counter Is Singapore a police state?

What characterizes Singapore's political system is the constant query, worry and anxiety among the majority of the citizens, foreigners and observers that individuals and groups will get into trouble with the police and the political authorities for challenging the political status quo. Such anxiety is based on repeated examples of political challengers consistently being found guilty of contravening the system of tight and restrictive laws that govern people in the city-state.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Great arguments on Singapore Inc from Kerry Stokes

Kerry Stokes .
Seven Network controller

This is the excellent submission that Kerry Stokes's Seven Network has made to the Foreign Investment Review Board arguing that Sing Tel should be blocked from buying Optus.

15 July 2001

This supplementary submission is made on the basis of further information Seven has acquired relevant to the bid. This supplementary submission addresses the nature and governance strategies of Sing Tel and its majority owner and controller, the Singapore Government. Acceptance of the Sing Tel offer would see the takeover of a significant Australian communications asset by a government whose governance practices and structures are antithetical not only to its ownership of communications infrastructure but conflict with generally accepted democratic values such as the right to privacy and freedom from surveillance.

This supplementary submission does not address all the issues which Seven wishes to canvass in its submissions. Like the preliminary submission, this submission is necessarily incomplete, due to Seven Network's lack of information about Sing Tel's application to the FIRB and other regulatory bodies. Seven Network has made Freedom of Information requests of various Commonwealth agencies for materials that may be significant in relation to the issue. Materials have not yet been provided in relation to any of these requests. Seven Network submits that no recommendation should be made in relation to the proposed offer without providing Seven Network with an opportunity to further supplement this submission when further information is provided.

The Singapore Government

As stated in Seven's preliminary submission, there is no doubt that the Singapore Government controls Sing Tel's operations and assets domestically and internationally. The Singapore Government through its wholly government-owned company Temasek Holdings, owns 78% of Sing Tel. This has serious implications for the ownership of Optus, given the governance practices of the Singapore Government.

Christopher Lingle, a former senior academic at the National University of Singapore, in his 1996 book, "Singapore's Authoritarian Capitalism: Asian values, free market illusions and political dependency" states:
"In order to, 05govern without worrying about domestic critics, Singapore's PAP [ruling] regime has imposed a "vicious cycle" of fear, propaganda and deception. It is noteworthy that they have especially inventive in their methods and met with remarkable success. Its idiosyncratic form of democracy (phobocracy), replacing rule by consent of the governed with "rule by fear", has relied upon the criminalization of politics and politicization of crim. The regime has been able to manipulate most of the institutions of a civil society that might have served to limit the intrusion of government into the lives of its citizens. While the local press has been tamed by draconian press laws and indirect control imposed through partial government ownership, a variety of tactics have also been successful in deflecting criticism from the international news media."

Sing Tel is, in effect, a vital instrument of the Singapore governing body in achieving its aims and ensuring its control. It provides the communications infrastructure to allow the Singapore Government to exert its influence and intrude on the domain of its citizens. It is a governance strategy, which of its very own nature, should exclude Sing Tel from the right to own a key Australian telecommunications asset. The ownership of Australian communications infrastructure should not be allowed to come under the control of an authoritarian regime which has demonstrated a willingness to use such technology as a tool to silence dissent and promote the ruling regime, the People's Action Party (PAP). The PAP has ruled Singapore since its independence in 1959.

Since 1959, the Singapore Government has passed a number of media regulations aimed at increasing its control over the media and communications infrastructure. The following four legislative acts are particularly significant as an expression of the overall attitude and principles of the Singapore Government's telecommunications and information policy :
(a) the Internal Security Act (1963), authorises the Home Ministry to prohibit the printing, publication, sale, circulation, or possession of a publication deemed prejudicial to the national interest, public order or society of Singapore;
(b) the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act (1964), prohibits members of the armed forces of the country from communicating with the media, particularly the newspapers;
(c) the Essential Information (Control of Publications and Safeguarding of Information) Regulation, allows the government to decide what is fit to be published; and
(d) the Sedition Act (1964), prohibits any act, speech, words or publications that have a "seditious tendency". Seditious tendency is defined to include a tendency to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government and to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens or residents of Singapore.

Kokkeong Wong wrote in "Political economy of media and culture":
"According to the PAP, this legislation does not contradict or undermine freedom of speech and expression provided by the country's constitution. Arguing that freedom is always contingent and never an absolute practice, even in such democracies as the United States, the PAP leadership indeed presents this legislation as crucial for realising and protecting freedom in the country. This was indicated as early as in January 1962 by Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, himself, who said (quoted in Kuo & Chan, 1983, p42):

"The rule of law talks of habeas corpus, freedom, the right of association and expression, of assembly, of peaceful demonstration , 05 But nowhere in the world today are these rights allowed to practice without limitations, for blindly applied, these ideals can work towards the undoing of organised society."

The four legislative acts nonetheless amply arm the PAP state in its control over media content published, broadcast, and/or distributed in Singapore."

The existence and strict enforcement of such laws and the Government's complete control of communications infrastructure means that the Government of Singapore can "effectively, directly or indirectly, control and utilize the mass communication system to pursue its defined objectives, 05As a result, the communication pattern in Singapore is characterized by a largely one-way flow from the leadership to the masses with government and media people at various levels serving as gatekeepers." Given the Singapore Government's (and Sing Tel's) record of intrusive (and often covert) surveillance, the question of "who is watching the gatekeepers" becomes a very serious one that needs a satisfactory answer before Sing Tel and the Singapore Government should be allowed to control Optus.

