Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fee-Fixing In British University

Some university students in Singapore have raised concerns about the almost unilateral manner in which tuition fees are raised in their local tertiary institution.

I am not sure to what extent this is true but I will soon have an opportunity to find out. I will be joning this institution of higher education next year to pursue a postgraduate programme.

I did my undergraduate studies in law at a prominent British university. Do study there if you have an opportunity to do so!

The university administration there actively includes students in its decision-making processes, including at the University Senate level - the equivalent of the Board of Directors in organisations.

During my time in university, I served on at least one fee-fixing committee.

Any plan to increase fees is disclosed about a year in advance. Months of consultation with students, which follow after this disclosure, are a norm.

Attempts are also made to consider how operational expenses can be reduced or to seek more efficient and productive ways of doing things. Other sources of revenue are also deliberated.

My role was to represent and consult the persons who would be most affected by such decisions, that is the students. And I brought the concerns expressed back to the various committees that I sat on.

University administrators listened and they implemented measures in a way that took these concerns into account. I came back with a feeling that we had been satisfactorily treated.

There were also other safeguards that had been put in place. For example, fees could not increase by more than a certain fixed percentage between one academic year and another. This cap is usually disclosed to students in university prospectuses.

When the decision to increase fees was made, I went back to the peers I represented. I shared with them what concerns had been raised, how these concerns had been taken into account and the compromises that had been made.

I felt it was important for me to do so since I owed a duty to my fellow students and, in the appointment process, I had promised to serve them. Failure to do so would almost certainly win me a label as being a person with no integrity. And, in such a case, my expulsion as representative of such students would swiftly follow.

Of course, I would be ashamed of myself too, if I didn't.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Money Beats The Story

A journalist from an English newspaper in Singapore this week shared with me about how some good stories that he or some other journalists wrote were often killed by their editors.

This was, more often than not, due to the intervention by some individual from the advertising team who took the view that running such a story could affect advertising revenue.

The journalist is now thinking of leaving the profession, and wanted to hear what I had to say.

I know from conversations with other journalists that this is a issue that they too have faced. One journalist once vividly shared with me how he was made to write all sorts of stories to please a key advertiser.

An editor of another English newspaper shared with me how often some articles were watered down to put a more positive spin on the story in order to avoid ruffling feathers.

Such journalists, who share these stories, are often facing a crisis where their own conscience seem to disagree with their organisational priorities.

A long-standing observer of Singapore, Eric Ellis, recently highlighted another practice in his article, "Could Singapore Have Feet of Clay?", dated 24 November 2006.

This article reflected about the things news-makers have to sometimes contend with in order to have their stories featured by Singapore media.

In the article, representatives of one such Singapore media were "unimpressed with the generous 66% reduction" offered by a resort owner to be featured in an "eight-part series program [that] would highlight Asia’s chic resorts". The representatives desired to "receive complimentary accommodation".

The retired Editor-In-Chief of Singapore Press Holdings, Cheong Yip Seng, is said to have shared "in a speech that the three qualities a good journalist should have are sensitivity to a changing environment, skilful writing and good old-fashioned legwork".

To these qualities can be added another: management of the interests of a newsmaker or an advertiser in the context of one's conscience.

Being asked to do something by an employer or another person of influence, which one may not wish to do, is a problem not just unique to journalists.

It is an issue one finds in other professions too, including the legal profession. For example, when a lawyer is made to prosecute or defend someone he does not wish to.

My own advice to a person, who is asked to do something by an organisation that is out of place with the person's own values, is really that of my mentor - walk away or resign.

Most do think of leaving but a majority do not for a variety of practical reasons.

For example, they need the job for the running of their households or they have signed fixed contracts with their employers.

Simply put, the opportunity cost is too high and it is difficult to bite the bullet.

They thus swallow their conscience and choose to take the path of sacrifice and suffer.

Yet, the few who sacrifice by leaving their roles, tell me how their lives have improved since they left.

Most earn as much, if not more. And even more love and enjoy what they do now, which in turn enables them to be more positive.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, November 13, 2006

Singapore Combats Blogs With Light Touch


As some countries like China and India take drastic measures to ban controversial blogs or Internet websites, Singapore is taking quite a different tact.

