29 May 2009

A modest proposal for GRC reform

1. Decouple the political and administrative dimensions of Group Representative Constituencies

While efficiencies of scale were never put forward as a justification for the GRC scheme, it is clear that these efficiencies do exist, enabling town councils in GRCs to lower costs and build up million-dollar rainy day funds.

Thus, we propose that GRCs be kept.

We also propose that GRCs be capped at a size of 4, and for all SMCs to be scrapped entirely.

(Minilee's proposal to increase the number of SMCs and to cap GRCs to a maximum of 5 seats when the average size of GRCs is 5.4 would mean that the absolute number of minority representation in Parliament may yet again decrease)

We note that these efficiencies of scale exist independently of the political dimension of GRCs. This is a purely administrative side-effect of GRCs that will continue to exist regardless of party control.

2. Ditch the block ticket system for GRCs

Mathematically, as our GRCs stand: in a constituency of n available seats, the block ticket system ensures x(n) number of candidates where x is the number of parties contesting, but only x unique solutions, because the 'team' either wins all, or loses all.

The block ticket system of GRC voting ensures that the entire party slate wins, regardless of the unpopularity or perceived incompetence, actual gaffes and weaknesses of certain nominees. It creates a disturbingly high rate of walkovers, unelected representatives, ruling party MPs who have never faced a real contest - a situation that increasingly delegitimises the government of Singapore and its ruling party. In a country where voting is compulsory, less than half its population voted the last general elections due to walkovers. A semi-permanent swathe of citizens have never voted in their lives - a situation that increasingly delegitimises the idea of Singapore-style democracy.

As noted earlier, the sole constitutional justification for the GRC scheme is to ensure a healthy minority representation in Parliament. Nothing in the constitutional justification of GRCs says that the candidates contesting for a GRC must be bundled together.

Reforming GRCs

We propose the following set of changes that will restore the outcome of GRCs as intended by the constitution, as well as remedy the glaring weaknesses and unintended consequences of the "team wins/loses all" implementation:

For a n-seat GRC (where n is equal to or less than 4), there will be n unique winners, regardless of x parties contesting.

Each political party is free to nominate any number of candidates to the GRC.

For a n-seat GRC, each voter gets to cast their ballot for n-2 candidates on their voting forms. They are to choose exactly n-2, not more, and not less.

The winners are chosen thusly:
Top n-1 candidates with the most votes are elected, following which
From the pool of remaining candidates, elect the minority candidate with the most votes if there are none in the top n-1 candidates. Otherwise, elect the candidate with the most votes.

Implications of proposed GRC reforms:

There will be no bundling of candidates on the party ticket.

Each candidate will be judged on their own merit, preventing weak and untested candidates from riding on the coattails of Ministers. Each candidate will have to WORK FOR THEIR SEAT and prove they deserve to be elected. This is the trial of fire sorely lacking in Singapore's political system since its implementation of GRCs.

All parties are still free to present their candidates as a team; all voters are still free to vote straight-ticket ballots.

This proposal does not contradict the stated and constitutional purpose of the GRC system, i.e. ensuring minority representation in Parliament.

If the GRC system was to ensure minorities have a voice in Parliament, then the block ticket system should not be a sacred cow.

Other GRC reform proposals on the net:
Kent Ridge Common: Contesting GRCs the SMC way

Minilee's reformasi decoded

The PAP is not out to have a clean sweep. What we are trying to offer is certainty of good government and good people in charge. So my message is this: Have your desire for opposition fulfilled, but never to the extent of changing the government.
- Goh Chok Tong, 3 May 2006

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

From Minilee's proposed changes, we may tease out a probable set of dictums guiding his co-option of political reformation. We're not so shocked that they're virtually unchanged from Goh's formulations and implied dicta 2 years ago.

1. The PAP does not have the calibre to govern in an open democracy.

2. In Singapore, the PAP decides how many opposition MPs Singaporeans are allowed. Now Minilee allows you to have up to 9 opposition NCMPs and 10 MPs with full voting rights. Be thankful!

3. The PAP will do what it can to prevent Singaporeans from electing opposition MPs to constituencies.

4. The PAP will never allow voters to change ruling parties.

After all, what sort of reforms would guarantee that ensure that "the government which is elected has a clear mandate to govern in the interest of Singapore"?

One that guarantees the winning party is a parliamentary supermajority?

How on earth does this "serve Singapore well now and into the future"? Minilee's reforms will only guarantee that if there is a change in government, it will definitely be the worst case scenario "shock result" that his father and party leaders have always been afraid of.

