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

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


Anonymous said...

Being a local Chinese, I would rate Curry Fishhead instead of Hainanese Chicken Rice as a national dish because it is a locally created dish shared by all the major races here in S'pore. I will be very insulted if some foreigners do not even show some courtesy. I do not like durian, but I do not have a quarrel with most S'poreans who love it. I am not about to have some newly minted S'porean destroy this racial harmony we have built up this 46 yrs.

sgcynic said...

The most ridiculous thing is that the mediator had to quote a case that allegedly dates back 6-7 years as a success story. Must have been an extremely memorable / notable case compared to all the recent ones eh? Yet the alleged fact that it dates back 6-7 years was not deemed 'significant' enough to be highlighted by the CMC when it clarified the role of the mediator to the Today newspaper:

Anonymous said...

Wonder what happen to these two families after 6-7 years? Are they still neighbours????

Xtrocious said...

I smell something funny and it's definitely not the curry...

If this case really took place 7 years ago, why only bring it up now?

And note that the mediation centre made no mention to the reporter that this took place 7 years ago...

And like many have rightly pointed out, aren't there more memorable and current cases to highlight instead?

Something stinks and it ain't the curry...

Anonymous said...

Let's set aside for a moment all this talk of xenophobic curry and whether it smells and whether it deserves its day in the sun after being buried years ago. The fact is, there was this dispute between 2 neighbours. It happens all the time. The roles could be easily reversed. We all know how ridiculously irksome or a pain-in-the-A some neighbours can be. Especially if there is no give and take on one side of the divide. This one crossed cultural boundaries. It is accentuated when at least one of the parties comes from another country, and - this is the point - highlights issues when one group insists on its social mores, the rest of the world be damned. Assimilation does not come naturally. That is the fallacy of unmitigated immigration.

Anonymous said...

DY, it's sad that you as a legal professional can come up with such a spin.

1. You know very well that mediator has very severe limitations in what he can achieve. The fact is the 2 families can't even settle between themselves and that shows the rancourous or may be less than amicable challenge facing the mediator. In such situation, do you think the mediator can persuade either party to be more pliable? Very unlikely. So, it's not fair to assume the mediator wields much influence as though the Indian family is meek to begin with.

2. The full details of the settlement is unknown. Probably, it's less onerous than you imagine or assume. The Indian agreed to cook curry before the Chinese is back home. And the Indian can do this everyday without problem. It's really only about the fumes of cooking, rather than the dish itself. If that's the case, what's there to shout about?