In An Asian Core Executive - Aspects of Contemporary Governance in Singapore, a thesis by Ross Worthington, the author states:
"Central to the power dynamics of the core executive in Singapore is the use of coercive and consent building instruments of the state, 05These complementary hegemonic strategies are based not only on legislation and public management mechanisms, 05but also on a technological capability to support these strategies being developed inside and outside the public sector, under the guidance and control of the political executive."

Control exercised by the Singapore Government

The level of control exerted by the Singapore Government extends to all facets of Singaporean society. It includes control of media and communications infrastructure; access to information; the law and legal system; civil liberties such as freedom of expression and elections.

Christopher Lingle writes (at page 88):
"Glossy advertisements promote images of a vibrant, open economy known variously as "Singapore Unlimited" or "Singapore, Inc." Equally well chronicled is Singapore's reputation as a clean, crime-free city. Yet few outsiders realize that the pristine images of blissful security and prosperity conceal a dark, forbidding side. While other countries in the region have moved towards greater democracy, Singapore has been lurching in the opposite direction, 05phobocracy as "rule by fear" is an apt description of the system of government that has been put in place by the PAP in Singapore. One of the illusory results of this method of governing is a false appearance of law and order. In turn, the reality is a "lawless order" where the Rule of Law is replaced by the rule of man. The implementation of legislation and the pursuit of justice is made to serve whatever purposes the regime may see fit, including the stifling of their political rivals and critics."

In 1991, the New York Bar Association published a report summarising three areas of human rights abuse in Singapore including the use of the Internal Security Act to detain non-violent offenders; institutionalised restrictions on the independence of the judiciary and lawyers; and restrictions on freedom of speech, association, religion and the press .

Ho Khai Leong states:
"The PAP government has developed a tight system of political control that allowed few opportunities for dissent, 05Singapore's political elite has put into place institutions and procedures (i.e. election laws, legislative measures and policies regarding important measures such as public housing) that serve to deliberately stymie political resistance and opposition."

Raymond Lim, founder of the political discussion group, The Roundtable, has commented that:
"In Singapore the state is extremely powerful. The Government calls the shots here. Civic organisations only test rather than determine the limits of the growth of civil society."

At page 11 of his thesis, Worthington states:
"The Singaporean state has been variously described as an 'extremely intrusive' authoritarian state, 'strong and paternalistic', and a polity in which political discourse has been largely shaped by a single man, Lee Kuan Yew. The political system has been described as effectively oligarchic, dominated by a technocratic elite who regard political debate as "dysfunctional", an obstacle to the achievement of rational solutions, where democratic politics is a "political perversion" and therefore has a government devoid of a 'competent opposition'."

A Government which adopts such governance practices should not be allowed to control significant communications infrastructure in Australia.

Control of the media and communications infrastructure

The governance strategy of the Singapore Government has a number of elements. Most relevantly in relation to the bid for Optus, this includes control of the media and the nation's communications infrastructure.

Control of telecommunications infrastructure, television, radio and print media

As outlined in Seven's preliminary submissions, the Singapore Government controls almost all their nation's telecommunications infrastructure (as outlined in Seven's preliminary submissions) and also has control of the national television and radio networks which provides the government with the opportunity to shape news and current affairs as it wishes .

The Singapore Government also exerts control over the print media in Singapore. According to Eddie Kuo and Peter Chen, authors of "Communication Policy and Planning in Singapore" this reflects the Singapore Government's view that mass media is a powerful instrument that can be used to influence the masses. Accordingly, the Singapore Government considers that "communications media must not fall into the wrong hands or be abused to disrupt social stability. Moreover, they must be properly used for political stabilization and nation-building."

Under the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (NPAA) the Government is able to exercise comprehensive, and far-reaching control over the print media. Newspaper corporations must issue both management and ordinary shares. Management shares have 200 times the voting power of ordinary shares. Management shares can only be issued to Singapore citizens approved by the Government .

There are Government nominees on the board of directors of all media organisations and management and editorial appointments are "also approved (and therefore effectively made) by the Government" .

The Government may restrict the sale or distribution of foreign publications which have been declared as having "engaged in the domestic politics of Singapore." In 1986, the Government restricted the circulation of Time Magazine for publishing an article entitled "Silencing the Dissenters", which dealt with the trial of an opposition Member of Parliament. In 1987, the Government restricted the circulation of The Asian Wall Street Journal following the publication of an article criticising the formation of a Singapore stock exchange by the Government. The Government has also imposed restrictions on the circulation of Asiaweek, The Far Eastern Economic Review and The Economist .

In 1990, the Government amended the NPAA to regulate the sale and circulation of foreign publications produced outside Singapore which carried articles commenting or reporting on politics and current affairs in Southeast Asian countries. Such publications had to apply for a permit to be sold in Singapore. One of the conditions of the permit is a requirement to provide a specified deposit ($200,000) to meet the costs of legal proceedings arising in connection with the publication .

Worthington states, at pages 332-333 of his thesis:
", 05This reflects the external focus of the government's media based consent building orientation; while control of the domestic media is complete, all possible sanctions will be used to stop foreign media from criticism of issues with which the government has a particular sensitivity, whether they be political, social or cultural."

