03 December 2013

Reason #65665872 why Roy Tan is the next worst thing for the gay rights movement in Singapore

Back in 2005, Roy Tan, a gay activist in Singapore, made a suggestion which has not gone unnoticed on our blog. He said with some glee: "We should consider making use of the Sedition Act to stop any local online homophobia dead in its tracks."

Now in 2013, Roy Tan is one of the signatories to the citizens' petition to the AGC, affirming Alex Au's right to free speech or something like that. Sure didn't take too long for the gay rights movement's most ardent supporter of repressive sedition laws to turn into its most ardent supporter of the right to free speech.

But wait, there's more. Back in 2005 after Roy Tan made a statement that, if taken seriously, would set back free speech, it turns out that Alex Au's reply was:

"Would the same Sedition Act be applicable in cases of hate speech targeting gay people? I think yes. Clause 3(1)(e), after all says, "feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore."

He goes in for the kill, and suggests that the White Elephant guerrilla installation piece at Buangkok MRT be investigated under the Sedition Act. And if Alex Au's statements were taken seriously, there would be no opening of the Buangkok MRT station -- and no Samantha Lo today because certain types of art. according to Alex Au, are SEDITIOUS.

Meet Alex Au, the worst thing to happen to the gay rights movement in Singapore, a man who has never been a friend of free speech and artistic expression.

And one more thing: Roy Tan is parsimonious with the truth. Since 2011, he has been banned from Wikipedia for a whole host of rules violations including lack of citations, lack of permissions for images, non-neutral point of view writing, conflicts of interest, using wikipedia for promotion, and treating his created pages as a personal website.

30 November 2013

Alex Au's Cell Block Tango: "He had it coming"

As you may know, the Attorney-General's Chambers has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the blogger Alex Au. In addition, there is a statement calling the AGC to drop its case against the author of Yawning Bread, signed by prominent activists, online news journalists, academics, artists -- and other assorted poseurs.

Fair disclosure: I was approached to sign this. On a strictly professional level, I offered my services to edit an early draft of the text. On a personal level, I have not signed this statement and do not intend to.

I do not believe Alex Au's case warrants a campaign against the AGC. Nor should it galvanise Au's supporters to make hysterical, unseemly, and unhelpful comments about an "Operation Coldweb" that are sure to damage the integrity of the judicial process in the eyes of the public.

Simply put, Alex Au had it coming.

I have been blogging since 2003. Alex Au has been been writing online since 1996, back when Yawning Bread was a website and not quite a blog. Over these 10 years (and 10 years is a long time to get to know someone just from their writings alone), we know Alex Au to be, on occasion, an irresponsible, intemperate writer itching for a fight with the authorities over real or imagined slights, whipping up campaigns of manufactured outrage. And we have called him out on that time after time, over the years.

There was that time when Alex Au incited readers in a mailing list not to bother with civility or respect when dealing with the Christian Right in Singapore, and pretended he said the complete opposite when asked by the press. There was that time when Alex Au organised a Facebook campaign to boycott DBS for donating to the Focus on the Family charity. And another time when Alex Au organised a hate campaign against the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (you know, the one where the good Mr Gilbert Goh's Transitioning.org has its offices!), claiming the NGO was either led by Christian fundamentalists, actually not independent at all, or financially suspect.

We could go on but I hope you get the idea. Alex Au is the sort of blogger who is reasonable and responsible on the whole, and then on occasion transforms into the poster child of the Nasty Internet that the ministers keep trotting out whenever they urge for more online regulation.

How a simple, commonplace judicial procedure that happens all the time in every other country, rescheduling court hearing dates so cases and judgements don't contradict each other, gets turned into a conspiracy theory ascribing ulterior motives to the sitting judge -- you have to really hand it to Alex Au.

So of course there is now a legal test: the case is now before the supreme court to decide whether, in this day and age, the judiciary can be scandalised, given the exact words Alex Au used in his article.

Alex Au had it coming. And I have no doubt he wanted it this way. And if the petitioners really believe that Singaporeans are mature enough to discuss judicial procedures without scandalising the court, they ought to give the court credit for being mature enough to decide that. Shouldn't they?

[Addendum, 2 December 2013: It is important to note that the Supreme court has granted the AGC leave to initiate a contempt of court suit against Alex Au. To date, the AGC has not filed the suit against Alex Au, although the proceedings began with their application for leave to the Supreme Court.

Hopefully the several people whom Alex Au claims are "keen on raising funds to help defray my costs" have not actually begun to raise funds. To do so would be most improper. For Alex Au to mention all those details about raising funds while neglecting to admit that the AGC has not yet taken action against him (and may never) despite being granted permission by the Supreme Court is typical of Alex's failings.]

14 October 2013

Tharman, oh Tharman, a clown minister art thou

I kid you not.

13 August 2013

Time to ditch the NDP

First ever parade at the Padang Red Square

We bring to your attention Channelnewsasia's report on the 2013 Singapore National Day Parade, and its figure of 27,000 celebrants.

Figures on attendance and participation in previous years' NDPs have not been officially collated; nonetheless a rough gauge can be gleaned from the headlines and reports from The Straits Times. In 1966, the participant figure was 23,000. In 1969, 30,000. In 1986, it swelled to 70,000 at the National Stadium. In 1997, ST decided to report only on the spectators (as opposed to everyone at the NDP, including the contingent and performers), which they pegged at 60,000.

From these numbers, a few statistical observations emerge.

Singapore's population has increased from 1.65 million in 1966 to over 5 million in 2012. Yet the attendance at its National Day Parade appears to have plateaued on the eve of the Asian Financial Crisis and declined steadily since, and shrinking to early independence era numbers. As a percentage of total population, attendance figures haven't just returned to early independence era figures; they have plummeted far below that.

Despite the NDP being telecast on every free-to-air channel ever since its inception, the Media Development Authority and its predecessors do not publish viewership figures. We only have anecdotal reports that people have been tuning in to the NDP far less these days.

Since 2002, the cost of putting up the National Day Parade has increased almost every year. We're not certain if the punchline ought to be this: As fewer people (both absolute and as a percentage of total population) turn up each year to watch the NDP, the cost of the NDP has been going up (both absolute and per audience).

Ditch the NDP now, I say!

Why watch the NDP anyway?

People need to question why NDP has so much military hardware porn
"No need lah. It's the same every year." - anonymous

"My preoccupation wasn't the audience at the parade. They were the converted... It's actually the rest of the Singaporeans who are thinking, 'Ah, another propaganda event.'" - MP Chan Chun Sing

I have neglected to say that lower audience numbers may be due to declining interest -- or they could be the direct result of venue capacity, or due to an interaction between the two.

But to read MP Chan Chun Sing's thoughts on his 2009 parade, one might come to the idea that the SAF possesses statistics which show a steady tapering off in the numbers of "the converted" which predates the New Normal. But why?

