• Julie O'Connor

Did the Law Minister Just Shoot Himself in the Foot?

Updated: Nov 5

Someone must have thought it was a good idea at the time to invite Richard Branson to a live debate, and as a sweetener throw in a free flight and accommodation. But it has turned into a PR disaster for Singapore's leadership. Any Singapore publicist or crisis management team would probably be heard whispering "WTF" in the tea-room. I say whispering because as was described by Singapore's former President Devan Nair in his foreword to "To Catch a Tartar", Singapore's leadership is intolerant of any criticism even if it comes from within its own party.

"Today, Lee no longer deals with his equals, but with his chosen appointees, who did not earn power the hard way, but had it conferred on them. They are highly qualified men, no doubt, but nobody expects them to possess the gumption to talk back to the increasingly self-righteous know-it-all that Lee has become. Further, the bread of those who conform is handsomely buttered. Keep your head down and you could enjoy one of the highest living standards in Asia. Raise it and you could lose a job, a home, and be harassed by the Internal Security Department, or by both, as happened to Francis Seow." (extract from To Catch a Tartar)

Understandably, few would want to follow in the path of Francis Seow, JB Jeyaretnam or the many others who know how vindictive the Singapore regime can be if heads are raised in a different direction to theirs! Even the Prime Minister's brother and his family have not been spared that wrath. But when Devan Nair wrote the above, I suspect he had no idea how social media would change the political landscape. Yes, the local press could still be heavily controlled to spew out propaganda if necessary and maybe even international publications could have some buttered bread thrown their way or be beaten with a defamation stick to ensure they write kindly of Singapore. However, try as they might with the introduction of laws such as POFMA (Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 and FICA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act), arguably Singapore's leadership are losing the battle on social media, and this has come to somewhat of a head in the past week.

I'm not going to go into the whole Law Minister v Richard Branson debacle as it has been well documented in numerous articles by much smarter people than me, but it involved Richard Branson weighing in on the debate of Singapore's stance on the death penalty. Usually, Singapore's leadership would be arrogant enough to ignore such interference, but not this time. For whatever reason Singapore's Law Minister decided to shoot himself in the foot. Despite, the stance of no foreign interference in Singapore's internal matters, the Law Minister would not only invite a foreigner to publicly debate on Singapore's laws, but he would go one further and offer to pay for billionaire Richard Branson's flights and accommodation to travel to Singapore to interfere.

Now undoubtedly Richard Branson is an extremely smart individual, and I wasn't surprised that he declined the Law Minister's invitation. I suspect Richard Branson recognizes that for any change to happen, these debates need to take place between Singapore's leadership and its own citizens, its stakeholders. What Richard Branson's actions did do however was to provide the Singapore activists and Human Rights Lawyers, who had in the main been ignored or harassed, with a larger megaphone. It was this international exposure that appeared to be the catalyst for the Law Minister searching furiously for his gun. If Singapore's leadership had taken time to step down from their high horses and offer to engage with their citizens with a similar open debate which they offered to billionaire Richard Branson, the Law Minister's foot might still be intact. It was that easy.

The President of Singapore's Law Society

With the Law Minister still reeling from his self-imposed injury, Adrian Tan, the President of Singapore's Law Society sustained his own injury, when he stepped in to help stem the blood loss. Mr. Tan suggested that Richard Branson's excuse for declining to attend the debate was a 'feeble excuse', as if this would somehow goad him into changing his mind and accepting the invite to attend the debate. The social media backlash against Mr. Tan was swift and came from people who I know had previously held the President of the Law Society in high regard. I kept seeing the same question asked over and over, "why on earth did he enter the political fray?" Then on social media I started receiving many copies of the same message, which I would take a guess and say came from within Singapore's legal fraternity. Probably written by someone who feared becoming the next Francis Seow if they raised their head and told the emperor that he was naked!

Now I am no expert in the inner workings of the Law Society, and not au fait with the duties or responsibilities of its President. Although as a layperson I can understand the concerns which are being raised, I am not qualified to comment on them. The content of the message as received is as follows:

"Adrian Tan’s response was unbecoming and inappropriate of a President of the Law Society for the following reasons:

1. First and foremost his response breached his sacred duty to uphold the independence of the Bar as President of the Law Society. The Legal Profession is for all intents and purposes essentially a democratic institution whose independence can be as important as the independence of the judiciary. His remarks were arguably tantamount to politicking. He should be careful not to give the impression of applying pressure or undue influence on those who are against the death penalty and must hold a steady impartial hand in such debates instead.

2. Adrian Tan’s comments are arguably made in breach of Section 38 of the Legal Profession Act prohibiting members of the Singapore Bar from commenting on any legislation unless invited to. He has no right to comment on the death penalty under Section 38. He spoke up when Section 38 expressly prohibits him from speaking up. Will the Law Minister take action against him or ignore the transgression because it suits him?

3. Adrian Tan’s remarks were undignified. Adrian Tan was impolite to say the least. Infact he was unnecessarily condescending. The President of the Law Society must always be dignified and remain above the fray with his comments on sensitive or controversial legal issues like the death penalty in Singapore. His remarks came across as an ad-hominem attack of a foreigners refusal to debate a Singapore Minister instead of dealing with the issue substantively. He shot the messenger with impunity. He should be careful not to give the impression of applying pressure on critics of the Government.