In 1995, academic Ang Peng Hwa remarked in his paper, 'Censorship and the Internet: A Singapore Perspective': "Singapore's case is instructive in that it is trying to both control information and yet benefit from the information age. Current thinking suggests that it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve both aims. Nevertheless, Singapore is trying."

This position was emphasised by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong most recently in his National Day Message to mark Singapore's 41 years of independence.

He remarked, "The internet is a tremendous tool which is changing the world. We should make full use of it to link up with the world, engage one another, and be a productive economy and vibrant society. But the internet creates new problems too. Not everything on the internet is reliable; it is not easy to tell apart fact from fiction in cyberspace; and instant communications can cause people to over-react hastily and unthinkingly to events. Therefore we must learn how to live with this new medium, and adapt to it. This is a challenge to many societies, not just Singapore."

As a result, Singapore has adopted various measures to deal with two key groups of stakeholders, that is the internet service providers and the publishers of internet content.

An automatic licensing framework has been implemented for both internet service providers and content providers. Individuals who provide personal web pages, including blogs, are exempted from this licensing scheme.

Internet service providers are required to register with the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA). No registration is required for internet content providers, unless the provider is "invited" to do so.

The MDA requires Internet Service Providers to observe the following guidelines: "ISPs are required to limit access to some high-impact websites, as identified by MDA. ISPs are encouraged to take their own initiative against offensive content through their own Acceptable Use Policies. They are not required to monitor the Internet or their users' Internet activities."

A think-tank considered the effectiveness of these guidelines in a recent study, 'Internet Filtering in Singapore in 2004-2005'.

The study concluded, "Singapore's state-mandated filtering of Internet sites is quite limited. Our testing found only six pornographic sites, one illegal drugs site, and one fanatical religion site blocked, and each of these sites could be reached in at least some of our tests. Only six sites were blocked in more than one-third of our tests, including five pornographic sites. We believe that these six sites are those most likely targeted for deliberate blocking by Singapore. Moreover, similar content is readily available at other, unblocked sites. Thus, the state's technological Internet censorship is minimal, reflecting the MDA's professed symbolic commitment to preventing access to this type of material."

It is also significant that the study observed, "Singapore uses other, non-technological measures to prevent online posting of and access to certain material, particularly that related to political groups other than the People's Action Party and to religious and ethnic conflict. The threats of extremely high fines or even criminal prosecution as a result of defamation lawsuits, imprisonment without judicial approval under the Internal Security Act, and police monitoring of computer use may deter users in Singapore from creating or obtaining access to potentially objectionable material. Thus, Singapore's filtering regime for political, religious, and ethnic material is primarily low-tech, yet nonetheless potentially effective."

In particular, the organs of state in Singapore have adopted a zero tolerance policy of negative material on ethnic and religious content. At least two individuals were charged and convicted in 2005.

Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, was jailed for a month. Nicholas Lim, 25, was imprisoned for one day and fined the maximum S$5000 for racist remarks against the Malay community. In another case this year, police investigated an individual for publishing offensive cartoons of Jesus Christ. No charges were brought against this individual but he was given a stern warning.

The Singapore government has been especially concerned about the impact blogs may have on the democratic process in Singapore. It is because of these concerns that the government amended legislation for parliamentary elections.

During a Parliament sitting in April 2006, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan gave an overview of this legislation: "Political parties, candidates and election agents are permitted to use the Internet for election advertising based on a “positive list” of activities listed in the Election Advertising Regulations. The “positive list” ensures the responsible use of the Internet during the elections."

He emphasised, "Party political websites must be registered with the MDA. Failure to register is a breach of the class licence conditions. Private or individual bloggers can discuss politics. However, if they persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore, they are required to register with the MDA. During the election period, these registered persons will not be permitted to provide material online that constitutes election advertising."

It was interesting some individuals read this as a warning, and decided to anonymously discuss political issues in Singapore. One blog, for example, carried recordings of opposition party election rallies in Singapore.

Ironically, the Minister had sought to encourage otherwise, "We recognise that in our society, people will have their diverse opinion and some will want to share their opinion. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the Internet to manipulate public opinion. It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner."

