Monday, 17 August 2015

E.W. Barker: The Eurasian who drafted Singapore's separation documents

E.W. Barker is best remembered for being independent Singapore's first law minister. But he also helmed other portfolios, and was an avid athlete.
By Susan Sim, Published The Straits Times, 15 Aug 2015

He was the first Singapore minister to sign the Separation Agreement with Malaysia in the early hours of Aug 7, 1965. Mr E. W. Barker, however, left space at the top for his senior colleagues and so became the fourth of the 10 Singapore names appended to the treaty we now know as the Independence of Singapore Agreement, 1965.

Barely nine months earlier, Mr Edmund William Barker had been practising law. Then, suddenly, he was law minister, and sharing a closely guarded secret with five other men in Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee, head of the civil service Stanley Steward, head of Special Branch George Bogaars, and Cabinet Secretary Wong Chooi Sen.

By then, it would have been obvious, except to the most optimistic, that merger with Malaysia was not working. No, the secret was that both countries were negotiating an amicable separation. While Dr Goh engaged in shuttle diplomacy to convince the Malaysians that Singapore wanted to secede as an independent nation, it was Mr Barker's job to draft the legal papers.

It took 10 days for Mr Barker to draft, circulate, amend and finalise three documents - an agreement to separate, an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution to allow Singapore to leave since the Constitution provided only for states to join but not to leave, and a proclamation of independence.

Yet that was the easy part. He and Dr Goh then had to take the drafts to Kuala Lumpur and persuade the Malaysian government to sign them without too much quibble.

"The agreement I drafted was in fact a longer agreement," Mr Barker revealed in 1982, "but the Prime Minister wanted to keep it as short as possible lest the Malaysians would be afraid of signing it."

On his part, Dr Goh knew that for the last round of talks with the Malaysian Tunku and his colleagues on Aug 6, 1965, "Barker would be the principal actor on our side". And he was, drafting on the spot two new clauses in the separation agreement to satisfy new demands by the finance ministers of both sides. The Malaysians wanted to be released from liabilities and obligations under agreements they had previously guaranteed on Singapore's behalf while it was part of Malaysia, and Dr Goh wanted a clause to provide that both countries would after separation cooperate in economic affairs for mutual benefit.

It probably helped that Mr Barker had played on the same hockey and rugby teams in school as two of the key players on the Malaysian side - Deputy Prime Minister Tun Razak and Attorney-General Kadir Yusof - and each considered the other an old friend. For he was acutely aware that if things did not go well, he and Dr Goh could be accused of treason and the drafts produced as proof of their guilt. "But I trusted them completely. I knew that they would not do that to us. These were my old friends," he said in an oral history interview that has become the definitive Singapore account of the events that took place 50 years ago.

And so it came to pass that shortly after midnight on Aug 7, Mr Barker handed over the signed documents to Prime Minister Lee, who said: "Thank you, Eddie. This is a bloodless coup."

As Mr Lee explained in his memoirs: "It was a coup against the British government and their vigilant proconsul Head, a constitutional coup engineered right under the noses of the British, Australians and New Zealanders who were defending Malaysia with their armed forces.

"At very little notice, we had thought of a way to achieve what the Tunku could not accomplish with his own staff because it had to be carried out in great secrecy and the shortest time possible, including three readings of the Bill in one session of Parliament on a certificate of urgency, or it could never have succeeded." 

IS HE THE BARKER IN BARKER ROAD?

Nations that have to struggle for independence tend to celebrate their founding fathers. The criteria for inclusion in this rarefied group vary, but usually require "conspicuous contributions" to the attainment of nationhood.

For his part in drafting the separation documents and securing the Malaysian signatures, Mr Barker surely qualified for founding father status and should be a household name, especially in this Golden Jubilee year. Yet he is not.

Is Barker Road named after him? One Singaporean in his early 30s asked me this when I said I was writing the biography of E. W. Barker. The young civil servant did not know who Mr Eddie Barker was, but he had gone to a school located in Barker Road.

No, the road was named after Mr Arthur Barker, a British businessman and municipal commissioner who left Singapore in 1932, and was not related to the Eurasian who was Singapore's law minister for 24 years.

