[Radio] My Interview with French Radio RFI on 8 March 2015
Last month, I gave an interview to the French radio station RFI, which was aired on 8 March 2015.
I spoke about how I managed to trace how the Singapore PAP-run government was taking our public pension funds from the Central Provident Fund (CPF) to invest in two of its investment firms but stopped telling Singaporeans about it. Also, after I put the information together and wrote two articles, I was asked by the government to take the two articles down and the government then deleted the information from its websites.
Dear listeners, Southeast Asian country Singapore is an economically prosperous and politically stable country. People on the outside also rarely hear about protests in Singaporeans. Recently, a blogger from Singapore, Roy Ngerng, got in touch with RFI, through Reporters Without Borders. He hopes to share about how he had written and exposed how the CPF pension funds in Singapore are being used and was subsequently sued for defamation by the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and lost his job. His sharing might be useful to help us understand Singapore’s politics and society.
Please listen to the interview with Roy Ngerng.
Roy Ngerng: The Singapore’s Prime Minister sued me in May last year and said that I had defamed him, because I had written an article (“Where Your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial”), which talked about how the how the government has been taking our CPF pension funds to use and invest but did not return the interest earned back to Singaporeans. In the article, I compared how the government was using our pension funds with how a church was managing its funds. The church pastor, had with his colleagues, set up two companies to siphon off the church’s funds into these companies, to then use for his wife’s singing career. So, I compared and said how the government’s use of our pension funds is similar to the church’s mismanagement of its funds. The prime minister then said that I have defamed him and that I had said that he has taken our money to use. In May, he sued me and three weeks later, I lost my job.
I was working in developing HIV/AIDS programmes at a hospital. When I was fired, the hospital and the government also sent out press releases to say that I have been fired. In August, I submitted evidence to court to detail how I had uncovered how the government has been taking our pension funds to invest in two of its investment firms but it did not tell us about this. The government also told me to take down the two articles that I had written about this, where I have traced the information from several government websites. After the government asked me to take down the articles, it also deleted the information from its websites.
The other thing that I found out was that the government had taken our pension funds to invest in one of its investment firms (GIC) but it told us that the government does not interfere in the GIC. The GIC also claimed that it did not know if it was using our pension funds to use. However, I revealed that the Singapore prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and several ministers also sit on the GIC’s board of directors so that is no way that the government does not know what is going on.
But when I submitted the evidence to court, the prime minister said that the evidence is “irrelevant”, “inadmissible” and an “abuse of the court process”, and has no relevance to the defamation suit and cannot be used as evidence.
So, for the past few months, I have been constantly prosecuted and “harmed’ by the Singapore government. In September last year, we held a protest. You cannot protest in the whole of Singapore, except in a small park in Singapore. When we held the protest, there was another organisation which was also holding an event. At that time, when we walked past that event, suddenly, the government, several ministers, members of parliament, state-controlled media and online media affiliated to the government said that we were trying to create trouble. After the protest, the judge then ruled that I have defamed the prime minister. So, the government have been trying to think about how to pull down my reputation, so that they can say that I have defamed the prime minister.
After I was sued, I conducted a fund raising because I needed to raise funds to pay for the legal fees. There were more than 3,000 or 4,000 Singaporeans who helped to raise more than S$100,000. There are many Singaporeans who support me, so the government kept thinking of ways to destroy my reputation, to make it difficult for me to gain support.
RFI: Do you mean that the Singapore prime minister was suing you personally or is he suing you using the agencies under his control?
Roy Ngerng: Actually, the Singapore prime minister cannot sue me in his capacity as a prime minister or as a government official. He can only sue me in his personal capacity. However, he has constantly used state resources to help him. For example, he has used his press secretary to write letters to attack others who have spoken up for me. But the prime minister is suing me in his personal capacity, so he cannot use his press secretary to speak up for him.
RFI: If I understand correctly, you believe that the Singapore prime minister was taking the pension funds for his own personal benefits, is that it?
Roy Ngerng: But actually, I have never said this. So, it is them who have wanted to make it sound like I have said this but I have never said this.
RFI: Just now, you also said that there are many people who support you and helped to raise funds. What is the reaction that your expose has triggered in Singapore?
Roy Ngerng: If you come to Singapore, you can actually see a lot of elderly Singaporeans who have to keep working and cannot retire. There are many elderly Singaporeans who are working as cleaners or work as cardboard collectors on the streets. So, many Singaporeans are discussing about why so many elderly Singaporeans cannot retire and why their CPF pension funds are not enough.
Also, an OECD report also revealed that Singapore’s pension funds are the least adequate among many countries. Singaporeans support me because first, the prime minister is bullying an ordinary blogger. Also, I am the first blogger to be sued but there have been many opposition politicians and international media which have been sued by the Singapore government before. In addition, I spoke up about the CPF pension funds. Fortunately, my blog has amassed many readers over the past 2 years (so it gave me some protection). So when all these factors are considered, many people asked why the prime minister wanted to sue an ordinary Singaporean without any rhyme and reason, and what’s more, I have also questioned where our CPF pension funds have gone.
