K Shanmugam Dances around Issues Raised by Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Says He “May be Bitter…”

Posted on Oct 9 2017 - 1:47pm by Redwire Singapore

redwire-singapore-tan-cheng-bock-shanmugam
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shamugam says Dr Tan Cheng Bock “may be bitter” and that’s why he embarked on “elaborate charades” regarding the recent parliamentary debate on the reserved election.

Over the weekend, Dr Tan had raised 2 issues regarding the parliamentary debate, accusing Mr Shanmugam of going back on his word, and questioning why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shied away from the debate and let Mr Shanmugam speak for him.

Q1: Whether the government misled parliament into thinking that the AG’s advice would be made public

In a dialogue session on 15 Sept 2016, Mr Shanmugam said this in response to question:

“Q: When would the circuit-breaker (to hold a reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in Presidential office after five continuous terms) come into effect?”

“A:The most direct answer is actually, the Government can decide. When we put in the Bill, we can say we want it to start from this period. It’s… a policy decision but there are also some legal questions about the Elected Presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney-General for advice. Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public.

At present, there are a number of legal questions… including whether such provisions are consistent with the Convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how do you draft it, whether you count all presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.”

From that response, Dr Tan believes the Mr Shanmugam meant that the government will reveal the advice given by the AGC.

He said that Mr Shanmugam went back on his word when he said in parliament last week that “this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets.”

Mr Shanmugam, however, says that he meant the government’s position after taking advice from the AGC will be made known, and not AGC’s advice itself.

Q2: Why did the PM and no others cited by Sylvia Lim speak for themselves?

Said Dr Tan:

“One would have expected the PM, DPM or Minister Chan to speak for themselves and clarify their own words. After all, they are the government’s top leaders. Also, Ms Lim’s motion was asking about their statements to Parliament and whether they misled the House. Her motion did not refer to Minister Shanmugam’s statements.”

Mr Shanmugam said that there are time constraints on adjournment motions, and so “as Law Minister, I responded on behalf of the Government.”

He added that “Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades.”

In response, Dr Tan said that he is “still cheerful”, and implied that Mr Shanmugam was dodging the question.

“I never asked about parliamentary procedure. I simply asked why the PM stayed silent. PM could have spoken during those 10 minutes since his statement was being challenged.”

This is the full online sparring match between Dr Tan and Mr Shanmugam:

[Dr Tan Cheng Bock: Saturday 7 Oct]

MY OBSERVATIONS ON THE MOTION BY MS SYLVIA LIM ON TUESDAY 3 OCT 2017

I have 2 observations on Ms Lim’s excellent motion.

1st, Minister Shanmugam made these statements in reply to Ms Lim:

“… I was asked the following question “When would the circuit breaker to hold the reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in presidential office after five continuous terms, come into effect?” What was my reply? The most direct answer is actually, “The government can decide. When we put in the bill, we can say we want it to start from this period. It is a policy decision.” The CNA reported it, it is still on record….. and I said on record, and I’m happy to be shown any other part …. I am very clear and careful about what I say. And I’m happy to be confronted with anything else I might have said.”

The Minister had quoted from a CNA report dated 15 Sept 2016 (by Linette Lim “On Tan Cheng Bock, mixed-race candidates: Singaporeans ask tough questions on the Elected Presidency review”:
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/on-tan-cheng-bock-mixed-race-candidates-singaporeans-ask-tough-q-7788466

Since the Minister is willing to confront his past words, I’ve reproduced the rest of his answer to CNA, where he said:

“But there are also some legal questions about the elected presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney–General for advice. Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and will make it public. At present, there are a number of legal questions … including whether such provisions are consistent with the convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how do you draft it, whether you count all the presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.”

CNA appears to have reported words opposite to what the Minister mentioned. In the report, he said “…once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the bill gets to Parliament, which is in October … and will make it public.” But in Parliament, he said “this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets.”

Would the Minister explain to Singaporeans his apparent contradiction?