4. Adrian Tan is not qualified to speak on the subject in circumstances where he has failed, neglected and/or refused to achieve any consensus between members of the Law Society on the subject. Why has he not done so if he is so interested on this matter of great public importance? To date no comprehensive study or survey has been done to determine the views of members of the Society let alone members of the criminal bar on the subject. Law Society President Adrian Tan would have angered many of the society's members by voicing support for controversial statements made by a PAP Minister instead of ascertaining the views of the members of the Law Society he is President of on the subject."

There is No Turning Back

Law Minister Shanmugam opened the door and invited a foreigner in to debate on Singapore's stance on the death penalty, he put himself on the back of that 'no foreign influence allowed' tiger. If a foreigner can be invited in with an all-expenses trip to a debate, why can’t locals such as Transformative Justice Collective, Human Rights Lawyer M. Ravi, Kisten Han and others be offered the same opportunity? After all they are the stakeholders, those who will be voting at the next election, not Richard Branson. Money and influence should not be a deciding factor on whether voices are heard, or indeed if a legal system is equitable.

Courage is Contagious

Fortune favours the bold and all great leaders of history have known this and were successful because of the risks they dared to take. Sadly, many in Singapore are paralyzed either by fear of losing their handsomely buttered bread, or from retaliation against them or their family members, so many heads remain down. Like rot, courage starts from the top and I would highly recommend that Singapore's politicians, Civil Servants, Board Members and anyone else that needs assistance in raising their head to do the right thing, read Ego is the Enemy and Courage is Calling - by Ryan Holiday.

Courageous leaders are those who don't just promote themselves and their leadership mantras on social media or make propaganda promises they have no intention of keeping. Courageous leaders are those with the courage to do the right thing for all, not just to pamper or buy favour with the elites or billionaires. When Singaporeans are allowed to have the courage to speak up they will no longer have to write to foreigners like myself about being screwed over by their bank or having workplace sexual assaults being covered up by auditing firms; there will be no fear of open debates on matters which affect them, white collar criminals will no longer have the protection of cronyism because whistleblowers will have the courage to speak up, the Law Minister won't need to shoot himself in the foot, the President of the Law Society won’t have to enter the political arena, there will be no need for any Singaporeans to seek asylum overseas, and awards will be given to those who truly deserve them!

As Aristotle wrote “Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others”

About Me (Julie O'Connor)

When I speak up, invariably I get attacked by some who are either wilfully blind or brainwashed into believing that Singapore’s elite can do no wrong and I must be the bad guy in the movie. It is easier for Government Linked entities to claim that I have acted with malice, instead of accepting any responsibility for what was allowed to take place. That is because they lack courage, and I am not a famous, influential billionaire!

Similar to Richard Branson I was born in the UK, not University educated, I'm in my third age, and I have spoken up in support of Singaporeans as a foreigner. That’s where any similarities end, I am not a billionaire entrepreneur, with an army of helpers and publicists, I am an Australian housewife who must write all her own stuff, no-one checks my work, my grammar is not great and I’m not a social media influencer.

I have previously lived and worked in Singapore and was a Permanent Resident. It was only after we chose to leave Singapore, that I discovered that there was a conspiracy to defraud my family which involved Singaporeans. One of them was an elite, politically connected individual, who could assert influence with DBS bank, and who was legally represented by politically connected law firm Allen & Gledhill. At the time the head of Allen & Gledhill was the current Attorney General and the lawyer representing the elite is now the Second Minister of Law. As you read on, given the conflicts, you may understand why these powerful individuals don’t want this can of worms to be opened and why many heads have stayed down!

During my research into the conspiracy to defraud, I uncovered allegations of four forged signatures affixed to Australian legal documents on behalf of a ‘struck off’ company, two dubious DBS letters that had been used to wipe 92.2% - 96.6% off a one-week-old valuation of a company the elite was attempting to acquire, an option deed purportedly drawn up by Allen & Gledhill and used by an associate of the elite, failure to make SGX disclosures and much more. Articles written by NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen provide a better insight into the Singapore companies involved in the non-disclosures etc.

When a writ was served on two Singapore companies which were subsidiaries of a large SGX listed entity, that implicated the same elite in a pattern of fraud, attempts were made to have any mention of the alleged forgeries removed. When those attempts failed, a financial incentive was offered to three parties (including me), to ratify and endorse the four documents alleged to contain the four forged signatures, retract the writ, handover evidence and provide letters of retraction addressed to DBS Legal, SGX, Audit Committees and many others, to retract the complaints which had been made. When it was stipulated that the funds were to be deposited into a purported charity account in Hong Kong and only after we had sold our silence our share would be directed to Australia, I became suspicious.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promises that no coverups are allowed in Singapore and that no-one is above the Law. Maybe if I had been Richard Branson this would have been true. But justice should be equitable no matter your wealth or status. The Law Minister claims that drugs ruins lives and kills, not recognizing that white collar crime does to, and that white-collar criminals become as insidious as drug dealers if left unchecked. Would the Law Minister believe it acceptable for a lowly drug mule to buy himself out of trouble, or would the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau be allowed to raise their heads for that one?

When I first spoke up, I was speaking for myself and my family, having no idea that there were Singaporean and international investors who were victims of similar tactics. Singapore victims were afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation and some international victims had been threatened that they would never work in their industry again if they exposed what had taken place. That is not the path to take to maintain a ‘clean’ reputation, because when the good men do eventually find their courage like the lion did in the Wizard of OZ, or when a billionaire foreigner like Richard Branson exposes the injustices, the wheels will start falling off the bus and trust in the Government will become even more of an issue than it is today! Don't forget to read Ego is the Enemy and Courage is Calling - by Ryan Holiday. I'm not on commission.