It can't be because the NDP is the same every year. The NDP has to be the same every year. You'll agree too if you see it as a secular ritual commemorating nothing less than the State itself. The ritual serves to recreate the social and political order in mystical and symbolic terms, to reify the official narrative(s) (Singapore: from fishing village to cosmopolis and nation, for example) as a spectacle, an assault on the senses, ready to be consumed by awed and numbed citizen-units whose sole contribution is to stand up to sing the year's NDP song (which fails as a patriotic song if it can't be sung in unison by a crowd).

The sequence of each National Day parade follows the logic of military
protocol: a school choir sings; hundreds of provost guards march; ministers
arrive; spectators stand as the prime minister appears; guards salute as the
president arrives with a fanfare; the national anthem is played; the president
inspects the guards; the show begins with gun salutes, military stunts, fly-past, drive-past, and march-past.

- Leong Wai Teng, "Consuming the nation: National Day Parades in Singapore", New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 3, 2 (December, 2001): 5-16.

Well-travelled observers will no doubt seize on the striking similarities between the military pornography, authoritarian fetish, and spectacle addiction of Singapore's NDP to similar displays in Soviet Russia, the DPRK, and other post-communist relics of the world.

If there is a gradual but terminal decline in interest in Singapore's NDP, it can only be a symptom of a far greater malaise; it could very well be that Singapore has come of age, that top-down secular rituals, mass displays, the performance of grand national narratives are no longer effective means of directing a people towards a shared national consciousness. Perhaps, if the NDP planning committee were sharp and farsighted enough, they'd be asking what kind of national consciousness we'd get if they applied a bottom-up approach instead.

I still won't watch an NDP but I'd watch this

Oh look, even the Russians do reenactment spectacles these days

If the priestess of Ise were in charge of the NDP planning committee, I'd scrap the NDP entirely. Its time has come and gone.

Instead, I will give you a non-NDP, an anti-NDP. Imagine from dawn till dusk, several roving camera teams tasked to find out how people are spending their 9 August. As you tune in over the day, you'll see actual people, actual events actually happening right now on national day...

In Singapore, with Singaporeans working (or having a rest), celebrating (or refusing to, or celebrating something else entirely), taking a break from life or having to deal with life. Singaporean citizens and PRs, FTs and tourists. We'd watch Gilbert Goh's Hong Lim Park celebration, fly to the Botanic Gardens for the Pink Picnic...

Outside Singapore: emigres, expats, exiles. Former guest workers now back in their home countries or working elsewhere.

We'll see the aged grandmother who still needs to sell tissue on National Day, the foreign maid who used to work in Singapore on a pittance, a group of ah bengs hanging out at AMK Central spoiling for a fight, a fever-wracked middle class, middle age man desperate to find a clinic open on National Day. We'll hear from the ra-ra patriots, and maybe say hi to Francis Seow and Tan Wah Piow after all these years.

Imagine all this, in 5 minute segments. It'll be quite literally one Singapore, many stories. And it will be truth in advertising. And I'd watch that.

03 August 2013

The total hypocrisy of Ng Eng Hen on Total Defence

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr goofing around on a US tour.
This is also the image Ng Eng Hen evokes in his speech.

When one takes into account other social engineering campaigns in Singapore, Total Defence seems to have fared not too shabbily. For one, it hasn't been discarded as a policy failure like population control's "Stop at two", derided as horribly deluded like the moral panic infused campaigns against long hair and rock and roll, or treated as benignly irrelevant like the courtesy/kindness campaign and its beleaguered former mascot, which 'announced' its 'retirement' earlier last month.

One cannot blame Singapore leadership's attempt to keep relevant the Total Defence campaign. There might be a bit of inevitable eye-rolling at the laboured DRUMS acronym Ng employed to highlight the threat of misinformation on the internet. It would be churlish to claim that the entire social-psychological positioning of Total Defence is to instill an atmosphere of paranoia ever-readiness in the population, yet this is precisely the riposte of the blogosphere to minister Ng Eng Hen's recent speech on the online threats to Total Defence.

Even I would find it hard to disagree with the defence minister that a campaign of misinformation may bring a nation down on its knees. One would not need to be a student of Clausewitz, Napoleon, Sun Tze, or Soviet Maskirovka to realise that armies have indeed been brought down by disinformation and deception.

No, silly! You can't really bring down a country with disinformation these days

Granted, the minister's speechwriters have not caught up with the idea that modern democracies are not armies. The benefit of an open, mature democracy is its vibrant, free media, whose professional ethics, ideals, and competing political positionings will enable writers and readers to expose manipulations and untruths in any single disinformation campaign.

If the minister were serious about Total Informational Defence, he would be the first to urge Minilee and the MDA to free the internet, to free government control of Singapore's print media, to repeal the infamous Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. In a mature democracy with a robust, open media market, it is nigh impossible to spread disinformation.

Indeed in the modern day, disinformation campaigns are more a tool of authoritarian governments with unfree presses to influence domestic opinion. To which the priestess of Ise will give the same advice: the Total Defence of the citizenry in an authoritarian state depend on having a strong and free press - digital and print.

Ng Eng Hen: Still the wrong man for the job

One hopes perhaps that the amorphous blogosphere and its horde of angry commentators simply reacted this way against Ng because he is the wrong man for the job.

Perhaps netizens do remember that under Ng Eng Hen, the Ministry of Manpower massaged statistics to give the impression of a lower unemployment rate - and was caught out on it by none other than the Financial Times.

Our more perspicacious readers will recall in 2009, ST reporter Li Xueying's reports of Ng Eng Hen heading the PAP's New Media committee to "mount a quiet counter-insurgency" to counter criticism of the party and government in cyberspace - using PAP members and operatives masquerading as members of the public to engage in online forums. They may do well to note that social media professor Kevin Lim called the campaign an astroturf operation. We wonder if the current crop of "Internet Brigades" on facebook are the current face of that very same counter-insurgency whose mendacious actions seem to have written the manual on DRUMS.

Having overseen such disinformation operations (some of which are still ongoing) himself at the Manpower ministry and the PAP New Media counter-insurgency, Ng Eng Hen is the last person on earth who should deliver a lecture on how disinformation online can destroy a country. The blogosphere will NOT be lectured on disinformation, rumours, untruths, misinformation, and smears by this man. Not now, not ever.

23 May 2013

What does conflict of interest really mean?

This is business as usual

But if you wear too many hats

Or if you are both the left and right hand

You're really playing games with public funds

Conflict of interest is very easy to understand, very easy to identify

Here's the egghead definition and its restatement into simple English, courtesy of the Journal of Business Ethics (39:1-2, 67-74). It is:

"...a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to influence the objective exercise of his duties as say, a public official, an employee, or a professional.

Simply put, a conflict of interest occurs when your obligations to a party or the greater public could be influenced or compromised by self interest, a prior commitment, competing loyalties, or an inability to be objective."

