Last month, I was invited to the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT) in Norway to share on my activism work in Singapore. I was sued by the Singapore prime minister in May last year and was subsequently charged with two criminal charges, because I had spoken up about the lack of transparency and accountability on the Singapore PAP-run government’s management of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension funds of Singaporeans.
Below is the video of my speech:
- You can watch my speech from 1:11:00.
- You can also watch the Q&A from 1:58:30.
Below is the text of the prepared speech:
Dear friends at ISFiT,
It is my pleasure and honour to be able to with you here today, and to be part of your dynamism and enthusiasm to learn so that we can improve our countries.
My name is Roy Ngerng. I am a blogger and activist in Singapore. But in May last year, I was sued by the Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation.
He said that I had said that he had misappropriated the pension funds of Singaporeans.
But I have never said that. I have never defamed the prime minister.
The reason why the government wants to prosecute me is because I exposed how the Singapore government was siphoning off the pension funds of Singaporeans into the two investment firms that the government controls and does not want to return to Singaporeans.
After I was sued, the government also asked the hospital that I was working at to fire me. I have since been charged with two more crimes, for exercising my freedom of speech and expression, and for protesting to protect my own rights and the rights of Singaporeans.
The government has also used the government agencies, state-controlled media as well as online media affiliated to it to launch a campaign against me since May last year. And it has not stopped.
I started blogging 3 years ago and wrote on gay issues as well as on sociopolitical issues. I write on The Heart Truths.
In May last year, the prime minister then sued me for defamation for an article I wrote. But the reason why I sued was not because of the article that I was sued for.
Three weeks before I was sued, my supervisors at work already spoke to me about my blogging activities. That was when I knew that the government wanted to get me.
You see, two months before I was sued, I wrote two articles which exposed how the Singapore government has been taking our pension funds to use since the 1960s, for the past 50 years, to earn from it and not return it. When I wrote the articles, I knew that the government was going to get me.
Two months later, they found an excuse to do so.
After I was sued, the government asked my hospital to fire me. I was given a termination letter and was asked to leave within an hour. During that time, my colleagues were told to stay in their office. No one could come to my office to say goodbye and if they came near, they were asked to leave. I was treated like a criminal.
The hospital and the Ministry of Health then sent out press releases to support my firing.
The firing also came after I spoke at the first protest that we held after I was sued. I spoke at a protest to demand for the transparency and accountability of our pension funds. Three days later, I was fired.
When I submitted my affidavit and evidence for the defamation suit, the state-controlled media did not want to report on it. However, they would report on the prime minister’s affidavit.
Inside my affidavit, I outlined evidence of how I had managed to trace how the government has siphoned off Singaporeans’ pension funds into the two investment firms and how the government had covered their tracks and deleted the evidence that I had found.
I also exposed how the government had denied taking our pension funds to use in these investment firms in 2001, 2006 and 2007. And they only admitted to the truth for the very first time in May last year, after I was sued and they could not hide the information anymore.
In 2001 and 2006, it was the first prime minister of Singapore who denied having taken our retirement funds to invest in the investment firm GIC.
The Singapore government has also claimed that it does not interfere in the GIC’s operations. GIC, the investment firm, also claimed that it does not know if it uses the pension funds of Singaporeans to invest.
However, the Singapore prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, several ministers, ex-ministers and members of parliament also sit on the board of directors of the GIC.
So it is impossible that the government does not interfere in the GIC. It is also impossible that the GIC does not know if it uses the pension fund of Singaporeans to invest.
However, when I detailed all of these evidence in my affidavit, the prime minister said that my affidavit is “inadmissible”, “irrelevant” and “an abuse of the (court) process”. He said that the evidence that I had brought up about the pension funds were not relevant to the defamation suit, even though he sued me because of what I wrote about the pension funds.
And even though he wanted to apply to court to stop me from revealing more about the pension funds.
But the prosecution did not end there. In September last year, I attended the fourth protest to demand for transparency and accountability.
The government then set us up.
Another event was being held where our protest was held. When we marched past that event, the organisers of the event pushed some children out and said we “heckled” the children.
