The National Solidarity Party's (NSP) appeal to the President against the refusal by the Minister for Communications and Information (MCI) to renew the permit for the party's newsletter has been rejected.
NSP had applied for the renewal in June 2014, but MCI had refused to process the application because not all members of the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC) disclosed information about their monthly income, apparently one of the requirements of the application.
NSP had appealed to the President against MCI's decision, and subsequently lodged a further submission, revealing evidence to suggest that “MCI not only discriminates against Political Associations, but further discriminates against opposition political parties”.
"While we are utterly disappointed with the outcome of our Appeal, we are not surprised," said NSP's secretary-general, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss. "The Appeal process is flawed. Under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the only recourse for any grievance with a ministerial decision is to appeal to the President. The logic of appealing to the President is mysterious because the President has no power to make his own decision. He can only decide on the advice of the Cabinet."
"However, we do not regard the Cabinet to be an independent or neutral party, especially in our case. Thus, we had in our Submissions, called on the Cabinet to appoint an independent tribunal or ombudsman to decide the outcome of our Appeal."
Ms Chong also indicated that the NSP took a stand against MCI in order to draw attention to unfairness in the newspaper permit renewal process, which the party felt loads extra burdens on political associations and exhibits double standards.
MCI requires the CEC members of all political parties, except the People’s Action Party (PAP), to disclose their personal financial information to the Registrar of Newspapers.
"The rejection of our Appeal only means that the ruling party desires to continue with MCI’s discriminatory practice of loading extra burdens on Political Associations," said Ms Chong.
"MCI’s discriminatory practice in the newspaper permit process joins a range of many factors which conspire against the development of political diversity – factors such as the Political Donations Act, the Internal Security Act, defamation laws, the Group Representation Scheme, to name a few – all of which create an un-level political playing field and work against political competition. Small wonder that the PAP has won a super majority of seats in Parliament in every general election since 1965."
While the appeal to the President is the final step, there is potentially an opportunity for a judicial review. However, Ms Chong indicated that "this is an expensive, time-consuming court application in which only few have succeeded" and the NSP does not have the necessary resources to pursue this.
"Hence, we will take the practical approach. We will comply with the MCI’s onerous requirements under protest – and reserve our vigour to challenge the incumbent at the ballot box, where the outcome matters most."
NSP's full statement on the rejection of its Presidential appeal can be found on the party's website.