On the very specific issue of town councils, the Victoria state ombudsman says in its 2008 report "Conflict of interest in local government": 

"Those interests may be pecuniary... or non-pecuniary, such as the interests of the official's family or other close associates, or organisations to which the official belongs."

That is to say, conflict of interests occur when you:
Give contracts to friends, party members, or family members;
Are both the drafter/approver of contracts as well as the bidder for a contract;
Are both an employee of local government as well as a shareholder or director in a company engaged by local government; or
Oversee for the town council the work you carry out for the town council.

To put it even more simply: conflict of interests happen when you wear too many hats; or when you are both the left and the right hand when the key principle in corporate governance is never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

To put it for dummies: conflict of interests happen when you're not independent.

So what happens when there is a conflict of interest? The standard advice given in all governance textbooks is to recognise it; disclose it; then remove yourself from the decision making and ideally from the entire discussion.

No exemptions for the PAP and WP; or, a plague on both your houses!

We do not wish to rehash the details of the AIM saga, the FMSS saga, or the Jurong town council saga. But here's what happens when we apply everyday standards of corporate governance, as well as international norms (as represented by the Victoria ombudsman's report on conflict of interest in local government) to Singapore's town councils.

AIM: owned by party members - conflict of interest
FMSS: owned by "friends" and supporters - still conflict of interest

FMSS: directors and shareholders are also employees of town council - conflict of interest

AIM: awarded contract by party member, precisely because he knew AIM was party owned - conflict of interest

Esmaco Town Management Services. GM of town council is MD of company hired as estate manager - conflict of interest!

It does not matter if he was appointed GM after his company got the contract. In corporate management, all we are interested in is whether 1. he reported the conflict of interest and 2. whether he reported the conflict of duty, and 3. whether he has recused himself from evaluation and overseeing the work carried out by Esmaco.

Still more conflict of interest issues in WP's AHTC?

Khaw Boon Wan raised (13 May 2013, Straits Times) and Sylvia Tan acknowledged (14 May 2013, Straits Times) that FMSS is owned and operated by party supporters, not party members.

Leaving aside this very clear-cut textbook conflict of interest, we'd like to ask WP three more questions.

1. Can WP confirm that no party member or their family or associates have ever been awarded a WP town council contract or sub-contract?

2. The shareholders and directors of FMSS are also employees of the town council, who is their client. Leaving aside the conflict of interest, can WP tell us who at the town council then oversees and supervises the work of FMSS?

3. As town council managing agent, has FMSS sub-contracted to any party who has a conflict of interest - i.e. any WP member; relatives of WP members; FMSS shareholders and directors themselves; town council members; relatives or friends of FMSS shareholders and directors; relatives or friends of town council members?

14 May 2013

What the MND review really means

How does one conduct a comprehensive review while wearing blinkers?

Headed by one Mr Tay Kim Poh (apparently a deputy secretary in the Ministry of National Development), the MND team found that the PAP-AIM deal was

1. Not illegal
2. Followed due process and did not represent a conflict of interests

We have already predicted in February that the deal would not be illegal, though the ownership of AIM by PAP would fall under a grey area. The deeper issue of political financing and political donations were not addressed by the "comprehensive" MND review, which only strove to investigate the deal through the blinkers of the Town Council Act.
We've already pointed out that Singapore's regulatory framework of political parties with respect to these two issues is at odds with international legal norms, which ban political parties from owning private enterprises.

Further, it's only through very imaginative acrobatic manoeuvrings that MND could find the deal in accordance with due process and free from conflict of interests. MND had to accept that being town councils, appointments and contracts will be, can be, and can be allowed to be preferential, can be parcelled out as political appointments.

By allowing this, MND in effect says that certain practices which could end the political career and legacy of... let's say a former mayor of Paris, would be perfectly legal and above board in Singapore because we allow that local government is, by nature, "politicised".

Implications of MND's findings

1. The civil service or at least the team headed by Tay was simply incompetent, and utterly stupid.

2. The civil service or at least the team headed by Tay lacked independence, and had become politicised. They were charged by the prime minister to conduct a comprehensive review and turned up a heavily blinkered review.

Whether there was self-censorship or behind-the-scenes political pressure, this may cause some to conclude that the civil service is either very openly batting for the ruling party or intimidated by the prospect of having to investigate the party. The MND review may ironically further undermine public trust in the system.

3. The MND review legitmises the idea that local government in the form of town councils are held to lower standards of corporate governance and due process, and higher thresholds of conflicts of interest than the private sector. This is the gateway to open preferential contracts, clientelism, and procurement corruption.

In light of all these, we at Illusio again renew our call for the Town Council-AIM deal to be investigated fully by the Auditor-General of Singapore and the Register of Societies. We further call upon the Minister for National Development to step down and for his deputy secretary to be censured by the head of the civil service for publishing a review that holds local government to lower standards than the private sector.

09 May 2013

The Ministry of National Development comprehensive clown show

We examine the Ministry of National Development's oft-delayed, long-awaited review of the transaction between the People's Action Party's 14 town councils and Action Information Management, published on 3 May 2013 (PDF link), in light of the parliament sitting on 13 May 2013.

Whatever happens on Monday—a dramatic showdown headed by a bold opposition, a comedy of missed chances authored by an underperforming opposition, or a grotesque self-interested bipartisan agreement to sweep all embarrassing issues under the carpetthe ruling party and the establishment press will declare the sitting a fitting closure to a contentious debate, and call for the citizenry to lay aside their misgivings, move on, and to reinvest their blind trust in a to-be-reformed town council system.

We present this post so our readers can see for themselves on Monday whether Monday's debate is the real thing, a clown show, or pure political kabuki.

Will Monday's parliament session be a farcical pie fight?
Follow the breadcrumbs with Illusio!

The issues as we see it

The public disquiet in the streets, online, and in social media over the AIM affair stems from several concerns:

1. Conflict of interest of the political variety. In the tender process, PAP-appointed party member Ho Pin Teo basically gave the contract to a company only he and other senior party members knew was "owned" by the party and managed by fellow party members. This was special knowledge of a relationship that could not have been found in any public record.

2. Questions of procedural irregularities and non-transparency
a. conflict of interest not reported in town council's annual report on the AIM contract deal(s) amounts to a breach of due diligence.
b. Teo's reason for awarding the contract - that he knew the special status of AIM - was not reported in the town council annual report. This may be perfectly legal within the bounds of the town council regulations, but amounts to another breach of due diligence.
c. non-transparent tender for a contract of no viable commercial value, which basically is one of the criteria for determining procurement corruption (whether legal or illegal).

3. Political trust, legitimacy of the PAP.

How did the PAP come to own a private business and not have the business declare its true ownership or even declare its ownership? Is this legal?

Even if legal, is this a circumvention of laws on political donations in Singapore, and completely at odds with international legal norms on political financing?

Can the people place their trust in the PAP if it owns a clandestine business empire and is legally entitled to own a clandestine business empire?