By creating a reformed system where any ruling party has a clear mandate, where ruling coalitions are unnecessary, where oppositions are never strong enough to hold the crucial 1/3 of Parliament seats, Minilee and the PAP are ensuring that any new ruling party has zero experience in essential democracy and parliamentary governance. Minilee's proposed reforms guarantee that any change in ruling party will be disastrous to Singapore.

25 May 2009

An issue of statements III

This article continues our ongoing analysis of the recent statements by faith groups on the Aware issue.

Slightly more than 8 days after the conclusion of the Aware EGM and 10 days since his first statement as NCCS President, Bishop John Chew released a pastoral letter reflecting on the Aware issue. Where his first statement as NCCS president clearly needed clarity in terms of what he really meant to say, this pastoral letter attempts to redress its predecessor's shortcomings - but not without creating even more confusion.

We will leave aside the specifics of John Chew's pastoral letter for the moment, for they are the least of John Chew's problems.

For whom does John Chew speak?

This refrain is starting to feel like a recurring punchline in a stand-up comedy routine by now. We have earlier resolved that John Chew has no legal and theological basis to claim authority or right to represent, advocate, or doctrinally define the stand of Protestants in Singapore.

Note this: An imperfectly written statement released by the NCCS President is "clarified" by the Anglican Diocesean Bishop. John Chew had previously aspired to speak and dictate policy for the Protestant community of Singapore. He released a statement giving the impression as such on the Aware issue, as NCCS President. And yet his follow-up and clarification (much needed, he claims in this letter, to allay confusion and breakdown in both the "Christian Church" and the Anglican Church) is made as a Diocesan Bishop and not as NCCS President.

This is of course highly irregular and improper procedure, the equivalent of political leaders wearing too many hats and putting on different hats at different times to participate in a single issue. Yet more practical problems and questions arise from John Chew's mystifying pastoral letter:

For whom does John Chew speak to and speak for in his pastoral letter?
Why does John Chew not take the opportunity to share his "clarification" on the matter as NCCS President, to all Protestants in Singapore?

Pulpits vs pastoral letters

"We do not condone churches getting involved in this matter; neither do we condone pulpits being used for this purpose": while this statement does not imply orders were actually given to ban preaching on the Aware issue from the pulpit, reports from our church-going readers and friends indicate that clergy in Protestant churches generally refrained from even commenting on the Aware issue on the Sundays before and after the Aware EGM in respect to John Chew's NCCS statement.

John Chew now appears to say: preaching about Aware from pulpit cannot, but pastoral letter can!

Are pastoral letters equivalent to preaching from the pulpit? What status does a pastoral letter from the Anglican Dioscean Bishop have? Was the Diocesan Bishop writing in his capacity as the head of the Singapore Diocese, or the pastor of the Saint Andrew's Cathedral parish?

A pastoral letter from the Bishop of Rome you will ignore at the peril of your Catholic soul.

A pastoral letter from the pastor or even moderator of a Presbyterian Church is merely the opinion of its writer, and not necessarily that of the writer's church, presbytery or synod unless indicated otherwise.

Most certainly a pastoral letter in the Anglican Communion resides somewhere in the middle - we urge Bishop John Chew to clarify the capacity in which he wrote the letter, the theological status of the pastoral letter, as well as explain why a lengthy explanation - implying that his original NCCS statement was poorly crafted and inadequate in communication - was released not as NCCS President but as just Anglican Diocesan Bishop. Why change hats halfway?

Clearly though, the state again felt the need to activate the faith spokesgroups, but this time, using the heads of the Lutheran, Methodist, and Islamic churches - none of whom bothered to agree with John Chew or reference his pastoral letter. Curious, no?

Taking clear sides now can, or: to hell with the secular-religious divide!

We note several instances in Chew's pastoral letter where he clearly takes a stand in the Aware issue, chooses his sides, and makes pronouncements on the Aware CSE programme to the extent of sanctioning Thio Su-mien's allegations:

We are grateful to God for MOE's swift suspension of external sexuality education programmes pending careful review...

If pastors around Singapore had refrained from even commenting about Aware and its sex education programme for weeks just because of John Chew's NCCS statement, they'd be kicking themselves in the foot now. Not only is Chew commenting on Aware, he's now tying Aware and homosexuality together. Not from the pulpit, but using a pastoral letter. SMART!

Our Christian social responsibility is to "seek the welfare of the city" (Jer 29:7). This includes the social and ethical considerations we bring to civil life and public discussion of fundamental social issues based on the beliefs and values of our faith.