As well as such restrictions, the Government has also vigorously attacked the media to subjugate it to the Government's agenda. Christopher Lingle states:
"Attacks on freedom of the press by Singapore's government have earned it a fair amount of external criticism. Certainly their actions violate the spirit of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that endorses the freedom of opinion and expression. During 1994, 2 lawsuits were filed against IHT by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's strongarm-ruler. In one instance, he reacted to a reference by Mr Philip Bowring on the existence of dynastic politics in parts of East Asia, including Singapore. Many observers consider that there is considerable evidence to support Mr Bowring's observations including the elevation of Mr Lee's elder son, Lee Hsien Loong to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 31 after serving only 5 years in a peace time army. Then six months later he was elected to the parliament and rose quickly in the PAP party hierarchy to become Deputy Prime Minister.

"Nevertheless, even after the executives of the paper published an apology in response to his demands, Mr Lee carried out his threat and sued the paper for libel.

"The intension behind this campaign is to attack the financial base of media owners rather than invoke human rights concerns by arresting editors or banning publications. Charges of libel and defamation are freely interpreted and argued by the state prosecutors, who, like the judges, have all been appointed by the governing party during its uninterrupted rule over the past 30 years."

In court cases against foreign media publications, spokespersons for the Singapore Government have testified that the high amount of damages sought in action was to serve as a warning that they will impose increasingly heavy costs upon anyone who challenges their authority .

Lingle describes the other restrictions imposed on the media:
"Besides libel judgments, newspaper owners' pocketbooks are hit by enforcing limits upon the quantity of issues in circulation ("gazetting") that can be imposed when publications have refused an (unconditional) right of reply to officials in Singapore's government. Insistence by the Singapore government for a right of reply requires that the words of the regime's respondents must appear in print regardless of the length or any other editorial considerations. Besides refusal to accept this uncompromising demand, these restrictions might be imposed for any "interference with domestic politics"."

Government's attitude to the media

Lee Kuan Yew in 1971, in a speech to the general assembly of the International Press Institute, clearly stated the Government's attitude to the media:
"The Singapore Government has the responsibility to neutralise the attempts of foreign agencies and communists to make political gains by shaping opinions and attitudes of Singaporeans, 05in such a situation , 05freedom of the press, freedom of news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government."

Use of communications infrastructure and media for surveillance and control

Accordingly, the Singapore Government's control of the media and communications infrastructure is complete. This control provides the Government with the mechanisms to underwrite a surveillance and control system which it has used extensively in the past and continues to extensively use. It is the means by which the Government intrudes on virtually every aspect of the lives of its citizens. The practice of systemic surveillance by the Singapore Government has often involved Sing Tel as the instrument of that surveillance. Lingle writes (at page 159):
"Given the regime's insistence that the interests of the community always be placed above those of any individual, there is an understanding that private space will not be respected, 05most citizens and expatriate residents expect that their telephone conversations are monitored by the authorities. Similarly, there is a pervasive suspicion that the content of any other modes of conversation may be compromised by informers or other modes of eavesdropping. This is confirmed by the knowledge that access to the internet is closely controlled by the government."

As stated in Seven's preliminary submissions, the Singapore secret police have incorporated special postal and telecommunications surveillance units in Singapore Post and Singapore Telecom installations. There are dedicated interception facilities in all major Sing Tel switching nodes.

In his book, "Beyond Suspicion: The Singapore Courts on Trial", Francis Seow states at pages 157-158:
"Surveillance is not necessarily confined to telephones and faxes. It also includes the Internet, 05In this connexion, the US State Department's 1999 Report on Singapore is germane:
'Divisions of the government's law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, have wide networks for gathering information and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations and conduct surveillance. It is believed that the authorities routinely monitor telephone conversations and use of the Internet, and there were credible reports of such practices, 05'"

Seow states (at pages 94-95) that Lee Kuan Yew has a:
"keen interest in electronic surveillance and intelligence, and for the government's investment of tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars in that acquisition - and the continual upgrading - of powerful computers, sophisticated electronic intelligence and surveillance gadgets and equipment, among others, for the ISD, and other security agencies.

Christopher Lingle (at pages 155-156) states:
"Apparently, the PAP's intention is to exploit the information revolution by using the electronic media to expand their authoritarian control.

"By defining an explicit role for the Young PAP (the youth arm of the ruling party) to police the internet, this may be the first time a political party has attempted to manipulate the electronic media for its own specific political purposes. In January 1995 the regime undertook a more explicit attack on privacy. The authorities applied a complex computer program that sifted through 80,000 private electronic mailboxes in search of pornography. Obviously, the same program would allow them to copy e-mail messages and could be used to detect politically sensitive key words in such correspondence. Except for large corporate users, private internet users must enter through Singnet, which is served by the government telephone monopoly. Therefore, there are no restrictions upon the access by government to files sent over electronic mail. With the government's track record, it is predictable that they intend to implement very efficient internet censorship and install an effective "surf police"."

At page 346 of his thesis, Worthington states:
"While tapping of the domestic and international telephone systems had been common practice in colonial times and has continued, this has been supplemented by interception of electronic mail (email) and other data streams including the development of a considerable capacity to infiltrate personal computers connected to the internet and private data systems."