Singapore's regulation of the internet is a pragmatic one, and one that takes a risk-based approach. It will not tolerate actions that seek to compromise its national interests. At the same time, it wants to provide internet users the opportunity to benefit from the intelligence one finds on the Internet.

As Associate Professor Ang Peng Hwa's research paper on censorship and the internet concludes, "The Singapore government knows that it cannot do much to censor the Internet. But it refuses to give up without a fight."

Blogs have upped the ante in this fight that continues.

Dharmendra Yadav

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ideas For Legal Education

In August 2006, I was asked to contribute some ideas to buzz up the legal education landscape in Singapore. I shared the following ideas:

1. Allow people to do a Master's In Law in National University of Singapore / Singapore Management University as an alternative to the Postgraduate Diploma In Singapore Law.

2. Develop short programmes for corporate counsel to undertake. If there are programmes already available, look into publicising these more proactively with the help of Singapore Corporate Counsel Association and Law Society of Singapore.

3. Look into transition programmes to help corporate counsel going into practise or those from practise going on to be corporate counsel.

4. Help take some pressure off corporate counsel and lawyers in practice by developing affordable law appreciation or self-help law courses for managers responsible for making business decisions or members of the public. These courses must be affordable. A good example is a recent Blogging & Law workshop organised by Nanyang Technological University, which was useful for public awareness.

5. Develop the international legal consulting sector that enables Singapore to provides emerging jurisdictions with its legal expertise. For example, when Singapore developed its Insurance Act, it tapped Australia's experience. Now, for example, the insurance sector here is helping Cambodia. There can be more such soft approaches to promote the use of Singapore law in the region.

6. Revisit part-time Master's In Law programmes to provide opportunities for continuing legal development.

7. Provide financial and other incentives to professional bodies like Singapore Corporate Counsel Association to invite foreign expertise to develop knowledge in niche areas of law. For example, data protection, privacy, anti-harassment, which are emerging areas of law in Singapore.

8. Create conducive climate for the hosting of more regional law gatherings in Singapore.

9. Develop our publishing clout in laws of the region.

10. Welcome lobbying! Allow law professionals to champion law reform in their pet areas; promote robust discourse on inadequacies of the law. This will promote more critical thinking of the law, which is fundamental to the legal education landscape.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, November 10, 2006

Busybody Leader

To be a good leader, you must know your work. To know more about your work, you must first learn more about what others do. You must be the biggest 'busybody'.


A 'busybody' leader will do these things:

1. Spend 10 mins, walk around and meet a different person each day. Find out what he or she does and consider how you can add value to his or her work.

2. Abandon the "protect-my-turf" mentality. Share what you know with others. And be willing to accept criticism.

3. Grab responsibility and make other people's affairs your own affairs. Celebrate victories and share sorrows.

4. "No" is not an acceptable answer. Go round the rules, question and make things happen. Experiment.


Of course, the negative leader will respond to such ideas as follows:

a. Spending 10 mins to walk around is a waste of time. You are very free.

b. Don't be so patronising. I don't need others to teach me how to do my job better.

c. Mind your own business.

d. You are indisciplined.

Some emotional intelligence will therefore be necessary to manage such negativity.


To be good leaders, we need to be 'busybody' leaders.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, November 06, 2006

Law Society Publishes David Marshall Interview

The Law Society of Singapore has published, with minor editing, the interview with David Marshall in its November 2006 issue of the Singapore Law Gazette.

Law Society President, Philip Jeyaretnam, makes an excellent introduction to the interview in his President's Message for November, Marshalling The Future.

I wish to thank the Law Society for kindly agreeing to publish a link to this blog and allowing me to request donations for Saint Andrew's Junior College.

Readers interested in some background about this interview may wish to read these frequently-asked questions.

There have been three other developments, which I believe will be of interest to readers.

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, has commissioned a biography of David Marshall, which I understand will be written by a former law professor.

I had also shared earlier that this interview was completed with two others as part of a college assignment. I recently learnt that one of them also studied law and was admitted to the Singapore Bar on 24 May 2003. Unfortunately, he no longer practises in Singapore.

One of my schoolmates then, who was meant to do this interview, was unable to make it for the interview. That fortunately didn't stop her from reading this full interview at that time, since she too was with the college newsletter. After leaving college, she went on to study law. Today, she works as corporate counsel for a prominent statutory body in Singapore.