How is this statement different from saying Christians must stop the nation from crossing lines God has drawn? I suspect John Chew will never illustrate this unless public pressure is exerted for him to explicitly clarify his position on the church-state divide, or even comment on Pastor Derek Hong's interesting theological formulation.

Similarly, as a man who chooses which reality to belong to, John Chew needs to be questioned loudly on whether he condones Hong's formulations of homosexuals and their supporters as the tools of Satan, as well as the status of Thio Su-mien as a prophetess, and whether he agrees with her reported view that abortion led to God's punishment of Singapore during the SARS breakout.

As unfolding revelations have shown, the group’s concern for a direction that AWARE was taking in terms of its agenda for redefining mainstream sexual ethics and social norms was not misplaced.

Almost a clear and unambiguous statement that Aware had a homosexual agenda, and Thio Su-mien was right all along, no? In what capacity does John Chew make this statement?

However one views the perceived involvement and the manner of their engagement of some courageous Christians in the recent AWARE saga, their costly effort has undoubtedly done our society a crucial service...

Bishop John Chew hearts Thio Su-mien. Well, the means may not have been ideal but John Chew clearly approves of the ends! And again, Chew hails from a reality where "means" and "ends" are not talked about, where improper conduct is only ethically difficult and challenging. What this says about him as a man of God and a leader of his church is interesting, to say the least.

21 May 2009

An issue of statements II

This article expands on ideas developed in these posts:
Singapore's wayang model of religious consultation
Imperial overreach: NCCS edition

A statement is much more than just a missive from a single source on a given topic. A statement does not exist in a vacuum; its meaning circumscribes and is circumscribed by other related statements in a field bounded by their common subject of inquiry, interrogative strategy, or discursive environment.

Bourdieuan discourse analysis treats statements as deliberate speech-acts stake out ideological positions, signal an investment of reputation and attention, by both participants and interested spectators.

Having first established Singapore's wayang model of religious consultation and confirming that this model and the "election" of the NCCS as official spokesbody is an unnatural state of affairs for Protestant churches, we now turn to the first wave of statements released for the Aware affair.

Statements of issue, statements of omission

First, the 30 April statement by Bishop John Chew, President of the NCCS.

While "we do not condone churches getting involved in this matter; neither do we condone pulpits being used for this purpose", it does not imply however that standing orders were actually given to ban preaching on the Aware issue from the pulpit.

Instead, Bishop Chew merely elaborates that the heads of NCCS member churches had merely "reiterated to their clergy the standing instruction on the proper use of the pulpit". What that standing instruction is on the proper use of the pulpit is unknown and unknowable. As the NCCS constitution helpfully points out, it is merely "an association of co-operating members, each of which determines its own policy and action." It is probable that the standing instruction may have made some reference to constrict clergy from discussing or promoting the Aware saga from their pulpit; it is likely that the standing instruction varies from church to church.

This continues in a mysterious claim that "our member churches are not involved in the present saga". What Bishop Chew denies in his statement is the existence of leaked emails as clear evidence of COOS involvement and the role of its pastoral staff in orchestrating the takeover, which had been floating around for days and were actually confirmed by Derek Hong before the statement went out. What he hopes we forget is Derek Hong's infamous pulpit speech about nations crossing lines set by God. Bishop Chew is appears to be someone with a high capacity for Jedi mind tricks, or very selective about acknowledging and dealing with historical facts.

Yet this isn't the end of the NCCS statement. Strangely enough, it continues in a defense of individual Christians and Christian churches to engage in public policy and social discussions, and ends with a call for "all [to] step back and give AWARE space to settle its own matters". Again, note John Chew's attempt to slide away from the main issue - that a certain faction of Christians had taken over Aware, and claimed to be acting individually. Either John Chew is speaking completely off tangent, or he has given Thio's faction a plausible excuse for their Aware takeover and future operations.

We point out John Chew's use of "public square", which exists mainly as a dog-whistle code from US religious politics. The only other politician who has gone on record as mentioning the "public square" in Parliament would be NMP Thio Li-Ann. Interestingly, Janadas Devan had already called out on Thio Li-Ann's dog-whistling there and then. Dr Bishop Chew's use of the dog-whistle code is unfortunate if he didn't intend to whip the radical fundamentalist Christian faction into a frenzy.

The reconstituting power of statements

John Chew's NCCS statement - timed way too late into the development of the Aware saga - was apparently so clear and unambiguous that the entire machinery of the state and its wayang apparatus had to be mobilised.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia, Archbishop of Archdiocese of Singapore: 'I agree with Dr John Chew... Secular organisations should remain secular. These organisations are secular and are not within our ambit."

