment, including his own office, and to bring in top-tier consultants to revamp the image of NTUC Income.

It also meant, in carrying out this task, he would have to bring in new people he could trust. To attract talent, salaries were increased across the board with employees taking home bigger bonuses. Several employees were re-designated or shipped out.

However, one thing that annoyed me at a fundamental level was when I found out much later that head-hunters had been appointed to find a replacement for or to bypass NTUC Income's independent and competent general counsel. TKL tried to do something similar before in devolving the responsibilities of the general counsel; TSC was just following TKL's example. To the credit of the unity of the Singapore bar, no lawyer worth his or her salt accepted the job. Any general counsel, who asks tough questions and is a true guardian of an organisation's interests, should be prepared for such surprises from time to time.

TSC continues to run NTUC Income like a very tight ship, as did TKL. Given the interests and importance of NTUC Income to the Singapore landscape - for example, in holding key stakes in Singapore assets like the Singapore Press Holdings - there can be no other way.

I initially had reservations about LSS's plans for NTUC Income.

While many things have changed, including the CEO becoming perceivedly less accessible, I still sense NTUC Income remains committed to its social charter of delivering better value to its policyholders. With innovations like its annual kite festival and city running event, it also remains true to its cooperative roots of giving back to society.

If the saffron revolution has defined the freedom fighters of Burma and Tibet, the orange revolution has been the hallmark of the leadership of Tan Suee Chieh. He must be credited for beating the odds and changing the course of NTUC Income to appeal to a more active, image-driven Singapore citizenry, as much as his predecessor may disagree with the way things have panned out.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Negaraku Singapuraku

In 2005, on the occasion of Singapore's 40th year of independence from colonialism and Malaysian rule, a newspaper asked me about my wish for Singapore.

I replied, "I wish Singapore will be a nation of persons that seek happiness, love happiness and share happiness. As we continue to progress as a country and personally, we must continue to embrace changes (including accepting people with different views) and, above all, not forget the helpless, the needy, the minorities, the victims of unjust deeds or any other person requiring some form of assistance."

I didn't realise at that time how evergreen the wish was.

All Singaporeans must continue to stand up for Singapore, and be counted. Fly the flag proudly, wherever you may be.


If you have a wish for Singapore, share it on the Think Happiness Facebook page from 9 August 2011 to 27 August 2011.

The top six wishes that get the most number of likes and comments, as at 31 August 2011, will each be entitled to a cash or voucher prize worth at least $46!

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Presidential Economic & Financial Views Redundant

[Note: This is a third party perspective.]

The Presidential Election is heating up. Candidates have started “soft campaigns” to bring their message out and to let voters get to know them.

One in particular caught my interest. Dr Tony Tan has voiced that the president must be someone in a position to share expertise with the government and aid, guide or advise the government where needed.

More specifically, he argues that Singapore’s economic stability will be hurt by a global downturn and that his understanding of the financial markets and role in GIC (Government Investment Corporation of Singapore) make him a suitable candidate. He goes on to say that “GIC is not a government agency, it is a private sector company owned by the Ministry of Finance” (quoted at the sidelines of an event) and because of this, he would be in a better position to share his expertise with the government if he was a president, as opposed to being part of the GIC.

I find this line of argument somewhat strange.

Wouldn’t he have had significant influence and timber for the government to listen to him as the Deputy Chairman of the GIC? After all, the GIC is owned by the Ministry of Finance (MOF), so wouldn’t the MOF take the feedback of the Deputy Chairman of a company they owned seriously? I would think so.

As the Deputy Chairman of the GIC, he would have access to valuable insights into the financial markets given to him from very talented researchers, analysts and portfolio managers within the GIC. Giving up this access to vital information might limit him in his ability to give insights. I find it curious why he is seeking voter acceptance and support just because he claims he might be able to add value and advise the Government in the event of an economic downturn.

Frankly, I don’t think we need a president to give insights to the government on how best to protect Singapore’s economic interests. We are blessed with a very talented Finance Minister. He has steered our economy superbly through the 2008/9 economic slowdown. Over the years, he has put in place sound economic policies that aided many segments of the business community and society at large. In fact, I would think that it is the minister who is more qualified to give the in-coming president insights into the economic situation and what are the best courses of action to take.

I don’t agree with Dr Tony Tan (or any of the other presidential hopeful for that matter), that we should vote for a presidential candidate because of his ability to give insights to the government on economic matters.

Great Expectations

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

NTUC President should have held tongue


I write to you as your union member.

