Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Council of Elders For Singapore


In the recent debate on pay hikes for ministers and civil servants, some Singaporeans were surprised that some of our public servants continue to earn pensions upon retirement.

Many are asking what is it that they do that justifies such a perquisite, which those in the private sector do not get. After all, they have already been well rewarded in office with their private sector-benchmarked salaries.

Not surprisingly, point-by-point responses have come from the Public Service Division (PSD). This is not the first time the PSD has had to deal with such issues. Nor is it going to be the last.

No doubt the issue will be raised at every General Election, and even more so whenever Parliament sits to debate proposed tweaks to the pay of such public servants.

There is one more effective way to deal with these questions: Form a Council of Elders, which can function like a second house of Parliament, debating all Bills after their first reading in the House.

Immediately, the Council of Elders will become an effective and independent second-level check for sensitive or important issues before Parliament. In this way, these senior leaders are also empowered to continue to add value to our law-making process, even after their retirement.

A few other Commonwealth jurisdictions have such a second house, including India and the United Kingdom, whose laws we utilise in our legislative system.

Such public involvement will more than justify the pensions our elderly public servants continue to earn. At the same time, it enables Singapore to better put to use a pool of retiring talent, while preserving and appreciating the legacies they have left for future generations.

In recent years, we have seen several high-profile retirements. These individuals have at times voiced their concerns about policies pursued by the ruling party.

Retired Permanent Secretary Ngiam Tong Dow, the architect of various aspects of the Singapore economy, has written a highly-acclaimed book, A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy, and made many sit up with his public comments on topical issues like the civil service, the deployment of our elites, and public transport.

Mr Tan Kin Lian, the innovator who turned a fledgling local insurance cooperative into a $16-billion powerhouse, has also been vocal in sharing his thoughts on the issues of the day through letters to the media. Most recently, he weighed in with his own suggestion on the formula for calculating ministerial pay.

We have also seen the retirement of various batches of Members of Parliament, several of whom were prominent and outspoken during their tenure, but who faded from the public eye as soon as they left Parliament. Former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon and veteran politician Tan Cheng Bock are just two names that come to mind.

We need to recognise that this older group of persons carry a sense of history, which can be useful in our legislative process.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong recently shared: "The laws that we have today are a product of the interaction of forces and ideas over the course of our nation's history. To understand the law and its relevance well, a lawyer needs to understand the context in which laws are made, why they were made and what their objectives were."

His comments could apply to our legislators whose key duty is to formulate and pass laws. Such a sense of history can be best achieved through a Council of Elders, where our talented senior citizens will be an essential part of the legislative process and be able to criticise Bills in a well-informed and constructive manner.

A key issue here is whether such a Council of Elders should have voting rights over all Bills tabled in Parliament.

It is unlikely that any elected leader who has toiled hard to win the support of the people will agree to this. Nevertheless, we also need to recognise that, as long as there are committed, courageous and credible People's Action Party leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, there is no way the party is going to lose its parliamentary majority.

And in such a democracy where one party commands an overwhelming majority, it may be useful for a second house to have some voting rights, but with elected leaders always retaining the right to veto decisions of the second house.

The Council of Elders will bring the diversity of our legislative process to a new level, where schemes such as Non-Constituency or Nominated Members of Parliament have arguably had limited success.

With the achievement of its First World status and a greying population, it may be a good time for Singapore to look into a Council of Elders.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Reader’s Question: Negative Publication by Others


I specifically read through some of your entries regarding self-regulating of blogs and they are indeed enlightening.

However, I also wonder about similar content on a different platform such as mailing lists and public forums.

It appears to me that bloggers have been "victimized" in a way, since enforcement is critically concentrated around blogs.

In public forums, it is not uncommon to see outright demeaning of certain policies, which I believe, in the blogging community, would have been dealt with in a harsh manner.

90% of forum owners feel that it is enough to display a disclaimer citing the posters are responsible for their own input.