Ustaz Palman Supangat, Chairman, Al-Iman Mosque: "i fully agree with Dr John Chew's statement. Religious and secular issues and organisations should not mix."

Ven. Kwang Sheng, President, Singapore Buddhist Federation: "I support the vfiews of Dr John Chew in the statement issued by the NCCS. Religious groups as institutions should not get involved in civil society organisations, and the pulpit should not be used in furtherance of such socio-political causes... We feel that organisations which are meant to be secular in nature... should always be kept secular, while other organisations with non-secular or religious stances are free to propagate them to their own members.

Rev. Master Lee Zhiwang, President, Taoist Mission (Singapore): "I concur with the views of Dr John Chew, NCCS, that the pulpit should not be used in issues like the leadership of Aware, which is a secular organisation. Religious groups should not be involved in this matter."

Note that each religious organisation leader clearly thought Dr John Chew had made a statement reaffirming the secular-religious divide. Some leaders who issued statements agreed with John Chew that religious organisations should play no part in socio-political causes. Most leaders indirectly commented on the importance of Aware being kept secular, even though Josie Lau and Thio Su-mien had insisted that their religious affiliations were incidental to their takeover operation.

Curious, no? Applying the wayang model to the first cycle of statements, we suggest that:

1. The State, eschewing direct intervention into the Aware affair, had hoped to solve it through the church-state consultation model promulgated by then-PM Goh Chok Tong.

2. Dr John Chew and the NCCS were tapped and nudged into action.

3. The statement by Dr John Chew was unsatisfactory and subtly defiant.

4. As a result, other faith leaders had to be brought into play, their statements cascading into the world's fastest attempt at historical revisionism, rewriting the intent and tenor of Dr John Chew's actual message, and guiding audiences to read it "correctly".

5. Secular society, secularism, the church-state divide: all omitted in Dr John Chew's NCCS statement, all reaffirmed in the other faith leaders' statements.

18 May 2009

Imperial overreach: NCCS edition

NCCS - nothing like MUIS

Certainly, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) has benefited from the uniquely consultative style of the Singapore government in recent years, rising to occasion as a convenient spokesbody, representative, and leader for Protestants here.

Founded in 1948 by a group of British clerics and friends who served as POWs at Changi Prison, the Malayan Christian Council promptly faded into obscurity given the fact that these clerics left the region shortly after, and that there were a whole host of other ecumenical initiatives in Malaya. And not to mention, The Emergency.

To put it bluntly, the NCCS has a temporarily high profile today thanks to the opportunism of its exco members. Their actions have catapulted it to the public eye, above and beyond its natural capacity -

Signing the declaration of religious harmony
Issuing a statement on homosexuality
Issuing a statement on the casino issue
Issuing a statement to back the banning of the Mohammed cartoons
Issuing a private and secret letter to the MDA on The Da Vinci Code

Extra-legal powers and authority?

But who does the NCCS speak for? What manner of doctrine or public position can it enforce on Protestants in Singapore?

The NCCS was never intended to be a Protestant fatwah-issuing religious council. The President of the NCCS was never intended to be the leader of Protestants in Singapore. Yet these two misconceptions were held by many commentators on the Aware issue, regardless of which faction they supported.

We refer to the Constitution of the NCCS:

Article 3(iv): [the Council is founded] as an association of co-operating members, each of which determines its own policy and action.

Article 4(vi): [The objectives of the Council are] to provide an agency through which the Government of the Republic of Singapore may consult the Council on matters of common concern to its members.

Articles 4(v) to (vi) are amendments to the original constitution of the NCCS, giving credence to the Wayang theory of state-church consultation. (As an aside, we note that 4(vi) is a copy-paste-adaptation of Section 3, 2(a) of the 1968 AMLA act.) These amendments can be reasonably dated to the aftermath of the 1969 race riots in Malaya, whereupon the governments on both sides of the Straits instituted various faith councils to take part in the wayang process, and empowered the successors of the Malayan Christian Council as 'official' spokesbodies.

In Singapore at least, there was very little follow-up consultation thereafter, until the Goh administration reinstituted the wayang process with the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 1991 and to seek 'religious approval' of the human stem cell research through 'religious representation and consultation' in the Bioethics Advisory Committee, in 2001.

