Power, politics and fear: when sorry is not the hardest word

Donald Low’s apology to Singapore’s Law Minister K Shanmugam is another setback for freedom of expression and will reinforce self-censorship. In a facebook post last month, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public policy academic criticized the Minister’s remarks, reported in Today, that penalties for crime need to reflect public opinion. The Minister had said that if penalties do not reflect the weight of public opinion and people do not find them fair, the law would lose its credibility and would not be enforceable. In his post, Donald Low wrote that public opinion can be “ignorant”, “ill informed” and “excessively emotional” and the Minister was wrong in his view.

This provoked a rebuttal from the Law Minister and he chastised Donald Low for “seriously misconstruing” what he said. He clarified that while public opinion was important in deciding criminal penalties, it was not the only determinant. He ended his admonishment by implying that Donald Low had damaged his own credibility and brought ill repute to “an institution which carries Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name.”

The following day, Donald Low wrote a facebook apology to the Minister for having caused “any trouble or offence.” But it seems as if this wasn’t enough to satisfy the Minister because a few days later, another more ingratiating one was posted.

I realize my first apology was insincere. I am therefore writing now to apologize unreservedly…I have let the LKY School down…Many do not know this, but when I was out of a job in 2012, it was Minister Shanmugam who spoke with me and offered his help. He then put in a good word for me with LKYSPP, and gave me a recommendation. I decided that I should come clean about someone who had in fact helped me, and I should set out the facts in public”

This is not the first time that someone has had to apologise to the Law Minister. In 2015, activist Sangeetha Thanapal wrote a similar one after she accused him of being an “Islamaphobic bigot who thinks Malay-Muslims are a threat.” Mr Shanmugam denounced this characterisation of him and threatened to report her to the police. Faced with such pressure most people would have little choice but to acquiesce.

In Donald Low’s case, Shanmugam mentioned that he welcomes criticism and that academics have a right to comment on issues of public importance. One would expect the matter to end with a simple rebuttal. However, the apologies which followed show that it was no longer just a public exchange of views. Donald Low probably thought twice about where he stood in relation to the all-powerful Minister and it had to be written in as humiliating a way as possible.

Networks of power are so far reaching and deeply entrenched in Singapore it is easy for any politician of the PAP, especially a senior one to wield his influence. As Donald Low himself admitted, Shanmugam put in a good word to the LKY School of Public Policy. The backing of a minister can be beneficial but things can also sour pretty quickly.

Spaces for civil society resistance have either been obliterated or co-opted. There hasn’t been any public support or solidarity from fellow academics for Donald Low.  A chicken has been slaughtered and the monkeys are scared.

Crippling defamation suits which have destroyed the livelihoods of those who are critical of the regime is a hallmark of PAP politics and one of the most shameful characteristics of the regime. Petty threats of reports to the police by a powerful political figure, and remarks which result in a critic having to capitulate not once but twice in apology should not happen in a free, open and democratic society.

Public and academic discourse in Singapore already suffers from a high degree of self censorship and there are many who fear that being too critical will cost them a promotion or even their jobs. But boundaries cannot be pushed and ideas cannot flourish when there is no tolerance for transgressions. When a public exchange of views results in an obsequious apology, academics, activists and journalists can only view this latest saga as yet another cautionary tale in the politics of fear.

 

by Community Action Network (CAN)

* Article first appeared on The Online Citizen.

 

 

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43 Responses to “Power, politics and fear: when sorry is not the hardest word”

  • Sharon Ann Gabriel:

    DL practically prostrated himself before Shanmugam in seeking his forgiveness. He expressed his gratitude in such a humiliating and sevile manner that it makes every reader’s skin crawl. Shanmugam came across as the diabolical benefactor who is demanding a pound of flesh from an ingrate. Hell has no fury like a Law Minister being taken to task by a minion.

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  • opposition dude:

    This problem will continue for as long as PAP is in charge lah, there is no running away from it. We can complain that it’s unfair and all that but at the end of the day there is nothing we can do.

