Blog Posts by P N Balji

  • COMMENT: Singapore doesn't need a Donald Trump

    P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

    It was the week that was worth shouting about. The Court of Appeal quashed the Home Minister’s decision to detain soccer bookie Dan Tan without trial  and here is the rub – because he was not a
    threat to public safety, peace and good order in Singapore. The very words that were used to keep him in prison.

    Thank you, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. You have shown that there are Singaporeans who dare to scrutinise and even reject a Minister’s detention order under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act when it goes against the law.

    At about the same time came the Malaysian decision to kick Singapore out of the Malaysian League. Thanks, Malaysia. If we needed one good reason to make all of us unite under our very own soccer
    League, this is it.

    And our National Gallery, home to the largest repository of South-east Asian art, opened its

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  • COMMENT: Where is the sunset for cowboy companies?

    A S$16 million loan disappears into thin air, the company that got the money is declared insolvent, then news emerges that there is no truth to the claim of insolvency and the person in charge is nowhere to be found.

    Welcome to the cowboy country called China, the gravy train that many money-hungry Singapore-listed firms hopped on to in the hope of making a quick buck but are now the target of a public lashing by the SGX.

    In a damning column posted online last week, SGX’s new chief regulatory officer, Tan Boon Gin, pointed to the “dubious practices” of some of these companies.

    He wrote: “In some instances, the companies reported customer complaints for compensation more than 10 times the value of the original sales which is the subject to the claim.

    “In others, trade receivables written off ballooned and explanations offered did not provide clarity or comfort.”

    In layman’s language, this is a corporate scam with many China companies rushing to list in the SGX at a high price, then

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  • COMMENT: Singapore the elusive terror target

    P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

    As the scale and horror of the Paris tragedy began to sink in, only one scary question kept coming back to me: Will Singapore also be a target?

    If there is one country the terrorists spreading mayhem the world over want to hit, it must be Singapore.

    This oasis of calm is an obvious target as it houses many Western companies, has a significant immigrant population and is considered pro-western in many of its policies and actions. “Lackey of the Americans” is a description that can be easily pinned on the country by the haters of the Western super power.

    Yet, Singapore has remained unscathed. There is really only one reason for this. It is a nation obsessed with security. Its intelligence gathering is one of the best in the world. When it suffered the worst embarrassment to its image as a security haven with the audacious escape of

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  • COMMENT: Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore's undiplomatic diplomat

    I like him, I like him not. I have listened to some of his speeches, sat in on some of his briefings and followed his Facebook posts closely.

    Ambassador at large Bilahari Kausikan impresses with his intellect, witty rejoinders and say-it-as-it-is statements. He can go berserk when attacking critics of Singapore. In a recent Facebook post, he said a freelancer was writing critical articles about Singapore for a Malaysian website because of the money she can make out of it.

    And just the other day, Kausikan had this smart-ass post on Han Hui Hui, who is facing charges of causing public nuisance during a protest rally at Hong Lim Park: “I think HHH... should plead not guilty for reasons of insanity.”

    Nothing seems to scare him, even making unsavoury statements about  politics and politicians of other countries. Earlier this month, he waded into Malaysian politics when he wrote that Chinese Malaysians were being delusional if they think the principle of Malay dominance can be changed.

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  • COMMENT: That letter from the MOH to the Straits Times

    Those with long memories of the Singapore government’s celebrated fights with journalists will tell you that the combative letter from the Ministry of Health to The Straits Times a week ago shows that its media policy is still stuck in the quagmire of the Lee Kuan Yew era.

    And all this talk of a light-touch media policy is just that: Talk.

    The government could have said in its response to ST assistant political editor Rachel Chang that it was premature to hint of a cover-up because an inquiry into the Hepatitis C scandal was on-going.

    Instead, in language reminiscent of the days of bruising encounters with journalists, the ministry said it was “irresponsible” of Chang to insinuate that ministry officials had “improper motives” when she questioned the gap between when the director of medical services was told of the Hepatitis C scare and when the Minister of Health was informed. From Sept 3 to Sept 18, there was a delay of 15 long days.

    Sept 11 was the date when GE 2015 was called and it

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  • COMMENT: Will this be a status-quo election?

