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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Speaking Truth to Power - Courageous Voices

"It takes extreme courage to speak truth to power. Even for those who possess solid emotional fortitude, it can be challenging and uncomfortable. It can also be hazardous to your reputation and livelihood. Rarely does someone in authority seek out voices of opposition and when those voices speak without invitation or permission, they are often sanctioned. If the issues are major and the stakes high, it’s wise to have a back-up plan in case “power” overreacts."

Speaking truth to power - Don McMinn.

When Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling accused their brother, the Prime Minister, of misusing his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda, that was a turning point for me. Here were courageous voices coming from within Singapore's purple circle, speaking out about an abuse of power. As one of the organizers of a demonstration at the time said “There’s an allegation of abuse of power. And this allegation doesn’t come from any Tom, Dick or Harry. It came from the prime minister’s siblings, who are privy to information that is not available publicly,”

Yes, the Prime Minister was cleared of these allegations by his subordinates in Parliament, but that can hardly be described as an independent investigation, in an independent venue. Did anyone expect the Prime Minister's chosen appointees to have the courage to follow the path of Francis Seow, JB Jeyaretnam, Devan Nair and other brave souls?

"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." ~Former Singapore President Devan Nair

It was after Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling's comments that Terry Xu, former editor of The Online Citizen used his courageous voice to publish a letter which alleged corruption in Singapore's highest echelons. Is it corrupt to abuse power and to protect those connected to Singapore's power structure, above fidelity to the truth? Whatever the answer to that question, Terry was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to jail. Yet, the very people who could have divulged more evidence of an abuse of power in a court room, were not investigated or charged for suggesting the same. Unless I missed it, there was to be no invitation from the highest echelons for Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling to publicly add to their claims, or provide further evidence of an abuse of power. Then as some saw as payback, Lee Hsien Yang's wife and son would soon find themselves facing the wrath of Singapore's organs of state.

An important courageous voice, who I felt exposed the flaws and inequity in Singapore's legal system, came from a totally unexpected source. After being investigated, charged and found guilty of the alleged theft of $34k goods from her elite employer, Indonesian maid Parti Liyani. with the aid of a courageous pro-bono lawyer, fought to clear her name and she was acquitted on appeal. The key takeaways for me included:

  • Parti Liyani had been charged and convicted based on flimsy and even perjured evidence

  • There had been woeful investigations conducted by the SPF and AGC

  • Parti Liyani's elite, well-connected employer had broken MOM regulations, but the AGC directed that no further action be taken against her employer

  • The Attorney General knew Parti Liyani's employer

  • Judges are not infallible. and justice delayed is justice denied.

Parti Liyani's courage would lead to questions being asked over the truthfulness of the statement made below:

"Singapore’s laws apply equally to all, regardless of race, colour, descent, ethnic origin or nationality. All persons are treated equally and accorded due process under our laws."

I held a particular interest in the courageous voices, because I had been fighting against the same system that they were exposing. When allegations were made against a politically connected, Chinese Singaporean ["elite"] who was a former client of the Second Minister of Law, unlike Parti Liyani who was investigated, charged, and convicted, the allegations made against this elite didn't even warrant an investigation. There was deemed to be a lack of evidence, even though the elite had offered A$3.5m, which would hide the allegations of fraud which had been made against him. I had been asked to sell my silence and evidence which the Singapore authorities claimed didn't exist, and I watched on as the system closed ranks to protect one of their own.

In addition to the offer of 'hush money' or the 'financial enticement' which would hide allegations of fraud, other allegations made against the elite included but were not limited to, affixing forged signatures to documents on behalf of a struck off company, a conspiracy to defraud, failing to disclose material information on a timely basis, providing false or misleading disclosures, failing to disclose his interests in transactions and failing to discharge directors’ duties. Others who had faced similar allegations had been investigated and in some cases prosecuted.

Given the losses faced by investors following the collapse of the Group of companies headed up by the same elite, and the $637m financial exposure of Government Linked DBS, any reasonable person might believe that it would have been more in the public interest for the Police and the AGC to spend their valuable resources pursuing individuals like the elite, rather than the poor Indonesian maid Parti Liyani, who was at a distinct disadvantage to the elite because:

Parti Liyani didn't have access to $3.5m to entice her elite accusers to retract their allegations. The elite did.

Parti Liyani had to stand trial for the allegations made against her. The elite didn't. Parti Liyani wasn't a Public Service Medal holder. The elite is. Parti Liyani wasn't a patron of Boon Lay CCC. The elite is/was. Parti Liyani didn't have political connections. The elite's former lawyer is now the Second Minister of Law and the head of the Law firm at the time was the current Attorney General.

The Singapore Police who report to the AGC and Ministry of Law investigated Parti Liyani. They refused to investigate the elite.

It was this perceived inequity in the legal system that led me to question if the protection of those connected to Singapore's power structure was being put above fidelity to the truth, leading to *institutional corruption, and the diminishing of public trust? Was the lodestar of the Singapore Police and the AGC really to serve the public interest, and was it true that integrity was guiding the conduct of legal proceedings from start to end?

I'm now left with the niggling thought that if parties in Singapore's upper echelons are turning a blind eye to the inequity of the system, which is enabling institutional corruption to continue unabated, then surely Terry Xu should be acquitted of the defamation charges levelled against him and have the contempt of court charges he is facing dropped!

Lee Hsien Yang, Terry Xu and Parti Liyani may come from completely different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common, they had the courage to speak truth to power. The warning signs are there for all to see, the system of checks and balances is not!

“I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular. But I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless.” ― Whitney M. Young Jr.

Julie O'Connor

*"Institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including, to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness." - from "Institutional Corruption, Defined" by Lawrence Lessig.

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