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

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


Anonymous said...

I learnt this the hard way myself in my dispute with a foreigner.

A mediator's KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is to reach a settlement quickly without ending up in the courts.

It does not matter if the mediated settlement is patently unfair to one party and makes no sense. As far as the mediator and the agency is concerned, a mediated outcome is a successful outcome.

The mediator will usually size up the 2 disputing parties. And pick on the party who is meeker and less demanding. And focus on this meeker party to get the necessary concessions for a settlement.

Always remember. A successful mediation does not necessarily mean a fair or sensible settlement.

I got the satisfaction I wanted when I sought legal advice.

Anonymous said...

Re. my earlier post @ 12.19pm.

I am a Singaporean Chinese.

I am equally disappointed with the mediated outcome.

I stand in solidarity with the unfortunate Singaporean Indian family.

I love all Curries said...

I am more interested to know what amicable proposal Mr Singh would have made to settle this issue between the 2 families ?

Anonymous said...

Typical YaYa Papaya type of attitude.

Oooo! Floods are to be expected in a tropical country.

"I am more interested to know what amicable proposal Mr Singh would have made to settle this FLOODING issue IN ORCHARD ROAD"

Oooo! But in the meantime, please continue paying my world class salary while I continue to kick this football around.

Cynical Investor said...

Mr Singh

Don't turn this into racial issue.

MinLaw and the mediation centre got it wrong. The FT couple should have been told that this is S'pore, not China. Period.

But you bringing race into it is also wrong.