If you do not know what “heckling” means, don’t worry, most Singaporeans at that time did not either. The government had purposefully chose that word to use.
“Heckle” means to disrupt an event. But the government chose the word, “heckle”, because it gave a more negative connotation.
Right after the protest, several ministers and members of parliament as well as supporters of the government, and state-controlled media and online media affiliated to the government launched a coordinated campaign to say that I had “heckled” the children.
But I did not. I used to teach children with autism and I love children. I couldn’t possibly want to “heckle” the children.
Eventually, an online news site wrote that I never did “heckle” the children. It asked the government to apologise. They never did.
Two weeks after the incident, the police called us up to be investigated. A month later, I was charged with two criminal charges for public nuisance, but for things like waving flags and chanting slogans, things which you pretty much do in a protest; and for holding an illegal demonstration.
The government’s aim was to pull down my reputation.
When I was first sued, I conducted a fund raising to pay for my legal fees and raised more than $100,000 Singapore dollars, or 65,000 Euros.
There was clear support for my cause because the government has siphoned off the pension funds of Singaporeans. Today, many Singaporeans are unable to retire and some have to work until their deaths. Many people are angry with the Singapore government. A survey showed that more than half of Singaporeans supported what I say.
However, Singaporeans wouldn’t stand up and speak up. They would help in the fund raising but they did not dare to come out to fight.
The fear in Singapore is strong.
When the government said I “heckled”, there was a clear withdrawal of support. People were willing to allow their fear to justify their withdrawal.
Soon after the government created this campaign to pull down my reputation, the judgment that I had defamed the prime minister was then passed.
Early this year, the prime minister took issue with 9 more of my articles again. He wanted to use these articles to ask me to pay more money to his lawyers.
But some of these articles were personal articles where I spoke about own personal life and what I wished for Singapore. But the prime minister said that I was trying to “attack” him.
Later, his press secretary issued a statement to say that I do not want to be cross-examined in court. She lied. I never said that. Again, the government wanted to pull my reputation down. I challenged her to sue me for saying that she had lied or to apologise. She never did either of them.
But you see, the press secretary is not allowed to speak up on this case. The prime minister is not allowed to sue me in his capacity as a public figure, as a prime minister. He is only allowed to sue me as an individual. However, as an individual, the prime minister is nobody. Still, the prime minister’s press secretary insisted that she has a right to speak up for the prime minister because the defamation suit is pertaining to the pension funds of Singaporeans.
But then, didn’t the prime minister said that my affidavit was “irrelevant” when I had talked about the pension funds?
Clearly, it was their word against my word. And they were using their words to oppress me.
The reason why I decided to fight the defamation suit was not because I had believed that I would win. I knew that I would lose, because it is a political case.
However, I was willing to fight because I had believed that at some point, Singaporeans would rise and fight as well. But it still has not come.
You know, I do not hate the prime minister for doing what he has done. In fact, I sympathise with his position. What do you when you are born into a rich family and you are the son of the first prime minister, and where you have everything given to you on a platter?
But the prime minister has the audacity to sue an ordinary citizen but he has never had the balls to face me in court or to even speak about the case at all. Instead, he has hid behind the laws all this while and kept silent.
Right now, I am waiting for the hearing in July on how much I have to pay the prime minister in damages. The prime minister has filed the defamation suit in the Supreme Court which oversees cases of more than $250,000 Singapore dollars, or 100,000 Euros, so this is at least how much I am expected to pay.
Singapore is ranked well on the Corruption Perception Index. We are ranked 7th last year. But we have been falling down the index for the past few years.
But the Corruption Perception Index is not a fully accurate measure of the corruption that exists in Singapore. This index is only a measure of how businesses perceive the level of corruption in Singapore. And quite obviously, Singapore is well-loved by capitalists who want to make money.
And where some estimates put the government as controlling more than 60% of the Singapore economy, so naturally, the majority of businesses would view the government quite favourably.
But if you look at the other relevant indicators, Singapore performs poorly.