Mr Eddie Barker had an academic background not dissimilar to that of the other founding fathers of Singapore or, for that matter, present-day Cabinet ministers. He was head prefect at Raffles Institution and won a Queen's Scholarship (today's President's Scholarship) in 1946 to study law at Cambridge University in Britain.

But the man who took on five ministerial portfolios in addition to being the longest-serving law minister in Singapore was not just a prototypical Singapore leader who excelled academically. He was also a champion athlete and sportsman who represented Singapore in hockey and captained the Cambridge University badminton team.

During World War II, he survived a year on the Death Railway in Thailand working as a medical orderly, stricken more than once by malaria. He was lucky; more than half of the estimated 270,000 Asians press-ganged into service by the Japanese army never returned home, succumbing to disease and ill-treatment.

Mr Barker was a relative latecomer to politics, compared to his colleagues. He was not a founding member of the People's Action Party that has ruled Singapore since self-governance in 1959, entering politics only in 1963, when he won a seat in Tanglin and held it without contest until 1988.

But he was not a reluctant politician, as sometimes painted in the media. He contested the 1963 elections because then PM Lee Kuan Yew asked him to. But his personal reasons were deeply patriotic. "I joined for Singapore. I was born, bred, educated here. There's a feeling of attachment and loyalty," he told legal historian Kevin Tan after he retired from politics.

Mr Barker took a steep pay cut to join the Cabinet. His first pay cheque as law minister in 1964 was $2,500, not enough to pay his mortgage - which had been pegged to his previous income as a lawyer - and support his family of four school-going children. He asked to leave to return to law practice a few times, PM Lee later told Parliament, because he was struggling to meet his family commitments. In 1970, when ministerial salaries were raised to $4,500, his peers were earning $20,000 a month.

Yet Mr Barker stayed on because he enjoyed serving the nation, making a difference in the lives of Singaporeans. Some might recall that he pushed for the abolition of jury trial in Parliament with the famous comment that "the administration of justice should not be left in the hands of what are, after all, seven laymen, but rather, should be left solely in the hands of the professional judges who would, to say the least, be able to dispense justice in a more predictable manner".

Few, however, remember now that he also took on the National Development portfolio in the first post-separation Cabinet in 1965, and held it for 10 years.

In that role, he oversaw the Housing and Development Board and its affordable home ownership programme as well as the building of roads and ports, the transformation of the urban landscape, the greening of parks and the reclamation of land.

His children remember that whenever they went to Punggol for dinner on Sundays, they always had to detour along Lorong Buangkok because Mr Barker had made the decision to pave the road and was proud to have made life a little easier for the residents of what is today the last remaining kampung in Singapore. And nothing delighted him more than to be greeted by children in his Tanglin ward calling out, "Mr Barker, datang ("coming" in Malay). Mr Barker, datang."

Mr Barker, it has to be said, was a colourful character. My favourite soundbite about him is from the redoubtable S. Rajaratnam, who in 1992 told a reporter: "Barker is an old-fashioned gentleman who likes to use four-letter words if necessary. And he likes horse-racing, poker, dancing and drinking." Mr Rajaratnam also noted that Mr Barker "never went out of his way to curry favour with the government or anybody else".

He was a good friend of Mr Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo - having met them in Raffles Institution in the late 1930s and joining their law firm Lee & Lee in the 1950s - but he was never afraid of telling truth to power. "When I think Mr Lee is wrong, I say so. Sometimes he agrees, sometimes no. But the point must be made," Mr Barker said in a rare interview with The Straits Times in 1988, shortly before he retired from politics.

Those who knew Mr Barker consider themselves fortunate to have known a rare breed of politician who carried his office lightly but with stature. The late criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan called him "truly the people's Minister" who liked sitting with the common man, shooting the breeze over a beer.

LEST WE FORGET, AGAIN

Perhaps the reason why few remember Mr Barker is that what he did for Singapore was not as visible as building up the Singapore military or Jurong (that was Dr Goh). Nor did he build the first HDB flats (Mr Lim Kim San), tame the trade unions (Mr Devan Nair), or write the Pledge (Mr Rajaratnam).

