Newspaper said no space to publish Sylvia Lim’s comments on appointment of former PAP MP as Deputy AG

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Ms Sylvia Lim, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC has commented on her Facebook post that a local newspaper has contacted her for comments on the recent appointment of a former People's Action Party (PAP) MP as Deputy Attorney-General, but stated to her that it cannot be published due to the lack of space.

She wrote:

"I was asked by a local paper whether I had any concerns about partisanship, given that Mr Kumar was such a strong critic of AHPETC, our WP-run Town Council.

I gave my response as follows (which I was just told would not be published due to lack of space):

"It is critical that persons entrusted with vast prosecutorial discretion act in the public interest, and not for partisan political gain. The appointment of a former PAP MP to such a post is not ideal. Whether my concerns prove to be founded or otherwise - remains to be seen".

Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a former PAP MP, will be appointed Deputy Attorney-General with effect from March 2017.

Previously, he was also appointed a PAP Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in the 2006 General Election. He served for two terms until 2015.

Mr Nair is currently a director at Drew and Napier with more than 25 years of experience as a lawyer. He was appointed Senior Counsel in 2008.

It is indeed puzzling that a newspaper will not be able to find enough space to publish the comments of Ms Lim.

However, it may not be so puzzling if one consider that Singapore is ranked 154th in the World Press Freedom index

The issue of appointment to the position of Attorney-General

In November last year, The Prime Minister Office (PMO) announced that Attorney-General, Mr V K Rajah S.C will be succeded by Mr Lucien Wong for a 3-year term with effect from 14 January 2017. Mr Rajah who was appointed Attorney-General on 25 June 2014, has ended his term on 14 Jan 2017 upon his reaching the retirement age of 60 years.

Mr Wong was 63 years old at the time of his appointment.

She had asked the Prime Minister on 10 January whether the appointment of the new Attorney-General, to take effect on 14 January 2017, accords with Article 35 of the Constitution, regarding specifically section 35(4) of the Constitution.

In response to Ms Lim's clarification, the Minister of Law, Mr K Shanmugam states that the appointment of Mr Wong is in accordance with the Constitution, as he is appointed based on a fixed-term of 3 years instead of an undefined term. Mr Wong would then serve as AG till 2020, where it is likely to be the year of the next General Election.

Ms Lim also asked if the Government "would, in good faith, to clarify this matter, apply to court for an interpretation to see whether the Government's view is correct."

However, the Minister said that the Government has taken a view and also taken advice from AGC, asking that Ms Lim to apply to court herself.

She wrote on her Facebook a day after the session:

A few hours ago, President-elect Trump's nominee for US Attorney-General (AG), Senator Jeff Sessions, faced the Senate Judiciary Committee for a public confirmation hearing. Senators scrutinised his track record and public feedback received on his potential appointment, including a protest letter signed by 1,100 law professors from 48 states.

What resonated with me most strongly were the concerns expressed about the public duty and independence expected of the AG. Senators expressly affirmed that the person appointed as AG owed a Constitutional duty to the People to uphold the law, and, as its top law enforcement officer, to apply the law without fear or favour. Sen Sessions was specifically asked whether he could be independent and stand up to the President if the occasion called for it.

These weighty questions should also be in our minds regarding our top law enforcement officials. Unlike the US system, we do not need Parliamentary approval of key public appointments such as the AG, so long as the President concurs with the advice of the PM and the Council of Presidential Advisors has no issue with it.

Yesterday (10 Jan 2017) in Parliament, I raised a question about whether Article 35 of our Constitution contemplates a person above the age of 60 assuming the post of AG for the first time. The focus was on the interpretation of the Constitution. The government did not see any issue with it. However, how to interpret Article 35 has not been decided by our local courts.

I hope Singaporeans will take a keen interest in the administration of justice, as it affects all of us fundamentally and deeply.

All of us are subject to the law, and entitled to the equal protection of the law, regardless of economic class, who we know or even political affiliation. How the law will be applied, especially in areas where discretion is allowed, will ultimately depend on the men and women empowered to apply it.