He continues at pages 347-349:
"Surveillance of mobile voice and data was enhanced in 1995 with the installation for Singapore Telecommunications (Sing Tel) on behalf of the ISD, of a national system for intercepting cellular telephone signals, reportedly using Siemens technology, which was enhanced in 1998 to also include the capability to intercept and decode CDMA signals, 05This interception system is reportedly managed through Sing Tel's Information Security Department and includes staff seconded from ISD, SID and has liaison arrangements for access by the CPIB, CAD and MSD based on requests from these agencies, 05enhancements have included the acquisition and use of high performance computers and specialised software for communications traffic surveillance, the implementation of a dedicated high security network within the civil service data and communications network and the development of software engineering and manufacturing capabilities for covert network surveillance."

In April 1999, a Singapore Internet user, Ann Lee, a student at the National University of Singapore complained that a Home Affairs Ministry officer had scanned her computer without authorisation. It subsequently emerged that the Home Affairs Ministry IT Security Unit had been asked to scan 200,000 online PC's by Sing Tel supposedly to look for a trojan horse virus . Without telling their customers, Sing Tel engaged Home Affairs to do the spying.

The attitude of the Singapore Government and Sing Tel to surveillance was clearly illustrated by the evasive answers given by Brigadier General Lee Sien Yang, Chief Executive Officer of Sing Tel in a recent interview. The transcript of the interview records:

"REPORTER: It`s been widely reported in Singapore that Sing Tel is used as a surveillance tool by the Singaporean Government, and particularly against opponents of the Singaporean Government. Is that true?

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think you would understand in all countries, there are rules by the authorities for monitoring activities in relation to proper procedures, and clearly whether we are in Australia, whether we`re in the US or the UK or Singapore, there is due process for this and if the authorities deem that there`s a reason to do it, we have to obey the laws of the country.

REPORTER: So Sing Tel is used as a surveillance tool against political opponents of the Singaporean Government?

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think that in any country, we`ll comply with the laws of country."

Such government strategies and attitudes directly conflict with Australian values relating to freedom from surveillance and the right to privacy, as evidenced by recent Australian privacy law amendments to strengthen protection for individuals under privacy legislation. The incongruence of such an organisation controlling the second largest telecommunications carrier in Australia is strikingly clear.

The roles of the Singapore Government and Sing Tel in the surveillance of communications including telephone and email would be particularly repugnant to Optus subscribers and users, who reside in Australia. It must also be antithetical to the very basis of the operations of a large telecommunications carrier whose aim is to provide safe, secure and reliable transmission of data.

Worthington states, at page 361, that the surveillance and technological intrusion employed by the Singapore Government, through entities such as Sing Tel, is part of the government "policy that all data collected by the government belongs to the government and may be used at the government's discretion." It is not difficult to see how an entity which has, for so long, operated under such a culture and regime, would be unable to resist using its newly acquired asset for such purposes. In a recent interview, Francis Seow, the former Solicitor General of Singapore stated: "Optus is actually a security industry, and it's one of great use and benefit, advantage, to the Singapore government."

Indeed the Singapore Government's track record in this area is not good. Notwithstanding assurances by Sing Tel and the Singapore Government in the past that it would not engage in such activities, it has continued to do so. It has simply chosen to do so in more subtle ways so as to hide evidence of its intrusion and surveillance. Worthington states, at page 363:
"The core executive, 05has introduced a strategy of hiding the coercive instruments of the state as much as possible, developed greater subtlety in its management of these instruments and is busily attempting to meet the challenges of a highly educated population and a globalised economy, 05 However the apparent openness of many of the new consent building strategies is now underwritten by a state surveillance system with greater capabilities than any of its predecessors, 05"

Although Optus as an entity will continue to be subject to Australian law at a theoretical level, practical difficulties may arise in attempting to enforce Australian law against, in effect, a foreign government. In sensitive areas such as privacy and freedom of speech, international relations issues may intrude into the process, making enforcement of our law problematic. One should remember that the Singapore Government has never been shy in the past about criticising foreign governments and newspapers for interfering in what it calls its "domestic affairs". Eddie Kuo and Peter Chen state that the fear of foreign control of the mass media has become a "common theme and has been presented as a legitimate reason for imposing political control and stringent legal constraints on communications systems in Singapore" .

The Singapore Government has stated on many occasions that foreigners have no right to interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew stated:
"Singapore's domestic debate is a matter for Singapore. We allow American journalists into Singapore in order to report Singapore to their fellow countrymen. We allow their papers to sell in Singapore so that we can know what foreigners are reading about us. But we cannot allow them to assume a role in Singapore that the American media play in America, that of invigilator, adversary, and inquisitor of the administration. If allowed to do so, they will radically change the nature of the Singapore society, and I doubt if our social glue is strong enough to withstand such treatment."

In a similar vein, Jek Yeun Thong, the then Minister for Culture stated:
"Management will be free to operate the newspapers as commercial enterprises, provided that they ensure that there is no manipulation by foreign elements and that no attempt is made by them, or through their proxies, to glorify undesirable viewpoints and philosophies."

There is a risk that Optus may be run by Sing Tel for the Singapore Government in the same manner. There are no guarantees that once the Singapore Government, through Sing Tel gaining control of Optus, will not decide that, in the interests of its "domestic affairs" Optus assets should be used for surveillance purposes. Any attempts to interfere or inquire would be dismissed as attempts by foreign entities to meddle in Singapore's domestic affairs.

The Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information has defined engaging in domestic politics as "publishing materials, which are intended for Singapore readers; to generate political, ethnic and religious unrest; indulging in slanted, distorted or partisan reporting; or persistently refusing to publish Government's replies to refute misreporting and baseless allegations."