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it is the sports community that best remembers Mr Barker. His many Cabinet portfolios never included sports. But for more than two decades until 1990, he dominated the field as president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to grooming elite sportsmen and women. He was the driving force behind the building of the National Stadium in 1973, using his control of the Public Works Department (then under the Ministry of National Development) to make sure it was built in time for the 1973 South-east Asian Games, Singapore's coming-out party as it were.

EW Barker Endowment
Throughout his career, Mr Edmund William Barker was a fervent champion of the local sporting community. Not only was he the former President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he was a driving force behind constructing the Singapore National Stadium.Today, his legacy lives on in the EW Barker Endowment, a fund set up by the Temasek Education Foundation to help nurture young sporting talents through scholarships in sports development, academic studies and related programmes.
Posted by Temasek on Sunday, November 8, 2015


It is not surprising, therefore, that there are today various sports scholarships and facilities named after Mr Barker at the National Institute of Education, the Nanyang Technological University, and Raffles Institution, his alma mater.

But when it was suggested that the National Stadium in Singapore's new $1.33 billion Sports Hub, which opened last year, be named after Mr Barker, some people interviewed by the media thought he did not fit their definition of a well-known sportsman who inspired and touched the hearts of people. They forgot that when Mr Barker died in 2001, The Straits Times devoted an entire sports page to eulogising his unequalled contribution to Singapore sports as an athlete and "the first principal guardian of its place in the Singapore sun". 

How do we honour the service of our founding fathers? If we can name hospitals, museums and university buildings after entrepreneurs for multimillion- dollar endowments - a widely accepted practice in many developed nations - would it still be crass to put a dollar value on the sacrifice of those who gave their most productive years to governing Singapore in the early years?

Mr Lee always said of his good friend Eddie that he "robbed him of at least $30 million, had he stayed in Lee & Lee". Is $30 million not enough to buy naming rights to a stadium?

It probably is. But we should not go down this road because such a move would despoil the memory of our founding fathers. They served for Singapore and are content simply not to be forgotten.

At two Home Team events to honour the pioneer generation in the lead-up to National Day, I was reminded once again of what loyalty and service truly meant to those who dedicated themselves to keeping Singapore safe and sovereign. The pioneer officers were delighted simply to be remembered, to have someone shake their hands and say thank you for your service. Surviving family members were thrilled to be presented with medallions honouring the service of their loved ones. One son took a photo to send an image to his mother. A widow told her daughter she would inherit the medal on her passing. To be remembered was an unexpected joy.

For our founding fathers, whether we name the National Stadium after Mr Barker or not, we should remember his words: "Every time I look at these Agreements, I'm happy, I have a sense of pride, having contributed to a major change - the separation of Singapore from Malaysia."

The writer is writing a biography of the late Mr E. W. Barker. A former Singapore diplomat and journalist, she is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.






Drafting 'a bloodless coup'
This is an excerpt from a new book on Edmund William Barker, independent Singapore's first Law Minister
The Sunday Times, 4 Dec 2016

In early August 1965, Barker received a phone call from the Cameron Highlands. He later told this story as a lesson in phone manners:

"Twenty years ago, when we were still in Malaysia, I received a phone call from the Cameron Highlands. I heard a faint voice and I thought they must have been having a thunderstorm over there. The voice said, 'Harry speaking.' Since I knew quite a few Harrys - there was Harry, my footballer friend, Harry the lawyer and Harry, my accountant friend - I said, 'Harry who?' Then came the reply, 'Harry Lee Kuan Yew, you bloody fool!' and ever since then, I have never asked 'who?' when answering the phone."

It was quintessential Barker to tell self-deprecating jokes in public, while not revealing his own role in historic events. With friends, he would sometimes let slip the significance of his stories. Leo Tan, former dean of the National Institute of Education, recalled joining Barker for drinks at the Singapore Recreation Club one evening. As Barker sipped his Johnny Walker Black Label, he launched into his "Harry who?" story. As the laughter died away, Barker revealed that it was the call summoning him to Kuala Lumpur to finalise the separation agreements with the Malaysians.

Barely two weeks before the call, Lee had told Barker they needed to prepare the legal papers for Singapore to leave Malaysia. It came as no surprise to Barker because the Cabinet had been preoccupied with negotiating "constitutional re-arrangements" with the federal government for months. He was "expecting it in fact", especially after (Tun Abdul) Razak told him the previous November that both sides had "talked and talked and got nowhere".