You disclosed recently that you invited one of the presidential candidates to speak to fellow union members. The NTUC has always supported values of fair treatment and equal opportunities. It is therefore unfortunate that it has not invited others in similar situations to do the same.

I must also protest your expression of personal views on your preferred presidential candidate. It has never been in the tradition of trade union leadership in Singapore to have one's personal political views expressed in the face of a high likelihood of the NTUC making known its preference.

It is for this reason union leaders must be publicly supportive of the People's Action Party, even though personally they may hold a different view. Anyone who has dared express such a divergent personal view publicly has been swiftly removed from his position as a union leader.

In expressing your personal views, you may have prejudiced the process by which the NTUC
goes about deciding its preferred presidential candidate. In the interest of good governance, you may wish to now detach yourself from such a process.

You have also disturbed that fragile balance that exists between the public and private views of a union leader. You may have set the wrong precedent for union leaders to follow. It is not surprising that other union members have started to follow your example, and are expressing their own personal views on this issue.

Your exemplary act thus frees me to register my disagreement with your choice of presidential candidate. If your criteria is that you "want a person who has got that kind of stature and that kind of exposure, who understands the fundamental role of the President", there are many others within the NTUC, including yourself, who can meet your criteria.

With respect, a unionist does not need to support a person, who cut his links with the NTUC more than a decade ago.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Preaching from flawed perch

I really do not like it when public servants perched in their lofty crystal towers preach of values they don't seem to have. A case in point is this recent letter from the Ministry of Manpower, which was a response to this letter featured on The Online Citizen.

The ministry's letter states "it is critical to remain objective and ensure that employees' claims are valid". This value of objectivity surfaces again in another line: "We urge NGOs to assess each case objectively and comprehensively, rather than rushing to assign blame".

Yet, the letter in disclosing the work MOM did in this case, goes on to provide, "we reviewed documentary evidence of salary calculations and records of the company and established that Yang was not owed any salary".

How is that being objective when you rely on the documentary evidence of one party, and totally remain silent on the evidence of the other?

A lot of times the person representing the company in such manpower dispute resolution sessions at Ministry of Manpower has had some form of legal training. How does this stack up against the foreign worker who speaks little English and has peripheral knowledge of his legal rights?

The fact is the Ministry of Manpower in being the investigator and adjudicator of such claims is hardly in a position to be objective.

Many years ago, a body of corporate lawyers representing employers in Singapore recommended that the resolution of employment disputes should really be the remit of a properly equipped and independent tribunal, as is the case in jurisdictions of similar standing to Singapore. That paper is probably now gathering dust on some public servant's shelf.

Notwithstanding the lack of judicial training and legal qualifications, which would go towards determining ability, a public servant whose mandate is to protect the job market in Singapore and therefore the employer hardly has the will to work in the interests of workers.
It is an inherent trait in this role that such a public servant cannot be objective let alone preach to others about being objective.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, August 01, 2011

ST Sponsored Stories Not News


The Straits Times has spent the last three days promoting its new application for portable devices, which was launched today.

I am not sure how long this will continue but I will not be surprised if you run a story tomorrow to tell readers about the reception of this launch.

As a reader of The Straits Times, I cannot help but wonder if either The Straits Times has run out of stories to tell or, like some in dominant positions, it is trying its best to live in an illusion of its own creation.

It would hardly seem newsworthy since The Straits Times appears to be the only media in the world running such stories about its application and given there are many similar such applications launched on a daily basis.

Whatever the case may be, I request that these stories in praise of The Straits Times by The Straits Times be treated and labelled as "advertorials", which is the case for other sponsored content in your stable of publications.

I would rather The Straits Times focus on improving its content and perception of journalistic standards. For example, several readers have accused The Straits Times of having an editorial stance that disproportionately favours its former boss in its coverage of the presidential elections. There is also a sentiment that The Straits Times has been slow to criticise its former boss. These sentiments also reflect observations underscored by some other presidential candidates.

Of course, I am mindful and appreciative that, unlike some of its foreign counterparts, The Straits Times is not embroiled in controversies involving invasion of privacy, notwithstanding that several in its ranks have once been involved in sensitive intelligence gathering functions in government and this is a key skill inherent in these journalists at least.

In the hope that The Straits Times will continue to grow from strength to strength, I remain your loyal reader.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Question University Priorities

When a university goes out of its way to wax lyrical about how two-thirds of its graduates have secured jobs before graduation, some tough questions need to be asked about its motivations for doing so.

Insecurity could be one motivation. This was implied in remarks made by its top academic when he touched on the communication or social skills of this university’s graduates as compared to another.