However, given the moderating powers of the forum management, does that disclaimer automatically relieve them of responsibility entirely?


At the outset, no one should be afraid to criticize public policies or other decisions taken by policy-makers.

In making any criticism, avoid making defamatory, insensitive or seditious remarks, which could attract legal claims.

Personally, I find it helpful to be constructive and to back my criticism as far as reasonably possible with facts.

If you have an open mailing list (that is anyone can reply or send messages to the all on the list), an online bulletin board or a comments section on your website, some find it useful to have a disclaimer to say that those who contribute to such platforms are absolutely responsible for the views they share.

This, however, does not absolve you of all blame/responsibility since you can be deemed a distributor or publisher of the remarks, even though you may not have authored it.

Generally, to what extent you can be held liable for such remarks will depend on the specific fact situation and the applicable law.

This is why many owners of such platforms have moderators. But they know it is very difficult to moderate with absolute effectiveness. As such, they also accept feedback or complaints.

If a person finds negative remarks being made about him / her, the person can write to the platform providers to have such remarks removed.

As the owner of such a platform, it is recommended you apologise and accede to all such requests that are fairly made.

By doing so, it will show you are taking reasonable steps to address the complaint and are cooperating to minimise harm to the person who has been offended.

This can go some way in mitigating your liability to the person.

However, if you wish to avoid the hassle of all possible legal liability, I know of at least one information technology law specialist who suggests not having any open mailing list, online bulletin board or comments section on a website.

But in my experience running mailing lists or managing comments section on websites, I find moderating not too much of hassle and reasonably manageable.

Indeed, as a result of feedback from another blog, I am now comfortable enough to leave the comments section on this website unmoderated. It is four months since I did so and I have not had any problems.

Nevertheless, if any person is offended by comments he or she reads here, they are welcomed to write to me and I will be happy to look into the person’s request.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reader's Question: Studying Law


I've been wanting to study law in a private institution, right here in Singapore. This is because I do not have a full A-level certificate.

I've been told that I have to do the diploma in law programme first, before proceeding to year 2 of the LLB programme.

Is this true? If so, upon successfully completing the degree, what are the possible paths for me to take?

Or should I just go over to Great Britain (England & Wales) and do the law programme there; be called to the Bar in Singapore and then practise?


Before doing anything, you must first reflect about pursuing a law course.

Why law and not any other subject? How strong are your reasons for wishing to do law? Are you willing to stick your neck out, and have your views tested or criticized?

Like the profession itself, law is a very demanding course. Do you think you have the discipline that you will need to put in the hard work that is expected and required of you?

Based on your question, I will assume you wish to enter legal practice in Singapore and have the necessary passion and will to do so.


Unfortunately, the ‘twinning’ route that you are considering will NOT enable you to practise in Singapore.

It is a requirement of the Legal Profession Act in Singapore that you must complete all the years of your English law degree on a full-time basis in Great Britain.

Plus, your university must be one of those recognised under the Legal Profession Act.


You need very good academic credentials to get into a law school in Singapore or Great Britain.

If you do not have a full A-Level certificate - that is you performed below average - it’s going to be very difficult.


It’s more competitive in Singapore since over a thousand individuals apply for about 300 places every year. But if you get into a Singapore law school, it’s easier for you to practise in Singapore.

However, I understand Singapore law schools prefer to take in students with very good A-Level grades.


My personal experience is that British law schools tend to be more open towards mature applicants (those above 23 years old) and applicants who may have done other pre-university programmes such as diplomas or foundation studies.

If you are going to England, you will need to set aside a budget of about S$180,000. This budget should be adequate to cover not just the law degree (at a university outside London) but also the professional courses that you need to do to qualify as a lawyer.

A British graduate needs an upper second class honours degree to practise in Singapore, whereas a local graduate needs only a lower second class honours degree.