By 27 December 1964, the exasperated Tunku (Abdul Rahman) was suggesting to Goh Keng Swee, who was equally exasperated that the hoped-for common market was being stymied by his cousin, Tan Siew Sin, the Malaysian Minister for Finance, that Singapore should "hive off". Soon after, Lee circulated a top-secret memorandum to his Cabinet titled "Possible constitutional arrangements". It began with this preamble: "It will not be long before we will have to take a decision on the future of Singapore and of Malaysia. I believe that soon after the Puasa month, we will have to respond to an open move by the Tunku. It will demand that we take a public position. Before we make this decision, we should be clear in our minds on the options open to us and on the consequences not only short-term but also long-term of each and every one of the possible decisions we may make."

Puasa, or the Muslim fasting month, ended on 2 February 1965. Time, Lee submitted to his colleagues in January, was running out for Singapore. His memo, a copy of which was kept by Goh in a secret file code-named Albatross, stated that fundamentally, "we never wanted an independent Singapore because we did not believe that we could build a nation out of a small island with two million people, and if we tried that it did not stand much of a chance of survival". But in the final analysis, Lee conceded:

"I am reluctantly convinced that we have to find some method of disengagement and hope that such a disengagement will be only temporary... in case there is no future re-integration, we must be prepared for the final possibility to act independently in extremis... our arrangement must enable us to 'hive off' and buy more time for ourselves just as Israel survives perilously in the Middle East."

As Minister for Law, Barker would have taken part in the Cabinet discussions on the options outlined in Lee's memo... Indubitably, there was vexation, anger, agony and resignation. Barker hinted at the range of emotions 27 years later when asked what he knew of his colleagues' preferences on the separation.

"Oh, difficult to say. Because some of... the members of our Cabinet were Malaysians born in Malaysia. And they had their links, they take their vacations in Malaysia. So... I wouldn't say their sympathies were with the Malaysians but some would have been happier to carry on as a state in Malaysia. But not all, to be fair, not all of the Singapore ministers born in Malaysia would have liked to stay on. I think one or two would have."

The two he named were (S.) Rajaratnam and Toh Chin Chye, whom Lee ultimately had to summon to Kuala Lumpur to convince them to support independence, even as he held the separation documents in his hands.

As for Barker himself, he was "always for the independence of Singapore". Merger never made sense to him, he said.

"Even before I joined the government, I never understood why the government of Singapore should form a federation with Malaysia... There were reasons, I suppose, but these reasons didn't convince me. What have we got to do with the Borneo states? Except for the British currency, what connection or relationship was there between Sabah and Sarawak and Singapore? Yes, the dollar, but what else? Malaya, of course, is closer. But I didn't agree. So I thought that the separation would be best in our interest."

Barker took to the task of drafting the separation documents with some alacrity. The prime minister, determined not to allow the British to intervene in the negotiations with Malaysia, wanted it to be a closely held secret. The Singapore Attorney-General (known as State Advocate-General during merger) would normally have been the one tasked to draft legal documents for the government. But Barker feared he would have to involve a few of his junior staff and the news would eventually leak. He thus took it upon himself to research the issue and to draft the papers himself.

He found a legal precedent in his first search at the law library of the University of Singapore. The British West Indies Act 1962 had been passed three years earlier to bring about the break-up of the West Indies Federation.

Barker determined that since the Malaysian constitution did not provide for states to secede, he would have to draft a constitutional amendment in addition to an agreement to separate. He structured the separation papers into three documents: an agreement relating to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia as an independent and sovereign state, with two annexures - a proclamation on Singapore by the prime minister of Malaysia, and a bill to amend the Constitution of Malaysia and the Malaysia Act.

Both governments would sign the agreement, following which the Malaysian Parliament would have to pass the constitutional amendment bill providing for Singapore to leave Malaysia.

Barker also drafted a Proclamation of Singapore for Prime Minister Lee to issue... He finished the first drafts in "three or four days" and circulated them to the prime minister, Goh Keng Swee and Stanley Stewart, the head of the Singapore civil service. They made some amendments and by the end of July, the drafts were ready for Goh to show the Malaysians.