Alternatively perhaps, its actions are motivated to offer cold comfort to those critics disillusioned about the university's ability to attract employers for its students.

Then again, shouldn't such ability to attract employers be inherent and natural for any university of some reputation?

In light of the ‘Singaporeans first’ policy espoused recently by the architect of Singapore’s current tertiary education system, the other question that should be asked is how these statistics compare as between graduates who are Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.

The university has also disclosed that some of its graduates are earning five-figure wages. When figures like these are dished out, what kind of signal is it sending about the values it represents as an institution of higher learning? Is the amount of money a job pays the best way to judge the worth of a job?

Needless to say, employers fire even faster than they hire. As I write this, I know of several employers that presently have hiring freezes in place. The graduates earning five-figure incomes may find themselves at the gates of these employers if they can’t match up to the level expected of them or if the market turns against them. One wonders what the university will do then.

The university should share more about the one-third of its graduates that have not secured gainful employment.

How many of them are Singaporean ethnic minorities? How many of them are foreigners who will not be able to complete their compulsory bonds to work in Singapore?

Some ten years ago, at the time when I graduated, similar bullish sentiments were expressed about its then graduating cohort. I am informed that the reality faced by some of its graduates was a different one.

They did not earn the meteoric salaries purported to have existed. Permanent positions were hard to come by so they settled for temporary or term positions.

A few were extreme cases. For example, despite sending out tens of applications, one of its graduates failed to secure a single job. His first job only came over a year after graduation and that too on a contract basis.

At that time, anecdotal accounts also suggested that Malay graduates had a harder time securing positions.

In recent years, I am told this appears to be changing. As more foreign banks open in Singapore, they are moving away from traditional sources of recruitment. The foreign banks have made no secret of the fact that they want to grow bigger than local banks. Their efforts to challenge the status quo are ruffling feathers aplenty.

There is a greater desire on the part of these financial institutions to tap the Malay hinterland of Singapore and the flow of funds within ASEAN, including those from the Arab world. As such, their recruiters have been scouring the universities for Malay graduates.

Any university of some reputation does not need to brandish employment figures to show how well its students are doing. That is a given. It should focus on helping those graduates that need a leg up in securing suitable employment.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Too Much Too Little Too Late

I am dedicating this song to President Sellapan Ramanathan in honour of his new-found determination.

Suddenly, he has woken up from his two terms of slumber. He has been in the news almost daily to show that he intends to leave the office that pays him millions annually on a high note.

In doing so, he has shown an unprecedented resolve to ensure that he does not go down in Singapore’s history books as this country's most uninspiring and notoriously silent elected President, when compared to the legacies left by the late Presidents Wee Kim Wee and Ong Teng Cheong.

Yesterday, taking a page from at least one presidential contender Tan Cheng Bock, he was seen on television attending the World Cup qualifying match between Singapore and Malaysia.

To show that he is in the know about his position as defender of minority rights in this constitutional democracy, he has attended separate events for such communities in Singapore; one day he was launching a book on the origins of Indians and another day he was promoting the very unhealthy but tasty dish called ‘briyani’ at a mosque.

If that wasn’t enough, he followed another example from presidential contenders Tan Kin Lian and Dr Tony Tan, to comment on matters that are in the realm of the Executive.

Addressing the Malay-Muslim community leadership, he expressed concern about divorces rates within the community. He has remarked, “The other day I went to see the foster mothers. The large number of Malay foster mothers looking after children. These are not orphans who have lost their parents. We should bring it down through education and counselling."

I have always respected the office of President. But last year, I found myself unable to respect the leadership of the current President. At the National Day Parade, the President, instead of walking shoulder to shoulder with the many men and women who dedicate their lives to our armed services, chose to depart from tradition and inspect the guard-of-honour from a motor vehicle. This was billed as the "first presidential drive past inspection on the Padang (using the SAF ceremonial Land Rover)". To me, however, it reflected a presidency disconnected or out of touch with the people of Singapore.

Compare this to a Singapore of yesteryear: the President of this country led the parade in his full suit, while the rain pelted the sacred grounds of Padang. The President stood there with his unbendable resolve to set an example for the many men and women at that parade. In that process, he inspired a whole generation of youths, one of whom would go on one day to be the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Some of my friends tell me I am being unduly harsh to the President as, taking into account his ripe age, he has achieved much. They say he was a very elderly man by the time he put himself for presidential elections, when he really could have chosen to stay away from the limelight and spend time with his many children. With the benefit of hindsight, he perhaps should have.