If you get a lower second class honours degree in England, you must get relevant work experience and pass an interview with the Board of Legal Education in Singapore.

After you graduate in England or are approved by the Board of Legal Education, you will need to come back to Singapore and do a mandatory postgraduate diploma at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law for 1 year.

Then, for another year, you need to complete the Practice Law Course and do pupillage. This last year is normally funded by a law firm in Singapore.


You can consider completing the Diploma in Law but ensure it’s from a credible institution. You will also need to do very well in the diploma in order to get into one of the British law schools recognised under Singapore legislation.

Alternatively, universities have foundation programmes that you can undertake or you can re-do your A-Level examinations.

Personally, if you can afford it, I will encourage you to consider studying law at my alma mater, University of Leicester.

The University of Leicester also has an undergraduate foundation programme, which may give you an advantage in helping you to qualify for the law degree either in Leicester or elsewhere.

Another place for foundation studies you may wish to consider is St. Andrew's, Cambridge.

Feel free to write to me if you need help getting in touch with these institutions of learning.


Finally, be careful about what others share with you, including what you have just read above!

As any good lawyer would, one needs to verify the sources of information.

Visit the British Council. Consult the Board of Legal Education. Go back to your junior college and speak to your education counsellors.

All these persons are usually good resources to verify such information. They are also in a better position to look at your specific circumstances and advise you about what to do.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review Films Act To Compensate Film-Makers


Most policies in Singapore have a robust way of adapting and addressing the evolving needs and aspirations of individuals living or working in Singapore. When your fellow public servants visit the world over, they go out of their way to address how pragmatically and uniquely we have crafted our legislative framework.

Yet that same level of robustness, uniqueness and pragmatism has not been seen in our media policies for some years now. I am referring in particular to your team's approach in handling films, which appears to be dated and reflective on an old era.

We need to move beyond reflecting practices of an old Singapore. An old Singapore where to cut a garlic one would have used a hammer rather than a knife. Or where one had a habit of cornering people in a cul-de-sac and beating the living daylights out of them.


In the last 3 years now, your team has banned at least three films made by Singaporeans and your team compels our film-makers to surrender all their copies of such films.

By the time your team acts, copies of these films have already been legally sold or screened overseas. And eventually buyers of these films, through anonymous postings and provoked by your team's act to ban such films, make the films freely available on the Net via innovations such as Google Video or Youtube.

How ironic it is that one only has to search the key word "Singapore" on these innovations and these banned films will come up together with interactive clips that your team has sanctioned.

As a result, these film-makers suffer huge losses both in expense and potential profits.


In the past years, Singapore has under the auspices of its Ministry of Law gone out of its way to promote Singapore as a centre for intellectual property and as a place where individuals place a sacrosanct value on intellectual property. And I have great respect for our Ministry of Law and its efforts to promote Singapore law in our hinterlands and beyond.

Unfortunately, your team's efforts to confiscate and destroy intellectual property can only undermine these efforts.

This will also exarcebate the situation where film-makers and intellectual property innovators, especially local talents, choose another place over Singapore. There is at least one article in The Straits Times which touches on this situation today.

Your team must take steps to restore faith among others, with respect to how we view intellectual property. Even your National Internet Advisory Committee is in support of this view when they put forward in their annual report, "The NIAC believes that it is necessary for the regulatory framework to be reviewed regularly to ensure they keep pace with technology and market developments. But the NIAC also recommends that MDA and other regulators continue to adopt a light touch and pragmatic approach wherever possible, when reviewing and updating their regulatory policies for the Internet, so as not to unduly stifle the growth and development of the Internet and other new media services."


I have shared in the past that a review of the Films Act is long overdue, and have suggested some strategies to do so:
a. It is better not to ban these films but to require them to include warnings or declarations.
b. Conditions can also be imposed on where and how party political films can be screened.
c. Tickets could be subject to a minimum price of $20 - half of which could be donated to the film commission and the National Arts Council.


