By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the articles “WP’s Low wrong not to investigate, leaves grave doubts about his MPs: PM Lee” (Straits Times breaking news, Jul 12) and ”Workers’ Party rejects call to investigate hawker centre cleaning row” (Today, Jul 11).
Integrity of MPs and the sort of politics Singapore needs in a First World Parliament
The former states that “Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang cannot leave grave doubts about the integrity of his fellow MPs unresolved, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday, in his first comments since a dramatic exchange between one of his ministers and the opposition party in Parliament earlier this week.
“This is not how members of a First World Parliament should conduct themselves,” he added, in an oblique reference to the WP’s slogan in the last general election.
“Neither is this the sort of politics Singapore needs,” Mr Lee said in a statement.”
Waive Parliamentary privilege
The latter article states that “Dr Balakrishnan had waived his parliamentary privilege for remarks made on Tuesday, which included calling as “false and untruthful” statements made by Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council Chairman Sylvia Lim and Vice-Chairman Pritam Singh on the issue. This means Ms Lim and Mr Singh have the option of suing him for defamation.”
Defamation trial of J B Jeyaretnam
Since the subject of defamation has been raised following Parliament, I am reminded of the defamation trial of the late honourable Mr J B Jeyaretnam, former Member of Parliament for Anson.
Sometimes, you get the feeling that perhaps its time to re-read a very good book that you have read a long time ago.
So, I read Mr J B Jeyaretnam’s book, The Hatchet Man of Singapore, 2003, by Mr J B Jeyaretnam once again.
I would like to share the following extracts (transcript of JBJ’s defamation trial on pages 117 to 120) with you:
Questions raised by Queen’s Counsel George Carmen and answers by then Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong
“Q: There’s a photograph of a gentleman; you obtained damages from Mr.Tang. But look at the right-hand side of the photograph, please. There’s a quotation from you. I want you to confirm its accuracy. It’s in The New Paper in December 26, 1996.
Q: (Reads) “People say we got to check the Govt. but I argue that the Govt has to check the opposition. If you don’t have a Govt that checks the opposition, when they don’t screen their candidates, we are going to end up with all kinds of characters in Govt. This will diminish the standing of Parliament. – Prime Minister on why he was exposing Mr.Tang. Just like your help on this so that the Court knows your approach. Are you saying that as leader, Prime Minister, leader of the PAP and Prime Minister, you believe it’s you duty to check the opposition?
A: First, let me clarify, I think, one word of it here. It could be a misquote. It should be “all kinds of characters in Parliament”not “Government”.
Q: Exactly. So you mean ‘Parliament’?
A: In ‘Parliament’, that’s what I meant. Yes.
Q: Well, could you now kindly address the question: Do you take the view that as Prime Minister, as leader of your party, it’s your duty to check the opposition?
A: Yes. I think when that statement was made in the context, I thought it as my duty to prevent unsavoury characters from entering Parliament. So it’s my duty to check the opposition members who could do harm to the whole system of a government in Singapore.
Q: By ‘unsavoury characters’, do you mean ‘people with unsavoury ideas’ or ‘unsavoury behaviour’?
A: Unsavoury behaviour, character. And in some cases, ideas which are threatening to the harmony of Singapore.
Q: Look further down in terms of your approach to democracy, please. You advised the young voters. Do you see them?
Q: Half down, about voting, “we are telling them, we are not giving you the luxury of a choice.” Isn’t it rather odd for a democratic leader in a democractic society to say you are not giving them the luxury of choice?
A: Yes. If you read the article-
Mr Carman: I have
A: — we were talking about upgrading, right, and having some opposition MPs. What the young voters wanted or some young voters wanted was to have both: the upgrading of our HDB estates plus having opposition MPs. So I said, “I’m not giving you the luxury of a choice. You have to decide one way or the other. That’s democracy if you want upgrading, then you don’t have your opposition MP. If you want to have him, you don’t have upgrading.”
Q: You linked up upgrading in that election, didn’t you, whether people voted for you or not?
A: Well, we did because that was part of our programme. That was the key pillar of our programme.
Mr. Carman: No, no.
A: No, I linked it because it was a major pillar of our programme.
Q: Well, we don’t want to waste time on it. But what are the threats put forward by you? I could show you the press cutting if you want.
Q: That upgrading in certain precints would be dependent on whether they voted with the PAP or not.
A: Yes, of course, because that’s our main programme.
Q: Well, you were already in government because you got an unelected-sorry, unopposed majority.
Q: The 47 seats, you already got a majority before the election.
A: Right, right.
Q: So everybody knew you would be in government.
Q: Whether the people vote for you or against you, you are still in government.
A: Yes, but I might not be running the town councils.”
“Reproduced with the kind permission of the late JBJ’s estate”