As a Singaporean, it only leaves me to wish him a retirement that is as remarkably silent as his presidency.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Future of Singapore is mixed

This week, a law student told me about her Chinese friend, who used to date an Indian boy. The parents of this boy found the relationship so objectionable that they used to lock him up to prevent him from meeting his girlfriend. He would be left with little choice but to climb out of windows to meet her.

This difference became a frequent cause of misunderstanding, and eventually her friend ended the relationship.

I asked the law student what she would do if she were in those shoes. She replied that, even though her parents were very liberal, they would not accept an inter-racial relationship. As such, she would give her parents' interests precedence.

I realised things have not changed very much since I left school. Acceptance of our differences remains a relevant issue. In this context, I was reminded of this view I wrote for New Sintercom on 2 May 2006 (updated version below).


There is something consistent about a good portion of the Singaporean Indians that have been introduced by the People’s Action Party to be its parliamentary representatives in the last decade. They either married an individual from another race or they are themselves fruits of an inter-ethnic marriage.

While this increasingly reflects the changing face of the Indian community in Singapore, it is also reflective of an evolving Singaporean identity and the ruling’s party desire to hone bi-cultural or multi-cultural leaders.

Quite a few non-Indians in the current political leadership are likewise married to someone from another race.

There are two primary ways one can get married in Singapore; under the Women’s Charter or Syariah Law. The Singapore Department of Statistics keeps count of both these methods.

Between 2002 and 2004, about 10% of marriages under the Women’s Charter was inter-ethnic, that is where a person married someone from another race. During the same period, about 20% of marriages under the Syariah law was inter-ethnic.

This month, a report of the Department of Statistics noted, "In 2010, 20 per cent of total marriages were inter-ethnic marriages, up from 12 per cent in 2000. A higher proportion were inter-ethnic marriages among Muslim marriages (33 per cent) than among non-Muslim marriages (18 per cent)."

Taking into account these statistics, political and community leaders, who marry a person from another race or are results of inter-ethnic marriages, are in a position to speak for a substantial group of individuals in Singapore.

Some believe that inter-racial marriages represent the glue for bringing our races together, in light of the post-911 years which have been testing times for race relations in Singapore. They tell you colourful stories to persuade you.

A few years ago, one Chinese chief executive officer of an insurance company shared with me how, when he was much younger, he would date non-Chinese girls and bring them home to make his parents more culturally sensitive!

While his first love was an “ang moh”, he respected his parents’ wishes and married within his own ethnicity. (He harbours hopes that his child will “do what Papa couldn’t do”.)

To these people, leaders with inter-ethnic backgrounds are role models.

But to others, questions ruffle:
a. can these leaders appreciate or emphatise with the concerns of the majority, who still marry someone from the same ethnic origin?
b. can these leaders fully relate to the issues affecting their own ethnic communities?

The assumption in such questions is that the problems affecting the people of Singapore can be apportioned along ethnic lines. The people who raise such questions are quick to point to the existence of organisations such as:
1. Mendaki
2. Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP)
3. Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA)
4. Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC)
5. Eurasian Association (EA)

They say, “The fact that these “self-help” groups exist shows that our problems are fundamentally racial. Due to this, it will not be easy for our ‘inter-racial’ leaders to relate to them.”

The assumption however is cursory.

For example, through its programmes, some of SINDA’s priorities can be identified, which include helping:
a. students to do better
b. individuals to manage their finances better
c. women to be more empowered
d. families to become more computer literate and embrace a learning culture
e. displaced / retrenched workers find suitable employment
f. keep vulnerable persons out of trouble

These areas of focus obviously do not just affect one community alone. While it may be true some of these areas affect one community more than others, they are undoubtedly issues affecting Singapore in general. These are issues which any competent leader in Singapore, regardless of background, must be able to handle.

Leaders with inter-ethnic backgrounds have also been able to extend their appeal beyond their community to Singaporeans in general.

At the community level, many of them are highly-regarded. They have displayed a willingness to listen and learn. They have shown that they are capable of translating feedback into policies and actions beneficial for society. Their oratory prowess is what Singaporean legends are made of. Several of them are multi-lingual (or are learning to be multi-lingual). They are sensitive to cultural nuances and cosmopolitan. Their popularity has prompted some to boldly argue that these leaders do not need the constitutional buffer that Group Representative Constituencies provide them to win elections.

Leaders, who either married a person from another race or are themselves fruits of an inter-ethnic marriage, represent a future of Singapore that cannot be ignored. The success of political leaders with such inter-racial backgrounds means we can look forward to more such leaders in years to come.

The future of Singapore is mixed. (To which some of my friends retort, "But you are still looking for your non-Indian bride!")

Dharmendra Yadav

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