I now wish to make another suggestion. Your team, in the interest of promoting respect for intellectual property, should look into compensating local film-makers whose films are sacrificed at the altar of public interest or public confidence.

I think it would be foolish of me to request a policy where loss of profits to the film-maker are compensated but, at the very least, it is in Singapore's interest to compensate the film-maker for the expense and time he or she has incurred in making the film.

As much as it is in your team's interest to protect public confidence in the work of Singapore's ruling class, it is also in the public interest to encourage the work of these film-makers who are an important section of Singapore's knowledge-based flight of success.

Otherwise, Singapore will only be worse off by such policies of a dark age that your team appears inclined to pursue. And it will be no surprise to have adjectives such as draconian, barbaric and uncivilised pelted at Singapore.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Print When Really Need To

Recently, I got in touch with a friend that I haven't met for some 3 years now.

I wrote to him at his office, a medium tier law firm in England. His reply came back within the hour.

His e-mail had the often seen disclaimer on unintended recipients and confidential content: "This email and any attachment is intended for use only by specified addressees and may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information. If you are not an intended recipient, please delete the original and any copy of this message and notify the writer by email or telephone. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused."

But what was refreshing about the e-mail was this one line in bold green:

"Please consider the environment - do you really
need to print this?"

I was captivated by this line. From time to time, I have sought to encourage my friends and colleagues to reduce their use of printing paper.

The odd recycling campaign and the periodic reminder have had limited success. In the absence of such campaigns or reminders, people just tend to go back to their old wasteful habits.

But here is an organisation - quite clearly a socially responsible one - which is consciously championing care for the environment.

Instead of incorporating a corporate slogan or tagline in their default header or footer, they are prompting others to re-think their use of paper.

Can you imagine the effect of receiving such a constant reminder from your colleagues, competitors, clients, suppliers or friends?

At least to me, in the technology-driven world we live in today, there can be no better way to encourage others to care for the environment on a daily basis.

Do spare a thought for our environment.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Using Public Transport

Last year, a friend approached me about whether or not he should by a new car simply to commute from work to home and back.

Some weeks back, my sister complained that I should get a car. She tried to argue that taking public transport didn't befit me as a young professional. (Of course, it was only later I realised her ulterior motive was to make me purchase a car, which she would use!)

Another friend also told me how half his salary goes towards paying for a hire purchase loan and maintenance of his car.

All these individuals live in a city where the public transport system enables a person to get from one place to another fairly easily and where it can be quite expensive to keep a private vehicle.

It is really not necessary to drive a car in a city unless you:
a. are in a role which requires you to travel a lot from one place to another within a short period of time; or
b. have a big family to drive around; or
c. live or work in an area where a public transport system is as good as inexistent; or
d. have medical reasons or other special circumstances.

Driving a private vehicle can be a sheer waste of one's funds, which can be put to better use elsewhere. Plus, a private vehicle only adds to the pollution which one already finds in the city.

I take the public transport - bus or train - daily. When I am late or need to get to a place quickly, I take a taxi. I find myself saving money, which I can put to use in other aspects of my life.

Spend wisely. Be environment friendly. Use public transport.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Get The Full Picture

I spent the last two weekends in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thais are observing their new year or Songkran, which they celebrate - among other things - by splashing water on those around them.

When I left, many loved ones questioned, "You sure it's safe to go?"

When I returned, many friends expressed, "Oh, you know, I was really concerned about your safety."

I asked both groups of individuals what made them say such things. They shared it was because they had read various negative articles on Thailand in the local newspapers.

They had read about flash floods; they had also read about protests on the streets; and they had even been informed about an impending coup!

The more I hear these things, the more strongly I feel Singapore's newspapers go out of their way to make Singapore's neighbours look negative. In fact, I had the opposite experience of what people had read in our newspapers.

I was not caught in any flash floods but I did come back wet to my hotel daily - as a result of others consistently throwing water at me!