Goh showed Razak the drafts on 3 August 1965. On his return to Singapore that afternoon, he went to Barker's office in City Hall and called Lee, who was on his annual family vacation in Cameron Highlands, to report that the Tunku had agreed to Singapore's separation from the federation.

Goh spoke in Mandarin to prevent the Malaysian telephone operators from eavesdropping. He and Barker then spent the afternoon discussing the changes the Malaysians wanted to make to Barker's drafts before one final meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

It would appear that Lee, who stayed on in Cameron Highlands a couple more days to maintain cover, called Barker later that night or the next day, only to be frustrated by a bad connection and Barker's failure to recognise his voice. Unable to engage in a more substantive discussion over the phone, they apparently discussed their travel plans.

While Goh took the train to Kuala Lumpur on the night of 5 August and Lee quietly left Cameron Highlands by car the morning of 6 August, Barker flew into the Malaysian capital that morning. The three men met in Temasek House (which is now the official residence of the Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia) for Lee to sign off on Barker's latest drafts, and Goh and Barker then adjourned to Razak's office at 4 pm that afternoon.

Nine hours and a change of venue later, Singapore was out of Malaysia.

In Barker's account of those 20 days leading up to 9 August 1965, he gave the impression that his role was limited to the drafting of the legal documents. Lee did not want the Malaysian Attorney-General to draft the papers, Barker confided in Malaysian lawyer Tommy Thomas. The lawyer in Lee knew that if his side did the first draft, he would be able to set the parameters for the negotiations. And fortunately for Singapore, then Malaysian AG Kadir Yusoff was happy for Barker to do the work.

In his oral history interview, Barker paid tribute to Goh Keng Swee as "the architect of the separation". He would likely have been proud to be called the draughtsman. He was not involved in the political decision-making, just the legal drafting, he liked to tell those who asked about his part. But without Eddie Barker at the last meeting alongside Goh Keng Swee, things might have gone a little differently.

'WE WERE PUTTING OUR NECKS OUT'

Goh Keng Swee kept a file he code-named Albatross, for how "the great expectations that we foolishly had - that Malaysia would bring prosperity, common market, peace, harmony... became an Albatross round our necks".

He wrote notes of his meetings with Razak as well as his personal concerns about the talks in an elegant cursive script. They make clear that he saw Barker's participation as crucial for a successful outcome at that last meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Goh also recorded that he told Razak that Barker was among the very small group of Singapore leaders privy to the discussions on secession from the beginning. It probably felt good for Goh to be able to share the burden with Barker. After the prime minister circulated his memorandum on constitutional re-arrangements to the Singapore Cabinet, Goh had worked with Lee to negotiate "a looser form of federation" with the Tunku, only to be stymied by the British. As Barker described it: "... their officials would go round, say, to the Minister for Home Affairs, then say, 'How can you let the Singapore Government be in charge of the Police?' And then tell the Minister for Communications, 'How can you let the port (both the airport and the seaport) be run by them?' Now this sort of thing went round and that was the end of this proposal for a looser form of federation."

It was Goh who rather inadvertently started the ball rolling again. On 13 July 1965, following the massive rally by the Malaysian Solidarity Convention in June, Razak invited Goh to "the usual bellyaching session against Lee" at his home in Kuala Lumpur. Telling Goh "we can't go on like this", Razak asked him for ideas. A surprised Goh suggested "the best thing would be to call it quits; we should go our separate ways". Razak, sceptical Lee would agree, asked Goh to sound out his prime minister.

Goh received approval from Lee to proceed, and went back to see Razak on 20 July. Lee discovered almost 30 years later that Goh "never pressed Razak for a looser rearrangement as I had asked him to". Instead, Goh "went along with their desire to have us hive off ".

BARKER'S ROLE

Barker always maintained even in private that he "had no role in the politics of the separation or in the political decision-making". Goh's notes suggested otherwise. He also knew that Barker's involvement would reassure the Malaysians, for both the Tunku and Razak trusted Barker. Indeed, Goh, Lim Kim San and Barker were perhaps the least politically active members of the Singapore Cabinet, and thus, looked on favourably by the Malaysian leaders...

By his fourth meeting with Razak on 3 August, Goh had secured Tunku's acceptance of the plan for Singapore's independence; to use his chess metaphor, it was "a won game". Goh felt his own role was now over.