Tell these intolerant Singaporeans to go home
Kerry Stokes .
Free speech crusader

In part two of the Seven Network submission to FIRB, Kerry Stokes
explains the dangers of allowing these heavy-handed totalitarians
control over any more key Australian assets.

15 July 2001

In 1987, Brigadier General Lee Hsien Loong, the then Minister for
Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Defence (Services) stated
in a speech to the Congress of Newspaper Publishers:
", 05when foreign based journals with significant circulation in
Singapore start to report in Singapore for a Singapore audience, the
Government has to take care. We do not want such foreign journals to
take sides on domestic political issues, whether to increase their
circulation in Singapore, or to campaign for a particular outcome
they prefer. The foreign press has no part to play in what should be
a purely domestic political process, 05

"And when a newspaper becomes involved in domestic politics, the
Government will move to curb it, 05

"Any elected government of Singapore which adopted a laissez faire
attitude to the foreign press would be in grave dereliction of its
duty. To start from first principles foreign newspapers have no right
to circulate in Singapore, 05Circulation is a privilege we grant on

In June 1990, Lee Hsien Loong, as Trade and Industry Minister made
the government's position very clear stating that there was no
evidence "to prove that governments can still function effectively
when the media are given absolute freedom, 05If we ask the people to
choose between more freedom, democracy and more economic growth, we
have no doubt that they would choose economic growth."

David Birch in his book, "Singapore Media - Communication Strategies
and Practices", comments:
"Media accountability is not a question of free market economics in
Singapore, but of Government control. 'Who gives the media the right
to criticise the Government?', Lee Hsien Loong asks, 05The role of
the mass media according to Lee 'is to inform people of government
policies'. "

Christopher Lingle comments (at page 106):
"It should be clear that Mr Lee and the PAP regime are determined to
take decisive and definitive steps in their pattern of domination
over the news media. The years of a hostile and impatient treatment
of the PAP's opponents have apparently inspired a self-imposed
conspiracy of silence among the news media. Through incremental and
persistent harrying of the press, most reports on Singapore have
become so uncritical as to appear to be verbatim press releases
crafted by Singapore's self-promoting Information Ministry.

Many of the functionaries and leaders of Singapore's Government are
on record making clear their contempt for the openness of the western
media. To preserve their grip on power, they insist that introducing
western-style democratic institutions would have a destructive impact
upon social cohesion. According to the Singapore model, Asian
democracy does not require individual citizens to have a voice in
their government or to enjoy more freedom. Restrictions on
information flows in general, and the media in particular, are an
important element for Singapore's ruling party to impose social
control over their fellow citizens."

Legislative framework for surveillance and control

The legislative framework in Singapore is geared towards assisting
the Government's surveillance and control efforts. In effect, it
complements the coercion framework created by the Government's
control of the media and communications infrastructure.

The Internal Security Act was used to detain in the "public
interest", without trial, five editors of Nanyang Siang Pau, a
Chinese newspaper, two editors of Berita Harian and a Singapore
correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review .

The Telecommunications Authority of Singapore Act "provides most of
the legislative basis for telecommunications and postal

Access to information

Access to information in Singapore, particularly information relating
to government activities, is very restricted. The Government's
attitude to access to information is summed up by Brigadier General
George Yeo, who in his capacity as the acting Minister for
Information and the Arts addressed the Singapore Press Club in May
1991, making the Government's position very clear:
"The free flow of information is not an end in itself but a means to
an end, 05What matters is the survival and prosperity of Singapore,
05being Singapore Inc. dictates that information should not be
divulged to competitors, 05and so therefore freedom of information
domestically means you are giving more information to foreigners" .

In 1988, the Economist chose to close its Singapore offices after its
journalists were denied access to government briefings .

In 1993, the Singapore Government brought a case against the editor
of the Business Times, a government official, a journalist and 2
employees of a securities firm who were involved in a report citing
unreleased economic growth figures. The defendants were all found
guilty and fined for failing to protect the secrecy of official
information .

At page 237 of his thesis, Worthington states:
"The public sector environment is highly constrained in Singapore,
due to the culture of secrecy and the continuation of a command and
control management approach from the colonial era. Underlying this
culture is a raft of legislation and public sector management
guidelines that reinforce these cultural traditions. In addition to
the provisions for the public service within the constitution,
05several pieces of legislation supported by subsidiary legislation
provide the operational framework for public service. It is these
Acts which enforce a rigid secrecy and insularity within the public
service and the civil service in particular."

The Evidence Act 1990, for example, "contains a provision which
forbids the production of any unpublished government
records 'relating to affairs of State' as evidence in a court except
with the permission of the permanent secretary subject to the control
of the president. Additionally, public officials cannot be compelled
to answer questions in court, either related to his official duties,
or which are questions that it would ordinarily be improper for any
reason to ask, or if they would ", 05disclose communications made to
him in official confidence (either oral or written) when he considers
that the public interest would suffer by the disclosure, 05This Act
therefore provides for the total control of the release of
information by public officials which might be detrimental to the
government and also provides substantial protection for both the
government and its officials from investigation by the courts through
an extremely broad claim of executive privilege.

It is certainly conceivable that, with the Singapore Government's
attitude and practices towards providing access to information, if
Sing Tel were to control Optus, information about Optus, particularly
the use of Optus for the Singapore Government's own purposes would
become very difficult to attain, presumably on the basis that it
related to Singapore's "domestic affairs".