I was neither involved in street protests nor saw any such thing occur. And the current political leadership is the same one as the one in place over two weeks ago!

Yes, there was a visible police and army presence in the city to ensure that party-goers looking to have a good time did so in a safe and secure environment, much like the presence one sees in Singapore's train stations or city centre.

Perhaps, this is the Singapore media's unique way of writing in the national interest and making Singapore look like the best place to live in Southeast Asia.

Of course, I would not disagree that Singapore is a good place to live in Southeast Asia.

But best? Debatable.

What shocks me even more is the number of people who treat these stories in Singapore's media as the ultimate truth, and hardly take any steps to verify the information they receive.

I am not, however, suggesting that the Singapore media is guilty of spreading lies about what happens beyond the Singapore shores. There may be some element of truth in these stories but, more often than not, it does not convey the full picture of what is happening overseas.

This is partly due to the limited space one finds in any media to share information. And in such a limited space one finds "bad news is often good news for the media".

The onus is then on the reader to receive this information with a pinch of salt. People, especially those who see themselves as part of a knowledge-based economy, should really verify what they read, see or hear.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Some people have been whining about the ministerial pay increases. Singaporeans need to take responsibility for the choices they make.

Here is a conversation I have experienced in recent days.

Person A: I don't believe we are going to pay so much to political leaders to run Singapore, and yet appear unwilling to put in the same level of resources to help the needy in Singapore. How to justify this?

Person B: There is no need to. First, the Prime Minister has taken a decision not to accept the increase to give him the moral authority to back it. More importantly, his team and him have a mandate from the people. And when people had the opportunity to put in some check and balance in Parliament, they felt there was no need to and gave the ruling class an overwhelming majority.

Person A: Well, I didn't get a chance to vote.

Person B: You have a choice still, you know.

Person A: What is that?

Person B: Singapore's leaders are where they are today because they had the support of individuals who were willing to put their money where their mouths are. Rather than complain or whine about things you cannot change, follow the example of the early supporters of the current leadership -- contribute your time and money to a political party who you think can bring the necessary check and balance in Parliament such that, by the next elections, the political party will have the financial muscle and other relevant resources to ensure you get to vote. Put your money where your mouth is!

Person A: [Stunned Silence.]

Some people just prefer to grumble irresponsibly. Such people deserve little respect. They will always blame others for the choices others make, and not exercise personal responsibility for the choices they can make.

Dharmendra Yadav

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Managing Headhunters

Being in both the lucrative financial and legal sectors, I receive calls from headhunters from time to time, either offering me roles or asking for references to suitable persons.

Very often, I use them as a check of whether I am being remunerated fairly. I also regularly get their feedback on trends in the market. Or I get them to advertise on the jobs portal of an association that I sit on!

Something that I am surprised about is how headhunters are often shocked by a question I ask them: "Can you please send me either a profile of yours, a current copy of your resume or tell me more about yourself?"

Most headhunters often accept this request after a pregnant pause. Those that avoid it are most likely to receive a negative expression of interest from me.

I do this because it is very important to have credible and competent headhunters represent you.

I am also especially wary of "fly-by-night" headhunters. There tend to more of them when the economy is doing well!

Consciously choose to work with not more than three headhunters. Keep in touch with those you prefer from time to time, and send them an updated version of your resume on a quarterly or half-yearly basis.

It is also important to limit the circulation of your resumes, especially in a limited market like Singapore where word tends to get around.

I find it useful to have good and bad versions of my resumes.

I give the bad version of my resume to headhunters, who I do not wish to represent me.

In such a scenario, the headhunter usually comes back to say that there is no job fit between my experience and the role, or never contacts me again!

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Unhappy Employees Need Break

I met a friend, who has been a headhunter for over four years, at lunch yesterday.

With the financial sector having paid its annual performance bonuses, I know of several individuals who are seeking to jump ship.