When you look at the crony capitalism index that The Economist compiled, Singapore ranks 5th on the index, after Russia, Ukraine, Hong Kong and Malaysia. This means that it is the 5th easiest for the rich in Singapore to get rich if they are affiliated to the government.
When you look at the level of income inequality, Singapore is the most unequal country among the developed countries and one of the most unequal in the world.
When you look at Russia, Ukraine, Hong Kong and Malaysia, which rank high on the crony capitalism index and have very high inequalities, you realise that they have a high level of corruption as well.
Singapore ranks similarly on the crony capitalism index and income inequality.
On the surface, Singapore’s GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, and is in fact on par with Norway. However, Norway is one of most equal countries in the world while Singapore is the most unequal among the developed countries.
In Norway, the minimum a person earns is about $5,000 Singapore dollars or 25,000 krones. But in Singapore, the lowest a person earns is only $1,000 Singapore dollars or 5,000 krones.
For healthcare, Norwegians pay a cap of about $400 Singapore dollars or 2,000 krones. But in Singapore, there is no cap and there have been many cases of Singaporeans who have to pay more than $10,000 for their hospital bills or more than 50,000 krones.
For childcare fees, Norwegians only need to pay a cap of about $400 Singapore dollars or 2,000 krones but in Singapore, the average a Singaporean has to pay is $960 or 5,500 krones. It can go even higher.
But this is when Singaporeans already earn one of the lowest wages among the developed countries and thus also have the lowest purchasing power among the developed countries which is on par with India and Malaysia.
Indeed, the Singapore government spends the lowest on health and education as a percentage of GDP, among the developed countries and one of the lowest in the world.
You would have seen the Hong Kong protests where the people in Hong Kong would fight for democracy because they want to see the inequality in their country reduced. However, on many levels, Singapore’s inequality is actually worse than Hong Kong, but Singaporeans wouldn’t fight back.
I read a news article where a father in Hong Kong would say that, for my family and my children, I will fight. However, in Singapore, a person would say, for my family and my children, I will not fight.
As I’ve also asked one speaker who heads an international organisation tells me that no one really knows what is going on in Singapore because so much is hidden.
And the ruling party, the People’s Action Party, have allowed themselves to be kept in power for the past 50 years now. While today, the opposition only makes up 7 out of 87 seats in parliament, and this is actually the highest number over the past 50 years.
Just yesterday, in the latest World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 153rd out of 180 countries. Not only is there no democracy, Singapore’s press freedom ranking has also dropped to the lowest levels and is on par with Russia, Iraq, Pakistan and Rwanda.
At the end of the day, it is up to Singaporeans to help ourselves and to save ourselves. If we want a change to better lives, then we have to stand up and fight. We have to understand the significance of our votes and vote to put in another government in place which will protect the people.
But I also appeal to the world to help us. Many people have told me over the past few days that they have always known Singapore to be a shining example but are shocked to find out what I have said. One person told me that if this is what the Singapore model is about, then he would not want his country to follow it.
So, help us. Help us raise awareness on what is happening in Singapore because this will affect your countries. For many developing countries, they look to learn from Singapore. But as I have heard from many people today, from Rwanda, Peru and Turkey, these governments are also using similar tools of oppression against their people.
I worry because I do not know if when the Singapore government meets with the leaders of other developing countries, do they share with those leaders that in order to have economic growth, you would need to oppress your people as well? But is this the kind of government that we want? Is this the kind of example we want other countries to follow?
Is the income inequality that is happening in Singapore what we want other countries to follow?
Because Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, today, we also have the lowest level of trust, one of the highest levels of prisoner rate and one of the lowest social mobilities. This is not what we want other countries to learn from.
What we should want is for Singapore and other countries to be more equal and for the lives of people across the world to be uplifted so that we do not have to run out of our country to have a better life but where we know that even in our country, we can fight for change and create an equality to better protect our people.
So help us, help us raise awareness about Singapore and fight for change. Even if Singapore is to be a shining example for the world to follow, it should be because we are one which is equal, fair and just, and one that truly cares for the people.