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This Damned, Damning, Damnable Silence

In case anyone should forget – or does not even remember or know about – today, 26 Feb 2016 is exactly one month since a young boy of fourteen, one who would be a member of what our PM would proclaim to be our ‘extended Singapore family’ in his 2016 Lunar New Year message, was denied his recess meal, taken to his school office, handed over to not one but five police officers without any question or protest by his school principal, disciplinary master and counsellor, had his phone used by the police to call his mother only to be taken away when the mother wanted to speak longer to understand the situation, driven to the police station at Ang Mo Kio (?), went through a few hours of interrogation alone that left him with cold hands when subsequently released to his mother and sister (but only after his mother was made to pay S$2000/- as bail for her son’s ‘confession of guilt’ for alleged outrage of modesty of an 11-year old girl), returned home only to receive a phone call shortly, this time from a  teacher, that he is no longer welcome to attend the school camp that he had his bag all packed and ready to go to, and then after he was informed by his ma of the school’s decision…..no one will ever know for certain the thoughts of this 14-year old boy nor the confusion, anguish and fears that filled his young fledging mind…no one will ever understand how he must have felt as he put aside his handphone, opened his window, look down from the height of his bedroom, climbed over the ledge – and jumped.

‘THUD’ – Benjamin’s body hit the tarmac in his Sembawang Group Representative Constituency flat, located in Yishun. That same estate where even dead cats got their justice – and the keen attention of the MP and even a Minister. And more coverage in the Straits Times, TODAY and ChannelNewsAsia than Benjamin ever did.


It’s been 31 days, a full calendar month since then…and the silence continues…..


This Damned Damning Damnable Silence
Had he lived till 18
Give your life to S’pore, you’d say to him.
But Benjamin is dead
Yet no word of comfort you have said.
You and your damned damning damnable silence.

You, with your faith, beliefs and values
Of Benjamin, what says your God to you?
You, with belief not in God but only yourself
Too busy indulging in self, the rest can go to hell?
You and your damned damning damnable silence.

You, who have the ear of the powers there be
Respect, you relish from the proximity.
Just when Benjamin cries his need of a whisper
We hear not you utter even a soft whimper.
But this damned damning damnable silence.

You, to the Presidents you once spoke
You, of the need for ‘love in politics’ you once wrote.
Where now is your reasoned voice for our Benjamin boy
Where now your kind words for Benjamin do you deploy?
Nothing but this damned damning damnable silence.

You, a philosopher, a vaunted thinker
A Big Ideas cheer leader.
But when it comes to a young breath so achingly lost
Do you even breathe one word to your boss?
You and your damned damning damnable silence.

You, old hands or newly débuted, you MPs all
Men-in-white or Opposition all the more.
Has it ever to you occurred
When a 14-year old kills himself that you must yourself bestir?
Not this damned damning damnable silence.

And you, you leaders who demand we trust you all
You dream for our children the future way, set us our laws and protocols.
You with your Lunar New Year ‘extended Singapore family’ message
But poor Benjamin is dead and you keep silent, no condolence said.
This damned damning damnable silence.

Will we daft ones ever learn?


Benjamin Lim died a wretched, unwarranted, untimely death. The least we all should do as this extended Singapore family is not to forget. Or keep silent in the face of the silence of the powerful, the persons who, we’d expect, surely must, if they do even their miserable, absolute least, open their mouths to say how sad and sorry for the sorrows that Benjamin’s father, mother and siblings have and are going through since 26 Jan 2016.

Law Kim Hwee
26 Feb 2016



Baby Asha, Mr Xiao Gang & Singapore Inc Governance

Since 1984 when I started work for MNCs, I always stood proud of my Singapore background with colleagues the world over at meetings, seminars and discussions. I remain proud to be a Singaporean. Proud of the Singapore Inc heritage that our fathers and mothers have bequeathed to us. But 2 events in recent days put that pride a full notch or two lower, much lower.

