One issue that has emerged is the view that my participation at a civil protest in Hong Lim Park and a Workers’ Party (WP) Youthquake Seminar was tantamount to involvement in partisan politics (and therefore purportedly incongruent with AMP’s charter of independence).
The narratives from the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs and AMP has not sought to dispute this fact – that there was communication made to Mr Azmoon Ahmad, Chairman of AMP, on the threat of withdrawal of funding. In fact, the Minister stated, according to a Berita Harian report that funding of Malay-Muslim Organizations (MMOs) was not meant for political participation or for a political agenda.
This ignores the fact that I have spoken at Hong Lim Park and at the WP Youthquake Forum in my personal capacity. The fact that I had spoken in my personal capacity was made clear in these two events. I certainly did not receive government funds to participate in these 2 events. I reinforced this with a message on my Facebook update. Hong Lim Park was a civil protest movement. The speakers came from a wide spectrum of Singaporeans. There were many speakers who were not aligned to political parties. Myself included.
Does speaking at WP event on the issue “Does Race Matter” constitute partisanship? It has been suggested by the ST-sponsored Singapolitics that participation at a platform suggest an “endorsement of the politics of the organisers.”
This is a huge leap in logic.
There was a wide range of topics raised by different speakers at Hong Lim Park. Each speaker had no idea what the others would speak about. Hong Lim Park was about citizens coming together to air their own views of the White Paper. In relation to the WP Youthquake event, there was no communication of WP’s stance on any of the issues to me prior to the event. I doubt that WP has articulated its position on many of the issues that were discussed. I had specifically mentioned at the beginning of my presentation that I was speaking in my personal capacity, and the views are not those of any organization.
I am disappointed that my activities in these events have now been made an issue by AMP (including a director who purportedly spoke to Berita Harian on condition of anonymity).
This is especially when I had been above board to AMP.
I had informed the AMP Chairman, as a matter of courtesy, of my speaking at Hong Lim Park and at the WP event, before these events took place. In relation to the WP event, I had specifically asked AMP Chairman whether he had any issues with me speaking. He replied that he was fine with that. I even sent him a copy of my presentation, on his request, before the event.
Since the issue has now been raised by AMP and an anonymous director, I would need to address it and bring out some matters that have been discussed within the Board.
At an AMP Board meeting on 13 Apr 2013, the AMP Board discussed the issue of my involvement at Hong Lim and the WP event. At the meeting, some members of the Board mentioned that concerns had been raised to them by political leaders about my participation in the two events. Whilst some directors expressed concern of the risk of cut of fundings to AMP arising from my participation, the leaning of the Board was not to prohibit directors speaking in their personal capacities, but to work on a code of conduct to make clear what is acceptable and what is not, in relation to such speaking engagements. I was one of the directors who would be drafting the Code of Conduct. Importantly, the Board had also specifically discussed my impending participation at during the May Day Protest. The Board had specifically agreed for me to speak, subject to making it clear that I was speaking in personal capacity. This was entirely consistent with the approach I had taken for the Feb 16th Hong Lim Park protest and the WP Youthquake event. And so, I was entirely comfortable with this approach, which I thought was a sensible one.
But alas, this was superceded by events. it was only when the threats of funding cuts was whispered into Chairman AMP’s ears by two Ministers after the 13 Apr 2013 Board meeting that there was a different stance taken – requesting that I “tone down” my activism. The fact that this was done by two Ministers shows that this was a coordinated action. Putting aside semantics of whether this was tantamount to “interference in the internal affairs of an MMO”, the threat of withdrawal of funding was clearly designed to obtain an outcome. Why else was the threat of funding cuts made?
But the more important point is that the threat of funding cuts to AMP was not just made in relation to these two events. It is not just about partisanship, but a broader issue of the State being intolerant of a diversity of views, especially where they are critical in nature or they are perceived to be a political threat.
I had mentioned in my blog post yesterday that the State has threatened to withdraw funding for AMP when it had proposed a Community Forum (ComFor) during June 2012 Convention. ComFor was meant to be an independent platform to discuss community and national issues (where it has an impact on the Community), and to track and monitor implementation proposals for Convention. This was an extension of an existing platform – the annual Community in Review organised by RIMA for AMP.
ComFor was therefore not about partisan politics. In fact, its independence would be a key feature of the platform. The ComFor proposal was made known to political leaders, including the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs, well before the Convention. No objections were raised then, until a few days before the Convention.
On the day of the Convention itself, I had squarely asked the Minister whether he was asking for AMP to not proceed with ComFor. He replied that AMP could still proceed with ComFor so long as we invited the MMO partners in CLF.
However, there was a change of stance subsequent to that. In a meeting with Minister that both Chairman of AMP and I attended, it was made clear that there would be funding cuts to AMP should it proceed with ComFor. There were views expressed that ComFor might be seen as threat to the state-sponsored Community Leadership Forum (CLF).
How does one rationalize the use of threat of funding cuts for ComFor?
This had nothing to do with partisan politics. This was all about preventing the emergence of an independent platform in ComFor which would discuss issues affecting the Community. Given its independent nature, the Establishment was probably concerned about the emergence of diverse views which reflected the real concerns of the Community, as opposed to the largely top-down approach taken by the CLF.
It is therefore apparent that the threat of funding cuts is used whenever the Establishment perceives a threat to it .
It is not about quashing partisan political participation. It is really driven by principle of being intolerant of critical views and to curtail citizen activism.
Berita Harian today reported an unnamed AMP director as stating that I had acted against the principles of independence of AMP. This is highly unusual and unprecedented. In all my 15 years serving at AMP, the organization did not have any practice of making statements through unnamed directors. Have things now changed? If so, what has caused the change? Is there a new compact made with the State? It also raises question whether the position of this anonymous director reflects the position of AMP. If it does, it goes entirely against the grain of what I have described above.
More sadly, how does AMP aspire to be a thought leader for the Community if directors do not have the conviction and courage to be named, but choose to hide behind a cloak of anonymity?