    P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

    Reading election tea leaves is a tricky and risky business.

    The last time I did it, I lost a friend. He was very upset that I did not predict a WP victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011. I said it will be an extremely tight race. That was not good enough for him.

    Four years later, I am at it again trying to analyse GE 2015 -- and trying to make another prediction -- at the risk of losing one or more of my friends.

    So here it is: Get ready for a status-quo election with both the PAP and the WP not making much headway come Polling Day on 11 September.

    The anger that built up like a wave against the establishment has petered off with the Prime Minister and his team doing everything to take the sting off hot-button issues like immigration, transportation and public housing. In an attempt to silence critics that it has swung too far away from its

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  • The Lee and Lee Rally

    P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

    From the nation’s most important pulpit, Lee Hsien Loong pleaded, “Please support me. Please support my team.” It was an unusual appeal to make as he was addressing his people as Prime Minister. Not as secretary general of his political party, the PAP.

    In a country where the line between party and nation gets blurred so often, Lee’s use of his 12th National Day rally speech last night as an election rallying call did not come as a surprise to many.

    A CEO said: “This has happened so many times before. The principle of keeping the state and party separate has been violated so many times that I was not surprised.”

    The news reports and commentaries, especially the one in The Straits Times with the headline -- Not Just An SG 50 Rally, An Election Rallying Call -- were so matter of fact that they seemed to suggest that it was not an issue.

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  • Mother of Singapore’s civil society

    It is a rare combination in a society which worships materialism and connections.

    Seen from that perspective, civil society activist Constance Singam is a poor cousin to many of her fellow citizens.

    But seen from another -- and more satisfying and enduring -- angle, she is a rich citizen, having combined the intellectual and the ethical centres to launch her many fights to correct the wrongs she saw and still sees in her country.

    The mother of Singapore's civil society -- as she is described by Alvin Tan, founder and artistic director of The Necessary Stage -- has a disarming charm about her.

    Behind that charm is a fighter who couldn't close one eye to being "alienated as an Indian, a woman and activist."

    Her baby steps into the world of activitism started when her husband of 18 years, journalist N.T.R Singam, died of a heart attack in a private hospital because of a cardiologist's bad judgment.

    A letter she wrote to The Straits Times, A Rest In Hospital Became A Nightmare, triggered a

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  • Whither PAP, whither the elite, whither Singapore?

    Former foreign affairs minister George Yeo's posted a message on Facebook that sparked buzz. (Yahoo! file photo)


    Former foreign minister George Yeo is a man of many words. Many remember him for his banyan tree speech which, in a round-about way, was telling leaders to let light shine through their over-protective shoulders and let those under them blossom.

    Last month, he chose just two words and a question mark in a Facebook post to make his point.

    Striking in its brevity, refreshing in its clarity Yeo's post asked pointedly: Whither Singapore?

    That was just one day after the ruling party had suffered an embarrassing defeat in a by-election that exposed a 11 percentage point shift against it.

    The biggest and most unfortunate victim of the 2011 General Election got more than 800 reacting on his Facebook and many more thinking what was unthinkable just two years ago.

    Is the People's Action Party hurtling down a slippery slope to a bigger humiliation at the next general election in 2016? Will this lead to a two-party political system, even an Opposition sweeping into power, further down

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  • ‘Singapore clearly in mid-life crisis'

    Is Singapore facing her mid-life crisis? (Yahoo! photo)Is Singapore facing her mid-life crisis? (Yahoo! photo)


    Nearly two years after the May 2011 watershed elections -- when the ruling party's popularity dipped to a historic low of 60.1 per cent and three office holders were voted out -- Singapore's leaders have yet to come to grips with the angst sweeping the nation.

    Two recent events show how the government is being blindsided. First, a blemish on the country's proud 26-year record of having no strikes. Bus drivers from China refused to go to work; what made it worse was that their employer and the government never saw it coming.

    The drivers had already been complaining about the living conditions in their dormitories and their lower wages when compared to those of drivers from Malaysia. Yet, nothing much was done to defuse the issue and no real efforts were made by the National Trades Union Congress to unionise these foreign workers.

    The Singapore establishment, including the companies, was lulled into believing that strikes happen only in foreign countries and lost the art of

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(19 Stories)