The Singapore Government's attitude and practices towards access to
information are completely contrary to Australian practices. As Asad
Latif points out in an article headed "Freer Flow of Information but
at what Economic Cost?" viewing information as only a commodity
possessing economic worth, ignore the political value of information
so that whilst "the Government has a right to hoard information as a
commodity, democratic openness demands a liberal attitude to
information as a value."

The law and the legal system

In Singapore, the legal system has become a tool of the Singapore
government's governance strategy. Asia Watch, an international human
rights organisation has published a "damning expose" including
references to the complicity of courts with the PAP's exertion of
political control .

Christopher Lingle, at pages 89-90, states:
"After nearly 3 decades of rigid single-party rule, Singapore's
rulers have successfully sold the world on a variety of really big
lies. These lies, 05can be summarized in one sentence, such as
follows: "Singapore's independent judiciary provides crucial support
for democratic institutions operated by incorruptible public
officials who oversee a crime-free community.", 05Reflecting a Jekyll
and Hyde split, the courts enjoy a reputation for enforcing contracts
and protecting property rights, especially when the commercial
interests of multinational corporations or other foreign investors
are involved. Unfortunately, strict adherence to due process and the
Rule of Law is less often applied to domestic political opponents or
critics of the regime."

At page 341, Worthington states:
"The coercive framework is principally based upon a select body of
legislation, although it must be said that virtually all Singapore
legislation is designed to maintain executive control, minimise
judicial review, provide intrusive powers to the police and agencies
which have dual administrative and political coercion roles without
warrant or independent review procedures."

Christopher Lingle states, at page 16:
"Due to the prolonged dominance of single parties or even single
families in government, there is an evident convergence and
consolidation of the various instruments of power. The use and abuse
of the law as a weapon by a ruling party is similar to the actions
taken by the communist regime in Beijing , 05 Singapore and other
East Asian countries do not exercise the Rule of Law as a means to
protect individuals. Instead, rules are made by and for rulers or for
the convenience of the ruling parties. What they have constructed is
an illusion of law and order that camouflages a condition of "lawless
order", where due process falls victim to arbitrary governance and
the executive branch interferes with the autonomy of other organs of
government. While there is an appearance of an orderly community, the
reality is that the government's manipulation of the legal system
leads to considerable insecurity for citizens."

The Singapore judiciary is not an independent body, but is one
influenced heavily by the Government. In his book, "Beyond Suspicion:
The Singapore Courts on Trial", Francis Seow states at pages vi-vii
in his Preface:
"Harry Lee [Lee Kuan Yew] has subordinated the news media in
Singapore to the primacy of his purpose and that of his PAP
government: as a subservient mouthpiece of the government. The legal
and judicial system is not too far behind. It is not an idle - but a
terrifying thought."

Worthington states, at page 193:
"The political executive, in the form of the Attorney-General, has
clearly set out its policy on judicial review in stating that there
is, and implicitly should be:
'A self-conscious deference by judges towards the decisions of
persons who have relatively greater technical and substantive
expertise and are consequently better equipped to decide...deference
and competence are grounds on which judges have also consciously
avoided adjudicating in certain areas of governmental activity such
as foreign relations, national security and political appointments.'"

Not only are civil defamation suits used to pressure the media, as
described above, the Singapore Government has used civil defamation
suits against its political opponents in a manner that violates their
right to freely hold and peacefully express their convictions .

Following the defamation case against J. B. Jeyaretnam, a leader of
an Opposition Party in Singapore, in 1997, Stuart Littlemore QC
"The Singapore leadership has a long-standing record of using the
high court as a mechanism for silencing its opponents - by suing them
for statements that, in any comparable jurisdiction, would be seen as
part of the robust political debate inseparable from democratic
freedoms, and by being awarded such unconscionably high damages and
costs as to bankrupt the defendant, forcing them out of parliament."

In a letter to the Editor of the Straits Times, Mr Littlemore QC also
"A comparison of the two classes of plaintiff demonstrates that the
average PAP [ruling party in Singapore] damages award is S$570,000;
while the average non-PAP plaintiff was awarded less than $45,000.
Impartial readers may draw their own conclusions from the

Amnesty International in a statement on 15 October 1997 said:
"Following the recent award of the libel damages against opposition
Workers' Party leader, J. B. Jeyaretnam, Amnesty International is
increasingly concerned about the Singapore leadership's use of civil
defamation suits for political purposes, 05The organization believes
that Singapore's leaders are in fact resorting to defamation suits as
a politically-motivated tactic to silence critical views and curb
opposition activity, 05Amnesty International believes that civil
defamation suits are being misused by the executive to intimidate and
deter those Singaporeans holding dissenting views. The suits have
a 'chilling' effect on Singapore's political life and place
unreasonable and unacceptable restrictions on the right of
Singaporeans to freely hold and peacefully express their opinions."

The practice of law and the legal system is highly restricted by
government dictates in Singapore. In 1986, the Law Society expressed
disagreement with proposed Government legislation - the Newspaper and
Printing Presses (Amendment) Act - would impose restrictions on the
circulation of foreign publications criticising the Singapore
Government. In retaliation the Government passed legislation
providing that the Law Society could only comment on legislative
matters when requested to do so by the Government .

A number of commentators have expressed concerns at the lack of "rule
of law" in Singapore. At page 146 of his thesis, Worthington states:
"The Singapore constitution is essentially an instrument of "rule by
law" rather than "rule of law", which when combined with the complete
dominance of the legislature by one party has produced a "rule of
State law" regime."