2nd, I noticed that PM Lee, DPM Teo and Minister Chan sat quietly behind Minister Shanmugam during this debate. One would have expected the PM, DPM or Minister Chan to speak for themselves and clarify their own words. After all, they are the government’s top leaders. Also, Ms Lim’s motion was asking about their statements to Parliament and whether they misled the House. Her motion did not refer to Minister Shanmugam’s statements. Since the government has said the count is a policy issue and not a legal issue, why ask the Minister of Law to answer ?

In fact PM Lee should be the one answering Ms Lim. This debate started with PM’s statement on taking AG’s legal advice. Why he remained silent during this parliamentary debate continues to baffle many Singaporeans.

[K Shanmugam: Sunday 9 Oct]

[ Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s splicing and rearranging my remarks ]

Dr Tan Cheng Bock now claims that I had said that the Government would publish AGC’s advice, and that this is inconsistent with what I said in Parliament last week. This is untrue.

Dr Tan has spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say.

Here is what I said in full, as reported in CNA (link below).

“Q: When would the circuit-breaker (to hold a reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in Presidential office after five continuous terms) come into effect?

Mr Shanmugam: The most direct answer is actually, the Government can decide. When we put in the Bill, we can say we want it to start from this period. It’s… a policy decision but there are also some legal questions about the Elected Presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney-General for advice. Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public. At present, there are a number of legal questions… including whether such provisions are consistent with the Convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how you draft it, whether you count all presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.”

As the context makes clear, I was asked when the circuit breaker for holding reserved election will come into effect. I answered by making the following points:

1. It is a policy decision, for the government to make;
2. The Bill can state when the term count begins, and that will determine when the circuit breaker comes into effect;
3. But there were a number of legal questions to sort out before the Bill could be finalised, and we were getting AGC’s advice on those questions;
4. The Government will decide on the term count after we received AGC’s advice, and will then set out its position [I said ‘ we will send it out’];
5. At the latest, the Government will have a position on the term count by the time the Bill gets to Parliament. And at that point, it will make its position public.

Clearly, I was referring to making the Government’s position (and not the AGC’s advice) public. The question was when the circuit breaker will come into effect. My answer was that we would make our position clear after we had sorted out some points; and at the latest, we will make our position clear by the time the Bill gets to Parliament.

As it so happened, the Prime Minister himself made clear the Government’s position on the term count when Parliament debated the Constitutional amendments. He said we would start counting from President Wee Kim Wee’s second term. As the Court of Appeal has said explicitly, the Prime Minister was clear.

Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades.

Dr Tan also asks why I – and not the PM, DPM Teo or Minister Chan Chun Sing – replied to Ms Sylvia Lim. I’m surprised Dr Tan should ask me this question. Surely as a former parliamentarian he knows that adjournment motions have strict time limits. The MP moving the adjournment motion has up to 20 minutes; and someone else has all of 10 minutes to respond. That’s it. As Law Minister, I responded on behalf of the Government.

Channel Newsasia: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/on-tan-cheng-bock-mixed-race-candidates-singaporeans-ask-tough-q-7788466

 [Dr Tan Cheng Bock: Sunday 9 Oct]

MINISTER SHANMUGAM’S REPLY

I asked if the Minister had contradicted himself when he at first told CNA “… once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the bill gets to Parliament, which is in October … and will make it public” but later said in Parliament “this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets.”

His answer on FB was that there was no contradiction. He says the “it” in “send it out” was referring to the government’s position on the term count, and not AG’s advice.

I also asked why the PM remained silent during the debate. His answer was “ I’m surprised Dr Tan should ask me this question. Surely as a former parliamentarian he knows that adjournment motions have strict time limits. The MP moving the adjournment motion has up to 20 minutes; and someone else has all of 10 minutes to respond. That’s it. As Law Minister, I responded on behalf of the Government.” But I never asked about parliamentary procedure. I simply asked why the PM stayed silent. PM could have spoken during those 10 minutes since his statement was being challenged.

He also said that I “spliced .. and rearranged” his remarks, that I “may be bitter” and am engaging in “elaborate charades” in posing my questions. I will let readers decide whether the Minister has answered adequately, and whether I had unfairly misquoted him.

On my part, I can assure the Minister that I am still cheerful. But I think the Minister, who said “I’m happy to be confronted with anything else I might have said” didn’t sound so happy when he saw my question

 

 

Leave A Response