Our main concern is with 3(iv) of the NCCS constitution, which appears to explicitly contradict the organisation's spokesbody role. The same clause also appears to contradict the organisation's carefully cultivated impression having the unquestionable authority to advise Protestant Christians on theological or secular matters.

In reality, the President of the NCCS has no power to issue commands to the Protestant Christian population, set church policy, or to speak on behalf of NCCS member churches.

Don't believe me?

Ask the Methodists.

The General Conference, "which meets every 4 years, is the highest decision-making body of the MCS, led by the elected Bishop and an equal number of elected representatives (both clergy and laity) from each of the three Annual Conference..."
The People Called Methodist, 37

The General Conference is the only body that speaks officially for the church. "No person, no paper, no organisation has the authority to speak officially for The Methodist Church, this right having been reserved exclusively to the General Conference under the Constitution"

Ask the Presbyterians.

According to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, the Synod is its highest decision-making body, with unique powers to license and recognise preachers (18)(i) for its denomination, to represent the Presbyterian Church in external relations (48)(i) and make doctrinal decisions (48)(ii). It is the Synod who represents the Presbyterian Church externally, not any Moderator, and most certainly not the President of the NCCS.

In light of this, we question the placement of Rt Rev Tan Cheng Huat as NCCS Vice President and presumably its representative for the Presbyterian Church in Singapore.

Under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, the Moderator of the Synod is purely that: an administrative role in the 3rd level of the church bureaucracy. He calls meetings to order, is responsible for accounts, but when the Synod votes, the Moderator is an ordinary voting member; his vote is not a veto and not a deciding vote.

Under what right does a Moderator have to represent and speak for the Synod in the NCCS?

As far as we know: There is no "Moderator of the Presbyterian Church". The Moderator of the 35th & 36th Session Synod of the Presbyterian Church, 2009-2011, is Rev Phua Chee Seng. The Moderator of the 16th Session English Presbytery, 2009-2011, is Rev Keith Lai. The Moderator of the 17th Session Chinese Presbytery, 2009-2011, is Rev Leow Khee Fatt. We are unclear if NCCS meant the moderator of the synod, the moderator of a presbytery, or the moderator of a church known as "Presbyterian Church".

Will the "Moderator of the Presbyterian Church" please stand up and explain your strange, unusual, probably fictitious post - and just what you're playing in this organisation, and who is authorising you to play in the NCCS?

15 May 2009

Singapore's wayang model of religious consultation

Imperial overreach redux, or: haven't we been here before?

In the light of a second cycle of official statements coming from various churches and religious groups on the long aftermath of the Aware issue, it is clear that the matter is not closed, and will not be closed for some time. Despite their authority and positions, statements issued by various quarters more than a week ago lack the finality that was expected of them - hence forcing another wave of clarifications.

The church-state wayang

As a modus operandi, faith organisations have never played an active role in political and public commentary in the years of the Republic; one may cite certain remarks a political leader issued shortly after Operation Spectrum, or the general consensus on the church-state divide already existing in the entire region after 1960.

It is then highly out of the ordinary that faith organisations in Singapore have been issuing on a regular basis, official statements on all matters of public policy and social discourse in the recent years. We trace this torrent of statements to their zero point: a decision in 2001 by the Goh Chok Tong government to obtain the consent from various faith leaders before embarking on its life sciences and stem cell research industry.

Out of this need to have religious leaders to speak for their faith communities as part of a "look, I asked them, they didn't object strongly enough" consultation process, certain questionable innovations have arisen, erroneous impressions cultivated, and ambitions stoked.

Like a good old wayang, a series of legal and social fictions (in the sense that corporate personhood is a fiction) must be maintained in this 'consultative' mode of government.

1. Religions have a major say in public consultation (when the government decides they should be consulted, or be made to speak up on certain issues)

2. Religions must receive special legal protection against certain speech (to the point where observers have the impression that religious organisations have a veto over public discourse and public policy)

3. Religious leaders have authority to speak for and dictate the beliefs and attitudes of their faith communities

These fictions, especially the final one, don't seem to be immediately illogical; we expect Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (aka MUIS) to issue religious rulings that orthodox Muslims in Singapore would consider binding.

But does the President of NCCS have the authority to speak for, dictate the doctrinal stand, and issue commands to Christians in Singapore?

And moving further away from the religions of the book... do the statements from the President of a Buddhist Federation or a Taoist Society have any doctrinal, legal, or even institutional authority on self-professed Buddhists and Taoists in Singapore? To what extent do the Presidents of these societies receive the acknowledged leadership and authority from the members of their faith, which they fictionally 'speak for' and 'represent' in Singapore's wayang system of church-state relations?