There are many people who support me. A (Blackbox) survey showed that more than 50% of Singaporeans support what I say and think that the CPF pension funds are unfair. However, even though there is support, Singaporeans do not dare to stand up because Singaporeans are fearful.
There is a reason why the Singapore government wants to use the law to curb our freedom of speech. This is because from the outside, Singapore looks like a very rich country but when you look at the lives that the people are living, it is quite difficult. The Economist has ranked Singapore as the most expensive place in the world. When you compare Singapore’s prices with Norway and London, prices are not that much different. In fact, prices in Singapore for some things are even more expensive than in Norway and London. Also, the wages of Singaporeans are actually one of the lowest among the developed countries. Furthermore, the Singapore government’s expenditure on healthcare and education (as a percentage of GDP), is also the lowest among the developed countries and in fact, one of the lowest in the world. So, Singaporeans have to pay the most out from our own pockets for healthcare and education in the world. Yet, our wages are one of the lowest among the developed countries. Thus the income inequality in Singapore is also the highest among the developed countries.
And if you look at how much a person need to earn in order to survive, there are about 30% of Singaporeans who have to spend 105% to 151% of their incomes. So, they cannot earn enough. But you cannot see these things from outside the country because Singapore looks rich. But most of this money goes to the companies controlled by the Singapore government. Also, the Singapore ministers also earn the highest salaries in the world. So, very little money goes back to Singaporeans.
Thus the Singapore government wants to use the law to curb our freedom of expression because they do not want people to dig out this information to expose it for others to see.
RFI: Now that you have lost your job, how do you make a living?
Roy Ngerng: Actually, it is now very difficult (for me) to look for a job because the Singapore government controls most probably the whole of Singapore. I used to work in the social services and the social service sector all rely on the government for funding or it will be difficult for them to operate, so it will also be very difficult to find a job in this field. Also, in July this year, I have another hearing to decide how much I would need to pay the Singapore prime minister in damages. The prime minister has filed the defamation suit in the Supreme Court which oversees cases of more than S$250,000, so this is at least how much I am expected to pay, but it can go up to as high as S$300,000 or even S$500,000. So when the time comes, I will become bankrupt because with the money that I have raised, I have already used it to pay my lawyer (and the prime minister’s lawyers).
I am currently writing for some online websites but this is not a long term solution. I think in the long term I might even have to go abroad to find work because it is definitely very difficult (for me) to look for a job in Singapore.
RFI: Regarding the CPF information, did you obtain them from government websites to expose the information?
Roy Ngerng: Actually, the government did not disclose the information. I had to go to several different websites to put together the information because the government has over the past 15, 20 years not allowed Singaporeans to know this information (and has been hiding this information). The fact of the matter is that our CPF pension funds are invested in the GIC. However, the prime minister also controls the GIC (as the chairman). But in 2001, 2006 and 2007, the government told us that they do not give our CPF pension funds to GIC to use and that the interest earned in the GIC has no connection with the CPF. However, after they sued me last year, they admitted for the first time that yes, the CPF pension funds are invested in the GIC.
I know of all this information, not because the government has put this information on its website. I had to go through several different websites to trace this information. Then, in 2012 and 2013, I wrote two articles to detail how I had traced that our CPF pension funds were invested in the GIC and Temasek Holdings. Then when they sued me, they told me to take down these two articles and after that, they also took down the information from several of their websites. First, they have never told Singaporeans about this because there is no transparency. Second, they told me to take down my articles and then deleted the information from their websites.
RFI: Do you think that you have no chances of winning the defamation suit in July?
Roy Ngerng: This is difficult to say because everyone who has been sued for defamation by the Singapore prime ministers have never won, so it is difficult.
Actually, at that time I was also quite surprised because I had thought that I had written all these things because I wanted to help Singapore, to let people know about what is going on in Singapore. It is also to let people see the other side of Singapore, so that we will make the right decision to protect ourselves.
I did think that the government might ask the hospital that I was working at to fire me but I did not think that I would be sued for defamation by the government, because I really wanted to know what is going on in Singapore and to ask more objective questions and questions that I think are important.
But actually, I am a little naive, because over the past 50 years, the government has never stopped prosecuting and oppressing Singaporeans. They have constantly used the different laws and regulations to prevent Singaporeans from asking them questions, so I did not realise that I was stepping into such a big hole.
But what I also want to tell everyone is that many people think that Singapore is a very good place, very beautiful and very developed, but in fact, many Singaporeans do not get to use these things and do not have the money to enjoy. So, I just hope that we can use this opportunity to let others know what Singapore is really like as a country and if the other governments want to follow the Singapore model, then their citizens have to ask their governments to carefully analyse the Singapore model.
The interview above is conducted with a blogger from Singapore, Roy Ngerng. He was ranked by Yahoo Singapore as the top newsmaker in Singapore in 2014.