Baby Asha
With the tragic death of Benjamin Lim still very fresh in my mind, the report that “Doctors at a Brisbane hospital have refused to release a one-year-old girl, badly burnt on Nauru, until a “suitable home environment is identified” hit a raw nerve.

Over in First World Australia with 2015 GDP per capita slightly lower than Singapore’s , doctors stood up firmly on the side of their professional duties and rightly told the police that they had no business to take over a baby, one who is not even an Aussie citizen but the child of refugees .

In a statement on Friday, a hospital spokesman said the baby would not be discharged until a “suitable home environment is identified, as is the case with every child who presents at hospital”.

“All decisions relating to a patient’s treatment and discharge are made by qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the individual patient’s clinical condition and circumstances, and with the goal of delivering the best outcome,” the statement read.

Contrast Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital doctors’ actions with that of the principal, discipline master and counsellor of Northview Secondary School who released 14 year-old Benjamin to, not one, but 5 policemen who came a-calling at the school. Those education professionals didn’t even think to inform Benjamin’s parents. And the police, according to their protocol (?), used Benjamin’s own phone to make a call to his mother. Even then that conversation was cut short by the policeman overseeing the situation.

Are our educators to whom we entrust our children’s lives to at their school premises not aware of their responsibilities? Or have they all been operating in the system for so long that theirs is a mindset washed to unquestioningly obey our men in blue, never mind if it’s within your school compound that the police are guests a-visiting? Or are they more concerned that their career paths and trajectories are not negatively impacted for standing up for what is right by Benjamin, by us parents, by our children?

Regardless the true reason, it’s scary that we accept such a state of affair. To those who trust and obey the System, don’t say it won’t happen to you and yours just because it hasn’t happened yet.

Mr Xiao Gang
Is, was, the Chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC). He was promoted to the post in March 2013. But on 20 Feb 2016, he was sacked. His sacking came after the recent “new ‘circuit-breaker’ mechanism, designed to limit any market sell-off, was deployed twice in January in response to the stock market fall, but then was scrapped altogether after it caused even more panic. “

Interestingly, in Jun 2015, when the “Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges lost as much as 40% of their value”, he still held onto his job. But the Shanghai Composite losing just 19% YTD proved to be fatal for Xiao.

CNN reported that Xiao’s departure comes after he offered a surprisingly frank assessment of China’s boom-and-bust equity market.

“The volatility shows an incomplete trading system, an imperfect market system and an unadapted regulatory system….It also exposes loopholes, maladjustments and ineffectiveness of supervision from the CSRC.”

So, was Xiao sacked because someone had to take the fall for the ‘circuit-breaker’ failure or he was too frank about CSRC’s deficiencies for his own good? Or both?

In my view, not that it really matters. What matters is that, here in Third World China, is a case of accountability if not transparency.

But Singapore?

Where is the accountability for the more serious losses in some of Temasek’s choices all these years? Oftentimes, none of such losses was reported, let alone discussed in parliament or accounted for. To date, the only top manager whose head got chopped off was that of Chip Goodyear. But then Chip hadn’t even sat in the CEO chair for 6 months and 10 days to have been responsible for any bad investment decisions.

Perhaps, there has been a precedent set. When Mas Selamat, a most-wanted terrorist escaped from max-security jail, the minister-in-charge continued in his job like nothing terrible happened. As for PM Lee he, with his pink shirt persona, could not bring himself to admit that the buck has to stop somewhere within his cabinet but merely blurted, ‘It’s happened. Let’s move on.’ For the record the last time any cabinet minister stepped down or, more likely, sacked was more than 32 years ago when Mr Lim Chee Onn was unceremoniously dumped by LKY as NTUC Sec-Gen.

Mr Lim had the integrity in him to resign as Minister Without Portfolio thereafter.