How can a political party manage become so secretive when the laws regulating political parties (i.e. the Political Donation Act, Societies Act) are written to ensure they operate with transparency and scrutiny?

Note that the majority of these three sets of concerns are ethical and procedural, not legal.

The issues as MND saw it

1. MND reviewed the external audits of the PAP town councils but not AIM's audit reports. It accepts the town councils' assertion that AIM made no profit, that whatever was paid to it was to cover its operating costs... It should have just reviewed the annual audits of AIM instead.

2. MND clears the town councils of any illegality. The public outcry was about ethics, transparency, politicisation of town councils, and conflict of interest.

3. MND clears the town councils and Ho Pin Teo of any conflict of interest only because MND accepts that town councils will have political conflicts of interests, that party MPs will engage party-affiliated companies to manage their town councilsand then pretends these aren't really conflicts of interests that matter.

Strangely enough, MND exonerates AIM. Reason? The company actually developed the TCMS in 1996, so it had a track record prior to the tender in 2010. MND however doesn't ask why AIM was even given the 1996 contract, as a $2 company with STILL zero staff in 1996.

MND, investigating with blinkers on

By refusing to acknowledge the real reasons for the loss of public trust in the system, the MND's review is unlikely to restore this trust.

It is clear that MND's investigation falls far short of popular expectations, even far short of Minilee's directive for a comprehensive review. It has stuck to a purely legalistic review, only of the town councils - leaving AIM and its political affiliations out of the picture. By not questioning AIM and its political affiliations, it obviously does not find any procedural irregularities with a senior PAP member awarding contracts to a company whose PAP affiliations were not public knowledge.

It has not found any conflict of interests because it already accepts as a matter of principle, that political conflicts of interests will arise and are encouraged by the current town council system.

We at Illusio believe that MND's blinkered report fully justifies our stand that it was the wrong agency to investigate the town councils. We call upon the Auditor-General of Singapore and the Registrar of Societies to launch an independent investigation to audit the PAP Town Councils, AIM, and the People's Action Party, to ensure full transparency, to identify weaknesses in the legislation and regulation of town councils and political financing, and to suggest measures that will restore Singaporeans' trust in the political and town council system.

06 February 2013

The Singapore population white paper clown show

The priestess of Ise has no interest in publishing a review of the Singapore government's white paper on population. There is no proper white paper to speak of, none constructed with care and intellectual honesty to deserve a point by point response.

Just look at this image of an empty train station on page 53, or any of the strangely depopulated urban landscapes, or any of the skylines of Singapore that take up half of every page in the white paper. This is how its authors think they can sell a policy that will change Singapore completely, forever.

We do not exaggerate. Donald Low of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy  has this to say:
There was very little scholarship and academic rigour in the report. There wasn't even a References section to show what research the writers of the paper had done, what social science theories they relied on, what competing theories/frameworks they looked at. There was also a surprising lack of rigorous comparison with other countries that have gone through, or are going through, a similar demographic transition. If this was a term paper, I would have no qualms failing it - whether or not I agree with it.
That's coming from a think-tank insider who would normally be involved in crafting policy and white papers for the powers that be.

To weigh the merits of Low's outburst, which surely breaks an unspoken code of honour between Singapore's government and its local think-tanks useful idiots, we present for comparison:
Singapore's population white paper (PDF link)
Australia's white paper on their response to the Asian Century (PDF link)
UK's white paper on marriage equality (website, multiple PDF links)

The most obvious differences:

1. Singapore's white paper does not have an introductory address.

The politician who is in charge of it has chosen not to take responsibility for what is a very unpopular policy proposal. Can you guess who it might be? It's not the minister for national development, since the national population and talent division is a department under the Prime Minister's Office. Yet according to the division's website, it's not headed by any minister in the PMO but Teo Chee Hean, the minister for home affairs. What an amazing organisational structure NPTD has! Who really answers to whom? Inquiring minds want to know!

2. As Donald Low points out, the discussion in the 87 pages of Singapore's white paper is sorely lacking in rigour, as though its authors really don't want to be taken seriously. There exist references and footnotes; they merely say "DOS", no year, name of publication so it's one big fail. No bibliography. And of course, no cross-country, longitudinal comparisons.

3. The UK's white paper is a series of documents: a green paper soliciting consultation from stakeholders (March 2012), a white paper addressing specifically actual feedback from said consultations (December 2012), and better yet, easy-to-read versions of the white paper and factsheets for those who get a serious case of tl;dr.

Note the timeline between publication of the UK white paper, a period of further public consultation, and its debate and passing in parliament. For comparison, Singapore's population white paper had one week between publication and debate in parliament.

White paper an intellectual paperweight despite an increasingly educated and contentious middle class

So what if Singapore's white paper has no methodology, framework, assumptions, or models shown? So what if its figures and recommendations come out of a black box? The average Singaporean may not understand, may not be interested in the debate beyond their visceral reaction towards the 7 million figure.

This argument is borne of ignorance and the bigotry of low expectations. The Australian and UK white papers accommodate all sorts of readers from expert academics, policymakers, interested citizens to the disengaged reader. Australia's white paper alternates between easy to digest summaries and thick, deep statistical modelling. The UK's controversial and contentious social policy proposal is couched in the simplest, clearest, and most direct language, as though its authors are content to hide nothing from its arsenal of statistical wizardry, and leave everything to critics and supporters alike.

In contrast, Singapore's proposal is a one-note affair, content to chug along for 87 pages in the spirit of an MLM or timeshare brochure where the workings and assumptions are hidden from any reader who may decide to question it.

Third world white paper for a first world nation?

Perhaps the largest problem of a white paper with no methodology, framework, assumptions, models shown is this:

Outside of the Prime Minister's Office, both PAP MPs and opposition MPs have no cognition what lies in the black box of assumptions and models used to generate the seemingly unsubstantiated figures and projections in the white paper. Parliamentarians on either side of the aisle are for all intents and purposes flying blind - making unsubstantiated critiques, counter-proposals, and endorsements of a white paper based on workings and rationales they do not and cannot comprehend.

And yet here we have it: 5 days of passionate debate over the white paper, after which there will be a vote.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Singapore parliament clown show.

The Workers Party, led by Mao Chen Show, have put forward an alternate proposal with an alternate target population figure, and an alternate extrapolated GDP growth figure. These are all based presumably on the same assumptions and statistical modelling of the white paper, that no one knows about aside from its unnamed authors.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the WP clown show.

The People's Action Party has its usual pretense of a reasoned debate to show it's hardly rushing to implement a white paper despite the one week gap between publication and parliamentary debate ("How many foreigners are working in essential services?" Shouldn't this be in a white paper?).

The most embarrassing thing is how one after another, PAP MPs will line up to scrutinise and then endorse a white paper whose assumptions, models, even policy credibility remain unknown to them even at the end of their questioning. In contrast, when faced with activists, tertiary students, and the general public in various dialogue sessions, certain PAP MPs are infamous for demanding to know the exact models, theoretical frameworks, and assumptions - and then dismissing these alternative policy proposals from activists and critiques from the general public out of hand anyway.