I was hoping to introduce them to him in the hope they'll secure something suitable.

Some of them are unhappy with their jobs. The others are happy with what they are doing but just want a change and challenge.

He shared quite honestly with me that he only wanted to know those happy ones.

He explained, "They are more likely to be liked by future employers. Such persons often bring the right attitude and a positive spirit to the role offered. It will be easier to place them."

As for those who are unhappy, he had no immediate solution.

In my view, people who are unhappy in their present roles should seriously consider taking a sabbatical.

Go study full-time, learn a new skill / language, do volunteer work or even go on a holiday or pilgrimage!

It is a fantastic opportunity to reflect about where you are and where you wish to go.

Find things you like to do and seek the happiness you've lost. Aim to have the right attitude and get positive by the end of your sabbatical.

You will then find it easier to come back into a career or role that better suits you.

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Marrying Offshore

At the outset, let me emphasise that I am no expert on weddings and remain happily single.

But I do know from the experience of loved ones that weddings can be most expensive affairs. Some couples are well in debt even before they settle into their matrimonial homes.

As a result, more people today are looking at ways to have lovely weddings without over-stretching their bank accounts or credit limits.

About two years ago, a friend opted to have a simple tea ceremony. Then, his partner and him had a lunch at a restaurant with immediate family members and close relatives.

Not only did he save money, he was able to put the money he received through this simple affair to better use in his honeymoon and new home.

Many years ago, an ex-colleague got married in Las Vegas.

It was a unique wedding. His fiance and him would turn up at the place of worship at a specified time, with two witnesses - their best friends.

Guests were invited to visit a website to watch the wedding. At the point of signing into the website, guests would be prompted to contribute a cash gift to the newly-weds using a credit card and sign the guest book.

Once this was done, they would be able to view the wedding "live".

Guests who did not make it at the specified time would instead be shown a recording of the wedding.

When the wedding ended, guests would receive a gift, if the couple had chosen to give their guests a present to thank them for "attending" the wedding.

It was a hassle-free wedding for the guests, who did not have to quibble too much about what to wear at the wedding and set aside some four or five hours just to attend a wedding.

In fact, the wedding was over in about an hour.

In addition, guests did not even have to be punctual at the wedding!

The couple also did not end up drained financially, physically and mentally, and they went straight for their honeymoon!

Another ex-colleague got married in East Europe. It was a very informal affair. And the couple took their self-paying good friends and immediate family with them.

The couple were pleased that those who came back from the wedding had positive things to say about their wedding, and even to this day talk about it.

At the end of the day, it is important for your partner and you to realise that it's your wedding.

You can afford to be a little selfish about it and have a sense of ownership over it.

Have a wedding that you really want, make it a source of strength in your relationship and think beyond the wedding day!

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Marry In Penang

Recently, I came back from Penang and I found an awesome place where I'd like to get married: the Eastern and Oriental Hotel.

It is a venue with a 19th Century setting and full of history. Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham are some individuals who have lived there. Its Grand Ballroom can seat up to 400 persons and feature a "full stage, royal boxes and gallery".

Much of the hotel has been preserved to reflect its old world charm, but is now equipped with modern infrastructure such as en-suite toilets that flush and Internet access.

You can even arrange part of the wedding to be held by the sea.

After all by 1927, in the grand shipping tradition of Southeast Asia, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel has been "pronounced in advertisements as 'The Premier Hotel East of Suez'" and boasting "a 842-foot seafront, 'the longest of any hotel in the world'".

Have an offshore wedding for three reasons:
1. You know the guests who will attend are those that really consider you a loved one, and this will make it even more memorable.
2. It can help reduce expenses at your wedding, and it will force you to plan your wedding more efficiently.
3. One gets to go on holiday, including guests who attend the wedding.

There is a lot of persuasion involved. It extends to your parents; your partner's parents and your guests.

Of course, the most important person you need the buy-in of is your partner!

Dharmendra Yadav