Walter Woon Cheong Ming, a Vice-Dean of the NUS Law Facility and a
one-time Nominated MP has commented:
"We effectively don't have a Constitution. We have a law that can be
easily changed by parliament, and by the party in power, because the
party effectively is the is unsettling how flexible
the Constitution is'."

Worthington states, at page 147:
"Rather than a constitution that acts as a supreme standard against
which the validity of parliamentary and executive actions can be
measured in terms of national progress, institutional integrity and
the welfare of citizens, the Singaporean constitution is essentially
the plaything of executive whim; a rulebook for running the school
which the council of prefects, with the connivance of the headmaster,
may change at will."

John Goldring has commented:
"The most serious violation of human rights through the use of
internal security and preventative detention legislation is currently
taking place in Singapore, where there is no apparent threat to a
stable social order, where standards of living are second only to
Japan in Asia, and rapidly overtaking those in Australia and New
Zealand, and where there are high levels of education. The only
plausible reason for the use of these laws in Singapore is the desire
of the present Prime Minister and the ruling elite to preserve their
own power on their own terms."

Freedom of expression

The political repression that characterises the attempts by
Singapore's leaders to continue their one-party rule has economic and
political costs that are worthy of consideration. The Undesirable
Publications Act 1967 prohibits the importation, distribution or
reproduction of undesirable publications published or printed outside
or within Singapore that are considered "prejudicial to public safety
or public interest". Publication is defined to include all written,
pictorial or printed matter and anything, containing any visible
representation. Publications may be found to be undesirable on the
grounds that they are politically, morally, religiously or ethnically
offensive .

David Birch writes, at page 23:
"The position in Singapore is made very clear: 'In a fragile,
vulnerable multi-racial society, we can never complacently assume
that a free-for-all in the market place of ideas will magically lead
to truth and enlightenment', 05There is no First Amendment right to
freedom of the press in Singapore, though there is constitutional
freedom of speech and expression under the Fundamental Liberties
(Articles 9-16). Exercising that constitutional freedom is still not
easy, however, as those detained under the Internal Security Act have
found to their cost. As Ivan Lim, Secretary of the National Union of
Journalists has said, 'As a result of the vaguely defined freedom,
the government can impose restrictions whenever it deems necessary,
for whatever reasons that people in power see fit to control

Ho Khai Leong states:
"Some critics have arged that the country under PAP rule has
become "an island of fear", referring to the reluctance of citizens
to speak up with complaints for fear of retribution from the
authorities. Complaints from international human rights groups on
this point are frequent and common."


The attitude of Singapore's rulers to the election and political
process is perhaps best summed up by Lee Kuan Yew himself who stated:
"If I were in authority in Singapore indefinitely without having to
ask those who are governed whether they like what is being done, then
I have not the slightest doubt that I could govern much more
effectively in their own interests."

Francis Seow describes the manifestly unjust nature of the 1997
General Elections held in Singapore. While Government candidates had
systematically worked the constituencies saturating them via
Government-controlled media, prior to the election, the opposition
had only a limited amount of time to target voters. Moreover the
pervasive climate of fear meant that printers were often unwilling to
print election posters and other election materials for the
opposition parties because of fear of official harassment.

Douglas Sikorski describes the government and electoral processes in
Singapore as follows:
"Although a political opposition is constitutionally permitted, and
exists, the ruling party (PAP) has not brooked criticism easily.
Those who conspicuously take issue with established government policy
are expected not only to be constructive and tactful but ready to
defend their position against often superior government resources in
information and expertise. The few political opponents who have
managed to succeed at the polls have found it very tough going in
Parliament, as the PAP concentrates every effort to discredit those
who are regarded as troublesome. All action against dissenters has
been taken within the law and openly, but the legal system in
Singapore gives the authorities strong prerogatives."

The Government's control of the media is used to effectively stifle
opposition voices during election periods, in particular. Seow
"A common complaint of opposition parties, 05was the purposive denial
of any or adequate news coverage by the controlled media, which, if
given, was partisan at best, and inevitably favoured the ruling
party. To circumvent this news neglect and denial, the Singapore
Democratic Party (SDP) decided to distribute pre-recorded videotapes
of its electoral platform and messages, but was prevented by official
threats of prosecution and punitive fines. Likewise, its proposed use
of the Internet for the same purpose. It was firmly told that it
required a permit to do so, but which, upon application, was denied
the permit."

During the 1997 elections, permits were also required from the police
to hold public rallies. Furthermore, speeches were recorded and
reviewed for possible seditious and defamatory remarks .

Derek da Cunha in "The 1997 Singapore General Election and Beyond:
The Price of Victory", describes the reaction of the international
press to the 1997 Elections:
"The Economist magazine asserted that the price of the PAP's
success "seems to be the permanent exclusion of a significant,
disgruntled minority from political representation, 05In an
editorial, the Financial Times of London, a quality newspaper noted
for straightforward analysis, also focused largely on the
unrepresented minority. It said:
'As long as it sets over-demanding targets in elections and rules
with a rod of iron, the PAP will risk being perceived as a party
whose authority is ebbing amid far greater popular resentment than
actually exists. Sooner or later the PAP will have to accept change.
Its overbearing approach makes Singapore politics unattractive to
young people, 05Politics is unlikely to appeal to able young
Singaporeans if debate is stifled.'