The Aware saga has shown that certain consultative bodies may not be content with their mere consultative role, and aren't afraid of being seen by the larger polity as muscling their way into public policy and setting the terms of public discourse either publicly, through their 'individual' proxies, or through inaction to control these proxies.

Go to part 2 of this post

14 May 2009

The gay agenda

Yesterday, Aware. Today: the United Nations! Dun dun dunnnnn!

Full story here

Kampala - Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo alleged on Friday that some United Nations member states were engaged in a covert campaign to spread homosexuality around the world.

"At the United Nations there are attempts by some nations to impose homosexuality on the rest of us," he told reporters. "We have learned that they want to smuggle in provisions on homosexuality."

He said he was particularly concerned about an ongoing UN conference on population.

"We got to learn from our sources that there are interests that want to use that conference to bring in issues that will protect homosexuals," he said.

Buturo spoke on Thursday to Uganda's UN ambassador and reminded him of the country's position that homosexuality is "unnatural, abnormal, illegal, dangerous, and dirty".

Disclaimer: This blog post is not meant as a commentary on Thio Su Mien, her takeover attempt of Aware through her G9, or the rhetoric the Thio camp has employed throughout the Aware affair.

Ladies and gentlemen, the homophobic playbook:

1. When members of an organisation plan to introduce provisions on homosexuality that do not outright condemn it as a sin, an abomination, or a practice out of line with the majority: There is a covert agenda to spread homosexuality.

2. An organisation planning to introduce provisions for non-discrimination on homosexuality = an organisation planning to protect homosexuals.

3. An organisation planning to comment, not unfavourably, on homosexuality/homosexuals: clearly acting under the influence of external interests.

10 May 2009

Defending the right of Christians to discuss

Do Christians have the right to engage in public discussion and national policy-making?

In what manner, under what circumstances and rules of conduct should Christians engage in public discussion and national policy-making?


The following comes from the bulletin board of a church that shall not be named. Please note this denomination is considered to be socially liberal and theologically quiet in relation to the rest of the mainline denominations in Singapore.

In recent years, there have been many developments in our social landscape that have affected our lives as Singapore citizens and more importantly, as Christian Singaporeans. Jesus calls us to live by kingdom values and to be the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), as His witnesses, influencing and impacting our society for good, to the glory of God. This mandate, however, is very often privatized, confining to personal religious piety. As a result, many Singaporean Christians are shying away from engaging themselves in the discussion and decision-making process on social issues in the public arena. The recent controversy on sexuality education in our public schools has highlighted the apathy Christians share with the rest of society.

The Leadership Team believes that our call to Christian discipleship goes beyond engagement with Sunday worship and ministry activities. We believe that we need to connect our Sunday proclamation of faith with our practice of faith in the marketplace and public arena.

Therefore, we hereby invite all like-minded Christians, who have a burden or are burdened by the developments in our public policies and social landscape, to come and join us for an informal dialogue session for this purpose.

Update: No, the church from which this bulletin originated is not COOS. It is not a megachurch either. It's not a fundamentalist church either.

09 May 2009

The 8th Germinal of Thio Su Mien

Much of the revelations in the "On Aware's changing slant towards homosexuality and comprehensive sexual education in recent years" (now pulled off Aware's website after Feminist Mentor's G9 were deposed) centres on Aware's activities from 2005 to 2008.

For the first time, the Aware Mother's Day celebration included presentations of mothers with lesbian daughters, alongside normal and single-parent units.

For the first time, Aware chose a movie with a lesbian theme as its charity fundraiser.

For the first time, Aware invited a gay activist, Alex Au, to give talks to women on HIV.

And for the first time, Constance Singam herself participated in Indignation, Singapore's gay pride month, in a dialogue session with the lesbian community.

In the hardened hearts and blinded eyes of Thio Su Mien and COOS Pastor Derek Hong, this constituted a capitulation to the homosexual agenda.

Yet Constance Singam herself refused to bow to the demands of the gay and lesbian community. At Indignation's "Queer women within feminist Singapore", Singam refused to concede to the popular demand that Aware explicitly support the lesbian community, refused to have lesbian-specific programmes. Singam refused to acknowledge that lesbian rights were special and needed emphasis beyond Aware's general pro-women, irrespective of race, age, class stance.

If Singam were intent on allowing the gay conspiracy to hijack Aware, subvert it against family values, she ended up burning bridges with a large part of the lesbian community last August.