    PAP’s most public humiliation came back in 2011 when they were given a good hard slap in losing their mythical GRC. The 5 bodohs who were there didn’t think in their wildest dreams that they would ever be kicked out oh no no no. It was just the typical Singaporean complaining as usual but sure got no balls to vote opposition. We all know what happened after that with the anger at an all time high and a now dead forever founder threatening the voters to repent.

    So you see fellow voters, you want to malu PAP you just make them lose seats. Another small defeat came in 2013 via the Punggol East BE. Alas all that good work was undone in 2015 due to far too many daft gratitude voters.

    Let’s hope that PAP gets below 60% in the next election, it would be nice to read how they have managed to break an unwanted record by polling below 60% in their political history.

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  • Ho Lee Jing:

    That arrogant Shamefu guy better know that he still needs citizens’ votes for his million dollars minister’s job. His power is granted from the people. He’s in politics because of citizens’ votes. Is it right for him to instil fear in the people he’s voted to take care of?

    Sporeans should have the balls to unite and vote out him out. Many a time I just wonder why is a minister behaving in such a manner like someone from Mafia. Is he a Man In White or from the Mafia In White?

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  • PAP has the mandate:

    Why Singapore’s Law Minister K Shanmugam replied in regards to Amos Yee Case??..hahhahhahhahah..In Singapore Shamugang is king but in the world arena he is just a small fish.

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  • oxygen:

    IT IS UTTERLY BEWILDERING TO ME – both sides are right, so WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR AN APOLOGY in the first place?

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  • BuyMeBakKutTeh:

    Dun worry… Amos David Yee and TCB will slaughter these Goliath soon…

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  • Lee Gan Yew:

    This guy must be so worried about his future.
    “Aiya! Should not have destroyed my own rice bowl”, he must be feeling it

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  • MarBowling:

    This MF fork tongued Bugger doesn’t deserve an apology!

    What he needs is an Extended Rude Middle Finger!

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  • LIONS:

    ‘public opinions’ count only when the public says such things like lky is father of nation or that ministers are UNDERPAID???

    WHAT IS PUBLIC OPINION?

    must IT be SAME AS PAP’s opinion???

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  • What about Amos?:

    What does the Law Minister have to say about Amos Yee who just beat PAP big-time in a US court? Amos won because US judge he found that Singapore judiciary did not treat Amos fairly.

    If the Law Minister stated his view properly it would not be misconstrued. The onus is on him to get his message right.

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  • PAP Contempt of Citizens:

    Fear is only a head thing, in the head. Of course PAP laws of rules are a shame thing.in itself too. Why? No prize for correct answer – ask the faint hearted PAP salaried judge who made judgement of PAP politicians guilty to become not guilty of election offences.

    PAP not only treacherous, but betrayal too – I have never never come across in PAP governance of SG for 50 years referring to SG in direct speech with the word ‘nation’ as tho calling SG our country or nation is an evil cruel thing to do.

    So? Whats was PAP hallmark template – Singapore must this, Singapore must that as compared, our nation, our country ought to be …blah blah.

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  • Milked:

    The crawlingness of the apology is so excessive
    that the apology loses its meaning. Hopefully, Ah
    Donald will not be reqd to apologise yet again.
    Will he ever make another equally sensible comment?
    Or will he opt to join the ranks of the Yes Men,
    despite their leader’s call to reduce their numbers?
    We wait and see, bearing in mind milk is just milk…

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  • take PAP bull by the horns:

    Networks of power are so far reaching and deeply entrenched in Singapore it is easy for any politician of the PAP, especially a senior one to wield his influence. As Donald Low himself admitted, Shanmugam put in a good word to the LKY School of Public Policy. The backing of a minister can be beneficial but things can also sour pretty quickly.

    Doesn’t everyone in SG know that cronyism (and nepotism) is the name of the game in PAP SG? PAP cronies have benefitted most from public resources (public Office, the Civil Service, GLC’s, PA and the grassloots, mouth watering Government or TC contracts, etc.), although some may have no choice but to toe the line.