Other controls

Christopher Lingle describes other controls used by the Singapore
Government. At page 27 he states:
", 05 Authoritarian regimes often use a form of punitive economic
sanctions. For example, business licences in Singapore are issued on
a yearly basis and are subject to revocation by officials of the
ruling party. Political constituencies in Singapore failing to
support the ruling party find their access to publicly provided
services limited or curtailed. Active political opponents have faced
exceptional and thorough investigation of their tax records or
character assassination by Members of Parliament who hide behind
legislative immunity. Meanwhile most expatriates are convinced that
their telephones are bugged and locals fear to speak openly."

Singapore Government control of Optus

As set out in Seven's preliminary submissions, being linked with such
a foreign Government would be detrimental to the desire of Optus to
portray itself as an open, commercial organisation which can be
trusted to operate important telecommunications infrastructure and
carry sensitive information properly and confidentially.

Christopher Lingle states (at page 34):
"The extensiveness of the social control imposed by Singapore's
ruling party is consistent with the policies of some of the most
repressive regimes of this century, 05"

At page 95, he continues:
", 05paranoiac control over information, rule by fear, the imposition
of paternalistic dependency, intimidation of opposition politicians
and an effective propaganda campaign allows Singapore's authoritarian-
capitalist regime to hide behind an unwarranted pristine image."

Such a Government is not the type of entity which the Australian
government should allow to control the second most significant
telecommunications network in Australia. Just as Optus users and
subscribers and Australians generally would find the invasion of
privacy and surveillance conducted by Sing Tel and the Singapore
Government repugnant, they would find equally repugnant, the concept
of dealing with a foreign government that systematically abuses human

Australia's National Security Interests

Given the authoritarian and arbitrary nature of the Singapore
Government's regime, and its widespread use of intrusive
surveillance, there are grave concerns about Australia's national
security interests. Some of these concerns were highlighted in
Seven's preliminary submissions.

The Optus Communications satellites currently carry approximately 70%
of the Australian Defence Department's secret signals traffic. Des
Ball from the Strategic and Defence Centre, Australian National
University, recently commented:
"This is of the utmost seriousness. This comes to the heart of the
security of Australia`s telecommunications - not just the telephone
calls of private citizens, but the most confidential, sensitive
communications of Australian government authorities, which are now,
potentially at least, at some risk."

Control of strategic Australian assets

The bid for Optus by Sing Tel represents "the third major assault by
Singapore Government-owned companies on strategic Australian
infrastructure assets" in a short space of time.

Eric Ellis, writing in The Australian Newspaper, on 11 July 2001,
reported that the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), a Government-
controlled entity, had refused to confirm or deny that it was in
negotiations with Lang Corporation to buy a stake in the Australian
port operator, after earlier issuing an outright denial. Ellis
"Singapore Airlines is bidding to take control of Ansett Airlines via
Ansett's parent Air New Zealand while Singapore Telecommunications is
expected to soon seal the $14 billion purchase of Cable & Wireless
Optus. SIA, SingTel and the PSA are all majority owned by the
Singapore Government's investment company, Temasek Holdings.
Singapore's Ministry of Finance, which controls Temasek, has
dismissed suggestions of collusion between it offshoots, despite the
common directors of the various companies."

Adele Ferguson, writing in Business Review Weekly, stated:
"In most situations, foreign takeovers are part and parcel of
globalisation and can enhance a domestic company by plugging it into
a thriving global network. However, in the case of Singapore, most of
the companies bidding for Australian assets are controlled by the
Singapore Government through a giant corporation, Temasek Holdings.
Any government controlling assets is highly questionable for reasons
of independence, particularly when it is the government of another

Ferguson states that the events of the past month have
already "starkly illustrated the problems the Singapore push poses to
Australia's national interest." Ferguson explains:
"The Singaporean Government already owns 25% of Air New Zealand, 49%
of Virgin Atlantic (which has entered Australia trading as Virgin
Blue) and was the key reason Impulse Airlines fell apart early in
May. The Singapore Government's GIC Special Investments owned 15% of
Impulse and decided not to support a $50-million fund raising. That
decision put Impulse in a precarious position and was a key factor in
it being split and bought by Qantas. Rumors were rife at the time
that GIC bailed out of Impulse because the Singapore Government
wanted to increase its stake in Ansett and Air New Zealand."

It is disturbing that a Government with the authoritarian and
intrusive governance practices described above, is seeking to gain
control of an increasing number of key Australian infrastructure
assets. Of equal concern is the realisation that when it gains
control of such assets, those will be used to further the interests
of the Singapore Government, even where that adversely affects
Australia's national interests.

The Seven Network submits that the offer by Sing Tel for Optus be
rejected on the grounds that it would be against the national
interest. If the bid by Sing Tel were to be accepted, a very
significant Australian asset would come under the control of a
foreign Government which is widely acknowledged as running an
extremely intrusive and repressive authoritarian state.

The practices and governance of Sing Tel and the Singapore
Government, in particular that Government's flagrant and systemic use
of technology to collect data for its own purposes, at the very
least, raise many serious concerns about its control of a vital
Australian telecommunications asset.

The submissions in this document should not be taken as
representative of Seven Network's corporate position on matters such
as cross-media and foreign ownership. Seven Network's submissions are
specific to the issues that arise by virtue of Sing Tel's offer for
Optus. Seven Network has, and will continue, to formulate submissions
specific to issues such as cross-media and foreign ownership in more
appropriate and specific forums.


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