This alone tells us how much reality-based the concerns of Thio Su Mien and Pastor Derek Hong are.

It is difficult to believe that these two members of a mainstream Christian denomination looked at Aware's list of firsts without considering Constance Singam intended for 2008 to be Aware's outreach year for the lesbian community.

It is a community that has traditionally distanced itself from mainstream feminism and fallen outside its purview, despite the fact that all its members are women who ought to be accounted and administered to by feminist projects and help.

Christ-centred churches do outreach programmes as a matter of principle and religious calling. Yet I have never heard of churches being hijacked or having their purposes subverted by their outreach communities. Just as Constance Singam refused to compromise on her vision of feminism in the face of the lesbian community it outreched to last August, no church would compromise on its Christian values because of its outreach community.

This alone tells us the lack of Christ in the hearts of Thio Su Mien and Derek Hong, for them not to see what the list of firsts was really about.

This also tell us Constance Singam failed to communicate her outreach programme openly in Aware's literature and newsletters and to the public at large. Aware's record low membership and even lower number of active members in 2007-8 had simplified the organisation to the extent where Singam's decisions did not really need to be put forward for open discussion and explanation; in any case, Aware's undeclared outreach programme does not constitute good organisational governance and has now even engendered distrust in parts of society outside of COOS.

The road forward for Aware is very simple. All Constance Singam and Dana Lim need to do is to reaffirm their vision of a neutral feminism that cannot be held hostage to the gay and lesbian lobby while continuing their outreach to the lesbian community, to start an outreach to the Christian community without being held hostage to the Christian lobby. Eyes on all sides of the debate will be watching closely.

05 May 2009

Inquiring minds want to know: Caine Teo and Ape Communications

As we celebrate our victory over the forces of Feminist Mentor, we urge people to review their memories of that hard-fought battle. It was a difficult battle despite the one-sided result.

Over the past few days, we have received reports from people who attended the EGM at Suntec. As we review their accounts with the reports from twitter by articulate bloggers, the Wayang Party and The Online Citizen, it appears the battleground was stacked against their favour.

We draw attention to the events management company behind the EGM: Ape Communications, and its boss Caine Teo.

We direct the following questions to Ape Communications and Caine Teo, and encourage interested parties to send these in writing to Ape Communications, 32 Eng Hoon Street, Singapore 169780 or ask@ape.sg:

1. The original venue for the EGM was to have been Expo, right next to an evangelical rally.

As the event manager of Aware, was this venue choice your decision, or was it a decision on the part of the Aware exco?

2. At the EGM at Suntec, it appears that supporters of the Aware exco, clad in red t-shirts, had volunteered to set up and man the venue as early as 9am.

Was it your decision as event manager to allow only redshirt supporters to volunteer for the venue preparation?

Was it your decision as event manager to reject and eject the Old Guard and their supporters as volunteers for the venue preparation?

3. When the seating began, a huge group of redshirts were made to go into the hall first, as a collective. After which, the queue was operated in a first-come-first served manner.

As event manager, could you explain the rationale for the decision to let the redshirts enter the hall first?

4. When the EGM started, and for almost the entire duration of the EGM, microphones at the back and middle of the hall were turned off completely.

As event manager, could you explain why this was so? As events manager, could you justify this decision, as anyone who has attended corporate AGMs and EGMs will tell you it's bad form to turn off any microphone in a hall?

5. During the EGM, the microphones were constantly switched off in the middle of questions by speakers who interrogated the new exco’s policies and attitudes toward homosexuality.

Was control of the microphones under your purview as events manager? Could you explain why the microphones seemed to work in the interests of the exco, and not the members of the organisation?

6. We note the presence of AETOS Security Management Pte Ltd auxiliary police for the event. It is unfortunate that the overwhelming impression was that the AETOS personnel functioned more as the private bodyguards and enforcers of the will of the Aware exco, instead of keeping the peace and security on both ends.

Was control of the auxiliary police under your purview as events manager?
Could you explain why the AETOS personnel appeared to work under the orders of the exco, and not as security personnel?
Could you clarify the role under which AETOS personnel were engaged for the event?

7. At 9.10 pm, Josie Lau goes on stage with the statement "We have decided to graciously step down. We wish Aware all the best. I declare the meeting closed." And the microphones in the hall were all shut down following this statement.

As event manager, were you in charge of the microphones? If you weren't, who was?
As event manager, were you aware that as of her statement to step down, Josie Lau no longer had the power to declare the meeting closed?