There you have it, a fantastic objective outcome: one interview made at least three legal professionals.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Paying Pittance For Legal Work

Often, I meet practising lawyers who share with me that certain organisations are making it difficult for them by paying a pittance for regular matters. And they tell me it is the role of corporate counsel to share this feedback with their respective employers.

While I agreed it may be difficult for these lawyers, I disagreed it is the role of corporate counsel to protect the interests of such practising lawyers.

The primary duties of the corporate counsel is, after all, to protect the interests of one's employer and to control the legal liabilities and expenses that such an employer is exposed to.

I also disagreed that these organisations were making it difficult for such practising lawyers. I put the blame squarely on those lawyers that produce good quality work and yet agree to be paid a pittance for such matters.

It would be ridiculous for corporate counsel to persuade the management of their respective organisations to pay more in legal fees in the face of such credible practising lawyers agreeing to do the work.

Dharmendra Yadav

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Breeding A New Kind Of Legal Eagle


THIS newspaper recently revealed that, under the four-year law degree programme that the Singapore Management University (SMU) has proposed, a law student could graduate with up to 40 per cent of his or her degree comprising non-law subjects. Students will also spend less time in the classroom.

This proposal has ruffled some feathers across the profession. Questions are being raised. Should a law student take so many non-law subjects? What does a student do with all that extra time? Will this unique education do Singapore's legal profession good?

Yet, this proposal represents what many legal professionals here have wanted to see in a second law school — something different from what the National University of Singapore's law school offers, and competition in the teaching and learning of law.

There is a growing school of thought here which feels that legal training needs to shift away from the mere process of acquiring legal knowledge. Ms Angeline Lee, president of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association, expressed hope that legal training would "go beyond merely preparing law graduates for legal practice in Singapore".

She pointed out that more regional headquarters locating here would mean a need for more law graduates who have "an appreciation of how global businesses work".

Likewise, some law professionals believe that legal training needs to focus more on legal thinking. In this approach, what matters is not the amount of time you spend in the classroom, but how effectively you use the time outside it to reflect on the law.

This can enable one to develop expertise in an area of law that one may not have studied in school. It is this skill that enabled some conveyancing lawyers to move to more lucrative areas of law, when their area of expertise faced a crunch some years ago.

But just how different is SMU's proposal? Associate Professor Victor Ramraj, vice-dean of the NUS Law School, said the school believes "in incorporating inter-disciplinary perspectives into our law courses as much as possible, rather than simply making distinctions between law and other subjects".

It has taken the different tack of introducing double degrees, including one in law and public policy to meet the needs of those aspiring to join the public service. So, it seems that the SMU law school will simply take what NUS has been doing a step further.

Tied closely to this question of law curriculum is the appeal that SMU law school graduates will have. In the face of strong alumni links fostered by the NUS law school over the decades, it is clear that its new rival will not have it easy. Legal practitioners will need to be convinced that its law graduates are of the same, if not better, calibre as those from NUS' law school.

Nevertheless, since its establishment, SMU has fostered close links with industry, which has enabled its graduates to secure positions of choice. SMU law graduates could thus have little difficulty in joining top companies.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that SMU graduates are different from other local graduates — partly due to the flexible admission criteria and the opportunities SMU has provided for students who would not normally be offered places by other local universities.

One result could be that the SMU law school will move away from primarily attracting students who do well at the GCE A Levels, or the top achievers of Temasek Polytechnic's diploma of law programme.

It may, in fact, accept more law diploma holders who have demonstrated excellence in sports or other activities. Some places could also go to paralegals with excellent work experience but not necessarily the grades one normally needs for admission to law school. This, in part, could help loosen the "old school boys/girls culture" in the legal profession today.

Finally, there is also a political element associated with less classroom time that the SMU law school will need to factor in — a reason why one finds students in universities here spending more time in class than some of their counterparts overseas.

It will have to assure the authorities that less classroom time will not translate into more of its law students getting involved in activities that could threaten Singapore's stability, as active students with less classroom time did in the early days of Singapore's independence.

If SMU's proposal for its new law school is ruffling feathers across the legal profession, it's because few people cherish change. The legal education landscape in Singapore has certainly been long ripe for it.

Dharmendra Yadav