It was up to Barker to convince the Malaysians that the documents he had drafted looked after their interests too, and in this matter of mutually desired separation, there was no need for caveat emptor. For of course, Singapore was not about to give in to all of Malaysia's demands, nor could it limp on under the existing circumstances. Razak told Goh that the Tunku had two conditions for separation: Singapore was to make an adequate military contribution to Malaysia's and Singapore's defence, and enter into a Defence Agreement with Malaysia; and no treaty was to be entered into that would contravene the objectives of that agreement...

Goh then proposed that he and Barker return to Kuala Lumpur with a new draft after the Tunku's return from London on 4 August. If all went well, they could sign the documents and present them to the Federal Parliament when it reconvened on 9 August. Goh scheduled the last meeting with Razak for the afternoon of 6 August. In his notes, he wrote: "And I knew that at that meeting, Barker would be the principal actor on our side. In fact, my role was over. My role as a negotiator was to get the Malay leaders into a mood in which they will accept the Separation Agreement with the minimum fuss and bother, particularly to avoid matters of defence which Razak raised and to gloss over them, never to get entangled on these issues which might get the whole thing unstuck. And when they appeared hesitant and unwilling - as Razak from time to time gets into this kind of mood - we tell them that they will be the worse off for it and they better make up their minds quickly. But having said that, I must say that that's only so far as I am concerned.

"So far as the PM was concerned, his troubles then began, because he had to convince other colleagues to go along with it. Well, that's his job, not mine. And so far as the drafting and discussions of the actual text of the Agreement, well, Mr Eddie Barker had to do that."

Both men were nervous going into that last meeting as Malaysian nationals. Barker remembered Goh telling him before they went into Razak's office that "we got to be careful". His legal training told him that what they were doing could be considered treason and the Malaysians could use the documents he had drafted as evidence and "locked us up as traitors".

Although he considered their Malaysian interlocutors old friends from his Raffles College days, Barker said that both he and Goh were well aware that "he and I were putting our necks out".

They were also about to start the meeting with a lie; Lee Kuan Yew was already in Kuala Lumpur, but a plank of their negotiation strategy was to pretend he was still in the Cameron Highlands so that he would not be forced to come to the table too. Lee's presence would have changed the personal dynamics, the Malaysian animus towards him being such that they were likely to harden positions as soon as he objected to anything.

With Barker and Goh, the Malaysian negotiators were "friendly; serious but friendly". And as determined.

Recalled Barker: "We were determined to get out. I think they were just as determined that we should go. It was not a question of them kicking us out, it was an agreement to separate. But there was no going back. It was just, 'Alright, we agree to separate,' and that's the best we could have done then. There were no second thoughts. We just discussed separation, the draft, a few amendments, and that was it. We signed soon thereafter."

Barker was the first to sign the separation agreement after the Malaysians. They had been waiting hours for first Razak's typist, who was not used to legal documents and made too many mistakes, then Lee's secretary summoned from Temasek House, Teo Ban Hock, to finish typing the documents. It was past midnight when Teo was done; they had been at it for more than five hours.

The five Malaysian negotiators signed their names to the separation agreement without reading it. In what the careful lawyer in him immediately regretted as a reckless act, Barker allowed Razak to pressure him into also signing the agreement without reading through it.

Friendship, he knew, cut both ways. Just as Razak had accepted his word that Lee would sign the agreement, Razak expected Barker to take the same risk as him. So Barker signed happily, but "buta" (blindly). Yet, he still had the presence of mind to maintain some semblance of protocol: after the names of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye and Goh Keng Swee, his was the fourth on the agreement setting Singapore free as an independent nation.

In his memoirs, The Singapore Story, Lee recounted what Barker told him of that moment: "Eddie said they had all got drunk while waiting, and when the documents were finally ready, he was the only one sober enough to want to read them before he signed. Razak, who liked Eddie from their hockey-playing days in Raffles College, said, 'Eddie, it's your draft, it's your chap who typed the final document, so what are you reading it for?' So Eddie, too, signed without further ado - 'sign buta' (signing blindly), as he told me in Malay. Keng Swee was so soused that he had gone straight to bed. But Eddie went through the documents, was greatly relieved to find no mistakes, then handed them to me. After I had quickly scanned the amendments myself, I looked at Eddie and said, 'Thanks, Eddie, we've pulled off a bloodless coup.' "


The author Susan Sim is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and a former Singapore diplomat and journalist. Her book has just been released.











