NKF REVISITED: HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVILThe NKF issue has, once again, surfaced and entrenched itself, this time as an election issue, due in part to Dr Chee Soon Juan and his SDP (Singapore Democratic Party), who, in the face of plausible legal action, have written about the government's alleged role in the NKF scandal last year involving its chairman, TT Durai and his board of executives.
And, just as if on cue, our government has decided, yet again, issued a demand for Dr Chee and his party to issue a public apology, failing which, the threat of legal suits will be issued to Dr Chee and other related parties, including its publisher Melodies Printing Company (Good strategy, I must add. When cutting the grass, eliminate its roots.)
While it is not unusual for politicians and other dissents to be issued with threats of legal suits for alleged slander and other supposedly unlawful speeches, the fact that Dr Chee has raised this issue for debate, and the ruling incumbent's decision sue, once again highlights the dearth of freedom of speech in Singapore.
WHY THE NKF FRACAS HAPPENED
To many Singaporeans, TT Durai is the personification of cronyism: A mixture of high-handed, totalitarian rule, coupled with a legal savvy to sue anyone within touching distance for speaking out against his corrupt ways.
One issue that has seldom been highlighted by our local media is this: Prior before Mr Durai's opulent ways was laid out all and sunder by the SPH's legal counsel, the NKF has sued not once, not twice, but three times!
Madam Tan Kiat Noi: She was sued in 1999 for accusing the NKF of “paying ridiculously high bonuses” to its staff. At a time when his power was rising, the thin-skinned Durai sued.
End Result? Mdm Tan settled by publicly apologising and paying S$50,000 in damages as well as NKF's legal costs.
Archie Ong and Piragasum Singavelu suffered the same fate when they alleged that Durai had traveled by first class on charity money.
Of course, we know what happened after that:
1. NKF sues the Singapore Press Holdings and Ms Susan Leong, a senior writer with Straits Times and author of the article:" The NKF, Controversially Ahead of its Time?", dated April 19, 2005.
2. Mr TT Durai, CEO of NKF sued, but TT Durai inexplicably withdrew his case on 12th July 2005, barely days after the case was heard.
3. Mrs Goh Chok Tong, NKF patron and wife of Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong, sparkled public outrage with comments on Mr Durai's CEO paycheck, "peanuts" (Kind of reminds me of the Battle of the Bulge, when the Americans, refusing the Nazi's offer of a surrender, replied, Nuts)
4. Mr Durai and the entire NKF board resigned.
The moral of the story this: No matter how much peanuts you have (note: one peanut costs S$600,000), nor how many gold taps you have installed in your office, the golden rule of thumb for all aspiring tyrants and despots:
1. If someone decides to be a nosey parker and play the role of a whistle blower, check out his or her background.
2. If he/she comes from a middle class, or even lower background with no political clout, sue his or her pants/panties off if he or she does not apologize publicly.
More likely than not, the accuser will not have the financial means to sustain a legal battle, hence forcing the accuser to apologize in public. Brilliant strategy indeed, I must say. Without lifting a finger, the accuser becomes the accused, and you will then win by default. Any unlawful transactions will never reach the courts, and any form of miscreant that has been leaked to the public will henceforth become the stuff of legends and hear-say.
Not only have you wielded the legal sword on that dastardly whistleblower, you have issued a stern warning to the other potential troublemakers that you mean business. Killing two birds with one stone makes great business sense, and should leave you with a lot of playing field to further your despotic future.
3. Take heed, though: Never sue anyone who is even remotely linked to any government-linked organization. For every fierce lion, there is always another one waiting to pounce on you.
The lesson our government should glean from the NKF fracas is this: Instead of threatening legal action against whisper blowers, the accuser should be allowed some form of leverage to safeguard him or her from legal regression. Failing which, a climate of fear will surely result in ensuring such incidents from repeating itself again (just as the racial riots of 1960s keeps getting drummed into our heads).
But no! Instead of encouraging our people to speak up, our government decides, in its usual, aloof manner, that it has absolved itself from any matters complicating her to the NKF scandal, without properly addressing the issue at hand.
Once again, Singaporeans are reminded of the unequal playing field of legal practice: Big companies, institutions and money-making tyrants taking advantage of the small-timers' lack of financial resources to subjugate and gag the masses, with a smirk certainty that none of their dirty linen will ever be exposed.
It is time for mega-rich institutions to stop hiding behind the veil of legal oppression, and begin addressing to issues and accusations against them, especially one with as dark a reputation as NKF, and for our government to set a good example by settling accusations and other differences via a more amiable route.
Suing people for defamation should be a last resort for any person or institution, not as a tool for oppressing free speech. By silencing the voice of the masses, unlawful acts of corruption will never be exposed by a fearful populace.