8. On your girlfriend's blog (screencap here), she mentioned being privvy to "new and unpublished insights" about the Aware situation because of your involvement. She clarifies on her blog that you shared with her your worries and how your day went.

As event manager, did you discuss break client confidentiality in discussing the Aware issue with your girlfriend?

As event manager, were you provided information by the Aware exco that were in excess to what you needed to know? How much information did you pass on to your girlfriend?

9. As event manager, would you say that you have provided a fair, neutral, and unbiased event management for a highly polarised EGM?

For all readers who attended the EGM on Saturday: Do feel free to leave your impressions and additional questions of the event management on the blog, or email me through the usual channels. I will, with permission, reproduce them here, with names withheld upon request.

6 May 2009: NMP Siew Kum Hong reports on his personal experience of the deliberately tilted playing field of the EGM and its wide variance from the law and practice of meetings.

04 May 2009

An issue of statements I

A statement on the point at issue

I would like to congratulate Constance Singam, new President Dana Lim and her executive committee for their success in retaking Aware.

Thank you, old guard, for remaining steadfast to your principles, for calmly and clearly telling and showing what you stand for.

Thank you, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Catholics, agnostics and atheists, for showing this was never an issue of faith, for telling us this had all to do with ethics, transparency, respect and diversity.

Thank you, old media, for showing there are some principles that we can all agree to care about.

Thank you, women of every social class and profession, for showing that you care enough about airy fairy ideals like ethics and transparency.

Thank you, mothers, sisters, and daughters, for transcending beyond conservative and liberal labels on Saturday. Thank you for showing that Feminist Mentor and her G9 are more of a religious splinter group than representative of any 'conservative Singapore society'.

Thank you.

Now that you've won, let me point out the road ahead of you.

I understand that Constance Singam and President Dana Lim intend to change the constitution of Aware. For good reason too: the illiberal, unprincipled and surreptitious takeover must never be allowed to happen again. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..."

Please don't declare the war is not over; it's barely begun.

The G9 has resigned, their supporters outnumbered. They remain on the membership rolls of Aware even now. All 762 to 755 of them, which by the way constitutes more than 1/3 of the organisation.

My understanding is that it takes a 2/3 majority to push through a change in your constitution. You do not have the numbers, should Feminist Mentor and her G9 regroup and play the role of "principled opposition". More alarmingly, should Feminist Mentor and her G9 decide to to play it by the book, they have more than the 1/10 membership to push for another EGM. And another EGM. And yet another EGM.

You have won with the support of 1411 members. Please cherish the numbers. Please make an effort to engage them, to sustain their interest in feminism, in helping other women in need.

The price of your victory is eternal vigilance.

If you and your supporters fall asleep, know that the 762 to 755 sleepers will be activated once more. If civil society falls asleep, we know there will be more than 755 sleepers, skilled letter writers, proxies and other minions available to take over their next NGO, push their next not-quite-transparent agenda, raise their next protest.

Remember, remember, the 2nd of May.

02 May 2009

Aware's new events management company

Sometime between a week and a month ago, the new Aware exco engaged the services of advertising agency Ape Communications as the event manager of its EGM for today.

From the New Paper:

Aware was informed yesterday afternoon of Singapore Expo's decision to withdraw the venue through its event management company, Ape Communications, and no reasons were given until this afternoon.

'Aware understands that its meeting cannot be held at the Singapore Expo for 'law-and-order' reasons.'

When pressed for more answers, Aware was not forthcoming.

Ape Communications too, declined comment.

So far, no one knows the conditions under which Ape Communications was hired, and how much its services cost.

Several questions arise, because Ape Communications is not an events management company; it's an advertising and branding consultant. Its subsidiary, Ape Productions, was only set up this January as an events company, and headed by one Caine Teo.

Ethics, client confidentiality, and the need to know basis

Though Ape Communications/Productions has been tight-lipped to the press on its role in the Aware saga, Caine Teo's girlfriend hasn't.

From Caine Teo's girlfriend's blog (screencap courtesy of Diodati):

Anyway, because of Caine, I've obtained new and unpublished insight to the whole issue. And all I can say is: "Don't judge until you've got all the facts right. The media is not always neutral."

I pray Saturday goes well.


Ape Communications/Productions may have breached a serious code of client confidentiality if Caine Teo has indeed been passing on "new and unpublished insights" to his girlfriend on the Aware issue.

Further questions arise, such as why the new exco appears to have made Caine Teo its confidante and providing insights beyond his scope as an events manager for the organisation.

I welcome the explanations of Caine Teo, Ape Communications, and the new Aware exco on this matter.