* NUS' Centre for Law and Business renamed after Singapore's first Law Minister EW Barker

Singapore law and lawyers must keep up to date: PM
Laws cannot remain static as world changes, he says at launch of EW Barker law centre
By Charissa Yong Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 May 2017

To maintain its competitive edge, Singapore needs to keep its law and lawyers up to date, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

It has so far distinguished itself from rivals because its legal system is respected and admired at home and abroad, Mr Lee noted.

But Singapore's laws cannot be static because globalisation and technology are changing how business is done, he said at the launch of the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business.

"Up to date, effective but not onerous regulation has become a new source of economic competitiveness," he told members of the Barker family and about 100 members of the legal fraternity.

The commercial law research centre, known previously as the Centre for Law and Business, is under the National University of Singapore's law faculty.

Set up in 2014, it was renamed after Singapore's first law minister E. W. Barker, who held the portfolio from 1964 to 1988. Mr Barker died in 2001, aged 80, after two months in intensive care following colon surgery.

Yesterday's event also marked the 60th anniversary of the NUS law faculty.



In his speech, Mr Lee cited the technological changes that would require new laws.

One is e-commerce, which crosses national borders and needs sound frameworks for enforcement and taxation.

Also, clear rules and effective safeguards are needed in other areas, such as cyber security and intellectual property protection.

Emerging technology like artificial intelligence will need innovative regulation as well.

Think tanks like the EW Barker Centre can help by researching, organising conferences and teaching, Mr Lee said.

Its outcomes should be practical, aimed at improving the lives of Singaporeans and foster Singapore's development.

The PM also called on the centre to work with businesses, policymakers, legal practitioners here and in the region to produce fresh ideas and policy recommendations.

Through this, Singapore can continue to be a preferred location for arbitration and dispute resolution for businesses in Asia, he said.

Mr Lee also paid tribute to the late minister's contributions in establishing the rule of law in Singapore.

He drafted documents that were the legal basis of Singapore's independence: The Separation Agreement, the Amendment Bill for Malaysia's Constitution and the Proclamation of Singapore.

"Fifty years later, none of the provisions in the documents has ever been disputed or challenged, not even fundamental provisions such as the guarantee of the Water Agreements," Mr Lee said.

"Singaporeans owe a profound debt of gratitude to the draughtsman of their independence, Mr Barker," he added.



Mr Barker also had a keen political sense, Mr Lee said, citing two cases.

One is Singapore's "Stop at Two'' population policy in the 1960s.

Some ministers wanted to pass a law to implement it, but Mr Barker advised against it. Instead, he suggested giving families incentives to stop at two children. "That was the wiser approach," said Mr Lee.

The other was when he was tasked to clean up the Singapore River. Instead of evicting the peddlers and hawkers along the river, he built hawker centres that were rented cheaply to the hawkers.

"So today, Singaporeans and tourists enjoy our chicken rice and bak chor mee at affordable prices and in orderly and hygienic conditions," said Mr Lee. "Our hawker stalls sometimes even receive Michelin stars," he added, to laughter.

He urged the centre to learn from the late minister's practical nature, saying: "By combining legal know-how with political instincts and a human touch, Mr Barker came up with practical solutions and contributed to creating and building a prosperous Singapore."

Mr Barker's wife Gloria, 87, and their four children were at the event. Senior counsel Deborah Barker, a managing partner at Withers KhattarWong and an NUS alumni, said that helping the young and those in need were close to her father's heart.

The centre, with $21 million, raised from 11 donors and a matching government grant, will expand its manpower and scope of activities.

The E .W. Barker Bursary was also launched yesterday to help needy undergraduate law students at NUS. It is supported by a fund of more than $300,000 from five donors in the legal fraternity and a matching grant from the Government. Two bursaries of $6,000 each will initially be given each year.

Citing a 1967 speech by her father, Ms Barker too encouraged the centre to "express the social, political and economic realities that we face today globally and help to develop solutions that are practical and reasonable".















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