Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Flag

For 140 years (1819-1959), the Union Jack flew over Singapore. Then, on 3 December 1959, the National Flag, an important symbol of independence, was unveiled at the installation of the new Head of State, the Yang di-Pertuan Negara. Also unveiled that day were the State Crest and the National Anthem. The flag was conceived and created by a committee headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye.

The Flag consists of two horizontal halves, red above white. Red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality of men; white, purity and virtue. In the upper left corner, a white crescent moon and five white stars form a circle. The crescent moon represents a young nation on the rise. The five stars stand for Singapore's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

Now is as good a time as any other to remember the Singapore flag. Our flag. I am a Singaporean everyday, not just on National Day.

October 2006, Singapore.

40 odd years on after the unveiling of the Singapore flag.

Red sumbolises the universal brotherhood and equality of men (should be changed to include women and sisterhood also?) : so why is there apparent age, gender and sometimes racial (more linguistic) discrimination in employment in Singapore, or can this 'discrimination' be attributed to economic requirements? Does the General Household Survey hold some clues?

White symbolises purity and virtue. Who can argue with that but why do we need purity and in what regard to we need purity when Singaporeans are a self-proclaimed pragmatic lot who will do what it takes? I'm not so sure about virtue when one is lining up for stuff in Singapore. This quality of 'virtue' may also hang in the balance on a Thai court's proceedings in the near future unless they are somehow magically 'shushed up'.

The crescent moon represents a young nation on the rise. Are we still on the rise when most of the rest of the world considers Singapore a developed nation? Should we consider installing a nearly full moon now?

The five stars stand for the ideals of:

Democracy, so we conduct elections within a given time limit but why do so many citizens feel it as a chore instead of a nation building process?;

Peace, we are certainly not at war but according to the happiness index we are far from being at peace as a nation, why is this so?;

Progress, we have indeed come very far from the backwater days but wither the social price?;

Justice, any comment other then in praise might be tantamount to contempt so let's leave it be for now;

Equality, what of 'changing demograhics' where there are now people of different political, social, sexual orientations and preferences? Is there equality for them?

The Haze - International Law - Legalism that is failing?

An annual event that never ceases to choke its neighbours - the haze, due to intentional forest fires, is back with a vengeance!

While Singapore and Malaysia does their level best in terms of government proclamations and exhortations to their counterparts in Indonesia to stem the problem the people suffer.

Why does it not work? The exhortations that is? Why does international law not prohibit the burning of these forests given the green movements now so widespread to save as much of the natural earth as is possible? And if international does prohibit such practices why does it then not work and no punitive measures are meted out?

International law comprises mainly of three parts. (For the scholar in international law I beg your understanding that this is a law article meant to have law appeal.) It began as a motley collection of internationally recognised and practiced norms which evolve of time along with the traits of human society. This includes common points in deferring national legal systems. So if killing someone for fun is prohibit in say 80% of the countries in the world that subscribe to international law then it is codified and officially recognised through inter-national conventions and treaties that such a law should be made international.

Next, international law is a loose collection of a series of great legal minds (though sometimes not so great) and their attending philosophies. If enough 'people' and 'countries' subscribed to these points of view it is once again considered a part of international law. Say if an eminent and internationally recognised philosopher spells out her/his beliefs and the world in general subscribes to it after a prolonged period of deliberation these countries and the people they represent may then choose to codify it and sign a pact among themselves claiming that this is a law which should govern them. To put it simply.

Lastly, international law is a series of 'laws' as laid out in documents signifying agreement to certain behaviours as agreed to between two or more countries. For example, that if a crime is commited by a citizen of country G in country K then an extradition should take place for criminal prosecution, or that the citizen of country G who has commited the crime should be charged in country K under the local laws and institutions. When enough pairs (or more) of countries have a similar covention we move back to the first point where it becomes an accepted international practice and is then similarly codified.

But the international legal system is such where exceptions are the rule and sovereign nation states can 'opt out' of a 'law' of a sub-set of a 'law.' In short, international law is a loose collective agreement of practices agreed to among a majority of countries but also a system wherein countries who buy into the system are permitted to remove themselves from certain 'laws' or certain clauses in those 'laws' as they deem fit.

For instance, Singapore has officially recognised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has chosen to interpret the clauses in its own way. Notwithstanding the disparity in political rights between the likes of European countries and itself, or other Asian countries and itself.

So why this long run around about the haze?

Our PSI index levels climb every year and respiratory symptoms start to appear with a cost on the quality of living in Singapore and the economy (except the medical sector which will 'boom') and we cannot really do anything about it.

Yes, Singaporeans can get together and organise a protest against this practice in Indonesia which generates the haze, even if we were permitted to do so, but it would achieve no result and no end under international law.

Yaacob recently came out blasting WP's statement on the haze claiming that work has been ongoing for the last 15 years in terms of talks and discussions about what can be done. Indeed, Singapore has offered help too in many ways.

But until international law is made binding on every signatory member without exceptions - just like how civil laws are binding on citizens without exceptions and notwithstanding claims to ignorance, Indonesia can merrily continue on its way with the haze situation posing health and economic risks to its neighbours.

Will Singapore lead by example? Or will the internal politics of the country and the desperation of the PAP for an overwhelming victory at each and every election serve to downplay the importance and enforceability of international law which may alleviate situations such as the annual haze?