Let’s be proud of Singapore’s strong brand in the rule of law

We’ve heard of the Geneva Conventions (on human rights), the Vienna Convention (on diplomatic relations) and the Paris Agreement (on climate change)… but how about a Singapore Convention on Mediation? 

Yes, the Singapore Convention on mediation will attract signatories very soon and this treaty is going to make cross-border business a lot easier.

Here’s the lowdown: When it comes to trade disputes, let’s be frank: lawyers may perhaps be the worst people to get a resolution from. In a legal battle, it is necessary to have a winner and loser. Or both losers, if you consider how difficult it is to enforce contracts across borders. And quite likely, there will never be a commercial relationship ever again.

The other option, is to seek a mediator. This person facilitates discussions without raising antagonistic points of law. The mediator gets both parties to look at commercial realities and to focus on reconciliation. The mediator bargains and negotiates, has both parties walk out of the room with a new deal. 

The problem with mediation is this – how do you enforce this new deal? Especially across different countries?

The United Nations Commission has written a new international treaty that allow settled agreements arising from mediation to be enforced internationally by countries which are signatories to this treaty. Parties to such settlement agreements will be able to have them recognised in the domestic courts of those countries.

What makes this significant, is the fact that Singapore is chosen to be the place where the convention is signed.

We have come to become a brand where the rule of law is taken extremely seriously. There have been incidents in recent years where foreign powers have attempted to influence local and international politics and diplomacy through coercion and funding. Neither has worked. 

When faced with disputes with water, air, sea, land and border disputes, our position has always been to manoeuvre within the confines of the law and this has worked to our advantage. When antagonised by foreign militaries encroaching our borders or detaining our military assets, our response was not reckless but again within the confines of law, laws and the law. 

This brand name has worked to our advantage. Companies setup shop in Singapore with the assurance that their properties will be protected fairly by the law, not by the whim and fancy of the government of the day. Businesses are able to plan for continuity and project growth into the years ahead without fear of unnecessary disruption due to politics, civil in-fighting, terrorism, legal or military coercion. 

Being known for the rule of law, isn’t an easy thing to build. Not many countries have the ability, nor will they be taken seriously should they even want to contend for this position. Many of the countries in our region are known more for corruption than for anything legal. Other competing regional neighbours such as Taiwan and Hong Kong have serious constitutional problems to solve.

 Although it isn’t easy to build, the rule of law can easily be lost. A few cases of corruption in the civil service, a bomb goes off, protests of a sizeable scale, political in-fighting or when a rouge political party takes charge – once the brand is lost, it may never come back again.

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