While demanding such high standards of Singapore's activists and their critiques and alternate visions, the MPs of the People's Action Party are content to blind themselves when it comes to a proposal that would not pass muster from their exacting standards had it not come from the Prime Minister's Office.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the PAP clown show.

A white paper with no methodology, framework, assumptions, models shown is a paper that shortchanges the legislation, a white paper that reduces the legislature to a bunch of grossly overpaid chattering monkeys, a white paper that brooks no real debate or challenge, that depends on passage by a legislature unable to ascertain its true merits.

28 January 2013

Modelling the by-elections: What was the real vote swing against the PAP?

Previously on this blog, I conducted a post mortem of the 2011 general election because Alex Au had made several claims about groundwork and campaigning being essential in determining voting outcome.

I disproved Au's claims through available electoral data and statistical modelling and explained the GE2011 results in several GRC contests to show that the Workers Party had in fact underperformed relative to other opposition parties in contests in wards with highly unpopular ministers, that Aljunied was simply won because of the 6.6% average vote swing against the PAP, and that the average voter in 2011 was simply voting for or against the ruling party.

Although Alex Au has not quite acknowledged our corrections of his thought, his analysis of the Punggol East by-elections attempt to explain the Workers Party win over the People's Action Party, the Reform Party, and the Singapore Democratic Alliance by analysing the swing vote.

His conclusion? There was a 10.83% swing against the PAP since 2011.

A swing to the left, a swing to the right

We argue that Au mistakes the eventual result of the Punggol East by-election to comprise solely of a swing against the PAP. Again assuming the Punggol East voter is simplistically voting for or against the PAP like in 2011, we in addition propose a more sophisticated model of the Punggol by-election vote as an aggregate of two swings.

Aggregate swing = sex scandal + vote against PAP

Given the public uproar in the intervening months against the various sex and sex and corruption scandals, we posit that a sex scandal results in political costs for the incumbent. But how many votes does a sex scandal cost?

We look towards the Hougang by-election, where WP's Yaw Shin Leong resigned from his party and vacated his seat in parliament following a protracted sex scandal.

As it turned out, the WP won Hougang with a marginal change in vote share.

GE May 2011 Hougang SMC: PAP 35.2%%
May 2012 Hougang SMC: PAP 37.92%

For the moment, let's all be naive and simplistic. In an opposition ward of more than 20 years, highly insular and loyal Hougang voters in a by-election one year after a general election are unlikely to change their voting preferences and attitudes towards both the incumbent party and the ruling party. If so, the cost of a sex scandal leading to a by-election is merely 2.7%. This conclusion may be surprising but we note the relative absence of public outrage against the sex scandal in the run-up to the by-election.

Note however the public outrage against the prime minister's initial refusal to call for a by-election, the constitutional challenge that followed, and the positive reaction to Kenneth Jeyaratnam's call for donations online to defray the costs of the case. These factors in addition to the breakdowns in infrastructure since 2011 and the outbreak of the underaged sex scandal would have caused a small swing against the PAP, which would then offset the real cost of a sex which would be at say about 5%, causing an aggregate shift of 2.7%.

Two swings in the same direction

Let's now look at the Punggol East by-election.
Aggregate swing = cost of sex scandal for incumbent + 'national' vote swing against ruling party

GE May 2011 Punggol East SMC: PAP 54.54%
Jan 2013 Punggol East SMC: PAP 43.71%

Here, the incumbent is the ruling party so the final swing of 10.83% is an aggregate of two swings working in the same direction. Taking the projected real cost of a sex scandal as 5%, the actual vote swing against the PAP in Punggol East since 2011 is about 6%. This is our naive estimation.

Now if we take into account local issues that caused unhappiness in the ward - such as unfinished construction projects, inadequate and shoddy infrastructure works that make Sengkang feel more like a slum than Potong Pasir, and the high property prices in the ward - the actual vote swing against the PAP would be far less than 6%.

In other words, we're positing that in Punggol East,
aggregate swing = cost of sex scandal for incumbent + cost of local issues + 'national' vote swing against ruling party

And yes, we're saying that if you did the math before the by-election, you would have put good money to bet on a PAP loss.

Now, we're not saying Alex Au is politically illiterate. He's actually more aware and informed than the average Singaporean but it seems that again, the task has fallen to the priestess of Ise to correct Au's political mis-diagnosis!

24 January 2013

The roads taken to a by-election

On the eve of cooling off day, I make no prediction on the by-election for the ward of Punggol East but instead offer everyone a platform for reflection for their words and actions, the paths they chose to take to herd public opinion and potential voters for the vote on Saturday.

We don't need opposition unity

Perhaps overcompensating for the loss of the multi-cornered presidential election last year, online commentators, bloggers, and alternate media groups were more than eager to declare the Workers Party the natural candidate to contest the People's Action Party in Punggol East.

Whatever the merits of this argument, which has just about as many holes in it as Singapore's take on the concept of meritocracy, online commentators, bloggers, and alternate media groups saw their role to cajole, intimidate, castigate, ridicule, and in essence bully the Singapore Democratic Party, the Reform Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, and their supporters into dropping out of the contest, in the interests of "opposition unity" and the apparent mandate of heaven for the Workers Party.

In the best of worlds, the blogosphere ought to be a vanguard of society. It may not be representative of the public (not to say the voting population of Punggol East), but it can lead public discussion, shape responses and criticisms to policies.

We at Illusio question the mobilisation of online resources to be unleashed as attack dogs on RP, SDP, and SDA. As a vanguard, the power of the blogosphere has been underestimated and misused. Long after the nominations were tendered and the by-election was under way with rallies held, my online colleagues continued to expend much effort attacking the RP and SDA. Now if these two parties are that obviously non-contenders, why did the attacks persist till 22 January?

I do not enjoy calling my fellow Singaporeans political illiterates. Yet many of the loudest voices of this fortnight seem to forget the political narrative: the PAP is on a long downhill slide in popularity and it is far more effective and economical for the political blogosphere to drive up the negatives of the PAP during this by-election instead of driving up the negatives of their non-preferred opposition parties.

They have forgotten their power as the vanguard to set the national issues for this election, their power to force agendas onto the political incumbents. Because of this curious blindness and muteness, the major national level issue of AIM-gate only surfaced, brought up half-heartedly at the WP rally last night - 3 days before the election.

Again, I do not enjoy calling my fellow Singaporeans political illiterates. What appears to be elite strategy to leave major issues of an election unexamined till the eve of the election is pure unadulterated utter stupidity. It is a strategy designed to not make major issues count in an election. Where the blogosphere could have pushed the agenda on both the PAP and WP, to accelerate the timeline so that this major issue has sufficient time to percolate into the considerations of voters, by and large it chose not to.

