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Defining the role of government and its component branches

By Teh Kok Hua

The Constitution usually sets out the basic rights of citizens and defines the role of government and its component branches.

The constitution of Singapore however has not established or clearly defined the respective rights of citizens and government.

This has allowed the government of the day to interpret its provisions to suit its own convenience, circumventing the rights of citizens and usurping the powers of the other component branches to suit its own private agenda e.g. tweaking of right of citizens to choose the representatives of their free choice to Greater Representation Constituency.

This denies citizens their right to vote for the individuals of their choice as candidates are required to form themselves into blocks or slates of representatives with others before they could offer themselves to stand for election.

Lack of clear definition of roles

Group representations have deprived the right of citizens to stand for election in the universal electoral one-man-one-vote process provided in the constitution allowing the party in power to supersede the basic right of citizens to elect their representatives freely or offer themselves as candidate for election in the democratic election process.

In addition, there is a lack of clear definition of roles, authority and responsibilities of the respective branches of government resulting in a situation where the executive is able to use administrative power to supersede or suppress the right of other branches of government therefore depriving the citizens of their right of representation.

It is therefore urgent to prevent the government of the day from exploiting the loopholes created by the lack of clear definitions of roles, authority and responsibilities of component branches of the government.

Development of active citizenship

By defining the roles and authority of component branches of government clearly it will then create the necessary conditions for development of social, cultural and moral character and vibrancy of its people essential to development of nationhood in the long-term interest of the nation.

Only when there is proper safeguard against abuse of power over the other equally desirable aspects of nation building will it bring about the necessary conditions supportive of development of active citizenship.

While it has often been argued that government has the right to maintain law and order to bring about necessary conducive conditions to attract investments and stable growth, the government has often overlooked the equally important, if not more critical, aspects such as facilitating the development of active citizenship, mass participation in good corporate governance to prevent abuse of power, corruptions or wrong doings and creative economic development of the nation.

Consequences of over-controls

In the absence of such clear definition it will lead to over-controls, over-regulations, autocracy, tyranny with government being run on bureaucracy and legalistic wrangling of laws and regulations to suit the convenience or pragmatism at the expense of larger aspects of nation building and the stifling of creativity and enterprises of society.

In the larger long-term interest of the state or the people, it is therefore critical and urgent to revise and overhaul the current constitution so as to bring about conducive conditions towards governing the country for the greatest good for the greatest number.

Basic principles of good government

To do so it is essential to maintain clear overview of the basic principles or objectives of good Government.

To run a country competitively and successfully, it is essential that the government should be elected by the people through free elections, with each citizen being given the unalienable and unencumbered right to elect the best individual candidates of their free choice without coercion or tampering of such free and democratic election process.

The government is elected to carry out the following essential functions:-

(1) administration,
(2) legislation - passing of laws and regulations for fair and just administration,
(2) justice,
(3) free and unencumbered right of citizens to elect representatives or offer themselves as candidates to stand for election,
(4) implementing policies and decisions in objectively defined work processes to ensure good corporate governance where all decisions and policies are carried out with accountability and responsibility essential to development of citizens' social, cultural and economic vibrancy and competitiveness.

Specifically the constitution should clearly define (a) An effective executive, (b) Independent legislature, (c) An independent judiciary.

Each of the above-stated three component branches of government has its own critical roles and responsibilities to play. By spelling out such roles and responsibilities as well as power or authority it will then lead of development of good corporate governance to serve the greatest benefits of the greatest number.

When such a constitution is established, it is then possible to bring about condition for citizens and government to work in cooperation, and with coordination and efficiency. All government policies and decisions will then gain the fullest support and participation of its citizens in nation building.

Too much discretionary power

The current vagueness due to lack of clear definition of rights and privileges of citizens and component branches of government has created a situation where the executive has accumulated too much discretionary power to pass laws and regulations to suit its own narrow agendas, avoiding accountability and curtailing people's right to speak up, and participate in governing policies, appointments of government etc.

With such vague and uncertain constitution will the government be able to bring about a cosmopolitan and inclusive society? Will it govern the nation for the greatest good of the greatest number?

Or will it continue to govern the country by taxing and recovering costs of government from the citizens to the fullest extent, resulting in taxes being accumulated as surpluses for spending on extravagant projects like the 7 wonders or shin corp.

It is obviously more critical to find a balance between the need for law and order and facilitating the conditions for full and uninhibited participation by the citizens in good corporate governance essential to a competitive and vibrant development of nationhood.