Who wants an NDP funpack?

Issue 107

A little more than a week to go before we transition out of the partial lockdown into Phase 1 of post-partial lockdown! For more information about what Phase 1 entails, read this.

I wrote a personal essay for The News Lens International about what COVID-19 and what I hope for post-pandemic. You can find it here.

I’ll also be on a panel, organised by the Singapore Democratic Party, with Alfian Sa’at, Constance Singam, and Tan Tarn How (moderated by Paul Tambyah) about what should change in Singapore after the pandemic—it’s happening at 2pm today, so tune in!


Should we still be having a National Day Parade?

Every year, the National Day Parade is a massive event—a huge military display accompanied by mass dances and patriotic songs. This year, with COVID-19 messing things up, things are going to be different: the state-led celebrations are going to be fanning out across the country. Parade segments and flag-raising will take place in a variety of locations on the island, and there’ll be fireworks at 10 different sites.

This is to allow Singaporeans to celebrate along in our homes, rather than having huge crowds congregate at the parade venue. But some say that having fireworks at so many sites and distributing funpacks don’t seem like prudent uses of money at a time when the country is headed for a recession. Others on social media have questioned the need for a National Day Parade at all. A public petition for people who want to opt out of receiving a funpack is gathering steam.

Technology and policing

With contact tracing as an important part of the pandemic response, people in Singapore seem to have grown (even) more accepting of surveillance. Unsurprisingly, the state is also deploying technology to help with COVID-19 efforts: a robot dog is being tested at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park to promote safe distancing, the police are deploying autonomous drones in industrial areas, and robots are patrolling migrant worker dormitories to remind them to keep one metre apart from one another.

The authorities say that such technology helps to speed things up and free up human resources for other tasks, which sounds logical. But we also need to be asking if this sort of widespread surveillance and policing is going to be a norm even after the pandemic is over—what is to become of the robot dog, the drones, and the robots after COVID-19? How are they going to be used? Who is going to be surveilled? What regulations and restrictions are there to check power and ensure that the data that’s being collected by these machines are handled properly? What processes of transparency, accountability, and redress will there be, and how accessible will these things be for citizens?

It’s also worth thinking about how apps like TraceTogether might not actually benefit society, because they run the risk of eroding trust within the community.

Don’t anyhowly emoji

At the beginning of April, I sent out a special issue about the activist Jolovan Wham, as he was serving a one-week sentence in prison in lieu of a fine for scandalising in the judiciary. In the piece, I mentioned him demonstrating solidarity with two young climate strikers currently under investigation—he’d recreated the photo taken by one of the strikers, replacing the message on the original placard with a smiley face:

Well… the police have opened an investigation into Jolovan under the Public Order Act (“illegal assembly”, what else?) for doing this.

Separately, Jolovan has also had to apologise to Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo after she sent him (and one other guy) a letter of demand over a Facebook comment he’d made that was understood as alleging that corruption had occurred. Jolovan had been commenting on the observation that while Jo Teo is the minister in charge of managing and overseeing the situation with migrant workers in dormitories, her husband is the CEO of Surbana Jurong, a company that had been roped in to set up isolation facilities at places like EXPO to deal with the high numbers of COVID-19 cases, most of whom are migrant workers. (You can read Jolovan’s post-apology statement here.)

Surbana Jurong has refuted claims of impropriety and profiteering, saying that they were brought in by their shareholder Temasek Holdings—which also owns EXPO—to provide this service on “a cost-recovery basis”. This has been echoed by both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for National Development, who have said that “the Government will respond firmly and appropriately to any scurrilous allegation of corruption.”

Got some more

A spokesperson for Leader of the House Grace Fu has pushed back against suggestions of live-streaming parliamentary sessions, saying that it would turn Parliament into a form of theatre. As a long-time advocate for a live feed of sessions, I don’t think this argument holds water. Parliamentary sessions are already open for the public—it’s just that you have to go there in person, which is a barrier for access for many people. The sessions are also already live-streamed… but to select places like the newsrooms of the local mainstream media. Are we really to believe that streaming the public would trigger politicians to grandstand, but not streaming to the press? 🤨 The wonderful team at CAPE also point out that the password-protected livestream already seems to exist… so why can’t Singaporeans access our parliamentary sessions more easily when the technology is in place?

In the first of its kind in COVID-19 Singapore, Punithan Genasan was sentenced to death for drug trafficking over Zoom. I was quoted in an article by BBC News about this, in which I said that this is just another example of how administrative capital punishment really is, where the taking away of one’s life is a matter of process and procedure. It’s one of the most chilling aspects of the ultimate punishment, as I wrote about some years back.

After earlier public consultations, the wording of proposed amendments to the Personal Data Protection Act is out. There’s a helpful breakdown here. If you’d like to send in feedback, though, you’ve got to hurry up, because it closes at 5pm on the 28th (the consultation period this time was only about two weeks).


Here’s a Nice Thing

Watch Mama White Snake! I went to YouTube to get the link and ended up watching the whole thing. And don’t forget to donate to WILD RICE!