A protest in sunny Singapore

August 12, 2005

By Chee Siok Chin

It would have been an activity of little significance in most parts Asia, save for perhaps Burma. A group of four citizens had donned on similar T-shirts and created quite a stir in the Central Business District area yesterday by calling for transparency and accountability from the government. One of them was me.

We had come together to make a statement – we want the PAP government to be accountable to the citizens. We want to know how our money is being invested or used by the GIC and CPF Board.

In our over-sized T-shirts that had messages asking for transparency and accountability, the four of us walked up to the entrance of the CPF Building at 12.30pm. We were greeted by a host of photographers and reporters. We took our positions and stood along the kerb. The cameras zeroed in on us and the messages we had on our Tees. The reporters also began to ask our spokesperson, Monica Kumar, a host of questions.

After answering all the questions, the four of us were left to our peaceful and quiet protest, with the reporters milling around. We were calm, unoffensive and relatively passive.

Suddenly a dozen or so riot policemen turned up in four riot vans (someone said that it was probably for one van for each of us). They were dressed in “warrior” garb, complete with darth-vader-looking helmets, truncheons and shields. Two more troops of regular uniformed male and female officers swarmed around us. All this on two female and two male activists who were were armed only with transparencies and silent? One reporter told us that this “drama” by the police was unnecessary. Thank you.

It was a ridiculous sight when one of the officers started shrieking: “Those of you not involved, move away from here!” It was as if 9/11 had happened in Singapore, except that the only “terrorists” were four of us armed with only two transparency signs. (I guess from the PAP’s standpoint, signs calling for transparency in the GIC and CPF were potential explosives.)

A senior police officer by the name of Dominic Baptist told us to disperse or we would be arrested. But on what grounds? He said someone had called to say that we were a public nuisance. Public nuisance? You mean the police always send in the riot squad in response to public nuisance complaints? And besides, the four of us were standing still and keeping very quiet. Mr Baptist muttered something which we didn’t quite understand and repeated that we were a nuisance and that our actions were an offence. Watch out, moms and dads! The next time your kids get a little too rowdy, you could be negotiating with the riot squad.

The group had agreed that we would do a 45-minute protest and it was about three minutes before we were going to disperse anyway. So one of us told the officer that we would go in three minutes, which we did when the three minutes were up.

We then walked to back of the building to wait for our transport. Perhaps feeling that they didn’t “win” this battle, Officer Baptist, accompanied by some junior officers and plain-clothes policemen approached us. By this time we had taken off our Tees. Then, like an after-thought or having taken instructions from someone who felt that it was insufficient that we had dispersed, he asked for our Identity Cards. They took down our particulars and demanded that we handed them our signs and T-shirts “for investigation”. I wonder what they’ll do with our sweaty Tees. CSI fans, what’s your guess?

But jokes aside, we want our T-shirts back as they are priceless. Priceless because they will always remind us of the day the four of us found our courage and stood up to demand accountability and transparency from the Singapore government.

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