This particular argument applies to the SDP as well. Whatever merits its decision to pull out of the election, the SDP is not excused from continuing to speak out against the policy failures of the ruling party, and driving up its negatives.

We hope the blogosphere at large will reflect on their mis-steps in this by-election, get themselves a real political education, and do better by 2016.

18 January 2013

The PAP clown council political funding reform show

As the author of Illusio, I have only one operating principle:  the priestess of Ise never opines or offers analysis proffered elsewhere. Weeks or months after the eruption of a cause celebre, find much to say that no-one has pointed out, or an angle from which no-one has approached. It is not to keep a dead issue alive but to examine if consensus has been manufactured, a status quo hurriedly agreed upon, a veil and a gag brought down to shutter the eyes, the ears, the mind of a public unaccustomed to inquiry.

Over the last 3 posts, we have offered a thorough (though not exhaustive) analysis of the PAP-AIM town council clown show. No other blogger so far has walked you, dear Reader, step-by-step through this tangled web. It is one thing to say there is a conflict of interests; it is yet another to show you where that conflict lies, which part of it is legally actionable and which part merely unseemly, and at which point in the procurement process that conflict arose.

From a legal and procedural analysis of the PAP clown council-AIM scandal in our previous 2 posts, we ascertain that:
1. It is not in fact illegal for the PAP to own, directly or indirectly, the company AIM. It is also not illegal for AIM to be 'owned' indirectly by a different entity.
2. Both AIM and the PAP are not legally obliged to indicate to the general public the status and details of ownership. (*AIM would have to disclose this to their appointed auditors, nonetheless.)
3. As it stands, the law is silent on whether the conflict of interest between AIM and the town councils should have been reflected.

Nevetheless, Minilee has called for the Ministry of National Development to investigate fully the clown counil-AIM deal to ensure that 'trust in the system' is maintained.

Decoding Minilee, it should be apparent to Singaporean observers that for all the legalistic posturing by Teo Ho-pin, whether the clown council-AIM deal was technically legal (arguably true) or whether international standards of corporate governance had been adhered to (arguably false, see our immediate previous post), the mere fact that the clown councils engaged AIM to be a middleman to deal with the previous contractor NCS is enough to compromise trust in the system.

Perhaps people will eventually find the eloquence for their supposed disquiet and ask: Why do our laws permit a political party to financially back companies so that these companies accrue political advantage in financial dealings?

Follow the money trail

Last post, we left off with the question: What happens to the money AIM earns from its contracts with the town councils? Will the Ministry of National Development even investigate that?

In a procurement audit involving potential conflict of interests, it is a general rule to ask where the money goes. While Teo Ho-Pin is not a shareholder or director of AIM and Chandra Das and his co-owners and directors at AIM are not officials or employees of the town council, it remains that all the parties involved in the procurement deal are members of the PAP.

We have argued that Dr Teo issued a tender for a contract that was financially unfeasible and did not make business sense, and that AIM was awarded the contract on the sole merit that it was a PAP-owned or PAP-backed company. In other words, AIM accrued business advantage from its political affiliation to the extent that it could be the sole bidder, be a dormant company that had no public track record, put in a late bid. Yet it won the contract because Dr Teo, unlike most other Singaporeans, knew the political affiliation of AIM, and said that was sufficient cause to award the contract to AIM.

But what happens to the money AIM earns from its contracts with the town councils? On his part, Das acclaims that he doesn't take a single cent as salary, share dividends, or directorship fees from his position in AIM. That is curious until we read PAP's party constitution, which states in Article X:
No member shall except for professional services rendered at the request of the Central Executive Committee, receive any profit, salary or emolument from the funds or transactions of the Party.
We hypothesise that as party members who are shareholders and directors of a company backed by a letter of guarantee by the PAP, Das and his party colleagues, former and present shareholders and directors likewise, are subject to this stipulation.

But where does the money go to then? Who does it belong to? Does it sit forever in Action Information Management in trust of the People's Action Party? Or does it go eventually to the People's Action Party?

Note that if the earnings of AIM go back to the PAP, then it may be argued that it is Teo who has committed a legally actionable conflict of interest. By awarding the contract to AIM, which he knows to be PAP-backed, he has made it possible for AIM's income deriving from the contract to be transferred to the PAP (of which he, Das, and the AIM shareholders and directors are members), thereby awarding financial advantage from the deal ultimately to the PAP and its members.

Political financing reform drastically needed

A reading of the Political Donations Act affirms the extensive strictures limiting donations to political parties. There are limits to how much money a political party may receive from companies and other organisations, the nature of companies. Parties are required to account to minute detail the donations they receive each year.

Yet as the PAP clown council-AIM affair illustrates, there are sufficient loopholes in the laws of Singapore to allow political parties to 'own' private companies indirectly, and the incomes derived from these are, as a result of lacunae and silences in the law, not subject to scrutiny. Further, we now know that as written, the laws do not require political parties to declare even if they do indeed own indirectly private businesses, much less clarify on the legality of such arrangements.

To regain public trust in the system, a relook at political financing regulations needs to be performed. We believe that the Ministry of National Development does not possess the mandate and has not been tasked to examine this particular issue.

I suggest interested readers do their own research on the international legal norms concerning political ownership of private corporations.

The clown council-AIM affair is not a purely administrative matter; the conflict of interests ultimately rests on whether undue political advantage was accrued by AIM and whether undue financial advantage was accrued by the PAP. If this were illegal in the eyes of the law, it stands that there can be no damage to the people's trust in the system. The damage to the people's trust in the system stems from the possibility that such conflicts of interests are apparently not illegal as the law currently stands.

Hence, I call upon the president of Singapore to convene an independent board of inquiry chaired by the Auditor-general of Singapore and the Registrar of Societies to investigate the issue, and not the MND. Only these two regulators may request for a full and public account from the PAP of all private enterprises it directly owns or indirectly backs and the incomes derived thereof, and to ensure that these incomes are indeed reflected in the accounts of the PAP, and do comply with the Political Donations Act, (I)(3).

With the surprise revelation of AIM's ties to the PAP, the PAP's refusal to disclose whether it owns other companies, and AIM's refusal to disclose the details of other financial dealings it may have had in the past, it appears there is a legal loophole for a political party to own, however indirectly, private enterprises without traditional transparency and accountability mandated elsewhere in the law. Several lacunae in the law have coalesced such that these standards of transparency appear suspended when it comes to the very special case of political financing, where a party owns private enterprises.

Singapore's elected parliamentarians and other politicians must take this issue seriously and urge for a new Political Financing Bill that will clarify these blind spots currently existing in the law, and to harmonise Singapore's political financing regulations to internationally-accepted norms.

12 January 2013

The PAP Clown Council procedural show

Like experts on corporate governance who weighed in officially on the issue after Minilee's decree for an investigation into the clown council by the Ministry of National Development gave them the much-needed spine, we at Illusio are convinced that there is a pressing and obvious question of conflict of interests, non-transparency, and inappropriate procedures surrounding Teo Ho Pin's sale, as 'coordinating chairman', of municipal-level management software of 14 town councils to Action Information Management Pte Ltd.