    Is the fate and ricebowl of the judges at the mercy of the PAP? What happened to judge Michael Khoo, the only judge who ever judged not in favor of the PAP?

    Woe betide those who the PAP see as a threat to them. Like Dr. Chee, JBJ, Roy Ngerng, M. Ravi, Francis Seow, Tan Wah Piow, etc. The list is long and unending. The price they have been made to pay by vicious and vindictive PAP has been most cruel.

    So we all can understand why Donald Low conducted in such a manner. Very few Sinkies is able to take the tyrannical and ruthless PAP bull by the horns like Amos Yee did. Amos is an extremely rare one of a kind specie thrown up by SG. Almost irreplicable. That’s why Amos Yee is probably the only hope Sinkies have to free them from the oppressive strangle of those despots.

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  • Judge Samuel Cole:

    Spaces for civil society resistance have either been obliterated or co-opted. There hasn’t been any public support or solidarity from fellow academics for Donald Low. A chicken has been slaughtered and the monkeys are scared.

    Crippling defamation suits which have destroyed the livelihoods of those who are critical of the regime is a hallmark of PAP

    Even Judge Samuel Cole was able to see through it.

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  • rukidding:

    Same “shitt” was probably “thrown” onto Prof Khooi of Economics froom Ntu the last time,….that is why these days he has “less appearance and interviews ” from Media.

    If he does,…he seems to be “very careful” and “reserves” in his remarks.

    I guess , Pauline Stress of NUS is still the “smartest”…that’s why she “gets to be the media’s favorite” for any opinion and interviews.

    What to do ?

    Stinkapore mah !

    No noise ! No fake news ! No balls !

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  • Judge Samuel Cole:

    A chicken has been slaughtered and the monkeys are scared.

    Not Judge Samuel Cole, even though he would probably be arrested if he were to step onto Singapore soil.

    Or like Human Right’s lawyer Bob Amsterdam who defended Dr. Chee who was turned away when he arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport and sent back on the next flight.

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  • rukidding:

    I am sure no such “intimidation” will happen when the day these Pimps and prostitutes ( P.a.p.) are “overthrown” !

    When old sillyzeans gets “too tire and hungry”,…this day will come and happen !

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  • Sinkies Deserve It:

    This is how the PAP conditions the citizens into a generation of meek sheeps that has lost the ability to speak up, so the PAPigs can continue its dominance. Taiwanese politician Li Ao said Sinkies are relatively stupid.

    When I had said Singaporeans are stupid, this is what I had meant: I said, Taiwanese are not the most ill-intentioned, Taiwanese are the most inept, people from Hong Kong are relatively more ill-intentioned, mainland Chinese are inscrutable, and Singaporeans are the ones who are more stupid. I said Singaporeans are stupid. I meant to say it in an oversimplified manner, to describe a general phenomenon: this kind of statement is made in a very crass fashion, I never said my words were not oversimplified. When reporters interview you, you will naturally make a general point, but if we want to read too much into it and split hairs, then of course you’d think that this is too strong a statement, and have this kind of furore. But I must say, if we make such a big deal about this kind of talk, getting all straight-laced or overly serious, that is somewhat of an overkill.

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  • oracle:

    @Donald Low;
    “Many do not know this, but when I was out of a job in 2012, it was Minister Shanmugam who spoke with me and offered his help. He then put in a good word for me with LKYSPP, and gave me a recommendation’

    Interesting insight into how academic jobs are offered at the school.

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  • Yes sirre:

    oracle:
    @Donald Low;
    “Many do not know this, but when I was out of a job in 2012, it was Minister Shanmugam who spoke with me and offered his help. He then put in a good word for me with LKYSPP, and gave me a recommendation’

    Interesting insight into how academic jobs are offered at the school.

    Interesting insight into how political appointees are planted into every facet of the Singapore system. What minister giveth, minister taketh away. No wonder there are so many yesmen at their beck and call.