Since then, no minister, no civil honcho, no chief in any GLCs or Temasek Holdings has to worry that something like Xiao Gang’s sack will ever happen to them. Non-accountability for top managers is now part of Singapore governance culture. So, Benjamin Lim lost his life but Northview Sec School principal, staff or AMK Policemen will not lose their jobs. They and Singaporeans just ‘move on’.

Comparing non-GDP per capital areas, whether with another First or Third World Commie country, Singapore has much to learn. Or, indeed, unlearn.

I no longer hold my head as high as I once did in the presence of foreigners.

Law Kim Hwee


Cats of Singapore, Rejoice!

One Mr Eddy Yap made a sharp, if heartbreaking, observation in my last post, Benjamin’s Death: Out Of The Mouth of Ministers….“.

He wrote, “Cats lives are more important than human lives, that is what I can see till now! As you can see they emphasized on Cats Killers, and comes to Kid Jump to death in their GRC, they just keep quiet, silence without any thoughtful words on the case! What I see here is a very cruel Government and No humanity on humans’ lives at all! Cats lives are really better than Human Lives is what I can see and feel…! I very Sad and very Cruel of them!”

Mr Yap’s comment triggered my vague memory of cats, dead cats in Yishun, animal activism, ACRES (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society), its founder and the same MP who reportedly went with Benjamin’s immediate family members to meet with the Ang Mo Kio Police on 1 Feb. I then looked up the MP’s Facebook to try to see what’s said about cats and Benjamin by his PAP MP.

Below is the result of my inquiry into Mr Yap’s observation.

Cats of Singapore, Rejoice!
Cats of Singapore, Rejoice!

Our lives count for more
Than that of a 14-year old boy! Rejoice!

Only here in Singapore
Are we cats truly cared for
How can we Tabbies ask for more?

A photo of one of our own dead
Takes pride of place in an MP’s Facebook page
A day before Benjamin Lim met his tragic fate.
Then a regal pose of one of us takes centrestage
Mmmeeeoooow…again in a Facebook page
20 days exactly after Benjamin’s forgotten and dead

Let none be in whatsoever doubt
Our MP’s wish for a ‘compassionate Lunar New Year’
A message clear and loud
Is compassion meant for us, us, us cats!
Since from 26 Jan when Benjamin leapt to his death
Till today, not even Benjamin’s name the MP once said.

Cats of Singapore, rejoice!
(Double confirm) Our lives count for much, much more
Than that of a 14-year old boy! Rejoice!

[Epilogue: And to think that a cat has nine lives – 9 life-threatening encounters before it’s dead – but our fellow 14-year old Singapore family member has but only one. And Benjamin lost his from just one encounter thro’ educators who were entrusted to be there to care for him but passed him to enforcers who were entrusted to uphold the law (or is it their protocols).] SG50?.]

Law Kim Hwee

(Update, 16 Feb, 9:00pm GMT+8 : Another reader commented poignantly;

Reblogged this on Kai’s Blog and commented:
I have been at a total loss for words since I learned of this tragedy. No words seemed adequate yet it felt inhuman to be silent over it. Like other normal persons, I too was struck by an unspeakable grief for this tragic unfolding of events. For days, thoughts of the Lim family followed me, all through the CNY period. And thoughts of cats too, dead cats found at the foot of HDB flats in Yishun, precipitating a virtual state of emergency being trumpeted and showcased throughout the media. Then a human life was lost at the foot of those same HDB flats in Yishun, and there has been utter silence. How is such disregard even humanly possible? I wonder for I felt a human urge that compelled me to speak out at such times of grief. Words of solace are natural human expressions that will not prejudice any inquiry. So as a cat lover myself and adopter of one stray cat, I feel a sense of great irony and — sheer eeriness — at this unnatural silence, like I’m not living among real human beings. I am sure there are many others who have similar thoughts as mine, and Mr Eddy Yap and this poem just speak out what’s already on everybody’s mind.)





Benjamin’s Death: Out Of The Mouth of Ministers….

Out of the same mouth of the PAP cabinet- eerie silence and empty words.