In our last post, we established that very strictly speaking, the questions of conflict of interests, non-transparency, and inappropriate procedures do not lie on Chandra Das and the other directors of AIM. In addition, we proposed that the conflict of interests involved in this case are not legally actionable but fall under the wider issue of the ethics of corporate governance and also, appropriate procedures and full disclosure.

From the point of view of process auditing, at the very minimum, these two questions should be asked in any subsequent investigation by any appointed authorities and regulators as an automatic trigger for the conflict of interests issues surrounding the town council sale.

1. Was the conflict of interest disclosed by AIM to the town council during the bidding process? Note this is despite the fact that legally speaking, AIM Is not legally bound to disclose its PAP-ownership to the public via its accounts or company statements. Legal requirements are not the same as auditing or corporate governance requirements.

2. Was the conflict of interest disclosed by the town councils in their annual reports submitted to the Ministry of National Development and the Auditor-General of Singapore?

In many cases of conflicts of interest that are non-actionable by law, the issue is of an issuer and issuee who are affiliated entering a contract. That is to say, the issuer or issuer are not shareholders, directors, or employees of each other but possess other corporate, social, political, or personal affiliations. For example, both parties could be separate subsidiaries of the same conglomerate, or have known each other for 20 years as members of the local Toastmasters, or are related by marriage or blood.

Yes, it's not legally actionable. But no, that doesn't mean the conflict of interest doesn't exist. What it means is you're supposed to, for the sake of your auditors and the regulatory body, declare this conflict of interests during the process as well as the audit, to say, "Yes, we are both affiliated but the contract was awarded due to the bidder's superior offer, track record, etc." Failure to do so? Not illegal per se but just plain ugly.

Unlike certain conspiracy theories, we therefore do not predict that the MND investigation will lay the blame on the auditors; they simply didn't know and wouldn't know there's a conflict of interest since AIM's political ownership structure is still legally non-transparent and an object of speculation, even ours.

Next, the regulators or investigators will need to consider the following:

3. Was the contract one which was economically, financially, operationally justifiable? Was AIM's PAP affiliation a necessary and sufficient factor for its winning the contract?

It stands that if there are no takers for the contract Teo Ho Pin offered, then from the market point of view, the work entailed in the contract for the sum offered did not make financial, operational, or economic sense. Note that The New Paper has canvassed procurement and software experts who have said just as much.

Now, we consider Teo Ho Pin's statement on 2 January 2013. We note his statement that having considered AIM's sole bid to indicate that the town council offer was reasonable and made market sense, "...we were confident that AIM, backed by the PAP, would honour its commitments."

We suggest that if procurement and software experts may still be found to testify to the Ministry of National Development's investigation (and that the MND would field the question in the first place) that the town councils' contract was not one that any profit-making software company would enter into, then it might follow that AIM was mistakenly awarded the contract by Teo Ho Pin purely out of the fact that he knew it was PAP-backed. If the contract is not economically or financially justifiable, then it is impossible to win it on any merits.

Next. Depending on the investigator, a case might even be made that AIM accrued political benefits from its affiliation in this contract.

4. When and how did Teo Ho Pin know about the PAP affiliation of AIM?

As noted by too many other commentators, there is no publicly available information to corroborate Teo's assertion that AIM is "PAP-backed" or Chandra Das's claim that AIM is PAP-owned.

We at Illusio look forward to the Ministry of National Development to investigate just when and how Dr Teo knew about AIM's nature. It could very well turn out that not only did Teo mistakenly award the town council contract to AIM solely because of its PAP affiliation but also that he made the decision while being privy to its secret ownership. This would be properly speaking, a prime example of improper procedure in corporate governance where the issuee awards the contract for reasons only available to the issuee and not the general public, not even the regulatory body.

Now if our previously-mentioned investigator has taken to inquire if AIM had accrued political benefits from its affiliation, backing, or ownership by the PAP, this investigator may well be swayed by the fact that Dr Teo, being a PAP member having very specialised and restricted knowledge of AIM's affiliation with the PAP, did not in fact declare this to the town council and excuse himself from the awarding of the contract - but instead used it as a prime reason for awarding the contract when the tender should have been called off.

5. So will the investigation by the Ministry of National Development investigate where the money AIM earns from these town council contracts end up? Is this line of inquiry mandated by Minilee's assumption of the investigation committee?

11 January 2013

The PAP Clown Council conflict of interests show

In my previous analysis of the PAP town council affair, we established that the real issues surrounding Teo Ho Pin's awarding, as "coordinating chairman of 14 PAP town councils", of a contract to Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM), were conflict of interests, non-transparency, and inappropriate procedures. All questions and analyses of municipal management issues of a similar nature will eventually ask a final question - was there sufficient evidence of procurement corruption, whether intentional or non-intentional?

I never quite answered that question, much less broached it last week. Instead, I ended with a series of questions that weren't even directed at Chandra Das, Teo Ho Pin, or even the PAP. Those questions, dear readers, were for you to mull over, to appreciate the wider implications (beyond conflict of interests, etc) raised by this issue, and to prepare yourselves to handle the response by Minilee as well as Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC). And hopefully you have thought over them and are ready for me today.

There is conflict of interests, and then there is conflict of interests

Here were my first 3 questions from Sunday, which we will now take on together.

1. How does a company registered under the names of 3 former PAP MPs become a PAP-backed company (according to MP Dr Teo), a PAP-OWNED company (according to former MP Chandra Das)?

2. Is there any reflection in ACRA records that AIM is a PAP-owned company?

3. Do Chandra Das and his other 2 directors have a legal duty to declare that AIM is a PAP-owned company in its official records?

You will note in The Straits Times report on Minilee's call for an investigation into the town council matter, that it is not even a matter of debate whether there is a conflict of interests or not. The overwhelming consensus of corporate governance experts, as reported by ST, is there were obvious conflict of interests, non-transparency, and procedural issues with Teo Ho Pin's sale of software rights and award of contract to AIM.

But on a finer scale, there are conflict of interests that are legally actionable and conflict of interests that are merely questionable in a corporate governance framework. Our conjecture is Teo Ho Pin's defense of his decision as fully legal and within the boundaries of corporate governance frameworks comes from a narrow, legalist interpretation of what constitutes conflict of interests.

What type of conflict of interests are legally actionable? It turns out in this case, only when Teo Ho Pin is also a director, shareholder, or employee of AIM, or when Chandra Das or his fellow shareholders and directors are also directors, employees, or shareholders of any of the 14 PAP town councils of which Teo was a "coordinating chairman".