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  • Lol:

    Real talent academic can work in any good uni in the world, must be educated and worked his whole life in sg lol

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  • Lye Khuen Way:

    The Professor came across as either one coward or a very good actor.
    I choose to believe the latter image of the good professor.

    Whichever the stand one now take of Professor Low, the Law Minister cannot be labelled as The Saint. No. Would you?

    Sharon Ann Gabriel:
    DL practically prostrated himself before Shanmugam in seeking his forgiveness. He expressed his gratitude in such a humiliating and sevile manner that it makes every reader’s skin crawl. Shanmugam came across as the diabolical benefactor who is demanding a pound of flesh from an ingrate. Hell has no fury like a Law Minister being taken to task by a minion.

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  • MarBowling:

    Very interesting Hard Truth disclosure by D Low. Big Q: how and WHY he lost his job in 2012? Committed an “Honest Mistake” like that current one that required Not One but Two apologies? What is the name of that company and how much was his last drawn salary? So with the help of Angel ShameMuGam, he got the job at LKY Screw of Pubic Policy(LKYSPP)! What is his current pay? Another interesting Q: just because it’s a very strong recommendation from an influential minister, did the Hancho at LKYSPP checked DLow’s previous employment records on WHY he was sent packing bf they roped him in? Hopefully it’s like that PRC Bugger Ying Yang Bugger who got strong recommendation from some influential MP from AMK GRC to obtain Permanent Resident status and then went on to CHEAT a Singaporean Elderly Lady of $millions and also went on a spending spree bf he was caught with his pants down!

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  • Hud:

    Donald is an useless big mouth from this incident.

    You are a lawyer and speaks like a Gu niang, you are right but you apologize.

    You made yourself a disgrace overnight.

    With your qualifications, you can move to U.K., US or Australia.

    Being in a job with no dignity, makes you happy?

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  • Political Thugs:

    For me, my view of PAP leadership and their cronies, are not true politicians, they are ‘thugs’. I simply can’t distinguish between them and thugs in the street. This is simply another bullying tactics, often used by these dirty politicians to bully. It is unfortunate that this professor happened to be the victim. This is another case of slaughtering of chicken to show to the monkey. These leaders from the PAP should be ashamed of themselves, as their bullying tactics had been well known to the world.

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  • Amos did not apologize:

    Amos criticised LKY and PAP. He was jailed but later prevailed when he was granted asylum in US. Important thing is that he did not have to apologize and by giving him asylum US judge basically agreed with what he said. Big embarrassment and humiliation for PAP. So big PAP cannot come up with a reply despite repeated claims of right of reply. If US DHS does not appeal or loses its appeal more embarrassment for PAP – double confirm what Amos said about LKY and PAP. Amos did not grovel like Donald Low.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Oracle

    THAT MEANS Donald Low, uniquely, is a very smart professor and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, even though he is seen as politically incorrect in some parts of the establishment.

    oracle: Interesting insight into how academic jobs are offered at the school.

    I, therefore have to agree with @Lye Khuen Way as well.

    Lye Khuen Way: I choose to believe the latter image of the good professor.

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  • Dr Tan Tai Wei:

    Shanmugam, in the interest of maintaining “constructive” dialogue, should have appreciated the point Donald initially made, which may be roughly put as that the penal code should be fundamentally a matter of justice rather than based upon people’s feelings, etc., despite that Donald had misrepresented him to be denying the point, Shanmugam’s view being only that how people feel about adequacy of punishment is important also in terms of its being effective deterrent. When one was misunderstood, especially when one spoke off the cuff at a forum, it would be “constructive” to assume one hadn’t been clear and welcome the opportunity to clarify in response to Donald. But instead, we have the Minister responding by accusing him of not being worthy of his position at as great an institution as that LKY School. Now, the Minister must know – our LKY-instituted political culture being such – how threatening to Donald’s tenure at the School his powerful remarks could be, either as perceived by Donald himself or by his employers. (From experience with my own Heads at a Stats Board where I worked, I can guess how a Minister’s remarks of the sort would send all at the top scrambling to appease!) And so we find Donald seemingly “crawling on his knees and begging for mercy”, following his first apology with this second one, pleading how he had disgraced that LKY School and how insincere his first apology was. (Shanmugam being a lawyer by training, did he in the usual way of lawyers refuse to accept that first apology and demanded this second abject one?)