As a father of two sons and a daughter, I have had the good fortune of seeing and watching all 3 grow and blossom in their own special ways – and live – past their tender teen age of 14. I can’t say that I can identify or adequately empathize enough with how Mr & Mrs Lim, parents of Benjamin, must be going through since their son’s painful, untimely death.

I hope that our ministers in the current cabinet – with children of their very own, especially those who are of Benjamin’s age and especially, the Minister of Home Affairs, the 2 newly-appointed young Education Ministers and, not least, the PM himself, as their leader, with his own bevy of grown-up children – will pause to think more deeply beyond their party’s desire to project a mythical image of flawless leadership, of not admitting to mistakes in a timely manner as befits an unfortunate event such as the death of a boy, a son of Singapore. That they would look deeper into their own hearts, their own souls to reflect on the even deeper anguish of Benjamin’s father, mother and sister. And the heartfelt sadness of us Singaporeans.

No one is blaming anyone in the police or the school to have intentionally wished Benjamin his death. Nor, for that matter, any ministers or the PAP.

Neither has anyone remotely suggested that the police not be allowed to do a thorough, hopefully, objective review to improve on the protocols that have resulted in a precious, young life lost forever. And whilst they are at it to, hopefully, call to account any lapse or heavy-handedness or neglect by those whose actions or inactions might have contributed to Benjamin’s unacceptable death.

Likewise, the MOE and its protocols.


What is so, so profoundly inexplicable is for NONE of the ministers whose responsibilities the police and the school come under to be completely silent over Benjamin’s death.

No word of comfort. No word of solace for Mr & Mrs Lim and Benjamin’s sister? No signal to Singaporeans that any such incident, such death is just plain irrefutably unacceptable of Singapore society, whether we are Third or First World?


In place of silence from the relevant ministers, listen to what the PM himself preached, not just this CNY but in 2015, too:

In a FB CNY message, 18 Feb 2015, PM Lee ostentatiously begins with “Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate with our families. It is a time to reflect on the blessings of having a family – to thank our elders for what they have done for us, to appreciate our spouses, to shower love on our children. It is a time to enjoy the simple goodness of family.

….The Government is doing all it can to help people build strong families.

….Strong families are the bedrock of our society. Family members not only take care of each other. They laugh and cry together. Every member is shaped by every other. Our families inspire us to be better, not just for ourselves but for each other. Our families are always there for us, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.”

Again, in his 2016 CNY message, he sings a similar refrain,Besides babies, family is also about living a full life, experiencing joys and sorrows over a lifetime together with our loved ones – from being a child, growing up, finding love, starting and bringing up a family, growing old together. So when I watched this video, I thought it encapsulated what family really means. This is why the family is such an important building block of society. It is the model of how we should relate to one another as fellow citizens, seeing one another as members of an extended Singapore family.”

Only the irredeemably deaf or daft will not hear the deafening, empty hollowness of PM Lee’s words in the context of his colleagues’ total silence over Benjamin’s death and all our sorrow.

What are we as citizens looking to Ministers for leadership in times of grief at Benjamin’s horrifying, devastating death to make of the ministers’ silence on the one hand (it’s been 16 days since) and, on the other hand, the platitudes of the PM’s preaching? How can it be that out of the same mouth of the PAP cabinet proceed eerie silence on Benjamin’s life lost but wonder words on the importance of family members?

We are not suggesting that unfortunate happenings cannot befall one’s life. But surely we are not solely homo economicus or Benjamin just another brick in the wall. A leadership devoid of emotional underpinnings cannot hope to grow and lead citizens with emotional bonds to the land or be unified. Or is the message here, ‘Be self-reliant, Mr & Mrs Lim!’?
What does it take for ministers to come forth with words of comfort, of solace for Benjamin’s parents and siblings? Was PM Lee only takeaway, from watching the video the beautiful-sounding words and idea of “seeing one another as members of an extended Singapore family”? Is that all? Is that it? Only inspiring words.