Now, we will turn to our trio. It is quite possible for the PAP to "own" AIM via several legal instruments with ACRA still reflecting correctly that the firm belongs to Das et al. We suggest a letter of guarantee where the PAP underwrites AIM and its operations to the tune of say, $1 million. Or say, a sum of $999,998. We offer these two figures due to the fact that AIM was supposed to have a paid up capitalisation of $1 million in its incorporation, and the $2 eventually capital that the company was set up with. In other words, PAP "owns" AIM via holding its "debt".

As a private limited company, AIM is indeed not required to open its books to the public or divulge its true ownership. Auditing and accounting-wise, there is nothing illegal about this arrangement.

From the point of view of the companies act and modern auditing and accounting standards, the questions of (legal) conflict of interests and (legal) non-transparency are not for AIM or Chandra Das to answer, but for Dr Teo Ho Pin and the People's action party to clarify.

And now for something completely different: AHTC Clown Show
We turn now to the Aljunied Hougang Town Council Clown Show. Again, we will use the legal definition of conflict of interests vs corporate governance definition.

If you need a refresher of the AHTC Clown Show, please read here. We'd like to point your attention to the fact that of the 4 new directors found their way into FMSS, a certain How Weng Fan also happens to be a former secretary of HTC, the direct precursor of AHTC.

Recall our earlier statement on legally actionable conflict of interests: it is when the town council has awarded a contract to a company whose shareholders are its former employees and managers.

But when did How Weng Fan stop being a secretary of HTC? Was that before or after the formation of FMSS? How many other directors of FMSS have rendered services for HTC in the past? How many of them have rendered exclusive services for HTC?

It is sad to see that unlike Teo Ho Pin, Chandra Das, and the PAP, it is the Workers Party, AHTC, and FMSS that have far less wriggle room.

06 January 2013

The PAP clown show continues! (Town council edition)

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
-- Marx's introduction in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Almost two years ago, half-hearted reports in the mainstream media hemmed and hawed over Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and its award of a contract to a firm which was registered barely on the eve of the elections.

Thanks to my sources, I sought to provide a fuller picture of just what was unsettling about the AHTC case, namely non-transparency, less than proper procedures in the tender process, a clear conflict of interests in the firm that won the contract. Whether or not there was any intention or whether this was simply a matter of non-standard or even slipshod management, it did lead my source and others familiar with town council procurement procedures to question if there was any procurement corruption - intentional or accidental.

Almost two years later, Marx's quip about history repeating itself holds true. We wouldn't say there has been a scandal but at the very least, there has been widespread concern over the blogosphere and media, again composed of half-hearted hemming and hawing, over how 14 PAP-run town councils outsourced their management software solution to a company called AIM.

Like before, as the priestess of Ise, I am bound by duty and obligation to point out the farce that lies before us - even though I fully expect the mainstream media now, as it did before two years ago, to leave the matter hanging while the balls are up in the air, out of sheer cowardice and fear of inquiring after what people need to know and want to know.

The real issue, as before, is conflict of interest

To a process auditor, the fact that (Action Information Management Pte Ltd) AIM is a company with $2 paid-up capital is immaterial.

The real cause for concern is the fact that a firm registered to former PAP MPs was awarded a contract for 14 PAP-held town councils by Teo Ho Pin, who was a sitting MP at that time and now names himself the "coordinating chairman" of these town councils, after being the sole bidder for the tender, and submitting the tender way past the deadline.

The fact of the case is there has been a conflict of interest, just as there was a clear conflict of interest in the AHTC case 2 years ago. AHTC awarded a contract to a firm set up by its former employees and managers. Now, it is revealed that Teo Ho Pin awarded a contract to a firm set up by his former parliamentary colleagues.

But a conflict of interest or a preferential awarding of contracts doesn't necessarily imply that there is any criminal or otherwise illegal behaviour, much less political corruption or procurement corruption.

A hypothetical professional auditor may query MP Dr Teo Ho Pin and former MP Chandra Das thus: Was the conflict of interest disclosed by AIM during the bidding process?

The auditor-general of Singapore, whose purview is checking the books of town councils, may query MP Dr Teo Ho Pin and former MP Chandra Das thus: Was the conflict of interest disclosed by the town councils in their annual reports submitted to him?

If the answer to both questions (both easily verifiable) is no, then according to some process auditors there might be a case for an investigation by the relevant regulatory authority.

Love me tender (as a farce)
We refer to the report in The New Paper, dated 5 January 2013 on page 6. As Lucky Tan points out: "For the tender process to work successfully and fairly, companies have to be provided sufficient information to put in a bid. In this case, the tender involves the purchase a custom software and specifications have to be sufficiently detailed so that companies can value the system and put in a competitive bid."

Instead, Hutcabb Consulting believes that the tender was a non-transparent one, with insufficient information provided about the nature of the work to be contracted. We infer from what the IT procurement experts canvassed by TNP said, that the contract made no business sense, the work had no financial benefit; hence "companies would ordinarily not bid for such contracts." You can find other software experts saying the same thing elsewhere.

And like the AHTC saga from 2 years ago, we come to the same questions of whether the tender process and the terms and scope of the contract was preferential in the sense that no other firm aside from the one awarded would have put in a bid for it. An auditor will ask if the tender process and terms of the contract make no business sense to bid for the contract unless that one firm was connected to the town council or the PAP.

Nothing illegal or corrupt yet but the non-transparency stinks anyway

I admit that even if this were a case of preferential contracts, this is not a smoking gun for political corruption.

What makes this entire affair a clown show and a farce is how Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Chandra Das proceed day by day to whittle down their vast reserves of citizen goodwill, reasonable doubt over the rightness of the tender and award process, as well as the general trust in the transparency of Singapore's only ruling party since independence.

We can only say it's nothing short of flabbergasting the elan that possesses Teo when he says that during the time of him awarding the contract to AIM, he already knew that AIM was backed by the PAP. And that's not as farcical as the further admission from Chandra Das himself that AIM is PAP-owned. And perhaps not as mindblowingly hilarious that Das follows that up with a refusal to state how much assets and business his PAP-owned company has.

But let's look at the other real issue of transparency here:

1. How does a company registered under the names of 3 former PAP MPs become a PAP-backed company (according to MP Dr Teo), a PAP-OWNED company (according to former MP Chandra Das)?

2. Is there any reflection in ACRA records that AIM is a PAP-owned company?

3. Do Chandra Das and his other 2 directors have a legal duty to declare that AIM is a PAP-owned company in its official records?

4. Is it legal for the PAP as a political party with donation and funding limitations to 'own' companies registered in the names of private individuals?

5. Does the PAP operate any other businesses that are registered in the names of private individuals, as Das and his other 2 directors were?

6. As a political party, has the PAP furnished the Registrar of Societies, whose purview is in part the management and disciplining of political parties in Singapore, a full list of companies officially PAP-owned and unofficially held in trust for PAP by private individuals, their assets, and their business returns?

As the priestess of Ise retires for the night, we leave these questions hanging in the air for a day or two, or a week or two, as fruit for your thought.

Our thoughts? What a clown show!