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  • N.Jungne:

    Political Thugs: These leaders from the PAP should be ashamed of themselves, as their bullying tactics had been well known to the world.

    Response: Got string tied one.

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  • rukidding:

    Looking at the story,…it makes you wonder if all our other academics are also employed based on same qualities as D Low ?

    Qualities that are far inferior to those of Europe and American,…where those Academics there would “stand on their grounds and claims” and not “fall and crumple” or be “forever indepted”….thus “causing more hurt and damages to many other innocents life whilst “betraying” one’s own guiding principle and integrity of its profession just to “protect” a few of the Pimps and prostitutes(P.a.p) or the “dirty rice in that meagre, miserable so called “iron rice bowl” .

    DLow, with his apology and revelation exposes how those stupid 70% have been “conned” into believing that those group of people who claimed to be “action for people “,…..r actually really just a bunch of Pimps and prostitutes ( P.a.p.) in disguised !

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  • gonglee:

    “….any do not know this, but when I was out of a job in 2012, it was Minister Shanmugam who spoke with me and offered his help. He then put in a good word for me with LKYSPP, and gave me a recommendation. I decided that I should come clean about someone who had in fact helped me, and I should set out the facts in public” ”

    Helping DL to get a job is one matter and pointing out that “that helper” is wrong is another . Should a person loses his soul and mantains that his “saviour” is right when “saviour” is wrong ? Or is DL trying to tell us something here crytically that is “the whale” (using this term as there is a famous whale whose name is very close to the person alluded to) forced or expected him to side with him as he once helped DL to secure a job ?

    As an aside – if one can help it , don’t accept gifts or help as the person giving them will one day expect you to return the favours whether that person is in the right or not .

    Don’t think much of this “whale” anyway as I find his behaviour not much of a difference from old fart or the orange one .

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  • Clown Prince:

    When will a thug virus hit these thugs?

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  • SgFAKEDemocracy !!!:

    From a layperson’s perspective, Law Minister Shamemoogum’s remarks contain lots of gray areas and most unclear.
    Even to the legal experts with years of experience under their belts, they expressed skepticism and cynicism at the Law Minister’s comments. Re-produced from the Internet:

    1. A deputy public prosecutor, who declined to be named, had reservations about reviews being announced soon after a case concludes in court. “When the Government says these things, it ties our hands,” he said.

    2. A former prosecutor, said that while public perception is a “relevant” concern, it “must not be the overriding consideration”. “Otherwise we may run the risk of undermining the rule of law with mob justice … In my view, it would help if the AGC engages the public more actively and explains its decisions,” said the lawyer, who is now practising in a private firm.

    I would like to share a notable quote from globally-respected military strategist Sun Tzu “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”
    Carrying the badge of Law Minister, the numero uno in the ministry, it’s NOT understandable if majority of the legal industry interpret Shameoogam comments NOT to his liking. The only conclusion one could possibly draw from this experience is Law Minister went round in circles and his comments are a total blur. Law Minister, you are not doing credit to yourself and the ministry you represent.

    As his boss PeeM and colleagues L Siah Sway et al now beating their chests and compelling Sgporeans to upgrade themselves in the new economy, it may be a wise suggestion to Law Minister Shamemugum to take up a course in effective communication, correct?

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  • C'est la vie:

    *****
    Donald’s glory and chest thumping act was rather short lived, consigned to history and a reminder for the minnows, that “thou must never provoke the hand that feeds you and can equally “slap” thou down”, by his grovelling and a half apology which again epitomises and showcases the REAL power that the PAP yields …….. which the minnows will do best to remember.
    **
    *****

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  • Esteves:

    You know Karma does not exist when….