But, but, BUT, Mr Prime Minister, Sir, why have you not a kind word to Benjamin’s grieving ma, pa & sis – your, our extended Singapore family members?


Do and can ministers only cry when a Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed on in his ripe own age? But not for a 14-year old who took his own life?

Or, God forbid, will that only come about if and when one of your minister’s or MP’s own child meet with a similar fate?


Justice for Benjamin can wait. Comfort, to be meaningful, cannot.

RIP, dear Benjamin.

We are all truly, madly and deeply sorry for you, Mr & Mrs Lim and Benjamin’s siblings.

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Changes to NCMP a small price for a bigger fish

On Wednesday, 27 January 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Constitution will be amended for the minimum number of opposition members will be increased from the current 9 to 12 at the next general election and for Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) to have the same voting rights as Members of Parliament (MPs).

Had GE2015 been contested as a part proportionate representation exercise in democracy, assuming 1/3rd or 30 seats are allocated to all parties based on the national share of votes, then the opposition parties will have 15 members; 6 MPs directly elected and 9 NCMPs from proportionate representation instead of the present 6 + 3.

Therefore in reality, the announcement from the Prime Minister is but a small step towards wider representation and greater democratic plurality. However this step needs to be viewed in a wider political context.

The Letter or the Spirit of the Constitution

That this change in the NCMP and the minimum opposition members took place amidst the ongoing debate of amendments to the Elected Presidency should cause one to reach out for the smell test. Going by the literal meaning of the Constitution, changes to the Constitution simply require a 2/3rd vote which the ruling government easy delivers. However whether any change is in accordance to the the harder-to-define spirit of the constitution remains a matter of interpretation and value judgement, in particular pertaining to principles of liberty and democracy underlying the Constitution.

An argument can be made the changes to accommodate greater rights for the NCMP and to increase the minimum number of opposition members are in accordance to that spirit. On the contrary, if the changes to the Elected Presidency is to further restrict the eligibility of candidates or worse to return to the Appointed Presidency, then perhaps a case may be evident that this violates the spirit of the Constitution.

A Sweetener for the Elected Presidency

However, bigger stakes are in play. The NCMP / Minimum Opposition Members amendment can be seen as a sweetener for further restrictions on the Elected Presidency or a reversion to the Appointed Presidency. Most certainly, the ruling party can proceed only with the amendment to the Elected Presidency without the need to sop off the electorate with the sweetener since all the ducks are lined up. But like every good general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong knows a pre-emptive strike is required when he sees a need for one.

By the time of the next generation election, the dissipation of the emotional uplift from the passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the effects of the ASEAN Common Market on the lower to middle income groups and if the current economic malaise and property market downturn continued longer than expected, then the ground is not so sweet for the PAP.  Do remember the narrow loss by the main alternative candidate Mr. Tan Cheng Bock in the last the Elected President election evidenced a large floating bloc of voters, as much as 30% of the electorate. Many of these have gone back to the PAP in GE2015 but a change in the Elected Presidency could cause yet another shift away from the PAP, and this time in the much more important General Election. The dangers for the PAP are clear and present; hence the Prime Minister pulled the NCMP / Minimum Opposition Member rabbit out of the hat to head off any dissatisfaction with the changes to the Elected President.


In the larger scheme of things, 3 additional NCMPs with greater voting rights is a very small price to pay for removing the threat of the check and balance provided by an independent minded Elected President. That is not even mentioning the real changes needed to make the democratic process fairer. Moreover the average Singaporean voter has form when it comes to the government easily placating him or her with little morsels for past transgressions – a large vote swing in GE2015 in return for, as Deputy PM Tharman said, “leaning to the left” if ever so slightly.

So one cheer for the change to the NCMP’s rights and the increase in the minimum number of opposition members if one is that way inclined but like all things political, there is a big trade-off.


Chris Kuan