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  • SgFAKEDemocracy!!!:

    Amos did not apologize:
    Amos criticised LKY and PAP. He was jailed but later prevailed when he was granted asylum in US. Important thing is that he did not have to apologize… Big embarrassment and humiliation for PAP….double confirm what Amos said about LKY and PAP. Amos did not grovel like Donald Low.

    Amos Yee, 18 years young – MAN

    Associate Dean DONALD LOW @ LKY School of Public Policy – mouse
    From https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/faculty/low-donald/.
    * Held various senior position
    1. Director of fiscal policy at the Ministry of Finance
    2. Director of the Strategic Policy Office at the Public Service Division
    3. Established the Centre for Public Economics at the Civil Service College of Singapore to advance economics literacy in the Singapore government.

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  • Sianer:

    Is this another case of self castration?

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  • Boh Kia See:

    If the Minister makes a public statement–that statement is in the public areana. Anyone should be able to comment on it in whatever way they choose.

    If the Minister is not willing for the public to comment then he should keep his trap shut.

    There is no need to be so thin skinned and personal about it. It is also the duty of those that speak to make sure they are understood. therefore if DL is said to have got the wrong end of the stick–then it should be the speaker’s fault and he should clarify his thoughts.

    Such a small matter, being brought up as though it will rock the world order. What has LKY school got to do with it. The LKY school’s reputation only exists in Singapore and by syncophants.

    People put up ideas, and involve in discussions and public debate–there is no need to pull rank over such activities.

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  • Help LHL:

    So now what this shameless Shameyougoon want again?

    Mod: please note derogatory terms have been removed from your post. Please refrain from derogatory and racist language. Thank you.

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  • I Not Stupid Prince::

    After reading all the comments posted, I must say that Law Minister Shamemugam has lost the respect for the Office of the Law Ministry with his strong rebuttal and bullying tactic to pull his rank unto Professor DL from the LKY School of Public Policy for disagreeing with the Law Minister views on public opinion influencing the verdict of court case. As his views expressed are not clear enough, it leaves the door open for the public to counter and offer their views that the rule of Law should not be influence by Public opinion. It is utterly shameful behaviour to react in such manner. NO CLASS!

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  • Don't Be a Big Bully!:

    Pick on ‘someone your weight’ please.

    Try Philip Yeo, Mr Ho from Banyan Tree or even Dr TCB!

    Why only tekan ‘small fries’?

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  • Bapak:

    In conclusion, US Judge is right!

    Dr Tan Tai Wei:
    Shanmugam, in the interest of maintaining “constructive” dialogue, should have appreciated the point Donald initially made, which may be roughly put as that the penal code should be fundamentally a matter of justice rather than based upon people’s feelings, etc., despite that Donald had misrepresented him to be denying the point, Shanmugam’s view being only that how people feel about adequacy of punishment is important also in terms of its being effective deterrent. When one was misunderstood, especially when one spoke off the cuff at a forum, it would be “constructive” to assume one hadn’t been clear and welcome the opportunity to clarify in response to Donald. But instead, we have the Minister responding by accusing him of not being worthy of his position at as great an institution as that LKY School. Now, the Minister must know – our LKY-instituted political culture being such – how threatening to Donald’s tenure at the School his powerful remarks could be, either as perceived by Donald himself or by his employers. (From experience with my own Heads at a Stats Board where I worked, I can guess how a Minister’s remarks of the sort would send all at the top scrambling to appease!) And so we find Donald seemingly “crawling on his knees and begging for mercy”, following his first apology with this second one, pleading how he had disgraced that LKY School and how insincere his first apology was. (Shanmugam being a lawyer by training, did he in the usual way of lawyers refuse to accept that first apology and demanded this second abject one?)

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  • Donald Got No Choice!:

    Got a family to feed and bills to pay.

    He cannot afford to be like Dr Chee!

    But he knows his future could be bleak from now but he has no choice!

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